As It Happens

Duo descends to the ocean's depths in order to ascend the world's tallest mountain 

A Texas investor and a Hawaiian scientist have become the first people to fully ascend the world’s tallest mountain — a journey that began six kilometres beneath the ocean’s surface.

A Texas investor and a marine scientist become 1st people to fully scale Hawaii's Mauna Kea

Investor Victor Vescovo and marine scientist Clifford Kapono ascended Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world, starting from the ocean's depths. (Enrique Alvarez)

Story Transcript

A Texas investor and a Hawaiian scientist have become the first people to fully ascend the world's tallest mountain — a journey that began six kilometres beneath the ocean's surface.

Businessman Victor Vescovo and marine scientist Cliff Kapono have earned the Guinness World Record for ascending Hawaii's Mauna Kea all the way from its underwater base to its snowy peak.

"It was a three-day event involving submarine, kayak, bicycling and just plain old hiking and climbing," Vescovo told As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins.

"I think it's only human to try and push boundaries and do things that no one's ever done before."

Tallest mountain vs highest mountain 

Mount Everest is technically the highest mountain in the world, rising 8,848 metres above sea level (and Vescovo has climbed that too). 

But Mauna Kea — which translates to White Mountain — is the world's tallest mountain. According to Guinness, it measures 10,211 metres from base to pinnacle, but only 4,207 metres of that is above water.

Vescovo, left, Kapono, right, each climb aboard the deep-sea exploration vehicle Limiting Factor. (Enrique Alvarez)

That means in order to ascend it in full, a person has to use a submersible vehicle capable of deep-sea exploration. 

Fortunately, Vescovo — a wealthy private equity investor with a penchant for adventuring — has one of his very own. The vessel is called the Limiting Factor, and he's previously used it to visit Challenger Deep, the deepest known part of the ocean.

Water, land and snow

The journey began with the pair in Limiting Factor, descending to the base of Mauna Kea, then gently floating to the surface. 

Then they hopped into a three-person outrigger canoe and paddled 43 kilometres to shore with the help of local canoeist Chad Cabral.

After spending the night in a hotel to rest, they picked up their journey the following day, first cycling 60 kilometres, then ditching their bikes and hiking to the Onizuka Visitor Center, located at 2,800 metres, to sleep another night.

Once they had ascended in their submersible vehicle, the duo hopped aboard a three-person canoe with a local canoeist. (Enrique Alvarez)

On the third day, the pair walked, climbed and finally skied the last snow-covered stretch of trail to the mountain's summit.

"The biggest emotion that you get when you climb a big mountain, I have to confess, is relief. You're just so happy that you actually made it," Vescovo said.

"But then it's a really big sense of accomplishment. And it was really nice to do the mountain with Dr. Kapono, who's a native of that island. And he and I, you know, gave each other a hug and a congratulations."

Record collection 

Kapono is a Native Hawaiian professional surfer, journalist, and marine scientist with a doctorate in ocean chemistry. He's known for his work in ocean conservation, with a focus on preserving Hawaii's coral reefs.

He's lived his whole life near Mauna Kea, but had never been to its summit before, Vescovo said. As It Happens has reached out to him for comment.

Vescovo and Kapono ascended Mauna Kea both by bike and foot. (Enrique Alvarez)

Vescovo holds several world records, many of them related to deep sea exploration, earning him a place in the Guinness Hall of Fame

He also has a history of helping other people set world records. In 2020, he took astronaut Kathy Sullivan on a journey in his deep sea submersible, making her the first woman to visit both space and the ocean's deepest depths.

"It really wasn't an objective of, 'Hey, what records can I set?' I really always have been desiring of exploring and doing things at the extreme," he said.

"I think the most dangerous thing I ever had in my life was when my parents gave me a bicycle at the age of seven. They probably shouldn't have done that."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Abby Plener. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

Get the CBC Radio newsletter. We'll send you a weekly roundup of the best CBC Radio programming every Friday.


The next issue of Radio One newsletter will soon be in your inbox.

Discover all CBC newsletters in the Subscription Centre.opens new window