By: Carol Masheter ’83 MA, ’88 Ph.D..
This article was first published in the Spring 2013 edition of UCONN Magazine.
Carol Masheter ’83 MA, ’88 Ph.D. has been to the tops of the world. Last year, she became the world’s oldest woman, at age 65, to reach the top of every one of the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, known as the Seven Summits, plus Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, Indonesia. Despite her fear of heights and longtime battle with anxiety, Masheter decided to take on high-altitude mountaineering starting at age 50, in her struggle to overcome the grief and distress of losing her job, her long-term relationship, and her mother – all within 18 months of one another.
A crowd of reporters and friends greeted me as I trotted down the stairs to the baggage claim area of the Salt Lake City International Airport. I was returning from Australia, where I had summited the last of the Seven Summits, becoming the oldest woman in the world to have climbed the highest peak on each continent. The fatigue of travel evaporated as friends hugged and congratulated me, and reporters crowded around to ask questions.
When I first learned about the Seven Summits in my early 40s, they seemed beyond reach – too difficult, too far away, too expensive. Besides, I was busy launching my second career as a university professor. But when my life fell apart at age 50, I headed to the Bolivian Andes to heal and discovered that I was a pretty decent mountaineer.
One climb led to another; I gained skills and experience. By the time I had reached age 60, I was climbing Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, in memory of my dad, who had died of his second heart attack at the same age.
A year and a half later, I was climbing Everest – a 10-week expedition.
The World’s Tallest Mountain
For several of those weeks, I lived alongside my fellow climbers at Base Camp. There, our cluster of tents were pitched amidst a jumble of ice formations, gray rock, and boulders near the base of the Khumbu Icefall, a dramatic tumble of giant ice blocks and crevasses 1,800 feet high.
Occasionally, icebergs calved and crashed into a frozen lake behind my tent, while the glacier beneath us moaned and shifted like a restless beast under my sleeping bag. Every avalanche cracked with sounds of doom, certain to roar through Base Camp and kill us all.