Project 50-in-50: Conquering New Heights with Type 1


Right now, two adventurers with type 1 diabetes are mounting a glacier in Alaska. In a few days, they will reach the summit of Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. For most climbers, reaching the summit of a mountain might be the end goal, but these two actually start their journey as soon as they summit Denali.

Project 50-in-50 is the brainchild of two outdoorsmen with type 1 diabetes (T1D) whose goal is to summit 50 mountain peaks across the United States in only 50 days. The moment they summit Denali, the timer starts and the race to make this lofty goal a reality is on. Beyond Type 1 spoke with Michael Shelver and Patrick Mertes, the team behind this amazing idea.

The inspiration

Michael and Patrick met in 2015, at Diabetic Youth Families, an organization based in Northern California. The two were putting on programs for campers in the Sierra Nevada. They found they both had an affinity for what is described by adventurers as “Type II Fun.” Not to be confused with the type of diabetes, this kind of fun refers to things that are grueling and not particularly fun while you’re doing them, but are considered fun in retrospect. Patrick says, “Once you’re done, you can look back on the experience and really appreciate what you’ve done. Both of us have an affinity for that. There’s been a lot of different trails and challenges that Michael and I have both tackled together.”

Upon completing the John Muir Trail in August last year, Patrick called Michael and expressed interest in involving more members of the type 1 community in their next big challenge. They threw out ideas like getting a group together to climb Denali, which Michael had already done, or some other amazing feat, but they quickly realized it’d be difficult to get as many people as they wanted involved if they only chose one specific location.

“Eventually, we kind of came to the decision that just one summit wouldn’t be enough to fill our cups and wouldn’t touch enough people in our community. That’s really how Project 50-in-50 was born—just this idea of being able to maximize our outreach, getting everybody involved that would want to get outdoors, that’s affected by this condition,” Patrick says.

Around this time, Michael stumbled upon a practice called “highpointing,” which involves seeking out and attempting to climb the highest point in every state. He explains that, “Most people try to do this over their lifetime, so a lot of people try to do the 50 high points before they retire. But then I started noticing that people were going for speed records for it. That kind of interested me, to see, how fast are you able to do the 50 peaks? And just the logistical challenge.”

Both loved the mountaineering and road trip aspects to the idea, as well as the the added timing difficulty this specific challenge would bring.

The logistics

Denali is the highest peak Michael and Patrick will summit. It’s a 20,000+ foot summit, and most people might spend an entire summer planning and executing this kind of expedition. Michael says that a number of variables make things interesting up there, among them extreme temperatures (dropping down to -40 degrees), glaciated terrain, as well as scheduling a flight and flying onto the glacier itself to begin the trek. Then comes the task of getting off the glacier, after which the two will race to the Anchorage Airport to try to get the first flight out in order to reach the next destination as quickly as possible.

The timing over the course of these 50 days is undoubtedly the most important aspect—and biggest challenge. The duo will be driving over 16,000 miles (only the use of a private jet would be faster) and using a route planner to optimize, finding the fastest route from point to point. On top of that is coordinating the arrival of everyone else who joins in, as 110 different groups across the US have signed up so far to join Michael and Patrick at some point along the way.

Those who have signed up have been made aware of the difficulty of nailing down an exact meeting time—while there is a rough schedule, so many aspects will come into play along this journey. For a lot of the trip, Patrick says, “We might not know our arrival time at a particular trail head until maybe 48 hours before we actually arrive there. So we’ve been really transparent and clear with people that have signed up to join us on these expeditions, or at their local state high point. The key is to be flexible with us, but I think that’s kind of the thing that makes this the unique.”

The goal

“One of the things that we’re really excited about is just the fact that there are so many members of the community that are invested and not only joining this movement but building connections with other people that are affected by this condition,” Patrick says. “Building community around type 1 is one of the things that really changes your outlook and your viewpoint on life with this condition.”

Michael and Patrick are excited to bring members of the T1D community together to work towards one common goal, and to help achieve a feat that has never been done on record by someone with type 1 diabetes. The success of this challenge will certainly come upon completion, but that isn’t the only goal. These two want to show the world what people with diabetes can do.

When asked about the overall purpose of the trip, Patrick says, “I think just to sum it up, with proper planning, absolutely anything is possible with diabetes.”

You can follow the journey on Project 50-in-50’s Instagram, and check out all of the projected summit dates online. Beyond Type 1 will also be following the 50-in-50 crew’s journey, checking in with them periodically and posting updates for others to follow along. If you’d like to meet up with Michael and Patrick in your state, find out how here.

Project 50-in-50 is a grantee of Beyond Type 1.

WRITTEN BY Jordan Dakin, POSTED 06/26/19, UPDATED 08/04/23

Jordan recently graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles after earning her BA in English and Film Studies. She is a passionate storyteller, traveler and lover of people and hopes to use her experience working in tech and as a writer to advocate for the BT1 community. In her spare time, she also enjoys hiking, karaoke and cooking for friends. Check her out on Instagram: @jordanemilydakin.