Raised in a privileged and protected world of private schools and posh clubs, Margo was a seriously overweight alcoholic with a $1,000 a week cocaine habit when she turned her life around and got clean, sober, and fit. Early in her addictions, she became friends with Jonathan Wright, an accomplished professional photographer and dedicated adventurer and climber who invited Margo to join him on a trek into his beloved Himalayas – a feat Margo knew she was both physically and emotionally incapable of performing. Years later, Jonathan’s memory would help sustain her on her quest for a seemingly impossible dream that his life had inspired: to become the first woman in history to scale the highest peak on each of the Earth’s seven continents.

In 1988, Margo climbed her first two mountains – summiting Mt. Kenya and the awesome, intimidating Mt. Kilimanjaro. An “ordinary” middle-aged woman with no formal mountaineering training and no previous experience, she had met and triumphed over the toughest demands and conditions that Nature could provide. But that was just the beginning. Spurred on by her newborn love affair with the world’s loftiest peaks and most beautiful and inaccessible places, she pushed herself even further, taking on increasingly greater climbing challenges as she pursued more difficult and dangerous goals under the most harrowing of circumstances. And somewhere along the way – amid magnificent wildernesses of towering pinnacles and breathtaking, ice-covered vistas – Margo Chisholm realized she had reached a summit deep within herself; a place in the heart and soul where she discovered the pride, fulfillment and inner peace she had always longed for.

“Saturday, April 18, 1992, Mount Everest, Camp II — Things have turned rotten. I don’t want it to end like this. Part of me wants to go home. Part of me wants to find out how high I can go. I just feel I can go higher than this. The deep, wracking cough violently snaps me back into the reality of living in the shadow of the world’s highest summit. The fabric of my tent protects me from the wind, but unfriendly tentacles of bitter cold reach deeply into my bones. I pull my body into a tight ball, trying to find some residual warmth in the depths of my sleeping bag, and make a futile attempt to adapt to the rock and ice under my body. Surrounded by men, mountain and ice, I’ve been working, eating, and sleeping at Camp II, 21,500 feet high on the south side of Mount Everest for the past nine days: only 8,000 feet from my dream of standing on its summit. Sleep has become increasingly elusive, and I’m losing vital energy to the altitude and the cough.”
–Page 1
In January, 1986, Margo attended “Family Week” at an alcoholism treatment center where her sister, Barbara, had been admitted for treatment. Here’s her account of how that visit affected her…

“During the first group session, twenty family members sat in a circle, scared, wondering what was going to happen. The counselor, Chris, told us that alcoholism was a family disease and that we, too, would need to heal. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. She said we were there to help ourselves, not, as she called them, our patients.

My mind began racing. This was not what I had planned. Give me information. Let me be compassionate. After all, I’m in a therapy group in New York. My shrink and I have been talking for years and I’m just fine. It’s my sister who has the problem, not me. What about her? We’re going to talk about her. Don’t you know that…? I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.

One look around the room confirmed that I wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable. People were squirming in their chairs, two of my fellow group members got up to go to the bathroom. Chris calmly continued to talk.

‘I’d like each of you to introduce yourself by mentioning a couple of things that you want to get out of Family Week.’ She emphasized that these were to be our needs, not those of our patient.

Always eager to please and get acknowledgment for how quickly I learned things, I put my had up before anyone else had a chance to move and blurted out, ‘I want to get to know myself better and find out how to help my sister not drink.’ I was sure it was exactly what the counselor wanted to hear. Having the right answer always made me feel better. I even believed I was telling the truth.

But, as I listened to the others in the circle, I knew I had to speak again. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say. I only knew that somewhere deep inside me a truth was ready to escape. I looked around the circle. Some of the people were crying. Many had moved forward on their chairs, others were sitting with backs straight, arms folded in front of them. Somehow my had raised itself and when Chris asked, ‘What is it, Margo?’ I burst into tears.

‘I need to tell you that I abuse laxatives and one of my goals for this week is not to do that.’ A dam inside broke. No one except my therapist had known about the laxatives; I was too embarrassed to tell anyone else and he hadn’t seemed too concerned. Of course I’d never told him the truth about how many I was taking, but here, in this circle, I couldn’t stay in denial any longer. I had to tell the truth. The secret was out, and I knew even then I’d never be able to close the door on it again. I didn’t know then that I’d walked through that door to a whole new life.

It was not my conscious will that raised my had that day and admitted my own unmentionable behavior. God was doing for me what I could not do for myself, allowing me to ask for help when I could not consciously admit I needed it. For the first time in my life I felt honored for speaking the truth, not the truth someone else wanted or expected to hear, but my truth. I felt the support of people who knew the pain I experienced as I faced my shame, my guilt, and my remorse.

At the end of Family Week, I stopped at Chris’s office to say goodbye. We talked for what seemed like hours. I felt pain I didn’t understand, and I couldn’t stop my tears. I was terrified about going back to Greenwich, my town house, and my bar stool at Morgan, but I didn’t know why. I felt truly defenseless and utterly vulnerable. What was i going to do? My life needed to be different but I didn’t know how to change it.

Chris came around her desk, put her face 6 inches away from mine, and looked me directly in the eye. ‘You have an eating disorder. It is primary and progressive and it’s going to kill you if you don’t do something about it.’ She handed me the business card of a treatment facility that dealt with eating disorders and held me as I sobbed.”

–Pages 32-33

During December, 1990, Margo joined her guide, Skip Horner, and two other climbers for an ascent of Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. The had all successfully summited and Skip had descended the 10-foot, nearly vertical step that guarded the summit itself as Woody began to climb down the short face…

“‘Slow and careful, Woody, there’s no rush.’ Skip had descended the steep 10-foot pitch from the summit, kicking steps for the rest of us as he went. Steve and I watched as Woody started down, placing his left foot in the highest step Skip had cut. Woody was obviously exhausted from his effort to reach the summit. As he crossed his right foot over his left, lowering it toward the next step, he realized this technique was not going to work. He paused, balanced precariously on the points of his left crampon, then brought his right foot back to its original position on the flat ice of the summit. He stabilized himself there for what seemed like a full minute, contemplating how to approach his descent.

‘Try moving your right foot behind your left,’ Skip said. ‘It might feel more secure.’ His concern was evident in his voice. The majority of climbing accidents happen coming off a mountain. Too often climbers use all of their resources and reserves to reach the summit, not thinking about how they’ll get down. The ice steps were large enough to be stable and safe, but to a mid dulled by fatigue, extreme cold, and limited oxygen, negotiating them was a daunting task.

Woody began again. He planted his left foot, then lowered his right behind it to the second step. Transferring his weight, he lowered his left foot another step. He was bringing his right foot behind the left when he slipped. He spun around and began to slide head first down the rock-strewn slope.

‘Oh, my God,’ Steve spoke softly in a voice strangled by horror. I couldn’t move. I felt my heart racing, my mind’s eye slowing time, recording frame after frame as the catastrophe in progress revealed itself.

Sliding out of control, Woody’s body picked up speed rapidly. Skip hurled himself at Woody in a heroic effort to slow down the slide. Instead, both bodies, one across the other, slid even faster. They careened like pinballs off rocks inbedded in the ice. Woody’s head hit one with a sickening thud. As quickly as it started, it was over. Neither of the men was moving.”
–Page 162