Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Annie Smith Peck ~ Mountaineer

Although one is not inclined to be timid or nervous, it is nevertheless a trifle depressing to receive letters full of expostulation and entreaty: "If you are determined to commit suicide, why not come home and do so in a quiet lady-like manner?"

Annie Smith Peck (October 19, 1850 – July 18, 1935) was an American mountaineer. She was born in Providence, RI into a wealthy family, which made it possible for her to get a good education. She attended the Rhode Island Normal School, graduating in 1872, and enrolled at the University of Michigan where she graduated in 1878 with a major in Greek and Classical Languages. Annie then went to Europe, where she continued her schooling at Hannover and Athens.

From 1881 to 1892 she was a pioneering professor in the field of archaeology and Latin at Purdue and Smith College. She discovered her enthusiasm for mountaineering in 1885 and began to make money on the lecture circuit. By 1892, she gave up teaching and made her living by lecturing and writing about archeology, mountaineering and her travels.

Annie scaled a number of moderate-sized mountains in Europe and in the United States, including Mount Shasta. In 1895, she climbed the Matterhorn and suddenly became quite well known. She began to climb, lecture and explore in Latin America and promoted Pan-Americanism (peace between the Americas) and geographic education through her lectures, articles and books.

In 1897 she climbed Mount Orizaba and Mount Popocatepetl in Mexico. Although, already over 50 years old, she wanted to make a very special climb and traveled to South America in 1903, looking for a mountain taller than Aconcagua in Argentina (6960 m). In 1904 she climbed Mount Sorata in Bolivia and, in 1908, was the first person to climb the northern peak of Mount Nevado Huascarán in Peru (6648). In 1828 it was named Cumbre Aña Peck in her honor. (Note: Due to a severe snowstorm, Annie misjudged the measuring altitude by about 600 m, calculating it as 7300 m high. She was later shown incorrect from a recalculation done by Fanny Bullock Workman.)

Fourteen years later she climbed Yungay in Peru accompanied by two Swiss mountain guides. She wrote a book about her experiences called The Search for the Apex of America: High Mountain Climbing in Peru and Bolivia, including the Conquest of Huascaran, with Some Observations on the Country and People Below.  

Annie scaled mountains into her old age, including a first ascent of one of the peaks on the five peaked Mount Coropuna in Peru in 1908. After her return she wrote two books: Industrial and Commercial South America and The South American Tour and A Descriptive Guide. Both books were quite popular with diplomats, businessmen, corporations, politicians and tourists.

In 1929-30, she traveled by air around South America in order to show how easy and safe it was for tourists. Her journey was the longest by air by a North American traveler at the time. After her return, she published her fourth and last book Flying Over South America: Twenty Thousand Miles by Air. She started a world tour in 1935 but, after visiting Greece, became ill and returned home to New York City. She died in 1935 and is buried in Providence, RI.

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