CAS Dean Climbs Mount Aconcagua

Posted: January 18, 2000 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Emily Yaghmour

His wife told him it was a crazy idea. He knew she was probably right, but Daniele Struppa, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), really wanted to climb a mountain.

He had just finished reading Into Thin Air, the book by Jon Krakauer about the guided commercial expeditions to Mount Everest in 1996 in which 12 climbers died. The prospect of undertaking a dangerous climb that challenged the limits of his physical and mental endurance appealed to Struppa. He wanted to know if he had what it took to withstand the danger and hardship to make it to the top of a high mountain. “I’ve always been an intellectual,” says Struppa, who has a Ph.D. in Mathematics, “and I wanted to try something different.” So, on Dec. 14, he boarded a plane for Argentina to join a group of eight men, ranging in age from 20-something to 66. Guided by a 23-year-old woman, they set out to climb Mount Aconcagua. At 22,841 feet, it is higher than any mountain outside of Central Asia.

For the past year, the 40-something Struppa spent three hours each day preparing for this climb. He lifted weights. He ran. He strapped on his 50-pound backpack and ran up flights of stairs. (“I hated that!” he says.) Despite his preparation, the experience was grueling. For the last 4,000 feet or so, every step in the oxygen-poor atmosphere was exhausting. He suffered from altitude headaches. At night, the noise of the wind tearing at the tents was so loud that the climbers couldn’t talk to each other. Struppa couldn’t keep warm even with a minus-20-degree sleeping bag. He found it impossible to sleep soundly in the thin air–when he drifted to sleep, his breathing often stopped, and he awoke gasping for air.

They approached the summit of the mountain on the afternoon of Dec. 31. Struppa felt beaten. Already, five of the eight climbers had given up and turned back for base camp. Thinking the peak was still hours away, Struppa was ready to turn back, too. But when the guide told him he was only an hour away, he pushed on. An hour later, as he stood looking out from the pinnacle of Mount Aconcagua, he thought, “I will never do anything this stupid again in my life.”

But memory is selective, Struppa says. On his trek down the mountain, he began planning his next climb: Mount Kilimanjaro.

The College of Arts and Sciences is holding a brown bag lunch with Struppa on Thursday, Jan. 27, at noon in College Hall, Room C116, during which he will talk about his trip.

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