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SO SOCAL: The Best...The Beautiful...And The Bizarre

Dead Reckoning

March 05, 2000|Maria C. Iacobo

The woman who was once told she "had no business climbing mountains" is all business as she nears 7,200 feet on Mt. Baldy. * "That's a classic lenticular," Lynn Robinson says,

pointing to a long cloud with a thick middle and tapered ends. "Be prepared for rain if it drops down and moves closer."

Last fall, Robinson completed what many climbers consider to be the toughest hike in the world--the Snowman Trek in Bhutan, a remote Himalayan route that covers 224 miles through rain forests and snow-covered mountains. The Bhutanese Tourist Authority, which recently opened the country to foreign hikers, recorded Robinson as the first woman to "solo" the trek because she had no fellow clients accompanying her, though she did have a support team of a local guide, porter, cook and yaks. It took 31 days for them to reach the top of two 17,000-foot-high peaks that had never been scaled via the routes she took. Since the entire terrain has never been mapped, she determined her route by sight, or "dead reckoning."

But the experience, replete with leeches and nosebleeds brought on by washing in too-cold water, was less exacting than the lessons Robinson had learned before reaching Bhutan. Five years ago she watched her father die from cancer, just a few months after diagnosis and only one year into retirement. She began rock-climbing as a way to cope with his illness. "If you take your mind off what you're doing, you fall."

When the Pasadena resident graduated to higher-altitude challenges, several guides told her she was too slow. "Those guides had what I consider a masculine climbing style--going great guns for the summit," she says. "My approach is enriching and supportive of others. Too many people want to conquer the mountain." Instead, the 40-year-old technology consultant honed her skills in navigation, weather patterns, wilderness medicine, rescue and snow travel. "Racing up a mountain does not make you a mountaineer."

Back on 10,064-foot-high Baldy, Robinson stands tall at 5 feet, 2 inches. She notes some recent heavy rock-fall and asks her fellow hiking pals to spread out 25 feet from one another. "Pay attention to the terrain. If you hear a crack, I want you to yell 'rock.' If we're apart, we have a better chance of helping someone if one of us is hurt."

We're closing in on Baldy's peak; I ask Robinson what she thinks about when the climb turns desolate and icy. "If we have a clear view, I look around and think how lucky I am that I can take one foot in front of the other to climb this high. And I love the experience of looking down on the clouds. Being a spiritual person, I think that I can't get any closer to God than that."


Snack Bar

Lynn Robinson's favorite climbing foods:


Willy Wonka "chewies." "To avoid altitude sickness, you want to ingest as much sugar and water as possible. A perfect combination of the two."

* Bananas. "As a natural antacid, they keep you from feeling sick to your stomach, and they are packed with potassium to give you energy."

* Milky Way Dark Chocolates. "At high altitudes, you burn thousands of calories a day, so you can eat as many as you want, guilt free."

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