U-M spine surgeon climbs the ‘7 Summits’ of tallest mountain peaks on each continent


A local spine surgeon reached an incredible feat – and it’s outside the operating room. He completed what’s known as the “Seven Summits” — which are the tallest mountain peaks on each continent.

Before Rock Patel conquers breathtaking views, the journey starts in a walk-in closet full of climbing gear at his Ann Arbor home.

“This is a lot of my climbing and camping gear,” he said.

Being an accomplished mountaineer is Patel’s hobby – his 9-to-5 is as an orthopedic surgeon for the University of Michigan Health.

“There was no climbing where I grew up, where I grew up, it was essentially the inner city of Queens. So I wasn’t exposed to it at a young age,” Patel said.

Patel says he started climbing in 2007 after finishing his residency at U-M.

Rock Patel

Over the years, he’s left a maize and blue calling card atop some of the highest peaks in the world.

Patel summited the tallest peaks in each continent including Mount Kilimanjaro, Everest, and Denali.

“I think my experiences in residency and training were really useful in helping me succeed on the mountains,” he said. “When you’re in residency, you work really long hours, and you deal with a lot of stressful situations.”

Conversely, Patel says climbing has made him a better doctor.

“It teaches you to stay calm in stressful situations, I think that’s one of the most valuable things,” he said.

Rock Patel

Recently, climbing has become one of the fastest growing sports.  Rock climbing gyms have made it more accessible to learn.

Rock Patel says there’s a valuable lesson of resilience taught with each climb.

“There’s a lot of times I’ve gone climbing, and haven’t reached the top – some would consider that climb a failure,” he said. “You learn a lot of lessons along the way. You have to put the pieces back together again, and decide if you’re going to try again and do a better job. The same applies with surgeries too.” 

Rock Patel



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