Climb Every Mountain
Section: Front Page
likes to climb highest peaks in the world
— Lori Schneider, mountain climber
TOWN OF BAYFIELD — Fiercely determined, yet humble, relentless, but
realistic, a dreamer, a fighter, a conqueror, an inspiration. These
are insights into the soul of Lori Schneider, a truly beautiful and
Schneider is a 52-year-old retired teacher who likes to climb
mountains — big mountains — the highest mountains in the world, in
fact, referred to as the “Seven Summits,” one on each continent: Mt.
Kilimanjaro, 19,340 ft. Africa, Mt. Aconcagua, 22,841 ft., South
America, Mount Elbrus, 18,540 ft., Europe, Denali/Mt. McKinley, 20,
320 ft., Mt. Kosciuszko, 7,380 ft., Australia, and most recently
Vinson Massif, 16,067 ft. in Antarctica.
Schneider said she’s “saving the best for last,” Mt.
Everest at 29,035 ft. Only 25 women, 10 of them
from the United States, have ever conquered the seven
summits. Schneider intends to be number 26.
Fulfilling her dream of climbing the highest summits in the world,
in and of itself, is an incredible aspiration; an aspiration that
becomes even more significant when you find out Schneider was
diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when she was 43. She awoke
one morning, the entire right side of her body numb, “....as if
someone had drawn a dividing line down the middle of my body,” she
MS is a chronic, often disabling autoimmune disease that attacks the
central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves).
Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such
as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific
symptoms are unpredictable and vary from one person to the other.
“Hearing the sound of those two letters, M/S was terrifying,”
Schneider said. How could this be happening? Her identity suddenly
shifted from an energetic, highly capable, healthy, athletic young
woman to someone with a two-letter, debilitating disease.
She had big dreams of doing more mountain climbing and travelling
around the world. Prior to the diagnosis, Schneider and her father,
who she calls her “inspiration, friend, and hero,” climbed to the
top of Kilimanjaro and planned to do other summits together.
Now, like the flip of a coin, she was facing the greatest
challenge of her life. Schneider realized she was at battle with a
formidable foe. Her only recourse was to overcome the
identification, the labeling, of being a MS victim. She depended
upon her inherent determination to take back as much control of her
body that was possible.
“I had to get over the fear of having MS. I had to get to the point
of realizing it (the disease) does not define who I am. In realizing
that our limitations and barriers are self imposed, we are able to
move beyond them and they no longer define who we are,” she said.
Her dream of mountain climbing intensified after the diagnosis in
1999. Her life changed course dramatically. “I quit my 20-year
teaching career in special education and elementary education, left
a 22-year marriage and felt the panic of needing to complete my
chosen task while I was still in control of my physical body.
“From that point, I saved money when I could, and in 2000 used what
I had saved to participate in a climb of Mera Peak, in Nepal, to
raise money for a charity. Next I was off to Russia to climb
Europe’s highest peak, Mount Elbrus. With my health still strong,
I trained on Mexico volcanoes for an attempt of Denali the following
spring. With an investment of $10,000 in extreme weather gear, along
with a determination that would not stop, I reached the summit of
Denali in May of 2006.
“Upon returning from Denali, I was told that my persistent back pain
was caused by a cyst on a nerve in my spine, which was being pinched
between two disks. The cyst developed from a slow leak of spinal
fluid, due to a faulty spinal tap by a young medical student when I
was first diagnosed in 1999. After back surgery in 2006, and
recovery time followed by training to rebuild my strength, I am
ready to move forward again.
“With ice axe in hand and the desire to complete my dream of setting
foot on each continent and climbing the ‘Seven Summits,’ I climbed
Australia’s Mt. Kosciuszko in July of 2008, and Mt. Vinson in
Antarctica in November 2008. I am saving the best for last, Mt.
Everest in May 2009.”
Schneider’s most recent climb in Antarctica was grueling, she said,
but in retrospect, the ideal training and precursor for the ultimate
climb at Mt. Everest, “a mountain of many moods,” she said.
Schneider keeps a journal to record her experiences of climbing the
Following are a few excerpts from her approach to the Mt. Vinson
summit in Antarctica.
The Saddest Thanksgiving Ever
“We arrived at High Camp at 1:30 a.m., after six and a half long
hours back up the fixed lines. We put up our tent in a frantic
attempt to provide shelter, as the mercury plummeted to minus 35,
plus the wind chill.
“Exhausted and frozen we skipped food and tried to sleep for a few
hours. We awoke to howling winds. Our 10 a.m. summit attempt would
have to be pushed back a few hours. We stayed in the tent as the
winds continued to build. By noon, the guide felt we were in a
threatening environment and needed to get down fast, before the 45
mph gusts got worse. As he informed me, we were now in a dangerous
life and death mode.
A dramatic beam of light shines on the mountain climbers at the
summit of Mt. Vinson Massif.
