This Southern Utah man is climbing 52 mountain peaks in 52 weeks because ‘every single life is important’

St. George resident Don Gilman on the summit of Broken Top in the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Don Gilman, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A Southern Utah resident has climbed an abundance of mountains in his life, both mental and physical. Now he’s climbing 52 mountain peaks in 52 weeks to raise awareness for something that has affected him deeply.

Don Gilman knew something was wrong when he woke up one night in December 2014 and didn’t find his then-13-year-old son asleep in his bed. After searching the RV his family was living in then, Gilman went outside and called out his son’s name. He finally found his son nearby after hearing choking sounds. If it had been a minute later, his son would be gone.

“I knew he was hurting, and I knew he was suffering,” Gilman said. “It’s one of my greatest failures as a parent is that I didn’t recognize how bad it was. It’s the worst moment of my life.”

Although Gilman blamed himself for his son’s suicide attempt, he considered his family lucky because his son was saved. But Gilman himself has lost more than six close friends to suicide and has hospitalized himself twice for suicidal thoughts stemming from having post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

Faced with slipping grades in college this year while going through a divorce and enduring his children moving to a different state, Gilman found refuge in climbing. He’s climbed over 200 mountain peaks in the four years he’s been living in St. George.

He decided to take a year off from his schooling at Dixie State University starting in the spring 2019 semester after realizing he needed to focus on his mental health.

St. George resident Don Gilman climbing Aries Butte at Zion National Park, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Don Gilman, St. George News

“It got really bad. I was really at a point where I was like I don’t know how much more I could go through.”

Gilman is embarking on something he’s always wanted to do – climbing as many mountains as he can in a year.

Climbing is his passion, but he said he had a flash of inspiration that he could climb for himself and for suicide prevention. In November, he created Climb to the Light, an organization dedicated to raising money for suicide prevention groups as he attempts to hike 52 mountain peaks in 52 weeks. His first climb will take place Jan. 1.

He created a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $2,000. While the account has garnered a little over $200, which helped Gilman with startup costs for the website, the money donated to the account will go to the following suicide prevention groups: To Write Love on Her Arms, Hope for the Day, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Southwest Affiliate of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Gilman is also in the process of gaining sponsors. One of his sponsors, Film and Media Alliance Southern Utah, recently donated $70, which Gilman said will be presented to the Southwest Affiliate of NAMI sometime next week. When it comes to his climbing endeavors, he said he hopes to have people sponsor mountains.

“(It’s) getting people to say, ‘If you get to the summit of this peak, I’ll sponsor $5 for that mountain,'” he said. “If you get 100 people with five bucks, that’s going to be a significant amount of money for one mountain.”

How Gilman chose which mountains he would climb during the 52 weeks came down to the quality of the climbs. While he plans on climbing a lot of peaks near Southern Utah, Nevada and Arizona, he also plans on branching out to more Alpine peaks during the summer when weather permits. He said he plans on completing quite a few technical climbs, but he will also do simple walk-up climbs as well, so people can join him if they want.

Don Gilman climbing in Snow Canyon State Park, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Don Gilman, St. George News

Gilman’s first and last climb will be Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park, which holds a special place in his heart. A week after his son’s suicide attempt, Gilman hiked Angel’s Landing and recalled it as a “very emotional” hike.

“I pretty much ran up. I got there in 45 minutes.”

Around four or five months after his son got out of the hospital, he and his son returned to Angel’s Landing and hiked it together.

His No. 1 goal for his 52 peaks in 52 weeks endeavor is to help erase the stigma surrounding suicide.

“People have told me, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t talk about your son’s suicide attempt so much,” Gilman said. “It needs to be an open conversation that we have on a regular basis.”

To keep the conversation going, Gilman hopes to interview people and share their stories about losing a loved one to suicide. Besides the website, Climb to the Light also has a Facebook page, where posts about suicide prevention are often shared. Gilman also posts pictures of the hikes he’s been completing to train for the climbs he will execute during those 52 weeks.

Besides being able to say he accomplished climbing 52 mountains in 52 weeks, he said he hopes this project will change people’s lives, whether that’s getting more money to organizations that need it or getting more people to open up about suicide.

If he reached one person and stopped him or her from committing suicide, Gilman said this project would be 100 percent successful because “every single life is important.”

Ed. note: When making charitable contributions it is advisable to consult with professionals for tax advice and investment risks.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Real Life December 22, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Very good read.

  • Pundit2 December 22, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Wonderful idea to raise awareness! Thank you for your efforts, Don!

  • Brian December 22, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Good luck! Search for “Tapping PTSD” on YouTube and follow along. You’ll be surprised at how fast memories that caused you anxiety and depression all of a sudden are just memories with no negative emotions attached to them. 3 one-hour sessions of Tapping (aka EFT) cured me of severe depression after 20 years of trying everything. Two thumbs up. I went to a practitioner, but you can do it yourself for free (it just may take longer).

  • Carpe Diem December 22, 2018 at 12:08 pm

    Great read! And don’t forget to spread some peaks out through the years. Best! Carpe Diem!

  • The Dean December 23, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    great story! good luck!

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