Dietrich Baltazar: a man undaunted by heights
DILLON – While high altitude makes a lot of people sick, Dietrich Baltazar views thin air as less resistance for his high-speed pursuits.
“I adjust very well to altitude,” he said. “I never get sick and don’t have any dizziness or any symptoms that other people have. When I exercise at sea level, I don’t find it any easier. I can actually go faster where there’s less oxygen. I know it sounds crazy.”
Baltazar, 66, has lived in Dillon since 1997, but his encounters with lofty heights began long before. A native of Germany, Baltazar survived bombing raids in numerous German cities during World War II but launched into his love of the mountains during family trips. He also attributes his powerful lungs to this early conditioning.
“We went on a lot of vacations to the mountains in the Austrian Alps,” he said. “We went often enough where I grew up partially in the mountains and I just loved it. My parents, when they were young, did a lot of hiking. That was my beginning. Maybe I became strong because I did a lot of hiking as a child.”
Baltazar’s adulthood expeditions above 14,000 feet began in 1976 with a trip to Nepal. During his visit, Baltazar summited three peaks – 17,500-foot peak Gokyo-Ri, 18,182-foot Kala Patar and 21,100-foot Mount Mera. Further trips took him to Peru, Africa and Bolivia, where Baltazar summited his highest point – the summit of Nevado Illimani, which tops out at 21,228 feet. In his lifetime, Baltazar has also done several bike tours, including the 2003 Triple Bypass from Evergreen to Avon, the 44-mile Double Sierra Crossing in 1988 and the Markleeville Death Ride in 1986, which took him 105 miles and up 10,700 feet in eight hours.
As though that weren’t enough, Baltazar has completed 15 marathons, one 50-mile ultramarathon and hopes to have run 30,000 miles before he dies, which isn’t going to be any time soon, because, as he would tell you himself, he gets stronger every year.
“I’m stronger now than I was 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s like when I got my hip replaced. I got my hip replaced (in 2000), and eight months later, biked up Mount Evans. I recovered miraculously quickly. I did therapy with a vengeance.”
The hip replacement surgery has prevented Baltazar from continuing to run, but he still feels he can finish the 150 miles left of the 30,000-mile goal.
Baltazar’s next expedition in September is going to take him back to familiar terrain – Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – but this time with a different purpose.
In 1996, Baltazar was 18,000 feet up the 19,400-foot peak when he fell ill with stomach problems and had to turn around. Last week, Baltazar was hiking up Mount Bierstadt (14,060 feet, located near Guanella Pass), when he ran into another hiker who is taking a Kilimanjaro trip with the Prostate Cancer Climb. Baltazar latched on to the opportunity and the purpose.
“It’s unfinished business,” he said of the climb. “And it’s nice to have a goal that means something like this.”
The Prostate Cancer Climb consists of 15 climbers, led by members of the Prostate Cancer Research Institute. The team climbed Argentina’s Mount Aconcagua in 2001 and hopes to raise $1 million for prostate cancer research and education with its climbs. Five of the climbers on the team have prostate cancer. Baltazar is not among them, but last year, he had what he calls “a scare.”
He also lost his father to the disease and his first wife to breast cancer.
Baltazar sees the climb as an opportunity to raise money for a good cause and as a chance to further his repertoire of feats. He is writing a book about his mountain experiences and is creating a photographic documentary.
“I like to be an inspiration to people and show what can still be done at my age,” he said.
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