Endings and Beginnings – First World Problems

Galopogos  [http://www.flickr.com/people/59888966@N00 Pete]
[http://www.flickr.com/people/59888966@N00 Pete]
We’re still musing about whether to add Chimborazo to our Cotopaxi climb this summer.

Last night we went to a combination birthday/retirement party for a dear friend. Among other presents – was an URN. Not an urn for a plant, or to carry water or wine, and it wasn’t even Grecian – rather it was the repository for ashes after the inevitable end. And what made it even more remarkable – it was a USED urn. I did not inquire too deeply of the circumstances that had led to the removal of one set of ashes and the apparent preparation for another occupant.


Tonight we had dinner with another old friend who was singing the praises of the Galopagos Islands. And one of my yoga buddies wore his Galopagos Islands t-shirts to yoga today.  What I haven’t mentioned before here is that Chimborazo isn’t our only possible trip extension – Galopagos is there also.

Connection with urn? Back to the only live once phenomenon. On the urn – as John Keats told us – the characters are immortalized in time and art. The husband and I clearly aren’t going to be. Life is now or never. So now we’ve added a third decision point – we KNOW Cotopaxi is in – I have already submitted my application although the husband is dilly dallying with his. But now – no extension, Chimborazo – which would stretch mind, body and soul, or Galopagos? I should be happy to have such first world problems. Thoughts, fellow travelers?


Cotopaxi and Chimbarazo – Two are Better Than One?


Chimborazo  http://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Gerd_Breitenbach

As I sit here on a weekend, waiting for the plumber to take his interminable time to arrive (three hours late, thus far), we have some decision-making to do. As hoped, the work schedule cleared up, freeing the way to commit to some June 2015 dates for our next mountain climbing endeavor. And I’ve already contacted the guide company that successfully led us up Elbrus, so that’s done.

But here’s where the itch of mountain climbing – or you could say hubris – sets in. It turns out for an additional four days and a few more dollars, we not only could climb Cotopaxi, but also climb Chimborazo – the highest mountain in Ecuador and one that reaches my long dreamed of goal of a 20,000 foot mountain. Well, long dreamed of if you count 2011 as a long time ago, since that’s when all this started. This would mean acclimatization hikes up Guagua Pichincha and Illiniza Norte, followed by Cotopaxi at 19,348 feet and three days, later – Chimborazo.  At 20,564 feet, Chimborazo is harder than Cotopaxi.  It’s one degree south of the equator, and because of the bulge of the earth, is the farthest point away from the earth’s core and the closest point to the sun. Hubris is the right word. Think Icarus.

I hadn’t really considered doing the extension.   But then yesterday, in the midst of multiple levels of work related issues and general lawyerly stresses – and perhaps in reaction thereto (what a good, lawyerly phrase) – I suddenly found myself saying, “hell, yes.”  Not out loud. But a lawyerly phrase, nonetheless.

If not now, then when? I’ll be 54 by next June. There’s no doubt that if we make this commitment it will require the highest level of training either the husband or I have tried to achieve.  Sometimes mountains – and summits of all sorts – whether at work or at play – throw the gauntlet down before you and just ask to be climbed, and climbed hard. But I still think I better have a serious talk with the guide company.


Throwing down the gauntlet
Throwing down the gauntlet



Summits are Not Symetrical and the Pearls in the Peanuts


Mountains do not rise up from the earth like isosceles triangles.  And most things in life don’t have that perfect equilibrium either.  Like this week  – everything just a little off.

It started when I unpacked a gigantic box containing a keyboard that had belonged to an uncle and now had wended its way to Central Florida. In reaching down into the thousands of styrofoam peanuts that surrounded said keyboard in order to ensure we had located all its bits and pieces, the husband pulled out a carefully wrapped plastic package. I cut it open, expecting a plug or some similar piece of equipment, only to find – a string of pearls! A visit to the jeweler the next day confirmed they weren’t real, but now I still face the task of contacting UPS to see if they there is any report of missing pearls in peanuts.

That set the tone for the rest of the week.

