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Mar 31, 2004, 1:49 PM
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Article on Boat Rock and Boskoff  (North_America: United_States: Georgia: Georgia_North: Boat_Rock)
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---The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 3/31/04---

Climber learns from the trip, not the destination

In mountain climbing, either you get to the top or you don't. But that outlook has changed for Chris Boskoff, the best female American climber at high altitude.

As a Lockheed engineer and dreamer eight years ago, the drive to succeed made her lug 70-pound backpacks up and down Stone Mountain. It was both a physical challenge and test of her mind that once designed software for military cargo planes. With death always a possibility, she reached Mount Everest and five of the world's highest peaks.

As so often happens, the valleys of life transformed her view.

Boskoff, 36, returned to Atlanta earlier this month to help the Southeastern Climbers Coalition save a south Fulton climbing area, Boat Rock Preserve. The trip was her first here in the five years since her deepest vale.

Husband Keith Boskoff, an Atlanta architect, had mentored her and accompanied her across the Andes and Asia.

In 1994 in the Himalayas, a Buddhist monk married them and they celebrated with the locals by smearing yak butter in their hair. In 1997, the Boskoffs left Atlanta to purchase Mountain Madness, a Seattle adventure travel and guiding company that had been owned by their good friend Scott Fischer. Fischer had died climbing Mount Everest, chronicled in the bestseller "Into Thin Air."

Mountain Madness promoted her quest for the world's 14 highest summits, most rising more than five miles into the sky.

But Keith, 17 years her senior, had his demons. In early 1999, Boskoff discovered his suicide at their home. Her last trip to Atlanta was to handle his estate.

In a soft voice she described her "hard, hard time recovering." Would she dwell on the tragedy, as she observed in some survivors of climbing accidents? Ticking off the tallest peaks didn't seem so important anymore.

"Climbing was more there as a healer for me," she said. "I saw that when I was younger, I was focused on me and the summit, getting from point A to B. . . . Younger [climbers] race to get up to each camp. The older ones are steady and take their time, stop and see the wildlife. And that's the difference. The older you get, you start to sniff the flowers a little bit more."

After an emotionally draining ascent of Gasherbrum II ("G2") |in |Pakistan |after

Keith's death, she scaled Mount Everest in 2000.

That year, en route to Tibet's Cho Oyu, the world's sixth highest mountain, she met veteran guide and photographer Charlie Fowler. Today they train and live together in a remote, icy area in southwest Colorado, where they teach clients to climb.

"Chris is less focused on doing high peaks with big numbers and more concerned with more technically difficult, more exploratory things," Fowler, 50, said. "The frontier of the sport isn't repeating what's been done."

Local climber Michael Crowder, a friend of Boskoff's, recognizes her route in life.

"Everyone is in a hurry to meet their own selfish goals early in their careers," he said. Later comes the discovery that "the mountains are nothing but a beautiful setting in which to share good times with good friends."

Business has doubled, and the traveling life is good. Her secretary is likely to tell a caller, "Chris can't come to the phone. She's in Antarctica." Clients -- who shell out as much as $59,000 for the Everest package -- like her company's personal touch.

"They make you feel very much a part of them," said Atlantan John Kirby, who trekked Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest peak. "They make you feel like it's family."

Boskoff stays fit by running 10 miles a day. She's always seeking a way up. At Boat Rock Preserve, where huge chunks of rock look to have fallen from the sky, she dusted chalk on her hands and sought a grip on a sheer boulder twice her 5-foot-3 height.

Scaling such a big rock with nothing besides your hands and feet is known as a "problem." Boskoff got nowhere, and she eventually gave up and went to another rock.

"Every struggle that you have, you can't let other people let you feel sorry for yourself and let them take care of you," she said. "You've got to do it for yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will."

The path away from conventional ambition, some might call weak. But a better word for it is wisdom.

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