Ramapo Grad Makes Comeback after 1,000-foot Fall from Mountain

After suffering a serious exposed fracture climbing in the Bolivian Andes, former Ramapo scholarship student Isabel Suppé has been cycling across the United States to raise funds to attempt bone transplantation. 

Born in Germany, Suppé came to the U.S. to study literature at Ramapo from 1998 to 2001. Afterwards, Suppé moved to Argentina, where she spent most of her adult life climbing in the Andes and specializing in high altitude climbing and technical faces. Now 33, Suppé has been climbing since she was six years old.

“I would go [climbing] only twice a year when I was younger, and my grandparents would take me sometimes. It wasn’t until I moved to Argentina from the United States that I discovered this is what I wanted to do with my life,” Suppé said. 

On July 29, 2010, Suppé fell more than 1,000 feet off of Ala Izquierda del Condoriri’s southeast face after her climbing partner slipped on ice, blowing out their anchorage. Miraculously, Suppé and her partner lived to be rescued two days later. Suppé crawled with a very severe exposed fracture over the ice at 16,000 feet above sea level. 

After her rescue, Suppé said that the doctors wanted to cut her very expensive climbing boot off to examine her foot and perform surgery. Suppé opposed right away, knowing that she could not afford buy a new boot when she was ready to climb again.

“No way! You can take off my boot, but you cannot cut it. I need it to return to the mountains,” Suppé explained to the doctors.

Suppé added that, a year later, she called the doctor and asked why he listened to her when she asked not to cut her boot, and he told her that she was looking at him with so much determination, he didn’t know what else to do.

Doctors warned Suppé that after undergoing 10 complex surgeries, she would not be able to return to high altitude. 

“The doctors didn’t even know whether or not they were going to save my foot at all. The first thing they told me is that you are not ever going to climb again,” Suppé said.

Suppé never accepted the fact that climbing was not an option for the future. She started to climb again 10 days after getting out of the hospital using her healthy leg and her arms.

Since the accident, Suppé has added talented author and motivational speaker to her list of accomplishments and has continued to surpass climbing boundaries. Suppé went on to publish a book in April 2012, “Starry Night.” Suppé plans to present the book at the International Book Expo in Guadalajara, Mexico, the second largest book expo in the world. The book tells a detailed, first-hand account of the accident, recovering from her injury and the journey afterward to strengthen her ankle and keep climbing.

Since her ankle joint has been deteriorating, Suppé was advised to cycle as much as possible to build the strength necessary to undergo more surgeries in Spain. Suppé explains that this news was encouraging to her because it was becoming exhausting using crutches to get everywhere. Suppé started cycling at the gym every day.

“I even began cycling to some of my surgeries,” Suppé said. 

After realizing that cycling was helping her regain strength, Suppé grabbed her grandmother’s bike and crossed the Alps, the Pyrenees, Switzerland, France and Northern Spain in the middle of winter in order to have surgery. Suppé continued to cycle south, crossing over to Africa where she climbed Morocco’s highest mountain and ended her journey in the Sahara desert. 

Suppé stopped at Ramapo College on Sept. 27 during her cycling journey from Monterey Bay to New York City. On her way to her final destination, Suppé crossed the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 29 at noon.

“I wanted to stop at Ramapo because it is my old school. I adore Ramapo, and I have all old friends there,” Suppé said.

Suppé explains that her last stop was New York City because the title of her book is “Starry Night,” inspired by Van Gogh’s work of art, which is located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 

To raise money on her cycling journey across the country, Suppé set up a website where people can make donations. Suppé gave out cards and spoke at over 20 REI outdoor sports store locations to spread the word and get news coverage. 

Suppé will need $75,000 to complete a bone transplantation in Baltimore. This amount includes two surgeries, the hospital stay and taxes. 

“I have enough money to get by for now, but I do not have nearly what I need to have the surgeries yet,” Suppé said. 

Although Suppé’s injury presents new difficulties and fears, she refuses to let it stop her from climbing. Despite what the doctors said, only three weeks after the accident, Suppé had been climbing with her broken foot dangling in the air. Nine months after the accident, Suppé became the first woman to solo-climb Nevado de Cachi, one of the highest peaks in the Andes. 

Suppé’s advice to current Ramapo students and young people everywhere is to “keep walking, step after step. You never know what taking a step can mean.”