From the Hilltop to the mountaintops

November 15, 2011

By Tim Belter ’13

Most Bradley students have a simple yet lofty goal: to graduate and strive for ever-greater heights. Barb Gurtler ’55 took that goal more literally than most. For over 40 years, she has climbed some of the tallest mountains in the world, traveling to over fifteen different countries and all seven continents.

Gurtler grew up in the flatlands of Bloomington, Ill., a state where the highest elevated point is just over 1200 feet. She graduated from Bradley in 1955 with a degree in home economics, and not long after married her husband, Homer. They went on their honeymoon to Colorado, where Gurtler fell in love with the mountains.

She began by backpacking and hiking in the mountains and eventually, she just started climbing.

“It’s just something you start doing,” said Gurtler. “You see a higher point, and you just keep moving.”

Since then, she’s climbed well over a hundred mountains. She’s reached the high points of all 50 states. She’s been to all seven continents and reached the highest elevation in six of them. She climbed all 54 mountains in Colorado that reach higher than 14,000 feet. After she accomplished that feat, she decided to climb the rest of the hundred tallest mountains in the state, and has only six left to conquer.

The experience of climbing one of the rocky behemoths never gets old.

“Every mountain has its own personality,” she said.

She constantly keeps up her preparation by exercising four times a week. Gurtler runs, works out in the gym and takes a backpack full of weights around Forest Park Nature Center.

“I try to stay in shape all the time,” she said.

That training is necessary to overcome the mountains’ challenges. She’s been to Mount Everest twice, but harsh weather prevented her from reaching the peaks both times. On a mountain in New Zealand, a soft glazier made for a difficult expedition.

“We were sinking into our knees in the snowy ice,” said Gurtler.

Sometimes, the challenges come from sources other than the mountains. A trip to Indonesia was continually delayed for 10 years due to conflicts and crises in the country.

When not in the mountains, Gurtler still lives in Peoria and participates in continuing education classes and lectures on Bradley’s campus, like a recent anthropology lecture by Bradley Provost Dr. David Glassman.

Unlike the ancient, immutable mountain faces, she says Bradley looks quite different from the way it was decades ago.

“I think every building on campus has changed since I went to school here,” she said.