If Ben Horne had summed up his life in one quote, it might have been his favorite one from Russian climber Anatoli Boukreev: “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
The deeply spiritual 32-year-old Annandale native believed in hiking and mountain climbing as ways to be closer to God, according to his family. On July 10, Horne posted on a Web site for climbing enthusiasts that he and a friend, Gil Weiss, 29, were ascending the Palcaraju Oeste mountain in Peru, aiming to reach its magnificent 20,000-foot peak. It was a climb that would end in tragedy.
Rescuers, family and friends are still trying to figure out what caused the two seasoned climbers to fall nearly 1,000 feet to their deaths as they descended the mountain in the north Peruvian Andes. Family members had not heard from Weiss or Horne since their ascent began, and the men were reported missing last week, 13 days after their last correspondence. A rescue crew found their bodies on the mountainside Saturday.
As of Sunday afternoon, rescuers were bringing the bodies down the mountain, and rescue coordinator Ted Alexander, of Skyline Adventure School in the nearby town of Huaraz, said he hopes to release an accident report early this week. Alexander described the route Weiss and Horne had tried to descend as “steep, long and dangerous.”
“We don’t know if it was their mistake or something beyond their control. There’s a lot of things that could have happened,” Alexander said. “They were good climbers; it’s not something they went into blindly. It’s unfortunate they’ve done routes like that plenty of times before and for some reason this one ended up poorly.”
Horne, a graduate of Rice University and Johns Hopkins University, was working toward his doctorate in economics at the University of California at San Diego and wanted to be a college professor. Weiss, a Queens native and George Washington University graduate, was a founder of Beyond Adventure Productions, a photography and videography company.
According to Horne’s personal and travel blog — “Zoom Loco” — he loved running, rock climbing and mountaineering, engaging in the activities to “better understand myself, humanity and the world.”
“In all of these things, I like to go big, push myself, and do hard things where I might fail — without a chance of failure, a success is not as sweet,” Horne wrote.
His travels took him to Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Britain, Austria, Botswana, South Africa, Mongolia and other countries.
Christine Horne, his mother, said Horne’s love of nature developed when he was a Boy Scout participating in hikes in Mexico. He started mountain climbing in 2002 during his two years with the Peace Corps in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where he was working with the organization’s Sustainable Economic Development program. Horne said her son had an appetite for life and, wherever he traveled, the local cuisine.
Hiking and climbing were his ways of developing a closer relationship to God, she said, adding that her son “was more than a mountain climber.”
“He was about developing the person you are, and he was about developing everyone to their furthest potential,” Christine Horne said. “He felt everyone had the ability to live life to the fullest if you give 100 percent to everything you do.”
His sister, Liz Horne, said he “lived his life in a beautiful way.”
“He invested in people, and that’s what his whole life was about,” Liz Horne said. “He didn’t do these things to be radical or for attention; he did them to live and to seek truth. Everything he did was about bettering himself.”