Truckee woman makes the top of Everest, fulfills lifelong dream
July 3, 2003
At 5:30 a.m. on the morning of May 26, Truckee resident Mimi Vadasz became the 13th American women, and the oldest women ever to summit Mount Everest.
In itself, this was an amazing and inspirational feat. But this was not the reason Vadasz went to Everest.
“When I was 14-years-old my dad was dying and he called me into his room. I knew it was probably going to be the last time we talked. He asked me what I wanted to do in life, and asked me if I had any dreams. I told him I wanted to be on the top of the world. I said I’d like to climb Everest because I really enjoyed climbing. He said when I did climb to the top, he would be there with me in spirit,” Vadasz said.
“So climbing Everest was always a dream for me, it was never a goal.”
The summit of Mount Everest stands 29,048 feet tall and holds roughly one third the amount of oxygen found at sea level. According to Vadasz the mountain has actually grown since the last time it was measured.
To summit Everest sounds like a dream, but one must have both feet firmly placed in reality to ever attempt such a feat, because the trip to the top of the world is definitely no walk in the park.
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The first stage is to hike 32 miles up to base camp. This trek alone takes climbers from 9,000 to 17,600 feet. Vadasz arrived in Lukla on April 3, later than the rest of her group so she had to play catch up.
“You want to take your time going from 9,000 to 11,000 feet. Then pace yourself up to 12,500 feet. You don’t want to go too high too fast.”
Since Vadasz lives at 6,500 feet in Truckee, she was at an advantage compared to some of here team members who live at sea level.
Her climb to base camp took her 13 days.
From here it is crucial for the climbers to begin acclimatizing to the elevation. Vadasz spent most of her time at base camp adapting to the elevation by hiking up to high peaks around the camp and then coming back down to sleep.
“The goal is to climb high, sleep low,” Vadasz said.
From base camp the next step for climbers is to reach camp one at 19,500 feet. Although the climb to camp one is just less than 2,000 feet, it is one of the most dangerous portions of Everest due to the Khumbu Ice Falls.
The Khumbu Ice Falls consist of 2,000 feet of icefalls and vertical crevasses. Climbers make their way up the falls through a series of ladders connecting from one chunk of ice to another. Sometimes the ladders stretch horizontal over deep crevasses. Add in a 40 to 50 pound backpack to through off balance, and the falls become even more unstable.
Vadasz had her first big acclimatization trip up the icefalls on April 23. The day before a section of the falls collapsed leaving two Sherpas seriously injured.
“The Ice falls are like playing Russian Roulette. I went through the falls as quickly as I could. I tried to go through each time by myself because I just wanted to do it as quickly and as safely as possible,” Vadasz said.
In the end Vadasz made four round-trips through the icefalls.
“Each time it was completely different,” she said.
When Vadasz and the rest of the team reached camp two at 21,000 feet, the weather became a definite factor in their advance up the mountain.
Upon reaching camp two most teams try not to advance until they know there is a clear window to summit. Vadasz and the team had several different means of predicting when they could in fact summit.
For $150 they received jet stream reports three days in advance from a company in England. At the same time Bela Vadasz had contacted a reputable climber and avalanche forecaster named Peter Lev.
“He’s the kind of guy that when he talks, I listen,” Bela said.
Lev had been following the weather patterns by studying the weather balloons released from India. Two and a half weeks before the groups summit date, Lev predicted there would be a small break in the jet stream on the 25th and 26th of May. Lev passed on the word to Bela who relayed the message to the anxiously awaiting Everest team.
“At camp two we felt weaker by the minute,” Vadasz said.
The group stayed at camp two for four days waiting for their summit window. “We just kept waiting for our window, but it didn’t come. I just kept telling everyone to keep the 25th and 26th in mind,” Vadasz said.
After four days of waiting and loosing muscle, the group continued on to camp three, which sits at 23,500 feet. From camp three they continued on to camp four at 26,300 feet.
The area surrounding camp four is known as the death zone. “You’re always thinking about death, so it makes you feel so alive,” Vadasz said. “We all had our death dreams. We had friends, experienced climbers that died up there. It keeps you really humbled and makes you appreciate life.”
For two days the group waited patiently for their chance. Then on the night of May 25, the group departed camp four at 8:30 p.m. and headed for the summit.
The group had to move quickly because they were shooting for a break in the jet stream. For six hours the winds on the summit were predicted to fall from 90 knots to 40 knots. But by noon the winds were expected to pick up again.
After climbing a few thousand feet, climbers reach what is called the balcony. The balcony is often an area where climbers will rest up and reload on oxygen, or turn around and head back down.
“I thought about everything on the way up. Before I left all of my family and friends emailed me words of encouragement and inspiration. I was rereading all of the emails in my head and thinking about my kids. Then before I knew it I had reached the South Summit.
