Top of the world: Truckee women attempting Everest summit
Even if it’s not about the glory of joining the elite who have stood on top of the world, for much of Truckee-resident Mimi Vadasz’s life, Mt. Everest has drawn her to its storied peaks.
Vadasz, a lifelong mountain and rock-climbing instructor – and 48-year-old mother of two – is currently part of a small team attempting one of mountaineering’s greatest challenges: To summit Mt. Everest.
“Everest means different things to different people,” said Bela Vadasz, Mimi’s husband and co-owner of the Norden-based Alpine Skills International mountaineering school. The couple has been keeping in touch via satellite-enable e-mail since Mimi left for Nepal two weeks ago.
“It’s about having big-mountain savvy. When you’re dealing with big mountains like Everest, it’s more about physiological changes than technical climbing.”
Currently, Mimi is reporting the team’s progress from base camp, located at 17,600 feet at the foot of Everest. Over the next three weeks, Mimi and her climbing partners – along with experienced contracted Sherpa guides, will make a series of climbs, visiting four camps farther up the mountain, and regularly descending, moving gear and acclimatizing. During this most difficult part of the climb, the goal is to balance muscle fatigue and loss against the debilitating, and sometimes deadly, effects of altitude sickness.
The climbs will take the team to camp 1 at 19,500 feet, camp 2 at 21,000 feet, camp 3 below the Lhotse peak at 23,500 feet, and finally camp 4 at 26,300 during their trek up the south summit. Mt. Everest summit is at 29,035 feet.
Other team members include: Six-time Everest veteran Bob Hoffman as expedition leader, Robert Boice, Chuck Huss, Tom Burch, Robert Rowley, Brian O’Connor, Dan Smith and Brett Shepard. Burch and Rowley both have ties to the Lake Tahoe area, and both are graduates of ASI.
The Everest trip has been a long time coming for Mimi and Bela. The couple applied for their permit, an arduous and expensive process required by the Nepalese government, in 1991. At that time, the couple climbed Makalu, one of the 14 Himalayan peaks that rises above 8,000 meters. They had planned to climb together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sir Edmund Hillary’s first summit of Everest, and Bela’s 50th birthday, which happens to fall around the same time.
But life threw them a curve in the ensuing 12 years, and Bela, also an expert climber and veteran of hundreds of alpine climbs and expeditions, decided stay home to tend to their two sons, 11-year-old Tobin and 8-year-old Logan.
“It was her time,” Bela said in an interview last week. “In the old days you kind of earned your seat on an Everest expedition with experience.”
“I’m not saying there is not a risk,” Bela said of his wife’s decision to make the journey to Everest. “I’m saying it is reasonable for her to be there.
“Experience gives her the ability to assess those risks.”
During the planning stages of the trip, team members were faced with tough decisions about this season’s proposed expedition. During the North American spring and fall, there are two, two-month weather windows that climbers must adhere to. With the 50th anniversary of the first summit of Everest, came a virtual deluge of applicants who also wanted to memorialize the event.
“We were worried about congestion on the mountain,” Bela said. “There has been so much notoriety (since the team applied in 1991). We asked ourselves ‘Do we really want to do this?’ There was a lot of soul-searching going on.”
The couple, and the team, was faced with the prospect of the mountain being crowded by what Bela calls “mid-life crisis climbers.”
“Some people say ‘I’ll just put the $65,000 down and climb to the top of Everest,'” he said. “The problem is, they may not have much climbing experience.”
A poor economy, worldwide reduction in travel, and stricter and more expensive permit processes by the Nepalese government put many of those fears to rest. The team decided to continue with its plans when it looked like the initial flood of climbing teams was dwindling.
In a climbing career that spans 30 years and many of the world’s most famous peaks, the couple has logged six trips to the Himalayas. They use that experience to impart their climbing philosophy to students who come to ASI to pursue mountaineering as a “life sport.”
“We say no matter who you are, if you go to the Himalayas, you come back a different person,” Bela said. “To us it is all part of the package. The goal of climbing is not necessarily the height you go above sea level, it’s the experience you have while you are there.”
“It’s climbing with style and ethics.”
Both Bay Area expatriates, the couple started Alpine Skills International after they were involved in mountaineering programs at San Francisco State University in the 1970s.
In the early 1980s, the couple operated a “bunk and breakfast” for outdoor enthusiasts in Norden. The business has since evolved into a full-service climbing, guiding and mountaineering school, preparing many students for careers in the mountaineering industry.
Now ASI offers courses in skiing, snowboarding, rock and ice climbing, mountaineering, and alpine and expedition travel. Many courses deal with backcountry knowledge, and can range in price from $150 and up per day depending on location and class size. ASI also offers travel courses to places like Mt. Shasta, Mt. Whitney and Whistler, as well as trips overseas to mountainous areas in the Himalayas, European Alps and Mexico, to name a few.
The school can be reached at (530) 426-9108 or on the Web at http://www.alpineskills.com.
For updates and information on the Mt. Everest 2003 expedition and Vadasz’s progress, log on to http://www.everest03.com.
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