Silvia Vásquez-Lavado, climb Everest to save herself from alcoholism and sexual violence | International

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Those who have been more than eight thousand meters above sea level—and have come back to tell the tale—have been faced with an irony: while you sit on top of the world, you are dying. The atmospheric pressure drops, breathing becomes agitated, fatigue invades, cheeks and feet go numb, and the skin is on the verge of freezing. Being a mountaineer is struggling between glory and survival. Always against time. And with a dream to be willing to die for.

Silvia Vásquez-Lavado (48 years old) has spent her last twenty years running that risk. Not for fame, she assures herself, but to get rid of her demons. When she climbed to the top of Everest in 2016 and the news caused a stir in Peru —the country where she lived until she was eighteen before leaving for the United States in 1992 to study on a scholarship at a university— because of her status as a gay woman, she had learned like a mantra that the highest peak on Earth was not created to be conquered but to embrace its majesty with humility and respect.

“He is a spirit to be honored. I consider Everest as a mother”, reflects Vásquez Lavado, from Cerro San Cristóbal, the viewpoint of Lima. We are 400 meters above sea level and yet the city looks so tiny. A jungle of ants and miniature cars moving by. What it will be like from the Himalayas. Much more than indescribable. At that height it is impossible to look down, because the below does not exist. It is covered by clouds. Only sounds are heard: the slapping air and the crunch of avalanches.

In 2015 Vázquez-Lavado climbed the Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica at 4,892 meters above sea level.Silvia Vásquez-Lavado (Courtesy)

For a couple of weeks, this woman with tousled silver hair has been in Peru promoting the Spanish edition of The embrace of the mountain (Planet), the testimonial work that he wrote during the pandemic as a therapeutic exercise and that was originally published in English. She often says that they are three books in one: an approach to mountaineering, the community that she joined to ascend Everest, and her personal story, full of self-destruction. Her tendency to alcoholism took hold of her when she triggered three issues: discovering and accepting that she liked women, the aggressiveness with which she had been treated by her father, and remembering the sexual abuse she suffered from a family friend when she was a girl. little girl.

“The problem for many survivors is that we are like a walking time bomb. The macabre coincidence is that at some point in my life I ended up working in a vodka company,” says Silvia Vásquez-Lavado, who woke up several times in hospitals intoxicated from having drunk herself unconsciously, crashed a bus due to her drunken state and was jailed for it, and once his apartment almost caught fire because he left the stove on. In fact, when she came down from Everest she drank liquor for two days straight. It was her way of celebrating her, even though she was hurting herself.

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Until she looked in the mirror and made a promise to herself: "Silvia, if you're going to write this book, you're going to have to be sober for the rest of your life." Although she did not follow the twelve-step method that Alcoholics Anonymous recommends, she did take therapies, including one focused on self-compassion. She is winning the battle: in July she will be five years without tasting alcohol. “Not even if he brought me a pisco from Mars (laughs) I would try it. So that? What revolutionized me was understanding that if you only have yourself, you can also give yourself love and forgive yourself, ”she says.

Vázquez-Lavado on top of Everest, 8,848 meters above sea level, in 2016.
Vázquez-Lavado on top of Everest, 8,848 meters above sea level, in 2016.Silvia Vásquez-Lavado (Courtesy)

A vital episode of that healing process was his first approach to ayahuasca, that ancient plant that reveals who you are if you have prepared yourself conscientiously to receive it. It was thanks to a revelation from ayahuasca that Silvia felt the urge to climb. She understood that she needed to get breathless ascending and descending peaks to gain great lessons. In 2006 she climbed Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. The following year she, the Elbrus, in Russia. In 2014, the Aconcagua in Argentina. In 2015 there were three peaks: Kosciuzko in Australia, Jaya in Indonesia, and the Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica; and in 2016 Everest, in Nepal.

On many occasions death has haunted her. "I am done. This is the end ”, she has repeated herself. She happened to him in 2017 when she climbed the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala and survived a storm. Of the expedition, six died and two were saved. It happened to her again in 2021, a few months after the presentation of her book, when she reached the top of the snowy Coropuna, in Arequipa, and her pressure began to drop. “My first Peruvian mountain and I'm going to leave. It was my fault: I hadn't studied it enough and I sent myself. It made me angry because I was going to miss the launch of the book. I'll be back as Gasper (laughs),” she told herself. Fortunately, other mountaineers gave her heat. Up there, when the frost begins to slowly shut down your body, what you urge is sugar and hugs. Silvia ate chocolates, felt warm, and finally recovered.

In 2017, on his first anniversary of Everest, he received a gift from the mountain: they found a brain tumor, at the base of the cerebellum, after having suffered an accident with his bicycle in San Francisco, where he lives. The doctor has forbidden him to climb. But she, who experienced ayahuasca sessions again last year, feels that several missions in the mountains still await her. Returning to Everest is one of them.

Silvia Vásquez-Lavado in Lima (Peru).
Silvia Vásquez-Lavado in Lima (Peru). Angela Ponce

For several years now, the life of Silvia Vásquez-Lavado has attracted the attention of Hollywood. American singer and actress Selena Gomez is interested in playing Silvia and bringing her story to the screen. After a couple of versions of the script, she tells the mountaineer that it would no longer be a feature film, but rather a streaming series. They are about to make that decision. Meanwhile, she searches for allies. Last week she met with the minister for women, Nancy Tolentino in her office. Her desire is to hold talks in the neighborhoods of Lima about shame and empowerment. She is affected by the various cases of violence against women that cover the news daily. Undoubtedly, she is another of her pending missions.

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