Local mountaineer inspires Truckee womens group
Facing 150 mph winds and subzero temperatures atop an ice-capped goliath crinkled with snow-covered crevasses is terrifying in itself. The thought of conquering such a beast would make the average outdoor enthusiast shudder with fear. The ever-snowy monolith depicted is none other than Alaskas Mount McKinley, which rises to an elevation of 20,320 feet, making it the highest peak in North America.At Truckees Madigans Grill & Tavern on Monday, in front of an assembled group of North Tahoe/Truckee Women Empowering Women members, Norma Jean Bowers called the mountain only one of my life adventures.The Alaska native and 15-year Truckee resident became the first woman to solo climb Mount McKinley in June of 1990, an accomplishment that North Tahoe/Truckee Women Empowering Women holds in high esteem.The group was formed less than two years ago with the goal of recruiting engaging speakers to the organization to motivate, educate and inspire each other in our daily lives, according to a release.Pat Nash, co-president of the organization, said the group chose Bowers as a speaker because shes an empowering person, especially with what she has accomplished. Shes a great example, Nash said.The groups other president, Jeannine Karnofsky, agreed, adding: She did something we all wish we had the courage to do.Bowers said she had been building up the courage to propel herself to the top since the age of 14. After her father was severely burned, Bowers recalls hearing him say how much more he wished he had done with his life. His words had an emboldening effect. She decided that she would spend her life doing, not wishing.Soon Bowers became interested in cross-country skiing and eventually became a guide in Denali National Park home of Mount McKinley. Giving guided tours of the lower peaks around Mount McKinley, Bowers helped train climbers for expedition hikes.After climbing the summit in groups, Bowers said she wondered just how much she was actually doing while guiding. How dependent on the group was she?A friend suggested she attempt the climb alone. She did in 1986 but was unsuccessful. Her journey was cut short when she was caught in a snowstorm and ran out of food and fuel. She made it to 19,000 feet before circumstances forced her to turn back.Four years passed before Bowers second attempt on the massive mountain. The second time, Bowers said, I knew I could do it and she did.She attributes her success to visualization.I spent a lot of time, people call it meditating, Bowers said. I saw myself on the summit. When youve been there in your mind, you can be there in your body.Bowers set out from the Alaskan town of Talkeetna in a small airplane that dropped her off on a glacier system at the base of the mountain. In two days, Bowers reached 14,000 feet to make her first camp. There, she experienced an onslaught of snowfall that lasted five days. Every two hours I had to shovel off my tent, said Bowers, explaining that the work was not to avoid being crushed but rather to maintain the transfer of oxygen.At such high elevations, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, climbers have to constantly be aware of acute mountain sickness, which occurs because of a combination of reduced air pressure and a lack of oxygen. The symptoms can be life-threatening and affect the heart, muscles, lungs and nervous system.After weathering the storm, Bowers next stop was at 17,000 feet, where she saw something that nearly put her expedition in jeopardy. It was a low ring of clouds on the horizon, signaling an impending storm.Instead of resting, Bowers attempted to make the summit that night. With sunlight ever-present in Alaska during the summer, Bowers said visibility wasnt a problem. But will power was.Along the trail, Bowers encountered the dead body of a climber. He was a Japanese man, frozen to death, sitting on the trail. She passed the body and finally reached the spot where she had failed on her first attempt. Her will power suddenly faltered.Then, Bowers said, the distant sight of a married couple who had followed her up the snowy peak gave her the inspiration she needed.Human pride was my gift, she said, describing how the glimpse of the two climbers motivated her to push on. With renewed spirits, she grabbed her ice picks and hauled herself up an ice bulge to become the first woman to solo climb Mount McKinley.When you set out on the path to find out what youre capable of, youll go farther than you thought, Bowers said.After the story of her harrowing adventure, members of North Tahoe/Truckee Women Empowering Women were speechless for a moment before remembering the courtesy of applause. It is now womens time, said Karnofsky, the co-president of the group. Women have been lighting candles all over the world, now its time for us to light torches … to seek out the women in the dark corners of the world … be a shining example saying you can do it.
The North Tahoe/Truckee Women Empowering Women organization has bought gifts for the Truckee-Donner Senior Apartments and Meals on Wheels and collected cell phones for Tahoe Womens Services for women at risk. The organization has about 50 members and has plans to expand beyond Truckee in the future.