By Sue Botos
Kara Stinson laughs when asked if she’s fearless.
“Fearless, no. But if I have a fear, I work to overcome it. I don’t want it to limit me or stand in the way of something I want to do,” the Bay Village resident said in a recent phone interview.
Stinson, 39, now a pilot for Delta Airlines, is true to her word. She didn’t let an early fear of heights stop her from discovering her two passions, flying and mountain climbing. In fact, she hopes to be sitting “on top of the world,” literally, with a climb of the Earth’s highest peak, Mount Everest, next year.
“I seem to have my head in the clouds,” Stinson said as she recalled that she got the flying bug from her father while growing up in Lakewood. Although he never got his license, he encouraged her interest, and Stinson eventually graduated from Purdue University’s aviation program.
Always an active person, Stinson said that she got into Ironman triathlons (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon) and “some fairly serious endurance sports” when living on the West Coast. While training, she came across a nine-day “adventure race” consisting of a six-day climb of Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a two-day bike race around the mountain and a marathon on the final day.
Stinson thought this was a perfect tune-up for her upcoming Ironman race, but was unprepared for her reaction to the famous mountain. “On Kilimanjaro, I realized I had a major passion for the mountains. I just kind of took it from there. I love being out in nature and expedition experiences, where you’re camping and really pushing yourself to your limits,” she recalled.
That was four years ago, and although Stinson had scaled several “fourteeners” – peaks of 14,000 feet – Kilimanjaro, at 19,341 feet, made her set her sights higher. “I’m in the process of working on ‘The Seven Summits,’” she said, explaining that this goal consists of scaling the highest mountain on each of the Earth’s seven continents. With Kilimanjaro and Russia’s Mount Elbrus under her belt, Stinson conquered Mount Aconcagua in Argentina in February and is set to climb Alaska’s Denali (Mount McKinley) in May.
“I’ll have three more to go after that, and I’m on pace to get them all done next year. If all goes well, I should do Mount Everest next spring,” she predicted. The other two peaks on the list are Antarctica’s Vinson Massif and Mount Kosciuszko in Australia.
But this would not be her first visit to Everest. “I never seriously considered climbing Everest because of the danger factor. So I thought I would do the base camp trek,” she said of the 18,000-foot climb to the mountain’s base.
“It was incredibly beautiful, fun and challenging, and I thought maybe I’ll get the feeling that I never want to attempt this. Unfortunately what happened – and I had a feeling this would happen – (was that) I can’t wait to climb it,” Stinson said.
Although altitude has never been an issue for Stinson, she has witnessed many emergencies where people have become so sickened by the thin air that they had to be evacuated. “It’s always alarming to see someone in bad shape due to altitude,” she said, recalling a fellow climber on Mount Aconcagua who was taken off the mountain after his oxygen level dipped to 42 percent. She added that a climber’s physical fitness level is not a predictor of altitude sickness, and a person’s body can react differently on any given day.
Stinson laughs again when asked what her family thinks of her adventures. “They think I’m crazy, but they understand it. They worry on the bigger climbs, because there’s quite an element of danger,” she said.
Asked if she ever gets scared, Stinson thought for a moment, and then recalled her trek on Mount Rainier. “Wearing crampons (spiked boot attachments), you’re crossing a ladder over a hole in the ground (a crevasse). The first time I was terrified, but after you do it a couple of times, it becomes more comfortable. Being difficult makes it more fun for me. I like to overcome things that make me uncomfortable.”