The South Summit towers 28,700 feet above sea level. The next step from here is the Ninth Ridge. The Ninth Ridge is known to be the most exposed area on Everest. This makes it the highest exposed area of a mountain in the world.
While the Ninth Ridge is the most exposed area on the mountain, the most technical move was still to come, the Hillary Step. The Hillary Step, named after Sir Edmund Hillary, consists of 90-exposed degrees of loose rock. The move is a 5’3 to 5’5 rock climbing pitch.
Once a climber conquers the Hillary Step they are well on their way to the summit.
At 5:30 a.m. on the morning of May 26, Vadasz reached the summit hours before her other teammates.
“I said I was going to go slow. But at this point I wanted to get up there and fulfill my dream, and get out,” she said.
The entire trip from start to finish lasted 66 days. Fifty of those days were dedicated to planning, the rest for the journey. But the team planned for a much shorter trip. Four to five days was the plan for reaching the summit and the return to base camp. But four to five days quickly escalated into 12 days on the mountain with no cooperation from the weather.
On the summit the winds made it impossible to even stand and the temperature was close to 50 degrees below zero. The temperature did not allow for her to even take off her mittens.
“Up there you go from having feeling, to wood,” she said. Wood is what climbers say their appendages feel like when they go numb and lose circulation.
“I was really relieved when I reached the summit,” Vadasz said.
The time alone on top of the world with a 360-degree view also gave her time to say goodbye to her father.
“I was so young when he passed, it was nice to say goodbye and thank him for watching over me.”
But Vadasz knew the summit wasn’t the end. She still had to make the trip back down to base camp.
By 11 a.m. Vadasz had arrived safely back at camp four. After a nap she received news one of the climbers in her group might need a rescue from the balcony.
After summating, team leader Bob Hoffman didn’t have enough oxygen to make it down to camp four. With help from his Sherpas he managed to make it to more oxygen and make it down to camp four. But unfortunately, the damage was already done. Hoffman suffered severe frostbite to his hands and feet. Hoffman is still recovering.
The group spent one more day at camp four before heading down to camp two. From camp two they returned to base camp.
“By far the hardest day of the whole trip was from camp two to base camp,” Vadasz said.
“My last trip through the ice falls it had collapsed. The 12-foot ladders that were going across were dangling. We had to fix it so it was safe to cross. I loved it, I’m a climber, I like anchoring and making things safe.”
From base camp Vadasz hiked down to the village of Lucla in three days.
“I was in a hurry, I really missed my kids,” she said.
Back at home her kids were cheering her on the entire time. “They were confident in their mom. They would say not to worry, she’s a good climber,” said Bela Vadasz.
They were right to be confident in their mother, after all, she summitted the largest mountain in the world on a year were it looked to be virtually impossible.
Vadasz was one of four people out of their nine-person team to reach the summit. One of their team members turned around at base camp, while two others decided not to go on from camp two.
“Hiking Everest is 90 percent mental,” she said. “At the beginning it was rough to sit there watching teams fall apart, waiting and waiting. Most people left because of the mental aspects, not physical.”
“To climb Everest you have to dig deep. You don’t just wake up one day and say you’re going to climb Everest. The drive to do it all comes from somewhere; your past, your family and friends.
“One of my team member said to hike Everest you have to take your knowledge of climbing and throw it out the window. The mountain is filled with so many uncontrollable fears. You don’t make any decisions on Everest, she makes them for you.”
Being the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s first summit, there were a lot of climbers and teams gathering at base camp with the hopes, goals and dreams of summitting.
There were close to 25 other teams at base camp.
“There were 350 climbers at base camp not including Sherpas, and only 135 people including Sherpas actually summitted,” Vadasz said. “There has never been a year with so many climbers and so few summits. It was sad to see some people so close to the summit, but they just couldn’t make it. In the states it’s all about the summit, but over there it’s about the journey. There’s no failure if you don’t summit, it’s all a part of the journey.”
Usually the ratio is one Sherpa per climber, but sometimes climbers use more than one Sherpa. So out of the 135 climbers, nearly half of them consisted of Sherpas.
It would be faster to name the major mountains Vadasz hasn’t climbed, than to name the ones she has.
“I’m not a summit seeker, I want the pyramid gorgeous peaks,” she said.
“Those were completely different, they were goals, this was a dream. The whole experience has made me appreciate life so much more. I thought life was great before, but now I think it’s really great. The beauty of it is, it was a dream that came true. But I had to work really hard for it.”
To prepare for the climb to the top of the world Vadasz worked on endurance.
“I did everything for eight hours at a time. I was concerned with lungs and legs.”
One of her training regiments included hiking to the top of Squaw Valley U.S.A. with a heavy backpack instead of taking the ski lifts, and skiing back down.
Mimi Vadasz would like to thank her family and the people of Truckee for all of their support in her effort to achieve a life-long dream.
Congratulations Mimi, and thank you for showing us all dreams can come true.
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