Twenty years ago Adrian Crane and some fellow mountaineers spent a brutally cold night stranded on Scotland's An Teallach mountain wondering who was going to die. No one did, and Crane emerged from the experience with a fresh take on such unpleasantness. "If getting stuck on a mountain in the snow makes me profoundly happy to be alive the next morning, then I'm not going to worry about going out in the snow again," he says. "The end result is not that I get cold and wet. It's that the next morning I feel wonderful."
Such logic helps explain why last Feb. 19 Crane rose at 2 a.m. and, along with Brian Sarvis, a fellow resident of Modesto, Calif., ascended the final 3,500 feet of Argentina's Mount Aconcagua. Crane took a brief look around and then descended 22,834 feet as fast as he could, hiking, running and bicycling from the peak of the tallest mountain in the Americas to the Pacific Ocean. His goal was to make the trip under his own power in less than 24 hours—no small achievement, given that Crane and Sarvis had climbed for nine days before they reached the top and the real fun began.
Crane was born 40 years ago in Beverley, England, but for the past 12 years he has lived in Modesto, where he is a computer analyst. He has a wife, two young sons and a dog.
That's it for convention. Since the early 70s Crane has traipsed around the globe pursuing adventure and competition with a certain sense of style. He has motor-rallied along the Arctic Circle, gone dogsledding in Alaska, run 2,040 miles across the Himalayas and set a high-altitude bicycling record by carrying a bike up Ecuador's 20,561-foot Mount Chimborazo and then pedaling about its upper reaches for a couple of minutes.
Crane's r�sum� is further distinguished by his seat-of-the-pants (many would say foolhardy) approach to adventure. During the 101-day Himalayan run, which he completed with his brother, Richard, in 1983, the Cranes carried no food, relying on fate and the generosity of yak herders. Adrian's cycling odyssey on Chimborazo in 1986 was equally spontaneous. Spurred by Richard, the high-altitude-cycling record holder at the time, Adrian took a week off work and purchased a plane ticket. Then he bought a mountain bike.
"Really, life isn't that complicated if you just deal with the necessities," says Crane. After wheeling about the summit of Chimborazo, Crane rode off the peak, descending the snowy eastern slope of the Andean mountain. "Quite neat," Crane says of the descent. "It was sort of a cross between downhill and slalom ski racing." He spent the night in the town of Riobomba, and the next morning it occurred to him that it might be fun to ride west back up over the Andes and down to the coast. This he did, via mountain trails and roads, and he arrived at the Pacific city of Guayaquil roughly 48 hours later.
The descent of Chimborazo stayed in Crane's mind. It was fun, it was fast and, most important, it was different. While rapid ascents of major mountains had been done, to Crane's knowledge no one had ever attempted a descent at speed. After returning to Modesto, Crane conducted several years of casual research until he (bund what he was looking for in Mount Aconcagua: an enormous peak close to the sea that could be descended without tremendous difficulty.
And so at 9:50 that February morning, Crane and Sarvis stood at 22,834 feet, 155 miles from the ocean. They counted to three, pressed the start buttons on their watches and stepped off Aconcagua's tiny summit plateau.
Speed being the object, the two men had agreed that each would proceed at his own pace. Not long after they began, Sarvis stopped to tie his shoe. Two days would pass before he would be reunited, much to his relief, with Crane. "The last time I saw him he was going down the mountain at a dead run," says Sarvis. "I had a real strong sense that I'd probably never see him alive again."
Bundled in cold-weather gear, Crane dashed down Aconcagua until he reached base camp at 14,000 feet. There he exchanged crampons for running shoes, shouldered a light pack and ran 25 miles along a trail to where it met the dirt road at the entrance to Aconcagua Park. From there he "bashed on," as he puts it, crossing into Chile on his mountain bike. Day turned to night. Negotiating steep switchbacks and the occasional speeding truck, Crane rode along, his flashlight lashed to his handlebars. He stopped only once, for an hour-long nap in a bus shelter just before dawn. At 9:35 a.m. Crane shouldered hi mountain bike, strode across the white-sand beach that fronts the small fishing village of Conc�n and stepped into the sea.