Climbing Mt. Everest
A few weeks to go… One more step towards the summit. My leg plunged up to my thigh in the deep snow. "Thanks for finding that hole." Jim called from behind as we made our way up Twin Sisters in the Colorado Rockies.
While not a big peak at 11,428', it is a great place to gain altitude fast and build more strength by carrying a 40lb pack. I looked back at Robert and Jim and smiled.
My final weeks before leaving for Everest are filled with last minute details, more training and more importantly, getting my mind wrapped around the task at hand. I leave in early April, a little later than most, to meet up with the Adventure Consultants expedition in Katmandu. We will try to avoid the congestion on the Hill by being out of sync with the other expeditions.
The 50th anniversary of Norgay's and Hillary's summit in 1953 is bringing a record number of expeditions to Everest this spring. There will probably be over 20 teams on the South side alone. Thus one of my greatest fears is getting stuck behind a "conga line" during a critical stage of the climb.
In 2002, Rob and I waited patiently for Sherpas to climb the only fixed rope on the Lhotse face before we down climbed to Camp 2. I clearly remember on summit night being one of 85 climbers slowly progressing up first leg of the summit pyramid.
In 1997 on Cho Oyu, I stood in one spot for an hour and a half waiting for climbers to overcome the Yellow Band. I became cold. My oxygen was being used up while I was not making any progress. It was discouraging.
However, at this point in my training and preparations, there is not much I can do about traffic jams on Everest. What I can do is finish what I started six months ago when I committed to return to Everest in 2003.
All my gear is laid out on the basement floor. Staring at it, I visualize each step of the climb to make sure I have precisely what I need – no more, no less. This year I will be very careful about extra weight without compromising safety. The down climb from Camp 4 to Base Camp was difficult last year. In addition to my weak physical state, my pack had become heavier. At each Camp, we picked up gear left behind on previous acclimitization climbs. The pack was now the heaviest it had been during the entire expedition at the time that I was the weakest.
My training is complete. I will spend the next two weeks on some long runs, maybe a short climb with a light pack. A little weight lifting will also be in order. I feel good. I feel like my real-world approach to climbing this time has put me in better shape than before. For the past six months, I have climbed over 70,000' vertical feet with my loaded pack. My legs feel strong, my core is solid and my lungs feel fit.
But what about my mind? Can I stay focused on the first step into the Western Cwm and not think about the fall into the crevasse last year? When I reach Camp 3 for the first time, will I think about spending that dangerous night there after the summit attempt? The climb across the Geneva Spur when I started feeling the infection, what will I think? And of course, on my summit night as I lie in my tent catching a few moments of rest, will I think about the future or the past?
I have relived last year's climb so much that it is etched into my mind. These days, I think about what I learned and how to apply those lessons. I believe my mind is as ready as my body, but this remains to be proven. All I know is that I am 100% ready to do my best … again.
"The outside lights just went off!" Cathy called to me downstairs as I was putting the last stuff bag in the duffle. It had been a crazy day. What was supposed to be a relaxed last day together before I left for Everest had turned into a frantic race to get everything done. Now at 7:30 another crisis. Not wanting to leave her without lights, I went to work troubleshooting the problem. Fuses? Check. Bulbs? Check. "What about the switch?" she asked. Finally getting to use my 20 year-old degree in Electrical Engineering, I professionally detached the switch plate and began to remove the wires from the culprit.
"Hey!" I squeaked as the 120 volts rippled through my body. Cathy looked at me directly in the eyes. Here was her husband about to go halfway across the Earth to attempt to stand on the highest point on the Earth and he was electrocuting himself in the entry hall. Hmmm, some Engineer, some adventurer! We laughed together as the tingling stopped.
The gravity of guilt.
Relationships are challenging - in the best of times. You think your boss is mad at you. You let you child down by not expressing enough joy. In the heat of the moment, you say something you regret. It happens everyday to everyone. The power of guilt is amazing. I guess there are some people who never feel guilty. What a shame not to enjoy the satisfaction of making things right.
So, what does all this have to do with Everest? Well, gravity plays an important role in climbing! IF I make it to the top, coming back to Camp 4 will be tough. You are tired. All the adrenaline is used up. You are hungry and dehydrated. All you want to do is sleep. And gravity is teasing you to make a mistake.
Feeling guilty can have the same effect. I am so grateful that I leave for this climb without that burden. Cathy is a phenomenal partner. My boss and co-workers have been non-judgmental about my time away. Family and friends have shown support in amazing ways. And strangers. The people I have never met, never spoken with, never seen. All those people that have sent me e-mails. Asked great questions. Shared their experiences. And told me that I can do this. Not one person has pulled me down with the gravity of guilt. I will draw on this at 28,000 feet.
September 11, 2001.
Climbing the stairs in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a hero goes in search. There was no fear. Only focus on the job. Find the fire. Find the people. Do the job. A person told me the other day that I must be brave to climb a mountain where for every twelve people who succeed, one dies. I don't think it even comes close - by any standard.
Am I looking for something with this adventure? Do I think I need to prove something by attempting the highest and biggest mountain out there? Do I think it will fix all my problems? Ah, back to the question of why. Alan, why do you climb? I get this question often these days. Most people simply cannot understand this. My favorite question was if I was having a mid-life crisis. My answer was no and that I was not trying to 'find' myself or anything else with this attempt. But the question was a good one! It made me thing again about my motivations. If I was trying to find something, I have many things from which to choose that I have already found just by getting ready for this trip.
I found new sources of inspiration. I found new friends. I found old friends again. I affirmed my love for my family and their love for me. I found that I can take time for myself and time for my family and time for work. I found that I don't know my limits or perhaps my mind is my biggest limitation. I found that just by trying that I can have an impact on other people. I found that life with no goals is an empty life. A friend (thanks Jim) sent me this quote by Theodore Roosevelt that sums it up:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.