Sandy Brown is no stranger to a challenge.
She’s bicycled in Morocco, the Czech Republic and Ireland with her husband, dermatologist Lee Bittenbender. She’s hiked in Bhutan and Mongolia. She’s even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest peak in Africa.
But she’s about to face her biggest challenge yet: She’s going to climb the tallest mountain outside of Asia.
Brown, a Lawrence resident, arrives today in Mendoza, Argentina. In the next three weeks she will travel to and climb Aconcagua, a 22,834-foot-tall mountain that is the highest outside of the Himalayas. It’s the second-highest of the seven summits, the tallest mountains on each continent. Temperatures on Aconcagua rarely rise above freezing, and the wind chill can dip below minus 30 degrees.
“I’m pretty much drawn to that emotional high and the accomplishment of reaching that goal,” Brown said. “I enjoy taking a goal, preparing for it and executing it.”
Brown said that for the past four years she has wanted to attempt climbing Aconcagua, but she knows it won’t be easy. The mountain is about 3,500 feet taller than Kilimanjaro.
“It’s a giant step up,” she said. “It’s crazy. It will be a sufferfest.”
Brown has trained since Nov. 1 for Aconcagua by climbing hills near Memorial Stadium and stairs in Allen Fieldhouse while wearing a 35-pound pack. She’s mentally preparing for a trip up what she says is a dangerously unpredictable mountain.
“I can start to visualize now what it’s going to be like on that glacier,” she said. “I know that I have the self-confidence. I trust my equipment, I trust my training and it’s just a mental focus and clarity. I just feel super clear.”
Brown will spend six to eight hours each day climbing to get to the highest camp on the mountain by Feb. 23. Then she will have a two-day window to climb thousands of feet to try to reach the summit. This will be the hardest part of her journey: a 15-hour day likely to begin at 4 a.m.
Brown isn’t fearless, though. Altitude, danger and the physical discomfort have all crossed her mind.
“My eyes filled up with tears but then I switched right out of it and then it turned to excitement,” she said. “I’m super psyched right now.”