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Peak Performance: Scaling seventh summit at 65

Published: Wednesday, March 21 2012 8:48 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake City resident Carol Masheter reacts to her welcoming committee at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday, March 21, 2012. On March 17, Masheter reached the summit of Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, making her the oldest woman in the world to have reached the summit of the highest mountains on each of the world's seven continents.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — By the numbers, what Carol Masheter did would be impressive for anyone.

The 65-year-old mountain climber from Utah made a triumphant return Wednesday to cheering friends at Salt Lake City International Airport, a week after she reached the summit of Kosciuszko, the tallest peak in Australia.

That effort marked the final of the famous Seven Summits, the highest point on each of the world's continents. She's now the oldest woman in the Seven Summits Club.

"I love challenges and being as physical as my body will allow me to be," Masheter said.

No kidding.

To secure the seven, Masheter marched up the equivalent of 86,000 vertical feet (by comparison, the Wasatch Range tops out at about 11,000 feet).

"I feel the most whole and at peace and at my strongest when I'm in the mountains," she said. "It's my spiritual home."

Masheter reached for the peaks in her early 50s, "when my life fell apart," she said.

She used the summits to pull herself up from the depths of despair and regain her self confidence. "I lost my job, I lost my relationship and my mother died," she said. "I should be dead according to the stress scale, but mountaineering saved my life."

A group of roughly a dozen friends greeted her Wednesday with balloons and signs, one reading "It's not age, it's altitude."  Several noted her fitness, recalling Masheter's grueling training regime, which included hauling backpacks filled with dumbbells up and down the stairs during lunch at the Utah Department of Health, where she'd worked as an epidemiologist.

"She's just really fast and very strong and her resting heart rate is 38 or something," said Vicky McDaniel.  "I don't even know if she owns a rocking chair, but I'm thinking enough is enough. We got some good hills around here."

In 2007, the quest began.  Aconcagua in South America, then Kilimanjaro in Africa. Later, she topped Mt. Everest, the world's highest point, followed by massive Denali, the highest mountain in North America, Europe's Elbrus in Russia's Caucasus range, and Vinson Massif in Antarctica.

On Everest, on the dangerous descent, for a time she went blind, and had to gingerly make her way down.  "I lost my vision temporarily," Masheter said. "So I have the dubious honor of having descended the world's highest mountain without being able to see anything."

Her vision returned and, undaunted, she kept climbing and wrote a book about the experience, called "No Magic Helicopter."

Masheter marked her climb up the last of the seven, Australia's Kosciuszko, with a full-throated, wolf-like celebration, known at the "silver fox howl."

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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