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For the week of December 20 through 26, 2000

Expedition remembrance

Local climbers to tackle peak in Andes


"Her spirit will be with us." Kim Nelan


By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer

Peak bagging is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of local skiing legend Muffy Ritz or two-time Nordic skiing Olympian Laura Wilson Todd or marathoner Kim Nelan. But along with Sarah Davis, from San Francisco, and guide Greg Wilson, they will be tackling Argentinaís Cerro Aconcagua to kick off the new millennium.

Soon-to-be Climbers on Aconcagua in Argentina, are from left to right: Greg Wilson, Muffy Ritz, Kim Nelan and Laura Wilson Todd.

 

At 22,841 feet, Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in the Americas. Itís located along the Chilean/Argentinean border, and the ascent to the summit offers stunning views of the rugged Andes.

The team leaves for Argentina Dec 30. They plan to summit Jan. 17, if all goes according to schedule.

After the climb they will rent a bungalow on a beach west of Santiago, Chile, where they plan to drink Chilean wine and hang out before heading back to the states on Jan 29.

Ritz, 43, was a five-year member of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team. She has been coaching Nordic skiing for the past 15 years, and now coaches the Sun Valley girlís team. She finished second in the Race Across America bike race all three times she entered and competed in the Eco-Challenge and a few other adventure races.

"Iím really looking forward to the Aconcagua climb because itís a whole different type of athleticism," Ritz said.

Ritz was 16 when she saw a book about Everest.

"Iím going to do that," she remembers saying.

"Aconcagua always interested me. Itís a big mountain and itís well known."

She climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland in 1987, an experience, she said, that "still, to this day, is the best day of my life."

Laura Wilson Todd, 31, is a four-time NCAA cross-country skiing champion, and two-time Nordic Olympian. Ritz was one of her coaches.

"Itís an amazing feeling when youíre sitting on top of a mountain. Sometimes I feel that on Baldy, sometimes out in the Boulders, sometimes itís just a personal mountain you need to climb in your own life."

Kim Nelan, 44, has run five marathons, finishing 13th among American woman in the 1984 New York City marathon. She has trekked in Nepal and "fallen down a crevice and survived," she said with a laugh.

"Iíve always had a love for the mountains, always been fascinated by Everest. When Muffy said ĎLetís climb Aconcagua,í I said ĎSounds good to me.í Itís a challenge. Iím nervous and excited, which is an appropriate feeling to have."

The other member of the expedition is Sarah Davies, 36, director of development for Ecotrust in San Francisco, and has back-country skied for years.

Guiding these women will be Greg Wilson, who owns Horizons Mountaineering Trekking in Ketchum. He is a veteran of 100 international climbing expeditions, including 18 to Aconcagua, and has summited Everest once.

Besides training by hiking Baldy with 25 to 30 pounds in their packs, they have practiced walking while tied to each other and learned to stop themselves in a slide with an ice ax.

Wilson said that because the four women are so goal oriented and come from a competitive background, theyíll be "really bored" walking at the slow pace Wilson plans to set. "Weíve gone over this a million times--feel good about feeling good."

The body is actually building red blood cells as one ascend the mountain, Wilson said.

"You have to sneak up on the mountain. You have to have enough energy to walk out the 36 miles.

"The idea is to get to high camp at 19,000 feet in good shapeówell rested, well-hydrated, with enough energy for 10 hours to the summit and five back down [to base camp], and still be able to get up and walk back down the mountain."

The women will be applying their athleticism in a new venue, Wilson said.

The approach to the summit of Aconcagua is reached via a series of progressively higher camps, which Wilson calls expedition-style climbing. Their itinerary calls for extra days for rest, acclimatization and inclement weather.

"That way we can enjoy it as opposed to endure it," Nelan pointed out.

During the three-day trek to base camp at 14,000 feet, mules carry the gear. After that, the climbers will spend approximately a week carrying 35- to 50-pound packs.

"Itís all geared around how well we acclimate," Wilson said.

In that sense, itís not a technical climb, itís about endurance, health and weather. Despite the exceptional fitness of Wilsonís clients, there are some concerns. Both Ritz and Nelan tore their ACLs this year skiing.

"Kim was a good girl, Muffy was a bad girl," said Ritz, who admitted she abused her tender knee too soon. Subsequently, she had a second surgery six weeks ago, from which sheís still recovering.

A particularly poignant aspect to this climb for Nelan was her association with Laura Evans, who recently died. Evans brought worldwide attention to breast cancer and raised more than $2 million by forming the Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research, and during her 1995 climb on Aconcagua.

Her book, Climb for My Life, told of her recovery and the Aconcagua climb, made with other cancer survivors.

"Laura has brought a whole special meaning to the climb, in that part of this climb is a tribute to Laura," Nelan said. "I got to know her through Hospice. She was a patient of mine."

Early in the summer, Nelan had tried to get together with Evans. But they had never been able to hook up due to scheduling. Hospice called her this fall to work with Evans during her final months.

"I got to know her and [it was a] really special connection. At her service I talked to [Expedition] Inspiration members."

The members designed a flag for Nelan to take to the top of Aconcagua. Evansí husband, Roger Evans, also gave her his wifeís crampons, duffel bag, a hat and some pants.

"Her spirit will be with us," Nelan said.

 

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