By Sandy Ciupak
Special to The Gazette
In search of adventure, Anna Pfaff moved to Colorado from her hometown of Medina in 2003.
There, she discovered the mountains, and ever since, her life has revolved around her next expedition. From El Capitan in Yosemite National Park to the distant peaks of Argentina, this 28-year-old registered nurse has climbed mountains and big walls all over the world.
In the months leading up to her latest expedition â€” a return to the Patagonia region of Argentina â€” she corresponded with The Gazette.
Anna Pfaff, a Medina native, has been climbing mountains ever since she moved to Colorado in 2003. (Photo courtesy of Anna Pfaff)
Q: What was your first mountain climbing experience?
A: My first big experience was on Mount Rainier in Washington. I had never traveled over snow or ice, had never used crampons [footwear that fits over boots] and knew very little about rope systems. Iâ€™m an on-the-job learner, I guess. I went with two friends who had climbed the mountain multiple times, so they kept an eye on me.
Q: What was your familyâ€™s reaction to your first big climb?
A: Iâ€™m not sure my mom really realized what was going on until I took her to Yosemite, and we looked through the binoculars at the climbers on this huge 3,000-meter wall. She definitely had some mixed emotions. My dad is just happy when Iâ€™m happy, and he thinks itâ€™s great.
Q: What type of climbing do you do?
A: I mainly climb trad [traditional, in which the climber places her own bolts, as opposed to sport climbing, in which bolts have already been fixed to the wall], but I enjoy sport climbing, too. Sport climbing makes you strong really quick.
Q: How often are you able to make a trip?
A: My lifestyle pretty much is to work for a few months, save money, then spend it on what I love. This year , I went to Peru, Argentina and India.
Q: Do you have a regular climbing buddy?
A: My boyfriend, Camilo Lopez, has been my main partner this past year. We met in Patagonia last January. I also really enjoy climbing with other women.
Q: Where is Camilo from? Will he be going back to Patagonia too?
A: Camilo is from Colombia. We are going to Patagonia together [in January 2009]. We fell in love there, at base camp, and we climbed together. It was love at first sight.
Q: Did anything in childhood or adolescence point you toward climbing?
A: Not that I remember. Iâ€™ve always enjoyed the outdoors and have been active. In Ohio, no one is really exposed to the mountains, so the first time I saw them, moving out West, I was taken in by them.
Q: What were your â€œregularâ€ jobs before climbing?
A: Iâ€™ve always been in healthcare. I became an R.N. at 22.
Q: How do you balance working and climbing?
A: Iâ€™m getting better at that. There was a point a few years ago where I quit nursing for one and a half years and climbed every day. I lived in my car and was constantly hitting the next climbing area with the weather changes. I traveled all over the West Coast and up to Canada. There is a whole climbing society that does this, so I was often around the same people, almost like a family.
Q: Do you have a favorite mountain range?
A: Since my last trip to India, I would have to say the Himalayas. Every experience makes me love each range. The mountains are beautiful everywhere.
Q: Weâ€™ve been told you were able to name a mountain or two?
A: Camilo and I did two first ascents on unclimbed Himalayan peaks. We named the first one â€œConi Peakâ€ [after Camiloâ€™s 3-year-old son, Nico, whose nickname is â€œConiâ€] and the route â€œDirectisma.â€ Directisma is a Spanish word meaning â€œstraightâ€ â€” our new line was the â€œstraightestâ€ way up. The next peak we named â€œPeak 5,800,â€ because that was its height. We named the route â€œLong Life Ridgeâ€ because it was so long, and we felt happy to be alive upon return.
Q: Have you had any close calls?
A: The past India trip, when we were rappelling down a gully, we had major rock fall with refrigerator-size blocks falling around us. There were many close calls. Iâ€™ve fallen a few times, but nothing major. This past winter in Patagonia, my climbing partner, Rachel, had a boulder roll on her leg and she suffered an open tib-fib [tibia and fibula, lower-leg bones]) fracture. It was pretty epic, because we were 20 hours out on the Torre Valley Glacier.
Q: How did your nursing experience come into play? How did you get out of there?
A: I was able to build a splint for her leg and dress the open wound. The Argentinean military flew us out after we carried her out about 10 miles. If you go on YouTube and search â€œPatagonian Rescue,â€ a video clip made by Rachel will come up.
Q: What was the most challenging climb youâ€™ve made so far?
A: The Long Life Ridge on Peak 5,800 was up at the top [of the list]. Mainly because we were so exhausted and the climb was much longer than expected.
Q: Have you been out in all kinds of weather?
A: Snow, ice, heat, you name it. I just accept the elements for what they are and try to be prepared. â€œSuffer Fest,â€ we call it!
Q: What kind of training have you had to do?
A: I climb as much as possible. Climbing is more mental than physical; you have to be able to control your fear, and if you canâ€™t, you wonâ€™t be successful. Physically, I run and bike pretty often. As far as diet, I donâ€™t have one.
Q: Is there a spiritual aspect to climbing?
A: Climbing is very meditative for me. Iâ€™ve always had trouble focusing, but when I climb, nothing else clogs my brain. Itâ€™s only my partner, myself and the rock (or ice!).
Q: What sort of gear is required?
A: Gear is crazy. Itâ€™s expensive, and you need a ton, especially for an expedition. Tents of the highest quality to defeat the weather cost hundreds of dollars. Ropes, cams, stoppers, harness, pitons, helmets, GORE-TEX clothing and the list goes on. This year, I started getting sponsors, so I have some support.
Q: How do you go about finding a sponsor?
A: I just ask and present my proposal to them. Itâ€™s difficult to find someone who believes in your ability. I would like to find a private sponsor who would donate money in exchange for advertisement. I have gear sponsors: Mad Rock, Yates, Blue Water Ropes, but no monetary sponsors.
Q: Do you dream about climbing?
A: All the time, even during the day. I also try to live those dreams to the best of my ability, and I have done that a few times already.
Ciupak may be reached at email@example.com.