To ascend the seven summits, Palmer saved Mount Everest for his final climb

By Erin Prather Stafford / August 2011

Dr. Biff Palmer, professor of internal medicine, followed a unique training regimen in preparing to climb the tallest mountain on each continent. On weekends he would stuff his backpack with bags of peritoneal dialysis fluid and climb the stairwell of the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Biomedical Research Building. He took the elevator down to save his knees.

This 11-floor workout –about 180 feet – was done repeatedly for over an hour each time. Dr. Palmer used the routine to prepare for every expedition, the last being a summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, on May 21.

It was the final chapter in a story that began 10 years ago.

Standing at base camp with Mount Everest in the background, Biff Palmer, MD, shows his true colors. With the successful ascent of the world’s tallest mountain on May 21, Dr. Palmer has now climbed the tallest peak on each of the earth’s seven continents.

Dr. Palmer’s fascination with mountains began when he watched programs about mountaineering on television, and it peaked after Dr. Beck Weathers, a Dallas pathologist who survived a famed disaster on Everest in 1996, gave a talk at UT Southwestern.

“He told his story and in the midst of all the tragedy something just struck me,” Dr. Palmer recalled. “I wanted to do this. So the first mountain I attempted to climb was Mount Rainier in Washington. Unfortunately, I was woefully out of shape and didn’t even reach the summit. After doing more rigorous training, I returned to Rainier and made it to the top. My second mountain was Kilimanjaro. After that successful climb the idea of conquering all seven summits became a goal and a passion.”

The ‘seven summits’ are so called because each is the highest peak on its own continent. They are: Asia’s Mount Everest, at 29,035 feet, in Nepal; South America’s Aconcagua (22,841 feet), in Argentina; North America’s Denali (20,320 feet), in Alaska; Africa’s Kilimanjaro (19,340 feet), in Tanzania; Europe’s Elbrus (18,510 feet), in Russia; Antarctica’s Vinson (16,050 feet); and Australia-Oceania’s Carstensz Pyramid (16,024 feet), in Indonesia.

“I learned through my experiences and have attempted to impart to medical students and patients that no matter how difficult a challenge one faces, nor how many obstacles are put in your way, stay the course,” said Dr. Palmer. “The reward of achieving your goals is clearly worth the effort. In successfully achieving my goals I have become more focused and able to use what I have gained to become a better physician and educator.

While at the Mt. Everest base camp Dr. Palmer was able to maintain communication with his children via text messaging. He credits their support with helping him fulfill his dream. He is unsure of how many more mountains are in his future, but can say with satisfaction that there are now no regrets for the journeys he’s taken.

“I have been motivated by many of the outstanding faculty here at UT Southwestern,” he says. “I am particularly reminded of a statement spoken by Dr. Daniel Foster. While he did not compose these words, he certainly had an eloquent way of expressing them, ‘Learn as if you will live forever, and live as if you will die tomorrow.’”