Life changed in July of 2010 for mountain climber Isabel Suppé. While climbing a wall of ice high in the Bolivian Andes, her climbing partner slipped and fell, causing both of them to fall 1,100 feet. Although both initially survived, Suppé, with broken leg bones and a badly broken foot, was the only one who could attempt to crawl back for help. She spent two days dragging herself across a glacier, literally inch by inch, for over 40 hours, attempting to get an SOS signal to base camp. Miraculously, friends who had been expecting the climbing pair to return had initiated a search, and rescued Suppé. Tragically, by the time the rescue team reached her climbing partner, he had already died of hypothermia.
Suppé wrote about her experience in “Starry Night,” a book that was a runner up for the 2013 Boardman Tasker Prize, which is a trust dedicated to mountain literature. Suppé will be in Hood River on Monday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Columbia Center for the Arts for a free lecture and book signing.
Suppé was born in Munich, Germany, and began traveling at a very young age. “Both my grandparents were climbers and I was taken on my first hikes in the Alps before I learned how to walk,” Suppé said.
“My grandparents took me on my first rock-climb when I was 6 and it was their company, the glow in their eyes when they would talk about mountains and their tales around the campfire that inspired my love for mountains.”
Although Suppé has been to Oregon before, the only climbing she has done in the North Cascades is on Mt. Rainier. In 2012, Suppé decided to try riding a bicycle across the U.S. as a way to bring awareness to her book and inspirational story, even after a dozen surgeries to her foot.
“I decided to cross the US on a bike because my foot was getting much worse. I couldn’t walk without crutches at that time and I knew that it was only a matter of time until I would be confined to a wheelchair,” Suppé said.
With copies of her book finally available in English and less than $60 cash, Suppé tried biking and camping until the weather proved uncooperative.
“It was a great trip, at least until it started to snow and I had to hitch-hike. After I was threatened with a knife near Telluride I decided to get a drivers license,” Suppé said.
Now living a self-confessed nomadic lifestyle, Suppé continues to climb with assistance from crutches with a passion that started with her first alpine ascent at age 11.
“It was a very strenuous climb in the Alps, although we got lost on our way down. On that trip I fell in love with glaciers. I remember we had to live off of Twix candy bars. I can say that to this day I loathe Twix bars,” Suppé said.
But even after her near-death ordeal, Suppé knows what makes her want to continue her journey into the high-altitude world.
“Mountains are part of my soul, and I think the only way I could give them up would be death, because mountains are the place where I feel most alive,” Suppé said.