Climber Conquers Everest and Records Grand Slam
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Alison Levine watched climbers head back down Mount Everest as the weather turned, contemplating the possibility that she might again come up just short of reaching the world’s highest point.
She thought back to 2002, when she was captain of the first American women’s Everest expedition and made it within 200 feet of the summit before deteriorating conditions forced her to descend. Now, eight years later, she was facing the same decision: risk a push for the top, or turn around and see all the hard work and painstaking preparations go for naught. She forged ahead.
By doing so, Levine, 44, joined a short list of athletes to complete the adventure grand slam, which entails reaching the highest peak on every continent and skiing to both the North and South Poles. It is estimated fewer than 30 people have done it.
Levine also became the first American woman to do so by taking the Messner route across Antarctica, skiing approximately 600 miles to the South Pole rather than flying in and then skiing there.
“It looked like it was going to be a good day,” Levine said. “By 10:30 p.m., there was a foot of snow and high winds for our summit push. We just kept going.”
All this despite being born with a life-threatening heart defect that kept her from even going up stairs. After she received the diagnosis when she was 17, she had two cardiac procedures to correct the problem and began mountain-climbing only when she was 32.
Bad weather and all, she pushed on in the wee hours of May 24, carefully placing every step to avoid an accident.
“We actually didn’t know if we were going to be able to do it,” she said, “weren’t sure if we’d be able to continue, but we were absolutely going to put our heads down and keep climbing into the wind and blowing snow until we absolutely couldn’t keep going.”