Mission #4: 2027: Mars, Ho!

When we finally knocked off Olympus Mons, the highest peak in the solar system, it took a million small steps...and one giant leap in rocket shoes

Jan 10, 2002
Outside Magazine

WE WERE "MOUNTAINAUTS," not mountaineers. You don't scale the highest known peak in the solar system with carabiners and ropes. Mars isn't Nepal, and Olympus Mons isn't Everest. It's 88,000 feet high, the atmosphere is no atmosphere, and 150 degrees below zero is mild. Our giganto space suits, gridded with liquid-food pipelines, heating wires, and A/C ducts—the oxygen-distillation tank and personal sewage system trailing off behind—were so heavy they had to be autogyroscopically balanced to keep us upright.

Purist climbers sneered at the caterpillar NikeWalktrax we wore. But come on, it was 180 miles from the base to the summit, 30 days stomping over hardened lava flow on a shallow grade—more like walking Nebraska than climbing the Himalayas. So why not?

THOSE MECHANICAL YAKS: a bust from the get-go. Overheated under any kind of load, even in that cold, so the mother blimp had to rocket down supplies. Thanks lots. You needed new gloves, you got bass-fishing videos. The box marked "Telemetry Spares" contained a croquet set. Turned out the Russians had done the packing.

THE SUPPLY ROCKETS THEY FIRED DOWN from the mother blimp homed in on an infinitesimal trace of human perspiration. Lethal! Five times a day somebody would start yelling "incoming" in your earphones and you had to start zigzagging like mad. Pretty soon we just stopped asking for supplies. Better to go hungry than be reduced to Martian dust particles.

Filed To: Snow Sports

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