Idaho Mountain Express: Expedition Inspiration II (2024)

This Week's Front Page

Weekly Calendar

Classified Ads

Subscription Info
—Order Form

Jobs at the Idaho Mtn. Express

About the Idaho Mtn. Express


Idaho Mountain Express: Expedition Inspiration II (3)

Idaho Mountain Express: Expedition Inspiration II (7)
For the week of March 21 through 27, 2001

Women climbers summit Aconcagua

Express Staff Writer

Climbing in the spirit of Expedition Inspiration founder Laura Evans, three local women made it to the summit of Mt. Aconcagua on Jan. 17.

Idaho Mountain Express: Expedition Inspiration II (8)Laura Wilson Todd, Kim Nalen, Sarah Davies and Muffy Ritz take a break during climb on Mt. Aconcagua in the Andes Mountains.Courtesy photo Kim Nalen

At 22,841 feet, the mountain in western Argentina is the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

The party was comprised of locals Muffy Ritz, Kim Nalen and Laura Wilson Todd, San Franciscan Sarah Davies, and two guides.

Their journey involved a strenuous 11-day climb up the mountain and a three-day descent.

Before the climbers left, Father Brian Baker of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum blessed Nalen and gave her a silver cross to wear on the climb. She said they all rubbed it for luck every night. She still wears it daily.

One of the most poignant moments, especially for Nalen, who cared for Laura Evans during her final months last fall, was taking Evans’ Expedition Inspiration flag on a return trip to the summit.

Expedition Inspiration helps combat breast cancer with grants, symposiums and publicity. A 1995 climb of Aconcagua by Evans and other breast cancer survivors was one of the defining moments in the inception of the organization.

The four members of the recent team all wore Expedition Inspiration hats, made locally by Jytte. Nalen wore Evans’ own Expedition Inspiration hat.

Greg Wilson, their American guide, made his ninth ascent of the mountain. The group also included an Argentinian guide, Carlos "Bandana."

There were between 50 and 100 other people summiting Aconcagua on the same day, but this all-girl group stood out. "We were social," Ritz said. "We wandered around the base camps looking for action. We attracted a lot of attention,".

In fact, the Staple family from Boston, climbing at the same time, recognized the women from a story about the imminent climb in the Mountain Express last December.

The climb was grueling. And while made without serious incidents, it did present some hazards. Among them, Ritz and Nalen said, were, in no particular order: lack of mustard for their daily salami-and-bread fixes, lack of oxygen during the final 400 feet to the summit, purifying the glacier water daily, heavy winds at night. The worst adversity, they agreed, was the necessity to relieve oneself at night in a bottle, rather than risk the winds and cold.

The mountain was a mess. Called a dump heap by some, Aconcagua has snow on one side and all shale rock on the other. Because of the lack of vegetation on the mountain, and the high altitudes, the breakdown of human waste is slow.

"One of my biggest hardships was the peeing dilemma," Ritz said.

Indeed, "pee-police" patrolled the base camps, and were particularly hard on the women, assuming they’d left behind toilet paper.

"It was the little things," Ritz said. "Being sticky in the sleeping bags, never being clean, running out of purifying tablets for the water, dirty hair."

She also was impatient on rest days, which came in between each "carry" day, on which each climber made two trips with gear. Rest days were made to acclimate to the altitude. The women played a lot of cards, read, exercised and sun-bathed in jog-bras and shorts. Those days were not easy since all of the climbers were antsy.

But the sunsets were spectacular and the camaraderie superlative.

"We didn’t stop laughing until we ran out of oxygen, it was just too hard," Ritz said.

It’s not just the breathing that is heavy when you’re oxygen deprived, she said.

"You have a whole-body heaviness. Every step takes concentration."

They employed pressure breathing¾ long exhale breaths--to get enough air back in. Apparently Nalen’s breathing was discernible from afar, as her exhales sounded like whistles.

They acknowledge being "silly, until camp two, no extra trips to the loo," Ritz said. One reason for the caution-an American woman had fallen to her death the week before, when she slid off the mountain in the middle of the night.

When Nalen unfurled the Expedition Inspiration flag on the summit, Evans energy was "definitely there," she said. She also wore Evans’ wind pants and shell in her honor.

"The neat part was just being there" she said.

On the descent from the summit, during a whiteout blizzard, the group had to cross the Polish Glacier roped together, wearing crampons and using ice axes. They picked their way through pinnacles of ice that seem to grow out of the earth upwards. It was a 12-hour day--nine hours up and three long hours down.

In fact, coming down the mountain was the most difficult part of all, they said. They carried heavy packs, and were hiking on a constant trail of loose, slippery rock. It was especially hard on the knees of both Nalen and Ritz, both of whom had had ACL surgery last year.

Two days later when they emerged from the shadow of Aconcagua, they decided to forego a planned beach retreat. Their skin was peeling from exposure to the intense sun, and "the desire to come home was greater than the desire to hang on a beach," Nalen said.

"The first shower was glorious," Nalen said. "Summiting is not how you measure the success, [it’s] the group, the laughter."

Ritz agreed: "Summiting is the icing on the cake."

The intrepid group will be showing slides of the climb through the ERC’s Armchair Adventure series at on April 19 at 7:30 at the Clarion Inn. The Armchair Adventure shows cost $5 for ERC members and $10 for nonmembers.

Idaho Mountain Express: Expedition Inspiration II (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Prof. An Powlowski

Last Updated:

Views: 6278

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (44 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Prof. An Powlowski

Birthday: 1992-09-29

Address: Apt. 994 8891 Orval Hill, Brittnyburgh, AZ 41023-0398

Phone: +26417467956738

Job: District Marketing Strategist

Hobby: Embroidery, Bodybuilding, Motor sports, Amateur radio, Wood carving, Whittling, Air sports

Introduction: My name is Prof. An Powlowski, I am a charming, helpful, attractive, good, graceful, thoughtful, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.