As I approached the summit of Mt. Aconcagua, Laura Evans raised her arms to the sky. She had arrived. She was there—at the top. Her face shone, she had fulfilled her dream. That image will be with me forever. I was awed. Awed to be at the top of the peak, but even more so to see Laura achieve something few could imagine, and fewer might attempt.
Laura Evans had defied advanced breast cancer and determined to make a difference in the lives of those who face the disease. With Peter Whitaker, she conceived Expedition Inspiration, and in 1995 led a team of breast cancer survivors to Argentina. On February 5, she achieved her goal and recognition by the press, the White House, and breast cancer survivors worldwide. “We stand here [at the summit] in honor of all women who have suffered though breast cancer as we have,” she said.
While some climbers disdain climbs for causes, Expedition Inspiration might be the exception. That project did so much to raise awareness about the disease and hope for those diagnosed with it. Further, Laura used it to begin the Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research, whose annual symposium of scientists and breast cancer researchers is renowned. The irony is that Laura died, on October 17, of a malignant brain tumor completely unrelated to breast cancer.
Although Laura may be best known for Expedition Inspiration and the PBS documentary of the climb, it is but one of many life achievements. She was equally successful as a fashion designer, advocate, foundation director, writer and photographer, wife, sister, and friend of many. She was hosted by Hilary Clinton and Sandra Day O’Connor, selected to carry the Olympic Torch on its way to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and elected to be a member of The Explorers Club of New York. Her book, The Climb of My Life, was published in 1996 and continues to inspire those who read it.
Laura was born in Fulton, Missouri, on January 8, 1949, the second of four children of Professor Charles and Eleanor Steele, and was raised in Granville, Ohio. After graduating from Granville High School, Laura received a scholarship to Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in fashion design and a minor in French. While at Stephens, Laura met Roger Evans, whom she married in 1971. The couple soon began an adventurous life together that included living in Switzerland, Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, San Francisco, and Sun Valley, Idaho. Their most recent adventure was to cruise the South Pacific and attend the Sydney Olympics.
As much as Laura thrived on adventure, her greatest personal joys included spending time with her husband and family and day-hiking on the trails around Sun Valley with her dog, Brewski. As all who knew Laura will attest, she was an amazing woman. She could be intimidating and encouraging at the same time, rowdy, even risque at one moment, then absolutely refined at the next. She had an unfailing positive outlook, boundless energy, strength, intelligence, humor, zeal for living, and passion for climbing.
It was that passion, born on Mt. Rainier, that took her to six of the seven continents. She reached the summit of many of the highest peaks—McKinley, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, to name a few. I believe Laura climbed because she loved the challenge, the beauty of the mountains, her relationship with the earth and heavens. I also believe she cherished the people she climbed with, guides and teammates alike. Sharing time on high peaks forms relationships like no others. Laura is loved by many. I am but one whose life she touched.
I have admired Laura’s skill as an advocate, businesswoman, and writer, but feel I know her best from the mountains. Like so many others, I miss her. I am certain I will not climb or hike or ski again without seeing her smile in the sunshine, hearing her whistle in the wind and feeling her spirit in the rock and ice of the mountain.