It's unlikely thatDr. Charles Brush, past president (1978-80) of the New York chapter of theExplorers Club, will ever enjoy the fame of such fellow club members as AdmiralPeary (North Pole), Charles Lindbergh (Atlantic Ocean), Sir Edmund Hillary(Everest), Neil Armstrong (moon) or even George Willig (South Tower, WorldTrade Center). That doesn't bother Brush, who derives his satisfaction fromdoing. Recently the 59-year-old Yale anthropologist led a five-man expeditionin a scuba-diving exploration of the world's highest body of water—a craterlake atop the dormant volcano Licancàbur on the border between Chile andBolivia, about 19,300 feet above sea level. The highest previous dive was at14,900 feet and Brush's team could only guess what the physical consequences ofoxygen deficiency would be on a dive more than three-quarters of a mile higher.The team had no problem and made 11 dives into the frigid lake over a period offive days.
Brush scored adouble victory. Not only did his group set an altitude record for diving—a niceparadox—but it also discovered that the lake was teeming with life, includingminute red plankton that may be a hitherto unknown species. Samples of theplankton are now being studied at Yale.
For Brush, theLicancàbur trip was just the latest in a series of adventures. He madeimportant archeological digs in Mexico in 1961 and a decade later, at 49,reversed directions and took up mountaineering. In the 10 years since, Brushhas climbed some of the highest peaks in the world, including Kilimanjaro,McKinley and Aconcagua. He has driven the length of Africa, from Algiers toCapetown, in a rally, raised cattle and sugarcane, run an airline cateringbusiness in the West Indies and race-walked in both the 1981 and 1982 New Yorkmarathons. He also found time to meet and fall in love with Ellen Sparry, nowhis wife, during a doctoral class in European lower paleolithics in a ColumbiaUniversity subbasement. Let Hillary or Willig or Armstrong match that.