Ryan Rivard Embarks on The Everest Project

by | Apr 2024

Ryan Rivard's climb in 2022.

Ryan Rivard’s climb in 2022. Photos: Ryan Rivard

And the climb is just the start of his latest journey.

On April 8, 2024, 41-year-old Wayzata local Ryan Rivard boarded an airplane and set off on the adventure of a lifetime. His first destination: Lukla, Nepal. His ultimate destination: the peak of Mount Everest.

“Honestly, I’m just really pumped,” Rivard says, when speaking about his upcoming trip. “I’m pretty stoked about everything.” 

Rivard has been training for the climb since early 2023. “I’ve probably been training for about seven or eight months with the oxygen deprivation mask, about one or two months with the weight vest,” he says. “Usually, I go about two and a half to three hours every day, except for one day a week.”

The goal behind his grueling workout schedule goes beyond mere fitness or summiting the world’s highest peak. Rivard’s climb aims to bring attention to the metaphorical mountains many youth face in their own lives. “I’m trying to use it as a metaphor for the fact that everybody struggles with their own personal mountain,” he says. “Whether or not you face it directly, you may have family members that struggle with mental health issues, depression, whatever it might be.”

Ryan Rivard

Rivard’s own metaphorical mountain loomed over him at an early age. After losing his grandfather at the age of 7 to suicide, Rivard turned toward unhealthy coping mechanisms. “At the age of 19, I ended up having an overdose in my front yard and was actually given CPR from a friend of mine,” he says.

This was his wakeup call, and Rivard went to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Plymouth for treatment. “Since then, I’ve had over 21 years of continuous sobriety,” he says. “I got to this place now where I want to be able to start really making an impact and trying to give back.”

To this end, Rivard and a colleague founded the nonprofit Let’s Fuel Growth, which raises money for mental health awareness as it relates to suicide prevention and youth recovery from addiction. “Let’s Fuel Growth is the vehicle, the vessel, and we’re going to use that to set up scholarships,” he says. 

Some scholarships Rivard already has in mind include the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation as well as The Retreat in Wayzata. “The climb is really just the initial phase of it,” he says, noting that Let’s Fuel Growth will continue to reach out to corporate sponsors both during and after the climb.

Mountain Panoramic

Previous Peaks

Mount Everest isn’t the first summit Rivard set out to conquer. In 2022, he reached the Himalayan peaks of Lobuche East and Mount Ama Dablam over the month of November. “I actually watched the Netflix documentary called 14 Peaks. And after watching that, [the climbing team] really just inspired me,” he says. The documentary follows the journey of Nepalese mountaineer Nirmal Purja and his team, Elite Exped, as they successfully climb all 14 eight-thousander peaks within the record time of under seven months. 

Rivard reached out to Elite Exped to collaborate on his 2022 climbs, and then he set to work training for the next six months. “They were impressed that I was able to complete both of them in the same time frame,” he says. “Ama Dablam is actually technically more advanced than Everest. That was a good test to see my skill sets and whether or not I could handle that stuff.”

But although he was successful, Rivard says the trips were by no means easy. “I realize climbing is more than just physical,” he says. “Your mind will give up a lot quicker than your body will. And so your mind will say, ‘No, you can’t do this anymore. It’s too hard,’ whatever it might be, and [you] realize that you can push through that.”

So, what was it like at the peaks? “So first off, it was negative 40. And the wind … ” Rivard says. He could hardly be heard over it. “It took us eight hours to summit. And this is eight hours of one of the hardest physical activities that you could possibly do … imagine doing a workout that maybe you do for an hour, but then do that for eight hours straight.”

When Rivard reached the peaks, he was fatigued, but a rush of excitement kicked in, too. At the top, “You’re above the clouds. You’re almost to where airplanes fly, and you can see everything,” he says. “And so it’s this feeling of joy, fatigue, all the emotions all in one. It’s quite spectacular, and it’s surreal at the same time.”

A 360-view of the peak.

New Heights

His successful summits planted two seeds in Rivard’s mind. The first was to tackle Mount Everest. The second was to ramp up his fundraising efforts.

For the 2022 climbs, Rivard raised money and awareness for the Minnesota Veterans Council. “[I] got some good traction from that and decided, well, maybe this is something that we could do a little bit bigger,” he says. “I thought to myself, well, maybe this time around we’ll try to get more attention to it.”

Rivard hopes that cataloguing his journey on Everest through Instagram and his website will help shine a light on the causes of mental health, youth recovery and suicide prevention. “Everybody at some point will be affected by mental health issues,” he says. “What I’m trying to do is to bring more attention to that, especially for younger generations, and to let them know that, ‘Hey, really, anything is possible. If you have a community, if you have the support systems, and you just reach out and know that you’re not alone, people are here to guide you through that process.’”

Rivard’s journey begins with a two-week climb to base camp, acclimating as he goes along. Mount Everest’s South Base Camp is at an altitude just shy of 18,000 feet, “So it already is quite significant,” he says. After reaching base camp, he’ll spend a couple of weeks rotating between high camps and low camps to further acclimate to the altitude. “And then, pending the weather window, you have a couple of weeks then to work on the summit, but it may take five, six days or so,” he says.

And once the weather and the training align, Rivard will begin his eight-hour accent. “Obviously, it’s a dangerous trip,” he says. “There are moments during the training where you think about it, right? You think about these stories and all that stuff. But I think for me, one of the things I’ve been trying to practice, actually, most of my sobriety has been positive affirmations, telling yourself what it is you’re going to become, what it is you’re going to do, and then eventually doing those things. Now, I’m just going into it feeling successful about it, already visualizing the success of the trip and the summit and coming home safely to my family.”

Follow along with Rivard’s journey at theryanrivard.com and on Instagram at @theryanrivard.

The Ryan Rivard
Instagram: @theryanrivard

Let’s Fuel Growth
Facebook: Let’s Fuel Growth
Instagram: @letsfuelgrowth


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