“We made a plan how we would quickly proceed, once we stepped
outside the tent — backs to the wind and protect the fingers at all
cost. We packed our gear inside our shelter, then headed out into
the relentless wind and pulled down the tent. I was crushed by the
realization of not getting a shot at the summit. Thoughts of
disappointment rattled my brain, as we scurried down the fixed lines
in the bitter cold.
“My goggles soon became frozen and my nose was beginning to get
icy, even under my facemask. The descent to Low Camp seemed to go on
“When we returned to camp the guide said we would be going down to
Base Camp in the morning. A black veil of disappointment filled my
head as I tried to grasp what was happening. The tiny, minute window
to the summit had been closed and I would be going home without ever
having a shot at the top. I called Dad via satellite phone to let
him know I was safe, but my disappointment was immeasurable. He
listened while I cried and felt my pain as strongly as I did.
Several hours later my guide talked with a leader from another team.
The two of us would join their group tomorrow and stick it out a few
days longer, possibly having a shot at the summit after all. Looks
like I’ll be climbing that 4,000 ft. headwall for a third time.”
First Summit Attempt
“It’s a go! We packed our smaller day packs with glasses, goggles,
gloves, down mittens, and jackets. Snacks and water bottles ready,
we headed for the summit about noon. We did a long, slow death march
toward our goal we had all come for. At minus 35 and windy, our rest
stops were either non-existent or short. 6 p.m. came and Vinson was
within our grasp. We were only 200 vertical feet from the summit
when the call was made by all three group leaders to turn back. That
last summit ridge would take another two hours and the minus 35
temperatures, plus the wind chill factor at 45 mph were creating a
dangerous mix. The route back was icy and the danger factor high. We
turned around and hustled back to High Camp, after a 10-hour push.”
Second Summit Attempt
“We started out after only a few hours sleep, back up the route we
retreated from yesterday. The weather was in our favor and soon we
were on the summit ridge. It was time to clip into the ‘running
pro.” The ropes we hooked into for protection to keep us from
sliding down several thousand feet on either side, should we fall.
“The lead guide told us we were now changing from hikers to mountain
climbers. Let the fun begin!
“After an hour or two of scrambling over rocks and ice while wearing
our crampons, we reached the summit!! I am overwhelmed and
exhilarated all at once. I look toward heaven and yell hi to my mom,
then kneel down and kiss the frozen ground. I am carrying the
pictures and cards from loved ones with me. The weather is perfect
at minus 25 and calm skies. It feels almost balmy in the sunshine.
We wanted to savor every last moment so we were the last to exit our
slice of polar heaven. After 12 and half hours we return to High
Camp, completely exhausted but filled with joy.”
It is this excruciating and exhilarating combination of near defeat
and triumph of climbing the most difficult mountains in the world
that empowers Schneider. She is the conqueror, not the victim as she
climbs to the top of the world and feels the intensity of the
earth’s ground force beneath her.
Her seventh summit attempt begins this spring. She sets off for Mt.
Everest in Nepal on March 29. She’ll be in Base Camp, (17,600 ft.)
for one month to acclimatize. The hike to Base Camp takes 10 days.
The way to the summit is done in increments. “You carry high and
sleep low,” she said. The climbers carry heavy backpacks and pull sleds loaded with their gear up the mountain to set up the next
camp. Then they retreat to the previous lower level to sleep and
continue to acclimatize.
At 23,000 feet, Schneider and the other climbers will be using
oxygen, allowing them to proceed to even higher elevations. At
25,000 feet they will enter the “Death Zone,” where Schneider said
is a point where your body is more in a shut-down death mode than in
a living mode.
Time is of the essence when climbing Mt. Everest, she added. “There
is only a short window for summit attempts to Mt. Everest. It’s from
mid to late May,” Schneider said. Accumulatively, the Mt. Everest
trip is about a two-month sojourn; 10 days to reach Base Camp, 30
days acclimatizing at Base Camp elevation and the rest the time
spent ascending the summit.
As Schneider nears the time of departing for Nepal and completing
the “Seven Summits,” she grows stronger in her commitment to achieve
her goal and yet concedes her dream-come-true depends on the mood of
She has borrowed $65,000 to complete this trip, having used the last
of her savings to finance the other six summit trips. There is
nothing that can deter her from attempting to finish what she has
started out to do.
“I hope to stand on the top of Mt. Everest, but that mountain has
its own set of rules. I plan on giving 100 percent of me. In that
regard, I will reach my personal summit.”
By reaching her goal of climbing the “Seven Summits” Schneider
hopes to inspire others who are suffering from physical limitations
and illnesses to reach their own summits and move beyond their
labels and live their dreams.
Along with pictures and cards from loved ones and a lock of her
mother’s hair, Schneider plans to bring a flag to the Mt. Everest
summit, the highest mountain on the surface of the earth.
Any companies interested in becoming a sponsor of Schneider’s
journey will have their company’s banner or logo imprinted on the
flag. For details go to
Schneider has created a new solo venture, Empowerment
Through Adventure, dedicated to showing others how to
discover their inner strengths through high adventure.
She also plans to bring six people diagnosed with MS
each year to climb Kilimanjaro.