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Midvale Journal

Utah man believes he set world record for youngest to snowboard Himalayan peak

Feb 22, 2022 09:14PM ● By Heather Lawrence

“I’ve searched the literature, and at 23 I might be the youngest person to snowboard above 8,000 meters,” Fin Keleher said. (Fin Keleher/@fin_keleher)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

At 23 years old, Fin Keleher may be the youngest person to snowboard from a mountain peak higher than 8,000 meters. Keleher, who grew up in Sandy and attended Hillcrest High School and Westminster College, made the trip to Nepal in September 2021 after a year of planning with a friend.

“On the 29th of September, [my friend] and I had the opportunity to summit Manaslu (8,163 m/26,781 ft.) and descend via skis and snowboard. A beautiful trip, and one of my proudest achievements. Thank you to all who supported me at home and while I was in Nepal!” Keleher posted on Instagram in October.

Keleher has been building up to a trip like this his whole life. When he’s not at work with U of U Health, he’s either on an outdoor adventure or planning one. He spends a lot of time in the Wasatch back. When Utah gets too warm to snowboard, he heads to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Still, with all of his experience, Keleher’s trip was no casual undertaking. Manaslu is the eighth-highest mountain in the world. Part of the Nepalese Himalayan range, its neighbors include Mount Everest and K2.

“I went with a friend and she had been planning the trip for about three years. There is a lot of preparation, and you need to apply for permits from the Nepalese government. Her original partner wasn’t able to go, so in August 2020 she invited me,” Keleher said.

Keleher was fortunate that his plan in Nepal was mountaineering. “Tourism there is about 95% trekking. To limit tourism during the pandemic they stopped giving out trekking permits, but they allowed the 200 or so mountaineering permits. And we’re lucky it was 2021—if it had been 2020, we wouldn’t have been able to go.”

Training in Utah’s higher altitude gave Keleher a bit of an advantage as far as acclimation went, though it didn’t last all the way to the top.

“Getting to 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) was no problem for me. But at 20,000 feet, I was having a hard time [breathing]. I had to acclimate there for about three weeks. At 24,500 feet (7,400 meters) I started using oxygen,” Keleher said.

For support, Keleher and his friend split the hire of a Sherpa. “That was the first time I’ve ever hired a support person. It helps their economy and there’s someone there if you need a rescue. The Sherpa are amazing.”

The Sherpa carried some of their food and their oxygen bottles and went ahead of them to set up camp.

“We were trying to go pretty minimal on support, but I don’t think I would have been able to do it fully self-supported,” Keleher said.

Keleher takes stunning photos and video of his adventures and posts them on Instagram. “Photography was my hobby before mountaineering. I got interested in it when I was 15, and it’s evolved into what I do today,” Keleher said.

On this trip of a lifetime, there was no question he’d get incredible shots. While snowboarding Manaslu, he used a GoPro MAX, a 360-degree camera set up (“It looked like a unicorn horn!”) that lets the viewer feel like they are descending the peak with Keleher. His edited video is on his Instagram @fin_keleher.

Keleher had a satellite phone and base camp had Wi-Fi, so he was able to call his anxious family back in Sandy to tell them about his success. The strange time difference of 11 hours 45 minutes made it hard to find a good time to call, but his mom Mary Jane Keleher was just grateful to hear he’d made it safely.

“They’re always asking where I’m going. I don’t think they’ve stopped worrying about me.  They used to worry a lot more, so I quit telling them what I was doing,” Keleher said with a laugh.

With his successful ski trips and interesting photos, Keleher is a bit of an overachiever. He graduated from Westminster College in 2019 with a bachelor’s in neuroscience and looks forward to grad school. In high school he said he was always “the quiet one in the back with my head in a book.”

Keleher had help from the gear company g3gear, which gave him some funding and let him share his trip photos on their Instagram page. More sponsorships would be welcome, as that would help him do more of what he loves and share it with a bigger audience.

Though Keleher doesn’t necessarily see himself as an inspiration, he hopes that people who hear about his trip will feel excited to pursue their own ambitions and dreams. “I’m already looking forward to the next trip, and I’d like to do Mont Blanc and some peaks in Europe.”

If Keleher finds out that he has set a world record, it would be his second. On his 11th birthday, he set a Guinness World Record for “Most Snails on Face,” with 43. “I just read the record in a book when I was younger and thought, ‘I could totally beat that.’”