Lost climber fell in love with Alaska
EAGLE COUNTY ” Sue Nott first went to Alaska to work and ended up loving the play.
The 36-year-old Vail resident went north with then-boyfriend Chris Anthony to work on the safety crew of the 1995 World Extreme Skiing Championships. There, she fell in love with the Alaska, Anthony said.
“(Alaska) was the ultimate next step for her,” said Anthony, who met Nott growing up in Vail. “With the goals she did have with her climbing, she was just a very amazing, determined person.”
During the trip, Nott went on an expedition with a well-known climber, until Anthony found her the final day of their trip, he said.
“I literally came around the side of the corner, and she was hanging on the side of a cliff,” Anthony said. “I put my hand on what I thought would be a rock, and it turned out to be a shoe. That’s where I always picture her, latched on the side of something.”
Several friends and family members have declined to comment on Nott while search teams look for her and partner Karen McNeill on Alaska’s Mount Foraker. A few, however, some offered a glimpse into the world-renowned ice climber’s life Tuesday several days after the search began.
Sara Argueso-Nott received the phone call informing her of her younger sister’s situation. Other searches for Nott in the past taught Argueso-Nott to patiently wait for news from rescue personnel.
“When you hear news like that you take the information,” Argueso-Nott said. “Over the years we’ve learned to wait. You just go into waiting mode. You don’t know the circumstances. Even the rangers don’t know the circumstances.
“The first day you don’t worry too much because she has the ability to push her limits ” limits people don’t always expect her to transcend.”
The search began Thursday and being patient has been more difficult. “You kind of just go numb and wait,” Argueso-Nott said.
Still, she asks the community to stay positive about finding the two climbers.
“I would like everyone to remain positive and think positive because there’s a good chance she and Karen are somewhere using their skills to get out,” Argueso-Nott said.
Friend and East Vail resident Billy Mattison climbed with Nott early in her career. “I climbed with her quite a bit when she was first getting after it,” Mattison said.
Within about six climbs in the late ’90s, Mattison said he noticed Nott progressing eons beyond his own climbing abilities.
“She just took it way past the next level,” Mattison said. “She climbed more than any other person I’ve ever met in my life. She was extremely experienced.”
Having not seen Nott in a year, Mattison bumped into his former climbing partner the day she left to ascend Mount Foraker.
“I thought it was a really big deal what she was doing but she was just like ‘Oh yeah, me and my friend Karen are going up there,'” Mattison said. “It was like seeing someone and having them say they were going to go skiing in Telluride except she was going to go climb a route on Mount Foraker.”
Nott is similarly modest about her other climbs, her sister said. Nott summited Cassin Ridge in Alaska, the Eiger in Switzerland and several other mountains, according to her sponsor Mountain Hardwear’s Web site.
“She’s very modest about her accomplishments ” she’s very humble,” Argueso-Nott said. “She’s more interested in other people’s accomplishments and what they’ve done.”
In 1998, Nott recovered from a serious abdominal injury suffered in a fall from “The Thang,” an nearly vertical ice wall in East Vail that’s considered an extremely difficult climb.
Argueso-Nott is relying on her sister’s strength to survive Mount Foraker. “She’s incredibly tough, and she’s come through some amazing situations before,” she said.
Breckenridge ice climber Jody Thompson was “shocked” to hear about Nott’s disappearance. While the two are not close friends, Thompson said the community of hard-core female ice climbers is rather small, and rarely a name is missed.
“I’ve always admired her,” said Thompson, who gained fame in 2002 when she and three other women came within 300 feet of becoming the first all-women group to summit Mt. Everest. “Ice climbing and females are not too heard of.”
Thompson describes Nott as “a big wig” of the ice-climbing world, and has looked up to her as one of the most competent climbers in the region. “She’s just totally solid,” Thompson said. “She is so focused on hard climbs.
“To me, she is one of these climbers who seemed like she was so on it,” Thompson said. “If anybody was to get out of a hairy situation, it would be her.”
Nott was always encouraging and a clear-cut leader in Thompson’s estimation.
“It’s fun when you meet another girl and encourage each other,” Thompson said. “When I saw her for the first time leading on The Thang, I thought to myself, ‘That is a true professional.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God. She’s an amazing climber.’
“She’s just mentally driven and has the right head for it and the right attitude,” she said. “The thing is, with climbing, you just never know, you calculate all of your risks, but you never know.”
Vail Daily reporters Shauna Farnell and Nikki Katz contributed to this report. Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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