Was your family supportive of your climbing?
My family was not very supportive when I first began climbing. Climbing is a dangerous sport and they were concerned about me getting hurt or dying. They thought it was very selfish. However, as the years passed, they came to understand how important climbing is to me, how it is such a huge part of who I am. They are now very supportive.
Were you treated any different from your male climbing partners?
Not really. The men I climb with treat me as an equal. I look at myself as a person first, and I just happen to be a woman. When I’m climbing, I don’t focus on myself as a woman so, neither do the men. Also, I am respected by people in the climbing community for my skills and ability.
When did you decide to climb Mt. Everest?
I made Everest my goal after climbing a very difficult route (Cassin Ridge) on Mt. McKinley in Alaska. At the time, this was the most difficult climbing I had done. My climbing partner and I only planned six days for the climb-it took us eleven. When I reached the top of McKinley I felt an incredible swell of emotion. I looked around and felt like I could see forever. And then I thought, if I could climb McKinley, then why not Everest? Six years, and many mountains later, I finally got my chance. I climbed for twelve years before I climbed Everest.
Did you reach the top on your first try?
I did not reach the top on my first try. Our team of 15 Americans, no Sherpas, attempted the direct North Face of Mt. Everest from Tibet. We made it to 26,000 feet. On our way to the top a severe storm slammed into the mountain and trapped us in a snow cave at 23,500 feet for five days . When the storm subsided we continued up to 25,500 feet and spent another three days, each day trying to climb higher, but winds on the mountain were still blowing over 100 mph. Finally, we retreated. I knew I still wanted to climb Everest. I wasn’t going to give up. I went back the following year and reached the top.
Did anyone die on your climb?
No. Our number one goal was for everyone to come back safe and sound, with all our fingers and toes. Our second goal was the top. No one died. We had two minor injuries when our team was hit by an avalanche. Don Goodman and one of our Sherpas were swept thirty feet into a crevasse. Don broke his finger and they both had minor cuts and bruises.
What do you eat?
At basecamp we eat like we would at home. For breakfast we have eggs, pancakes, hot cereal, coffee, tea, milk. Lunches can be sandwiches, soup, dried fruit, vegetables, nuts. Dinners are usually soup, rice, potatoes or pasta, some sort of meat or lentils, and dessert. Once we begin climbing and have to carry everything up the mountain on our backs, weight becomes crucial, so we usually eat high calorie light weight foods. Breakfasts are hot chocolate, hot cereal, lots of sugar and butter. Some climbers will eat butter cubes straight, like a popsicle. Not me. My favorite breakfast was a cup of freeze dried potatoes with half a cube of butter. Other climbers don’t even drain the grease off their bacon. They eat it. Lunches are usually taken in the form of snacking all day on dried fruit, candy bars, power bars, nuts, canned fish, cheese, dense breads. Dinners are typically soup, freeze dried dinner, hot drinks. The most important thing on a mountain is to stay hydrated. We must drink an incredible amount of liquid. Between 7-9 quarts of water a day. If you become dehydrated you become weak and tired. When you hydrate you stay strong and healthy. I usually drank a lot of my calories with a high carbohydrate/high calorie drink mix. 1000 calories per quart of water. Many climbers lose weight on climbs, not me. I either stay the same or even gain weight. But it takes training to make yourself eat and drink at high altitude, because you tend you lose your appetite the higher you go.
Have you seen a Yeti?
No, I haven’t. I’d sure love to see one sometime!
When did you start climbing?
I began climbing during spring break my first year of college. A friend and I saw a notice on a bulletin board in our dorm from someone who was looking for people to share a ride down to Zion National Park in southern Utah. He was going climbing. Well, it intrigued us and we signed up! I fell in love with climbing almost immediately. I knew this was what I was meant to do.
Why did you want to climb Mt. Everest?
I wanted to climb Everest to test myself. I wanted to know if I was tough enough physically and mentally to climb to the top. I wanted to know if I had the skills to do it. I also wanted to know what it would be like to stand on the top of the world.
Have you ever had altitude sickness?
No. I have the type of physiology that does well at high altitude. I seem to actually get stronger at altitude.
Were you ever afraid?
Sure. There are always times on a climb that get a little scary. However, I never thought I was going to die. In order to move upwards in climbing, I have to recognize that I am afraid, and really pay attention. I have to ask myself: “Am I afraid because I’m in a dangerous situation or is it psychological?” If I’m in a dangerous situation, then I should be afraid. But the important thing here is to control the emotion of fear, to be able to do what needs to be done even though you’re afraid in order to get safe again. In other words, if I freak out, my fear has control, I don’t, and that puts me in even more danger. To deal with fear you must recognize it for what it is. It’s ok to be afraid as long as you don’t let your fear stop you.
How do you go to the bathroom?
We use plastic bags to poop in. If we cannot get outside because of storms or during the night, we use water bottles to pee into. Climbing is not a sport for the modest!