View From the Top
Volume 143, Number 3, May/June 2009, Page 4
By Lena Anthony
Photo courtesy of Dianette Wells
In 1998, Dianette Wells got 10 of her girlfriends together for a day hike up Mount Whitney, a mountain Ms. Wells had driven past many times in her home state of California. The hike was supposed to be just a fun excursion with the girls, but the moment she reached the top of the mountain it turned into so much more. “My first thought was ‘What’s next?’” Ms. Wells recalls. “It was so exhilarating.”
The next year, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. In 2003, she set out to climb the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. She accomplished that goal last summer when she summited Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.
“At the top, you feel like you’re in some other world,” she says of standing on the peak of Mount Everest, which soars above the border of Nepal and Tibet. “It’s like you’re in God’s playground and really lucky to be there.”
After snapping a few photos (including one of her with a flag given by fellow Daughters of the Malibu Chapter, Malibu, Calif.), it was suddenly time to go.
“It doesn’t last long,” she says. “I was on the summit for an hour, then we ran down. We were back to the high camp (26,000 feet) in two and a half hours.”
While climbing the other famous summits of the world can take between a week and four weeks, reaching the top of Mount Everest takes two months, due to weather conditions and strong winds that can keep climbers in their tents for days at a time.
“The entire process of reaching the summit is hurry up and wait,” Ms. Wells explains. “Summiting was a huge relief.”
She attempted to reach the top in 2005, but after two months on the mountain and the summit nowhere in sight, she had to turn back. “When I left my kids, I told them I’d be home in two months, and I wanted to keep my promise to them,” she says.
Ms. Wells admits that being a mom of three makes her extreme hobby difficult at times. “When you’re on the mountain, all you want is to be home with your kids, but when you’re home with your kids, you dream of being on a mountain,” she says. “Both pull so heavily on me.”
Fortunately, she’s found three new climbing buddies in her children. As Ms. Wells was coming down Everest, she ran into oldest daughter Brianna, 18, who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and was in Nepal to meet her mom. “I knew she’d be there, but I didn’t know when or where I would see her,” she says. “I left messages for her at all the teahouses on the way to base camp. I told people if you see this little blond girl, tell her that her mother’s coming.”
Her son, Johnny, 17, is planning to summit Mount Everest this year, and her youngest daughter, MacKenna, 12, will take on Mount Kilimanjaro with her mother as soon as she turns 13.
She’s also found another love through mountain climbing—her fiancé, Todd Burleson, who has climbed Mount Everest nine times. He proposed to Ms. Wells in Kathmandu, Nepal, the day before she left for base camp.
“Ten years ago, I was just a mom with three kids, focused on raising my family, which was wonderful, but I knew I needed something more,” she says of her thrill-seeking interests, which also include weeklong adventure races, cross-country bike rides and ultramarathons. “It’s been a great example for my kids that nothing is impossible.”
With that can-do attitude, Ms. Wells is looking forward to accomplishing her next goal. She’d like to be the fastest woman to climb the Seven Summits. And, yes, that means she’s going to have to take them on all over again.