Reed Magazine February 2004 next page

The letter On a golden February morning in 1965, Reed chemistry major Arlene Blum ’66 hauled herself up the icy slope of Mount Hood to stand triumphantly on the windblown summit of her first mountain.

She had trudged all night under a starry sky to reach the top, and now she gave herself a moment to catch her breath and take in the magnificent view at 11,237 feet above sea level, above the clouds, closer to heaven than she had ever been.

Flash forward nearly 40 years, and Blum is back at Reed to show her teen-aged daughter around campus and deliver a lecture, “Breaking Trail: My Path to High Places.” Sitting on a walkway bench as the sun sets on a crisp autumn afternoon, she fondly recalls her ascent of Mount Hood, the first of many peaks in an impressive mountaineering career.

“I felt a sense of peace, of coming home to a place where I belonged,” she recalls of that first climb.

Blum is a big name among mountain climbers, a trailblazer for women—literally.

She spent her youth in pursuit of thrilling adventures across the globe. Most famously, she led an all-woman team to the top of Annapurna I in the Himalayas, the tenth highest peak in the world and one of the most deadly. The exhilarating but ultimately tragic expedition inspired her groundbreaking 1980 (and recently reprinted) book, Annapurna: A Woman’s Place—which ranks among National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s top 100 adventure books of all time.

“She is someone who is not only an inspiration, but who is still studied by people who take mountain climbing seriously,” says Rick Stoller, executive director of the Mazamas, a century-old mountaineering club in Oregon. “Because of women like Arlene, nobody thinks twice now about women taking on leadership in a major expedition.”

Blum with axe

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Reed Magazine February 2004