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Her World

Moved by the Spirit of Love to Travel Her Husband's Last Miles

September 20, 1998|SUSAN SPANO | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

In Jon Krakauer's best-selling book "Into Thin Air," about the ill-fated attempts of several groups of climbers to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in May 1996, one passage in particular haunts me. It has nothing to do with the way Krakauer felt when he reached the top, or with the rogue storm that eventually claimed the lives of eight alpinists.

Rather, it's the record of a satellite telephone conversation between the expedition leader, Rob Hall, and his wife back in New Zealand, as Hall lay, desperately tired and oxygen-depleted, in a bed of ice near the summit. "I just know you're going to be rescued," she said. "Don't feel that you're alone. I'm sending all my positive energy your way." Hall's body was found 12 days later.

A dear friend of mine once went through a similar ordeal when her husband, a world-class canoeist, failed to come off a wild river in British Columbia at the appointed hour. Her positive energy and his great skill resulted in a happier outcome that summer. But when I think of how she felt during those hours of fear and doubt, it's as if I'm living through them with her.

This is why I was so moved to get a letter from Adele Carney, of Belmont, Calif., telling about the death of her husband, Larry, a retired sales rep for Pitney-Bowes. In 1992, at the age of 73, Larry Carney went trekking alone in Chile's remote Torres del Paine National Park and never returned.

Adele is a veteran traveler, and an extremely modest, down-to-earth woman who endured three weeks of awful suspense in a Santiago hotel before word came that her husband's body had been found on a rocky slope in the shadow of Patagonia's towering peaks. Four years later, at the age of 64, she went back to the bottom of the world to retrace Larry's 70-mile route around the Paine massif, stopping to put pink wildflowers at the place where he died.

But this is a story she should tell.

Question: How did you and Larry meet?

Answer: I married him in 1977. It was the second for him, but the first for me. He put an ad in one of these little singles publications. A friend gave it to me. He said he was vigorous and athletic. Everything he did, he did 200%. There was 14 years' difference in our ages, but he was so energetic I didn't realize it.

Q: You had athletics in common?

A: I'm not a backpacker; I don't play tennis or any of those things. I walk, that's about it.

Q: What about him?

A: On long holiday weekends, he would go backpacking, always with a friend. But on the trip to Torres del Paine he couldn't find anyone to go along.

Q: Both of you were travelers?

A: I liked to travel, but I never did anything that adventurous until I met him. We went on a trip together to Africa in 1989. I was there for six weeks, and then he went on on his own.

Q: You did Indonesia too?

A: And then he went on alone to New Guinea and Irian Jaya and those very primitive areas.

Q: When he came back, did he tell stories that scared you?

A: He had some close calls. In New Guinea he got an infection in his leg. And in Africa he was almost attacked by a buffalo.

Q: Would you call him a daredevil?

'I was exhausted, but I really couldn't turn back. And the scenery was spectacular, the waterfalls and glaciers. I just kept thinking that this was where Larry was. He went the way he would have preferred, with his hiking boots on.'

A: No, no. He was just interested in people, different parts of the world and other cultures. To see them, you have to go there.

Q: What made him want to go to Patagonia?

A: He'd read in a guidebook that Torres del Paine was the most beautiful place on Earth. Now I wish I'd never bought the guidebook. I didn't really want him to go.

Q: You were scheduled to meet him in Santiago afterward?

A: I got there on Feb. 11. When Larry didn't show up, I checked with the travel agent to see if he was booked on a flight, and there was nothing. I just sat in that lobby, like a zombie, then called the U.S. Embassy.

Q: How long did they search for your husband?

A: Three weeks. I did go down there--1,500 miles south of Santiago. I talked to the park rangers and military police, and met the guides who took me back in 1996.

Q: Two German hikers reported that they'd seen Larry near the Laguna de Los Perros? That's how they finally found him?

A: He was off the trail, though he was going in the right direction. They don't know how he died. Some said it could have been a heart attack. And they guessed about the date on the death certificate. It was ironic because they put my birthday, Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.

Q: Tell me what made you want to go back.

A: Lots of people want to see the place where they lost a loved one.

Q: But Torres del Paine is so remote, and the trek is such a challenge.

A: I know, but there was something in me that told me I had to do it. Then I talked to the guides, who carried everything and set up the tent and really took care of me.

Q: How did you prepare, physically and emotionally?

A: I did more walking than usual and studied Spanish. And I prayed that the good Lord would guide me. I have a lot of determination. Nothing was going to deter me. I'm sure you've been that way too.

Q: But this is different, a really hard trek--70 miles in six days. Were there moments when you thought you couldn't go on?

A: Well, I was exhausted, but I really couldn't turn back. And the scenery was spectacular, the waterfalls and glaciers. I just kept thinking that this was where Larry was. He went the way he would have preferred, with his hiking boots on.

Q: What did you get out of the trip?

A: A sense of closure. And I guess I proved that I could do something, if I put my mind to it. A lot of people have to do harder things. If you have someone with a lingering illness, every day you have to care for them. I think that would be far more difficult than what I did.

Q: Will you ever go back?

A: I'll always go back to Chile. There's something drawing me there, probably Larry's spirit.

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