Pamela Pappas of Tampa, Florida, who completed the challenging climb to the summit of Mount Everest on May 13, 2011, will be honored with the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Award for Achievement on Saturday, February 11, according to Constantine G. Caras, Chairman. “We are delighted to add this wonderful opportunity of honoring so extraordinary a person to our Conference program,” he said. Pappas, a 40-year-old nuclear pharmacist, joined the pantheon of a small and distinguished group of exceptional individuals when she greeted the sun coming over the Himalayan Mountains at a temperature of 30 degrees below zero that day. She later commented: “The great thing about Everest is that it’s a mountain that’s still growing. So when you’re on top, you’re the highest person in the world at that time.” She had also taken on other mountains before this feat since her goal is to climb the highest mountain on every continent: Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Eastern Europe, Vinson in Antarctica, Denali in Alaska and Aconcagua in South America.
She will be climbing the Carstensz Pyramid, the highest point in Australia, next, and then Mont Blanc because The French contend that Elbrus is really in Asia. But it was the nearly 23,000-foot climb up Mount Aconcagua, near the Argentine/Chilean border, that changed her life.
Commenting on her goal, she observed: “There’s a mountain in every mountain climber’s career that determines whether you’re going to keep climbing or not,” she said. “I was inexperienced enough when I went to Aconcagua that I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to climb mountains. There was a point there when I felt maybe I should turn around because I didn’t think I was going to make the summit. I needed to overcome my fear and most of all my doubt about my capability, which is what people stumble with in everything in life I think. If you point to why people don’t accomplish things or can’t accomplish things, it always points to their fear and their doubts. Their fear of failure, their fear they’re not good enough or ready.”
It was a lesson Pappas kept close as she started training last October to climb Mount Everest. She had climbed Mount Denali about six months earlier and took a break to let her joints heal.
Even in her downtime, though, Pappas finds a long hike and a campsite that takes her away from humanity for days. She has loved camping ever since she grew up two blocks from the woods in Pittsburgh. But she’s only been climbing mountains for five years.
It all started in 2006, when she stopped into a shop in South Tampa for some outdoor gear, and saw an ad for a mountain-climbing trip in Mexico. It sounded like her kind of adventure.
Since then, Pappas has climbed about a dozen big mountains — and now can add Everest to the list. Pappas was one of only three, and the only woman, in her original group of 13 climbers to make it to the top. Mountaineers don’t climb Everest in one swoop. Pappas’ journey meant going up to camps and back down again several times over two to three weeks. She lost 15 pounds in the process.
“When you get to the summit — I’m not going to say it’s anticlimactic because that’s your goal — but there are a lot of things you have to think about,” she said. “Immediately when I get to the summit, I’m looking down at the ridge thinking that’s going to be a difficult descent. You can see the curvature of the Earth out in the background. You can see the tops of these 8,000-meter peaks you’ve heard about all your life and you’re above them. But even in that moment, you think, ‘I’m going to be here for 10 minutes and I’m going down.”