Utah woman summits Everest

Published: Wednesday, March 2 2011 6:00 p.m. MST

Carol Masheter faces her nemesis, a fear of heights, as she crosses one of about 40 ladder bridges across crevasses in the Khumbu Icefall.

Lydia Bradey

Sometimes following a dream requires youthful energy and optimism. Other times it takes the kind of strength and grit acquired only in life's toughest battles.

Carole Masheter was 50 when the comfortable place she'd made for herself began to crumble. Her career and personal life unraveled. Her health deteriorated.

In just 18 short months, she suffered disappointment, betrayal, loss and illness that burned her life as she loved it to the ground.

"I felt like I had been run over," she said. "Again and again."

And so, she said, she "rose like a phoenix" from the ashes of that former life. And what she found was not just that life goes on, but that it's never too late to follow a dream — a dream that culminated at the summit of Mount Everest when she was 61.

Her journey to Everest was long and filled with obstacles. Masheter navigates them with a practical approach and shares them in her book "No Magic Helicopter." The book gives a brief look at her life leading up to the climb, but most of the pages are dedicated to her decision to climb Mount Everest at age 61.

As a girl growing up in Southern California, Masheter felt like an outsider.

While most girls worried about refining their manners and snagging a suitable husband, she lusted for the mountains. She longed to climb — trees, hillsides, trails and especially those majestic-looking mountains.

"I didn't even know anybody who liked to hike as a young person," she said.

She enjoyed camping with her parents, who loved to search the desert for abandoned gold and uranium mines. While her parents hoped to happen upon an unclaimed treasure, she soaked up the "silence of the wilderness."

"I was very conscious of natural beauty," she said. "I feel very fortunate to end up here (in Utah)."

She didn't set out to be different, she just was.

"I didn't like being odd," said Masheter, whose natural shy nature was exacerbated by acne from age 9 to 30. "I just felt so whole, so centered when I was in a wilderness area."

So when she left home for school and a life in central Connecticut, she looked for opportunities to explore the wild.

"Once a year, I would take a National Sierra Club backpack trip," she said. "I always tried to the most challenging trips I could."

She climbed in the Sierras, the Rockies and even Africa.

In 1970, at age 23, she and a boyfriend planned a summer-long trip that would take them from Connecticut to California to Alaska. He backed out at the last minute.

"I felt very rejected," she said. "After about three days, I decided to go anyway. … That was seminal summer for me. … That trip convinced me I could do just about anything I wanted."

Masheter pursued her teaching career, which is what eventually led her to Utah. She taught at the University of Utah and in her spare time, enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, skiing and horses. She joined the Wasatch Mountain Club and enjoyed an extensive network of people who helped her revel in Utah's wilderness.

"I was always exploring my boundaries," she said. "But it wasn't until those four major losses that I got involved in high altitude mountaineering."

In 1995, a colleague and friend discussed with Masheter his trip to summit Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest peak in the world. Cho Oyu is in the Himalayas, near the mountain that haunts every mountaineer's dreams — Everest. Knowing someone who'd done what she dreamed about began to fuel a fire that wouldn't ignite for another two years.

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