Dreaming Big

Kalispell’s Barbara Schwarz is adventuring into the Andes to conquer over 30 peaks stretching above 19,000 feet

By Dillon Tabish
Barbara Schwarz at the summit of El Toti in Colombia. Courtesy Barbara Schwarz

What would your dream adventure be?

For 52-year-old Barbara Schwarz, it was climbing 34 summits in Peru’s majestic Cordillera Blanca, a famed, high-altitude mountain range in the alpine playground of the Andes.

Thanks to a “Live Your Dream” grant from the American Alpine Club this spring, the Kalispell resident will begin tackling her ultimate adventure next month. Schwarz will travel to Peru in early July and scale Alpamayo, a steep pyramid of ice and snow jutting into the sky with a summit elevation of 19,511 feet. Climbers and photographers revere the peak as one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. After that she plans to hit Ranrapalca (20,217 feet) and Wamashrahu (17,828 feet).

Schwarz will travel with a guide and longtime friend and will document her journey online with photos and blog updates.

“I’m totally excited. It’s coming up fast,” she said.

The American Alpine Club helps fund projects that fit the motto of the “Live Your Dream” grant — dream big, grow as a climber and inspire others.

Schwarz’s plans definitely fit the bill.

Her goal is to conquer the list of daunting summits over the next 10 years. She has already achieved three of the 34 on her list. The average summit of each mountain is over 19,000 feet elevation, and each presents unique challenges, from technical routes to drastic, sudden changes in extreme weather conditions. Schwarz will be required to use her ice-climbing skills along with the necessary endurance and strength for each unique climb.

In preparation for her dream come true, Schwarz has maintained a disciplined regimen of running, biking, hiking and rock climbing in the local mountains. Recently, she has hiked Big Mountain twice a week and ventured into the high country of Glacier National Park.

The valley’s abundant outdoors are a perfect training ground and are the reason why she landed here a decade ago. Born and raised in Switzerland, Schwarz ventured around the U.S. before moving to Montana.

“This is like the area where I grew up, with the mountains for skiing, hiking and climbing,” she said. “I needed to be closer to the mountains again.”

With Kalispell as her base camp, she has conquered a long list of impressive peaks around the world. Last year she summited seven massive mountains, including Peru’s Yanapaccha (17,909 feet), Artesonraju (19,767 feet) and Chopakalki (20,846 feet) and Aconcagua (22,387 feet) in Argentina.

“I see every single climb as a separate chapter,” she said. “I just really want to test how far I can go.”

Follow Schwarz’s adventures online at www.barbaraschwarzmt.com.

Tips for Adventuring

Barbara Schwarz offers advice for the everyday adventurer:

1. First of all: Get out there! Explore and enjoy the beautiful area we live in.

2. Of course, it is always too hot, too cold, too wet or simply too much effort to lace up the boots and get going. One way to tackle these obstacles is to set yourself a challenging goal! Then come up with a training plan and a series of shorter outings to prepare. Engage friends or your children to create an exciting experience by planning trips and preparing for a day on the trail.

3. If you don’t have a hiking partner, look into organizations like GMS (Glacier Mountaineering Society) that organize a variety of hikes and climbs for all experience levels.

4. Footwear: You don’t have to have all the latest and most expensive gear but don’t skimp on boots. The best boots are the ones that fit you well and provide the appropriate support for your activity.

5. Clothing: Remember it’s colder and windier on the summit and the weather in the mountains can change in minutes so always carry several layers in your pack.

6. Bear spray: Always carry bear spray even if you are hiking in an area where you think there might be a lot of other people.

7. Start early: Begin your hikes early in the day to take advantage of cooler temperatures and to allow enough time to enjoy the views.

8. Now lace up your boots and get going!

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