Jaime Vinals MOUNTAIN CLIMBING IT'S EASY TO LOOK UP TO SOMEONE WHO'S STANDING on top of the world

February 26, 2002

If you sleep, you die. That's what Jaime Vinals kept reminding
himself on the night of May 23, 2001, as he and his guide, Andy
Lapkass, huddled for warmth 500 feet from the top of Mount
Everest and fought for their lives. Just hours earlier Vinals, a
Guatemalan, had been on top of the world, having reached
Everest's peak, 29,028 feet above sea level. That, it turned
out, had been the easy part.

On the descent Vinals and Lapkass, who is from the U.S., ran out
of bottled oxygen and suffered blurred vision, forcing them to
stop. "We were totally alone, not moving," Vinals says. "The key
is to keep awake all night. If you sleep you get hypothermia,
and that's it. In fact, you can find dead bodies up there from
several years ago. We saw four bodies, which is not nice."

For every momentous occasion in the life of Vinals, a
37-year-old biologist turned climber, a mountain has provided
the setting. In 1987, as a biology student at the University of
San Carlos in Guatemala City, he climbed his first mountain and
fell hopelessly in love with the sport. In 1992 he met his
future wife, Ligia Rodriguez, while going up Chingo, a volcano
on Guatemala's border with El Salvador. They married atop
another mountain in 1995. That same year Vinals began his
conquest of the highest peaks on each continent, leaving Everest
for last. "I feel the full relationship between my soul and my
body at the top of a mountain," he says. That relationship was
tested that night atop Everest, but Vinals and Lapkass returned
safely to camp the next night, having been rescued by three
Americans who aborted their own trip up Everest to save the
nearly comatose climbers.

Vinals was the first Central American to scale Everest and the
fourth Latin American to complete the Seven Summits (after
Chile's Maurico Purto, Brazil's Waldemar Niclevicz and Mexico's
Ricardo Torres-Nava), and his feat provided a welcome
distraction for Guatemalans, whose country is burdened by
poverty and violence. When Vinals returned to his homeland last
June 10, 250,000 people welcomed him along a four-mile parade
route through Guatemala City. In December the nation's largest
newspaper named him Sportsman of the Year. "The people in this
country are looking for some good things," Vinals says, "and
they think I'm one of those good things." --Gene Menez

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)