Brooke Norman, a University of Chicago undergrad, and her father climbed Aconcagua, which at 22,835 feet (6,960 meters) is the tallest mountain outside Asia. Geoffrey Norman writes about their trip in the July/August issue of ADVENTURE. Here, Brooke has her say.
My father and I have been climbing together since his 50th birthday, when I was 16. In 1998 he called me with the idea to climb Aconcagua in Argentina, and I thought it would be nice to get out of Chicago for the winter.
We flew to Santiago, Chile, to meet our group. There were 11 men, all of whom were at least 15 years older than I was, and they were all pretty serious climbers. This was my first high-altitude mountaineering experience, so I was intimidated.
Despite what my dad says, I honestly thought I wasn't going to get past the first three days, when we hiked to base camp. For the first five minutes, it was fun. But I'm very paleand it's very dry and sunny thereand I got a horrible sunburn. My allergies also flared up from all the dust. I remember thinking, maybe an hour into the hike, If it's this hard now, then there's no way I'm going to be able to climb Aconcagua.
But then, after we got above a certain altitude, I actually started doing a little better than everybody else, maybe just because I'm younger and I bounce back more easily.
"Brooke and I talked to a Colorado couple who appeared to be in their late 20s. The woman was the picture of Rocky Mountain vitality. ...She had failed to summit....It was a sobering encounter.”
When we met the couple from Colorado, I think it started to occur to my father that we might not make it. But I had been thinking that I wasn't going to make it from the first day. When I saw this woman, I remember thinking, If they don't make it, it's OK if I don't!
Ultimately what got mewhat got everybody on our tripis the altitude. It's killer; you just can't breathe. For the last three days of the climb I didn't eat anything except cough drops because I felt so sick.
When I summitted I didn't even realize it at first. Your brain is a little hazy because of the altitude, and I didn't realize I was at the top until I didn't have any more steps to take. I just looked around and thought, Wow. I sat down, just exhausted, and I looked over the edge. I hadn't realized where my dad was, and then I saw him coming. I was thrilled and a little overwhelmed. He came over the top, and I went over and hugged him.
"I had followed my daughter to the top, which was not the way I had expected it to be or the way that it had always been. But I wouldn't have made it any other way.”
I thought the whole time that my father was the one who was ahead of me, and he thought the same about me. In the end it did turn out that I physically arrived on the top before him. I guess it's kind of a metaphor for growing up. I was 21 when I did the climb, and there were times when I felt a way that I never have before, which is that my dad and I were both on the same level.
It wasn't fun. It was arduous and difficult, but it was definitely an amazing experience that I would never trade for anything. It was priceless to get to spend that time with my dad. At every moment during that climb I felt like I literally could not take another step. But somehow I did, and eventually I got to the top. That has given a new perspective to everything else I've done since.
Read "The Normans' Conquest" in the July/August ADVENTURE.
Photograph by Geoffrey Norman