Dauntless woman climber who survived blizzard on Everest

Charlotte Fox
Born: May 10th, 1957
Died: May 24th, 2018

Charlotte Fox, who climbed to dizzying heights as the first American woman to conquer three mountains of 8,000 metres or higher and once defied a freak blizzard as she descended Mount Everest, died on May 24th in Colorado, in the United States. She was 61.

Fox was found dead inside her home in the Rocky Mountains from injuries apparently suffered after slipping down a steep flight of stairs, Emil Sante, the San Miguel county coroner, said.

Fox, a self-described Southern debutante who transplanted herself to the Rockies right after college and never left, figured in Jon Krakauer’s breathless first-person 1997 chronicle of the Everest climb, titled Into Thin Air.

Devastating blizzard

She was descending from the summit when a rogue storm swept across the mountain with wind chills of 38 degrees below zero. The blizzard, which lasted for hours, had killed eight climbers from four expeditions. Fox nearly froze to death but she and others were rescued and evacuated by helicopter. Another version of those fatal climbs was captured in the 2015 3D film Everest.

Mountaineering assumes its own momentum, Fox explained in an interview for the 2008 PBS program Frontline.

“You’ve gone so far up the mountain, you’ve come so far from home, and you spent six months preparing for this goal,” she said. “There’s no way you’re going to turn around unless things are really going south.”

But the fatal blizzard struck overnight on May 10th, 1996 — her 39th birthday — when she had reached her goal and was already descending. Turning around was no longer an option.

“My eyes were frozen,” she was quoted as saying in Into Thin Air. “I didn’t see how we were going to get out of it alive.”

“I didn’t think I could endure it anymore,” she added. “I just curled up in a ball and hoped death would come quickly.”

In her mountain climbing career, she was the first American woman to reach the summit of Gasherbrum II, between Pakistan and China.

Fox immortalised her ordeal by choosing a custom Colorado licence plate that preemptively responded should anyone wonder whether she would climb the world’s highest mountain again. It read: “Neverest.”

Everest was the third jewel in Fox’s triple crown. She also reached the top of two other mountains of at least 8,000m: Gasherbrum II in Pakistan in 1994 and Cho Oyu, in the Himalayas in 1995, and was the first American woman credited with surmounting all three.

In her mountain climbing career, she was the first American woman to reach the summit of Gasherbrum II, between Pakistan and China. In South America, she climbed Aconcagua, Huascarán, and Chopicalqui; Mount Vinson in Antarctica; Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro. She also scaled all 54 Colorado peaks above 4,200m.

Fox was dauntless. But she never discounted the elemental dangers in the challenging avocation she had chosen, or in her daily slogs as a ski patroller in Snowmass and Telluride, Colorado.

In 1993, her boyfriend, Mark Bebie, died in an avalanche while ice-climbing in the Canadian Rockies. Her husband, Reese Martin III, was killed in 2004 when he was 49 in a paragliding crash in Washington state.

“I have never been mad at Mark and Reese for dying in their pursuit of living,” she told Rock and Ice magazine in 2007, “since I very much believe in having the same intensity of life.”

That belief was why her friends and acquaintances were less stunned by her death than by how she died.

Stair fall

Returning from dinner, weekend guests visiting for the annual Mountainfilm festival discovered her body at the bottom of a steep 77-step hardwood staircase connecting the four stories of her house on Tomboy Road, which undulates along a mountainside. Her front door is on the top floor.

Charlotte Conant Fox was born on May 10, 1957, in Greensboro, North Carolina, the only child of Ann Robinson Black and of Jared Fox, whose father founded Blue Bell, the manufacturer of Wrangler jeans. Her parents divorced when she was young.

An expert water skier and equestrian as a child, she graduated from Hollins College, now Hollins University, in Virginia, with a degree in American studies, then planned on spending a year in the Rockies mulling what to do next.

“She never came back,” her mother told the News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1996. “That’s where the mountain climbing began.”

In addition to her mother, survivors include her brother Ralph R. Black and her stepmother, Rachel Camp. – New York Times

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