Gineth Soto had thought about Mount Everest before. But it wasn’t until 2003, when she arrived to the top of Mount Rainier, a glacial volcano in Washington State that reaches 4,400 meters (14,400 feet) into the sky, that she made her decision to climb up the world’s tallest mountain.
“It was the first time that I was in a glacier, and climbing a mountain with crevasses in cold, snowy weather,” she said. “And when I arrived at the summit, …in that moment, I thought, why not the [highest] summit in the world?” Soto told the Tico Times this week.
The 37-year-old adventure hiker will make her second attempt to be the first Costa Rican to reach the peak of Mount Everest this spring. Soto scaled 7,100 meters (23,300 feet), or 80 percent, of the icy mountain in 2008 before she was overcome with a high-altitude cough and had to descend.
Her upcoming expedition begins on Mar. 27, when she flies from Los Angeles, California, U.S., to Kathmandu, Nepal. She hopes to be on the summit by May 17. Private bank BAC San José and the network agency Tribu DDB are sponsoring her trip.
President Laura Chinchilla met with Soto last week and presented her with a Costa Rican flag to be placed at the summit. During the press conference, Soto said she feels “very motivated” by Chinchilla, her Costa Rican fans, and others who have helped her train in recent years.
“I feel like it’s not just my dream anymore,” she said.
Soto spent her childhood venturing out on her grandfather’s farm in Ojochal de Miramar, in the province of Puntarenas northwest of San José. As a teenager, she competed in surfing tournaments at Jacó, where she had moved with her family. In 1995, she moved to California and became active in outdoor sports. Soto fell in love with mountain climbing after she ascended her first mountain, Mount Whitney, one of the tallest mountains in the U.S.
After deciding to climb Mount Everest in 2003, Soto learned how to scale frozen waterfalls, climb in the ice and snow and use the equipment needed on Everest. She trains six days a week and is on a diet of mostly carbohydrates, proteins and lots of fruit and vegetables. Low oxygen levels at higher altitudes make digestion more difficult, so climbers must eat foods very low in fat.
Soto says she learned valuable lessons during her first expedition up Mount Everest. “We prepare for everything they tell us to; the ‘death zone,’ injections… Something as simple as the ‘Khumbu cough’ is what stopped me before,” she said.
There are 64 people in her expedition team: 40 Sherpas (an ethnic group from Nepal), 20 climbers and four guides. This year, Soto is traveling with the U.S.-based climbing company International Mountain Guides, which has put 251 people on Everest’s summit. Soto is the only woman in the group.
In her diary on her website, Soto wrote in 2008 that the Puja Ceremony the climbers participated in with the Sherpas was incredibly spiritual. Reflecting on that experience this week, Soto said it impacted her a lot to see the respect that the Sherpas have for the mountain. “Everest is a sacred mountain,” Soto said. “It’s called Chomolungma [in Tibetan], goddess mother of the universe.”
During the four-hour ritual, the Sherpas make offerings to the mountain, ask permission to climb it and ask for protection. The wind then carries the prayers from the ceremonial flags to the mountain to pacify it so that there won’t be bad weather.
“Since I was a child, I was fascinated with mountains,” she said. “When I would see a hill, I wanted to climb it and to see what was on the other side.”
Soto has now climbed five of the seven highest mountains in the world, known as the Seven Summits. If she beats Everest, her next project will be Mount Vinson in Antarctica.