Lebanese woman climbs South America’s highest peak
Written by Malek

BEIRUT: 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.”

Azzam 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 stages.

They were hit by their first storm at Camp Confluencia, 3,400 meters above sea level.

On 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.

“We 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.

Azzam 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.

Guillermina 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.