DENVER (KDVR) — Last weekend, a bilateral above-knee amputee climbed Handies Peak, a 14,058-foot-tall mountain.
The plan was to start climbing on Thursday, Oct. 12, and summit on Friday, but that was before blizzard conditions and below-freezing temperatures moved in.
Mandy Horvath set out for Lake City on Wednesday night with her hiking partner, Robin Bridgewater. Due to blizzard conditions on the peak, the duo started Friday and made it to base camp at about 10,000 feet.
“Going to bed that night, it was about 20 degrees in the tent,” said Hovarth.
Saturday was summit day. It was a slow ascent as the team was only the fourth or fifth person on the mountain and had to break the path in the snow.
“I crawled through sections of the trail where the snow was deeper than I was tall. This was my first time on a snow climb. Glaciers are a completely different ordeal — its ice,” said Hovarth. “This was fresh, powdery snow, and so my arms sank about a foot down, and my tush shoveled a path on the trail.”
By 5 p.m. on Saturday, they had made it to 13,500 feet. The sun began to set at 6 p.m. and it would be completely dark by 6:45 p.m. Hovarth estimated that it would take an hour and a half for her to submit.
“At that point, I asked my teammate to drop her pack and run up to the summit so that at least one of us could see the top. I knew that continuing to summit was putting both my partner’s life and my own at risk,” said Hovarth.
By the time Bridgewater hit the summit, she learned that people were searching for the pair after it was rumored that they were lost or stuck, which wasn’t the case. The team had provisions for two weeks and was well-equipped for the ascent.
The Hinsdale County Search and Rescue Team went to find the two.
“Generally, when SAR gets called in, it’s for able-bodied people who didn’t bring emergency gear, ran out of water or food. None of which was the case for us. Unfortunately, as they responded to our call a rollover had occurred that took those team members from a priority call,” said Hovarth.
While the SAR team was kind, Hovarth wished they hadn’t been called in the first place.
“From our perspective, it was ableist behavior to preemptively call them. We both had been on more dangerous climbs. I have also never summited a mountain in less than three days, 14er or the bigger mountains. Crawling takes time, as does acclimatizing,” said Hovarth.
They descended 4.5 miles in the dark in less than 3 hours, a record for Hovarth.
“Please don’t call SAR unless you have an SOS signal or have word that there is an emergency. Resources are limited and it’s important to be cognizant of that. Neither Robin nor I would have been out there alone if we weren’t confident in our ability to work together to make the dream happen,” said Hovarth.
While Hovarth was just shy of the summit, this was only a trial run.
She has already broken the world record as the first woman to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetic equipment. She has also completed Pikes Peak twice.
In July 2024, she plans to climb Mount Kenya with the same team she conquered Kilimanjaro with.
“We appreciate that there are so many people who care enough to have the entire state of Colorado on the lookout for us! Just remember, not all who wander are lost,” said Hovarth.