Reaching 22,841 feet into the clouds above Argentina, Mount Aconcagua poses a tough challenge to even the most seasoned climbers, and next month, Cayman resident Julia Stenson will be undertaking a long and arduous journey up its slopes.
Stenson’s expedition will span three weeks from 14 Dec. to 5 Jan., bringing awareness and raising funds for Have a Heart Cayman Islands, a non-profit which facilitates and funds lifesaving cardiac procedures for underprivileged children from throughout the Caribbean and around the world.
Mount Aconcagua, which is part of the Andes mountain range, boasts the title of second highest of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks on each continent) with only Mount Everest stretching further into the sky. It is also the tallest peak in the Americas, as well as the Southern and Western Hemispheres. Due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean it is known for its fierce winds and temperatures as low as – 22° F.
“I have been an avid climber and hiker for many years but this, by some distance, will be my biggest challenge to date,” said Stenson, whose love for high altitude has been inspired by ionic Polish mountaineers.
She will complete the challenge in a team of 10, made up of climbers she will meet for the first time a few days before beginning the expedition.
“We might be strangers, but we share the same passion for the mountains and adventure,” she said. “Lifelong friends can be made on the mountain because you spend a lot of time with each other and you go through physical and mental tests together.”
The sheer height of Aconcagua means that climbers, who each carry up to 60lbs of gear, spend sustained periods camping in tough conditions at high altitude. It is estimated that each year only 30% of climbers reach the top.
Originally hailing from Poland, Stenson has lived in Cayman for nine years after spending over 10 years in Ireland where she met her husband. The birth of her daughter three years ago heightened her compassion for children who are in need of heart surgeries, but do not benefit from the financial status necessary to obtain these.
“It breaks my heart to know that there are families out there who cannot afford the life-saving heart surgeries their kids need to survive,” said Stenson. “I am covering all of my expenses so every cent donated will go directly to saving little lives, and my target is $50,000.”
Through this expedition she also hopes to teach her daughter to dream big, work hard and follow her dreams, no matter how frightening they may seem.
Stenson’s dedication to the trek will take her away from her family for Christmas, with her spending Christmas Day at an elevation of 19,587 feet, and New Year’s Eve at the summit of the mountain in well-below freezing temperatures, coupled with very strong winds.
Stenson is no stranger to scaling heights, what with growing up near Poland’s Tatra mountains and taking advantage of hill-climbing in Ireland. Since moving to Cayman, she plans one big hiking trip per year.
“I have hiked in Utah and Arizona and have [tackled] the Cascades and Peruvian Andes,” she said. “My most recent climb was the 14,411 ft Mount Rainier in August, which is the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States.”
She is training in earnest for her Aconcagua expedition. “I train six times a week with cardio such as cycling, running, swimming and the stairs machine. I also do weights to prepare myself for carrying heavy loads,” Stenson said. “At the weekends, you can spot me walking local roads and trails with a 45 lb backpack and ankle weights.”
Have a Heart
Thanks to generous donations and through its partnership with Health City Cayman Islands, Have a Heart has served 291 children from 21 countries in the past five years.
Every cent donated goes directly to the delivery of healthcare, with no funds diverted to overhead or administration costs. “This is the cornerstone of our organisation and the children we care for would be unlikely to otherwise have access to the cardiac care they need to survive,” explained Jennifer McCarthy, spokesperson for Have a Heart.
“When Julia reached out and asked if Have a Heart would like to partner on her incredible quest, it was extremely exciting. Having worked with Derek Haines on a few of his fundraising adventures, I know first-hand how much critically needed awareness and funds initiatives like this raise,” said McCarthy.
“Julia is an amazing woman and her motivation to teach her own daughter about grit and gratitude by helping other children is inspirational. The team at Have a Heart is so grateful for the support, as there are currently over 300 children that we know of, waiting for the life-saving heart surgeries they need to survive.
“Julia and her generous supporters will ensure that more children get the opportunity they need and deserve, and we are all immeasurably grateful for this.”
Donations can be made through www.caymangiftcertificates.com/donations or by bank transfer to Have a Heart FCIBC USD #10460401. Please include SUMMIT and YOUR NAME as a reference when making donations. You can follow Julia’s climb through facebook.com/haveaheartcayman and twitter.com/haveaheartci.
For more information on Have a Heart Cayman visit haveaheartcayman.com.