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On top of the world

Published 11:02am Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spring Valley man treks peak in South America

Gary Vogt may always be classified as a family man and a farmer first. After that, though, the credentials run off the page.

Vogt is a grandfather, crop farmer, business owner, pilot, wine connoisseur and expert mingler. He and his wife, Vicky, own Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery near Spring Valley, which has won awards for its style and various wines.

Now Vogt is adding serious hiker to his resume. He recently returned from a six-week hiking excursion to Ecuador and then Argentina, where he and a group of hikers reached the summit of Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in both the Western and Southern hemisphere at 22,184 feet.

For 21 days, Vogt and his camp shuttled gear up the mountain as they moved higher each day before moving back down to acclimate to the altitude. The mountain ran them ragged as they shivered in tents, ate sparingly, trudged through snow, grew scraggly beards and shed weight faster than people do on weight-loss programs. Vogt will turn 56 on Friday.

“It’s very strenuous,” Vogt said. “Your body is pushed to the max just being at that altitude. The air is very thin. Walking through snow — you’re always treading through snow.”

Base camp, at 14,500 feet, was higher than Rocky Mountain peaks, and by the end of Vogt’s entire six-week trip, he had lost 25 pounds.

Shortly before Vogt’s group went on the guided trip, two expert climbers from Colorado died after tackling a more technical, steeper route.

“Guys die all the time on those mountains,” Vogt said. “They just took a very difficult route, much more challenging, rough rock climbing. They bit off a lot more than we did.”

Before Aconcagua was even in the back of Vogt’s mind, though, he developed the love for hiking after traveling the country with his family in a motorhome. He has hiked the Grand Canyon several times. A few years ago, he and Vicky went to Seattle. Mount Ranier was constantly within view, and Gary was itching to climb it.

“I just said, ‘I’m going to climb that someday,’ and the next summer, I did,” Vogt said.

Since then, Vogt hiked some of the highest peaks in the U.S. and other steep peaks around the world, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Elbrus in Russia. Some farmers wait for winters to pass. Vogt goes after them, and mountains. He even hiked with famed climber David Hahn, who has climbed Mount Everest more times than any non-Sherpa.

“Very interesting man,” Vogt said. “We climbed with him for four days.”

Vogt was prepared for Aconcagua after hiking in Ecuador just weeks prior with his German buddy Jan Rauh, whom Vogt hosted as a foreign exchange student several years ago.

Though Vogt has only been seriously hiking for fewer than 10 years and won’t ever be seen in a gym, the farmer trains like something from “Rocky IV,” running up and down stairs and state park trails with a backpack filled with 60 pounds of sand. In several weeks, he’ll be driving a tractor and planting crops.

“I don’t go to a gym,” Vogt said. “I’m not a gym kind of guy.”

On Aconcagua, Vogt’s group took its time, and six of the nine members made it to the summit. Like anybody else who has reached famous summits, Vogt had his celebration prepared. He bypassed newspaper ads or television commercials, instead proudly displaying a Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery banner from one of the highest points on Earth.

Then he came down from the mountain, met his wife in Argentina and celebrated with fine wine and dinner while potentially borrowing ideas for their own winery.

“We call it research,” Vogt joked. “We like to check out other wineries.”

It was the most grueling “business research” trip Vogt has ever embarked upon.

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