Female pilots embark on memorial hike in Yosemite | SierraSun.com

Female pilots embark on memorial hike in Yosemite

Alex Close
Sierra Sun

Provided to the SunA group of 13 female pilots pose beneath Amelia Earhart Peak in Yosemite last week before summiting the mountain on Earhart's 110th birthday.

Shrouded in gray summer thunderclouds, 11,982-foot Amelia Earhart peak was a dramatic sight early last week.

The peak rises up among countless Yosemite peaks, but on Tuesday, July 24, it was special. It was, after all, Earhart’s birthday.

As Bob Horvath’s Baron Beechcraft C55 flew closer to the peak, tiny dots could be seen amidst the pile of Volkswagen-sized boulders that make up the summit of Amelia Earhart Peak.

The dots were not just any midsummer climbers, but a team of female pilots from across the country who climb the peak every 10 years to commemorate the birth of one of the most famous pilots in aviation history ” man or woman.

Amelia Earhart would have been 110 years old on July 24, and that is exactly the reason why these 13 female pilots were on the summit that cloudy summer day.

“I think she really blazed the trail for women getting into aviation, and it was a great way to commemorate her birth and experience something with other women,” said Truckee’s Mary Zapponi, a pilot and member of the group that summited the peak.

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Zapponi said the day of the summit started out blue and sunny, and it wasn’t until the climbers reached the peak just after 11 a.m. that the thunder started to clap.

The group started on July 20 at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, then hiked in to their 9,500-foot base camp in Lyle Canyon two days later, Zapponi said.

After a day of rest and acclimation for the women ” most of whom live close to sea level ” they started the eight-mile round trip summit on the morning of Earhart’s 110th birthday.

The group of 13 did not all reach the summit at the same time. Zapponi was in the lead group, and once they found themselves on the nearly 12,000-foot peak with thunder clapping around them, they hunkered down in the rocks, sheltered from the wind, rain and possible lightning.

According to Zapponi, each of the 13 women went to the top briefly before coming back down, as they all wanted to accomplish the climb but didn’t want to hang around on the exposed summit for too long.

Many of the women were not experienced hikers, backpackers or climbers, making the trip not only a tribute to Earhart, but a personal accomplishment.

“For some of the gals it was a monumental achievement,” Zapponi said.

Even Zapponi, a seasoned hiker, said that this was her first long self sufficient backpacking trip. While the Truckee resident has done a lot of day hiking, she had not done any overnight trips where she carried her own gear.

While the hike was an adventure, and an accomplishment in itself, it was primarily a way for female pilots to commemorate a pioneer in aviation, and experience something with other women. And while Zapponi was the only woman on the trip who is not a member of the 99s ” a women’s aviation club ” she was welcomed. Even after the training, the rain and the thunder, the women were all smiles during their post-climb celebration back at Tuolumne Meadows on July 25.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Zapponi said.

The team that climbed Amelia Earhart peak consisted of female pilots ages 36-66; seven of them are in their 60s, five in their 50s and one is 36.

All the pilots except Zapponi were members of the 99s, a women’s pilot club ” one from Tennessee, one from Massachusetts, two from Nevada and the rest from California.

Of the 13-member team, five of the women climbed the peak in 1997 for Earhart’s 100th birthday.

The 13 hikers include Lynn Meadows, climb organizer from Truckee; Cindy Pickett, climb leader of Novato, Calif; Pat Pittelkow of Rohnert Park, Calif; Pat Chan of El Cerrito, Calif; Theresa Levandoski-Byers of Freedom, Calif; Nancy Maas of Eureka, Calif; Julieann Sikora of Sylmar, Calif; Kitty Houghton of Novato, Calif; Mary Zapponi of Truckee; Alanna McClellan of Incline Village; Linda Mae Draper of Gardnerville, Nev; Jean Harris of Chelmsford, Mass; and Adele McDonald of Hartford Tenn.