A Lebanese woman has climbed South America’s highest peak, bringing her
closer to her goal of raising Lebanon’s flag at the world’s seven
highest summits and two poles. An accomplished mountaineer, Joyce
Azzam has scaled nearly two dozen prominent summits around the world.
However, her mission to Argentina’s Cerro Aconcagua was as much a
diplomatic endeavor as it was athletic. Lebanon’s Ambassador to
Argentina Antonio Andary organized a reception in her honor upon her
arrival in Buenos Aires.
At an elevation of 6,962 meters above sea
level, Cerro Aconcagua is the highest peak Azzam has climbed to date,
higher than California’s Mount Whitney (4,424 meters), France’s Mont
Blanc (4,813 meters) and Qornet Sawda, Lebanon’s highest peak (2,088
meters). Qornet Sawda is a day’s hike, Azzam explained. “For mountains above 3,000 meters, you need more than one day,” Azzam said. “As you go higher you need more days.”
spent four days conditioning and acclimating for the ascent with
Guillermina Elias, an Argentinian climber of Lebanese descent. The
conditions she would face would test her mentally and physically. The
mountain wasn’t technically difficult, Azzam said. She didn’t need
ropes. However, the air gets thinner and weather gets worse as climbers
go higher. It took Azzam 16 days to reach the summit. She proceeded in
They were hit by their first storm at Camp Confluencia, 3,400 meters above sea level.
their way to Plaza de Mulas (4,300 meters), they faced floods, forcing
them to retreat to Camp Confluencia, where they were lashed by storms
for two days.
“With storms you can’t leave the tent. With ‘white
wind’ there is no visibility,” Azzam said. There isn’t much to do but
eat and melt ice for water.
“People got depressed – there was no sun. Some went back and quit,” she said.
Daytime temperatures were 12C below freezing and dropped another 26 degrees during the nights, she said.
had to plan each day around weather,” she said. “These are killer
mountains. These mountains need dedication and discipline. We had four
storms over 15 days.”
Azzam made three more stops on her way to the top, where she unfurled a Lebanese flag signed by President Michel Aoun.
“It’s putting Lebanon on the international map through women and sports achievements,” she continued.
said she intends to go to Denali in Alaska and Mount Kilimanjara in
Tanzania, and will reach out to Lebanon’s diaspora community.
“Each mountain I go to I try to find a Lebanese woman to climb with me,” she said.
Elias, the Argentinian climber, has hiked to Qornet Sawda and climbed
Tannourine. She has applied for a Lebanese passport.
“We’re promoting Lebanon not just through tabouleh and hummus, but also through the natural landscape,” Azzam said.