Twenty years ago Adrian Crane and some fellow mountaineers spent
a brutally cold night stranded on Scotland's An Teallach
mountain wondering who was going to die. No one did, and Crane
emerged from the experience with a fresh take on such
unpleasantness. "If getting stuck on a mountain in the snow
makes me profoundly happy to be alive the next morning, then I'm
not going to worry about going out in the snow again," he says.
"The end result is not that I get cold and wet. It's that the
next morning I feel wonderful."
Such logic helps explain why last Feb. 19 Crane rose at 2 a.m.
and, along with Brian Sarvis, a fellow resident of Modesto,
Calif., ascended the final 3,500 feet of Argentina's Mount
Aconcagua. Crane took a brief look around and then descended
22,834 feet as fast as he could, hiking, running and bicycling
from the peak of the tallest mountain in the Americas to the
Pacific Ocean. His goal was to make the trip under his own power
in less than 24 hours--no small achievement, given that Crane and
Sarvis had climbed for nine days before they reached the top and
the real fun began.
Crane was born 40 years ago in Beverley, England, but for the
past 12 years he has lived in Modesto, where he is a computer
analyst. He has a wife, two young sons and a dog.
That's it for convention. Since the early '70s Crane has
traipsed around the globe pursuing adventure and competition
with a certain sense of style. He has motor-rallied along the
Arctic Circle, gone dogsledding in Alaska, run 2,040 miles
across the Himalayas and set a high-altitude bicycling record by
carrying a bike up Ecuador's 20,561-foot Mount Chimborazo and
then pedaling about its upper reaches for a couple of minutes.
November 13, 1995
Crane's resume is further distinguished by his seat-of-the-pants
(many would say foolhardy) approach to adventure. During the
101-day Himalayan run, which he completed with his brother,
Richard, in 1983, the Cranes carried no food, relying on fate
and the generosity of yak herders. Adrian's cycling odyssey on
Chimborazo in 1986 was equally spontaneous. Spurred by Richard,
the high-altitude-cycling record holder at the time, Adrian took
a week off work and purchased a plane ticket. Then he bought a
"Really, life isn't that complicated if you just deal with the
necessities," says Crane. After wheeling about the summit of
Chimborazo, Crane rode off the peak, descending the snowy
eastern slope of the Andean mountain. "Quite neat," Crane says
of the descent. "It was sort of a cross between downhill and
slalom ski racing." He spent the night in the town of Riobomba,
and the next morning it occurred to him that it might be fun to
ride west back up over the Andes and down to the coast. This he
did, via mountain trails and roads, and he arrived at the
Pacific city of Guayaquil roughly 48 hours later.
The descent of Chimborazo stayed in Crane's mind. It was fun, it
was fast and, most important, it was different. While rapid
ascents of major mountains had been done, to Crane's knowledge
no one had ever attempted a descent at speed. After returning to
Modesto, Crane conducted several years of casual research until
he found what he was looking for in Mount Aconcagua: an enormous
peak close to the sea that could be descended without tremendous
And so at 9:50 that February morning, Crane and Sarvis stood at
22,834 feet, 155 miles from the ocean. They counted to three,
pressed the start buttons on their watches and stepped off
Aconcagua's tiny summit plateau.
Speed being the object, the two men had agreed that each would
proceed at his own pace. Not long after they began, Sarvis
stopped to tie his shoe. Two days would pass before he would be
reunited, much to his relief, with Crane. "The last time I saw
him he was going down the mountain at a dead run," says Sarvis.
"I had a real strong sense that I'd probably never see him alive
Bundled in cold-weather gear, Crane dashed down Aconcagua until
he reached base camp at 14,000 feet. There he exchanged crampons
for running shoes, shouldered a light pack and ran 25 miles
along a trail to where it met the dirt road at the entrance to
Aconcagua Park. From there he "bashed on," as he puts it,
crossing into Chile on his mountain bike. Day turned to night.
Negotiating steep switchbacks and the occasional speeding truck,
Crane rode along, his flashlight lashed to his handlebars. He
stopped only once, for an hour-long nap in a bus shelter just
before dawn. At 9:35 a.m. Crane shouldered his mountain bike,
strode across the white-sand beach that fronts the small fishing
village of Concon and stepped into the sea.
With Aconcagua behind him Crane is eyeing other plunges,
including the ultimate downhill drop, from the summit of Mount
Everest to the sea. Geography and altitude pose a problem, as
all of Nepal and a hefty chunk of India separate 29,028-foot
Everest from the Bay of Bengal. But no matter. For now, the
challenge--impossible as it sounds--has been laid down. "A descent
without qualification: bicycle, skis, a pogo stick, it doesn't
matter," says Crane. "It's just purely who has done the greatest
downhill in 24 hours." He raises an eyebrow. "I believe, at the
moment, that would be me."
Ken McAlpine, who lives in Ventura, Calif., prefers writing
about mountains to running down them.