Why would someone spend a princely sum to visit "the world's coldest desert," where less than an inch of precipitation falls each year and temperatures can reach minus-94 degrees?
Why, to climb a mountain, of course.
But for Olympia native Steve Giesecke, reaching the summit of Antarctica’s 16,067-foot Mount Vinson a week ago, wasn’t getting to the top of just any mountain.
This remote peak in the Ellsworth Mountains represented the culmination of a challenge Giesecke began some 20 years ago: to climb the tallest mountain peaks on the world’s seven continents.
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It’s a famous mountaineering challenge called the “Seven Summits” created by alpinist Richard Bass and accomplished by him in 1985. Only 86 Americans and fewer than 280 people worldwide have since completed the task.
As of Jan. 27, Giesecke’s name was added to that list in mountaineering history.
According to an e-mail the Olympia High School graduate sent to friends from the Vinson Base Camp, it was cold at the top, even during the height of summer Down Under.
“We summited yesterday in minus 67 degrees (including wind chill) temps. Too cold to breathe, but all in our group made it down safely. Now waiting for a flight back to Union Glacier (big camp) ... skies are socked in so don’t know when that will be.”
As of Friday, a week after his successful summit. Giesecke was reportedly still stuck at the Vinson Base Camp due to bad weather, and it’s not known when he will be able to get out. Local friends are anxious because they’re planning a party for his return.
Gary Talcott, one of Giesecke’s Olympia climbing friends who has known Giesecke since middle school, said the accomplishment is even more remarkable because he bagged every peak on his first attempt. This is rare because climbers on Everest, in particular, normally need two or three attempts to reach the summit.
Talcott is a former guide with Rainier Mountaineering International who has 304 summits of Mount Rainier on his own résumé, and many climbing and back country skiing expeditions with Giesecke in the Cascades. He says Giesecke is an intense climber, and had no doubt he would achieve the goal.
Giesecke climbed 20,320-foot Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska about 20 years ago, setting off the Seven Summits journey. He climbed 29,035-foot Mount Everest in 2007 on his first attempt and the 16,024-foot Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia last year.
The other three peaks on the list include Kilimanjaro (19,340) in Tanzania, Elbrus (18,510) in Russia and Aconcagua (22,841) in Argentina.
Giesecke is a health services IT consultant who earned his undergraduate degree from Duke University and his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a member of the Olympia branch of the Mountaineers.
Vinson is perhaps the most difficult of the seven summits and arguably the most hazardous mountain of all due to low temperatures, high winds and altitude, which combine for brutal storms.
Perhaps the best way to sum up Giesecke’s determination to complete this quest is his favorite quotation, as posted on his Facebook page: “We had seen God in His splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.” (From “The Endurance” by Ernest Shackleton.)
George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian .com.