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Alum takes adventure to new heights

Nov. 12, 1999

By LESLIE BLANK

Reporter

Many Baylor alums have achieved great heights, but Stuart Smith has been to the top -- literally.

Smith, a Waco attorney of the class of 1982, has an affinity for mountain climbing that has taken him to highest

peaks on three continents.

He attributes his love of mountain climbing to the adrenaline rush he experiences when scaling a towering peak.

'It's pushing yourself to see how far your body can take you and to see things you couldn't see unless you go to the top,' Smith said.

He began his climbing career as a teenager, taking on peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park during family vacations to Colorado.

'My parents liked to hike a lot . . . and I liked being outdoors and enjoying nature,' Smith said of his summer excursions.

He said he has always been athletic, and grew up enjoying such sports as track and baseball.

When he finished law school at the University of Texas, Smith and his wife moved to Kenya to work in an Anglican school.

Smith then became hooked on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 1987, the highest peak in Africa at 19,320 feet.

Smith and his wife Elizabeth, also a Baylor graduate and executive director of the Cooper Foundation in Waco, enjoy hiking together.

'We've done hikes in the Rockies and longer ones like West Highland Way in Scotland. We've also hiked Offa's Dike which is located near the border between England and Wales,' Elizabeth said.

However, she chooses to forgo the treacherous climbs her husband enjoys.

'She doesn't like the high altitude stuff; she likes to walk,' Smith said.

His second alpine climb took him to Mexico in December 1993, where he climbed several snow-capped volcanoes, including Orizaba at 18,500 feet, Popocatepetl at 17,700 feet and Ixtacciuatal at 17,300 feet.

After that adventure, Smith said he 'wanted to go higher.'

In January 1995 Smith took a 16-day trip up Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 22,834 feet.

Smith said the amount of oxygen available atop the peak equaled 43 percent of that at sea level.

However, Smith said, 'climbing in South America is more luxurious because of the donkeys, and some people use porters, too.'

Smith then submitted Washington state's Mount McKinley in May 1996, braving temperatures exceeding negative 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and a frostbitten earlobe.

McKinley is the highest peak in North America, towering at 20,230 feet.

The trip consisted of an 18-day expedition during which Smith and his fellow climbers ate strictly freeze-dried meals and carried 100-pound packs full of gear.

'We spent about 45 minutes taking summit photos and congratulating ourselves,' Smith said.

Seven months later, Smith took off on a weeklong snow and rock climbing expedition in the Central Chile Andes mountains, a trip that climaxed with the ascents of two 'fourteeners,' which are fourteen-thousand-foot peaks.

His next adventure landed him in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

In August 1997 Smith hiked the peak via the Exum Ridge Route, which he said was a 'technical rock climb,' meaning it required technical moves to reach the summit safely.

Smith's most recent climbing excursions have taken him to Peru to climb two peaks, Pisco Oeste at 18, 872 feet and Huascaran at 22,205 feet.

He and a group attempted to climb the peaks but were unable to reach the top in July 1998, due to weather conditions.

He returned this July and was successful, and to prove it proudly posed for a sunny summit photograph with Flat Pat and Patti, the famous paper bears supplied by the Baylor Alumni Association to school-spirited alums.

Smith said, 'It was a relatively hard trip, but well worth it to climb Huascaran, which is the highest peak in the tropics, the fourth highest peak in South America and the highest peak in Peru. It had been early 1995 since I had been over 22,000 feet (on Aconcagua ) and it was rewarding to see that my 40-year old body could still go that high without too much difficulty.'

Smith said he takes a fearless approach to climbing; although Mount McKinley had claimed 13 lives in 1992, he was not deterred when he attempted it.

'It's no more dangerous than driving on the interstate,' Smith said.

When thirsting to conquer yet another peak, Smith typically goes climbing with a guide service out of Seattle, which is the center of North American climbing due to the wealth of tall mountains in the area.

Smith is planning to go to Tibet next Spring, and eventually wants to return to South America.

He also wants to climb the Matterhorn in Switzerland, which is 15,000 feet tall.