One of our elderly Westies continues to be profoundly deaf and is proving not very capable of learning sign language.  His brother has decided he can only eat dry dog food if scattered on the floor outside of his bowl. And the ancient cat continues to believe he is a mountain lion and to attack dogs.

My dearly beloved ten year old car blew the same fuse for the second time in six weeks. Who knew the same fuse that controls the radio controls the ignition. But combined with a very leaky convertible top, the prospect of having to change fuses on the side of the interstate while driving to an out of town meeting on Monday was enough to cause us to finally buy a new car.

At least events of tomorrow should determine my schedule sufficiently that we can actually book our Cotopaxi trip.  At yoga last Wednesday night the moon was full but for a slice off one side, teetering against the black sky. I’m hoping that this next week – with the next summit firmly chosen and set – restores equipoise.

Training and the Power of the Shoe

The Power of the Shoe
The Power of the Shoe

For several years I have had a semi-inflexible yoga schedule. What I call “regular” yoga on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons, with some cardio thrown in on the step mill or treadmill, accompanied by Bikram on Saturday afternoons. But all things change, and my long beloved 4 pm Bikram class is, at least for now, no longer. What’s a girl to do?

True, I could go to a 10 am class, which I have occasionally done, but I find my balance is not nearly as good in the morning. Somehow I need the day to be underway before I have the necessary focus.

So, without making any commitments one way or the other to what my new Saturday routine will be, yesterday morning I ventured off to a high end running shoe store. It’s one of those places where customers are called guests, and you’re assigned a salesperson (although I’m sure they call them something else) as soon as you walk in. The process starts with extensive foot measurements, followed by a video of you running along the sidewalk in front of the store so they can frame by frame analyze how your foot strikes.

At the end, I was the proud owner of a remarkably expensive pair of Asics, together with super feet insoles. But I don’t mind spending money on those things – the cost of shin splints or otherwise wrecking your feet, legs, or back is way too great when you have mountains to climb.

And it turned out to be worth it. Fall finally fell in Central Florida and my new shoes and I went for a 4 1/4 mile run around the lake we live on. The difference between running in 90 and 65 degrees should have been self-evident, but I was still surprised by it. There was a decent breeze that was behind my back for a bit, not a cloud to be seen, and the pink seed casings of the tabebouia trees served as a very acceptable substitute for fall leaves.

Ok, so my left hip now hurts and maybe I really shouldn’t have used my new insoles for the first time on a four mile run against instructions, but whatever.  Letting go of one training routine and opening up some new possibilities – I think that’s the flexibility it’s going to take to get up all 19,500 feet of Cotopaxi.


Cotopaxi, Ecuador – 180 Degree Turns

Cotopaxi, Ecuador

I’m still processing our Mount Washington hike. And I am increasingly struck by how little I actually want to go “real” rock climbing, which our present idea for a next adventure – The Grand Teton – seems to offer in abundance. I’m currently reading To the Last Breath – A Memoir of Going to Extremes by Francis Slakey.  It starts off with him and a climbing partner sleeping on a ledge on the face of El Capitan in Yosemite – roped, of course – only to have the webbing that held their “cot” fray and  plummet out from under them some 2000 feet down. Not for me.

But in contrast, somehow the idea of a 14 hour night into day slogging up and down a glacier on a volcanic mountain – even with the incumbent risk of avalanche, crevasses, and a slip that could turn into a never-ending tumble down – doesn’t read the same way to me.  I’m not sure I can articulate why a sheer granite wall feels so different than an expanse of deep white, but it does.  Perhaps the glacier seems something that simple determination can conquer; the other requires more innate physical ability and guts.

Whatever the case, all I can say is that narrowing our focus to a trip in June or July of 2015 to Cotopaxi, the second  highest mountain in Ecuador, with acclimatization hikes up Guagua Pichincha (15,696 feet) and Illiniza Norte (16,818 feet), is reinvigorating my training.  Today, having narrowly managed to dodge the paper avalanche currently threatened by thousands of documents on my desk, I climbed stairs for over an hour – seven times up and down my building.  Cotopaxi will be at least as hard as Elbrus, and there will be a sufficient amount of scrambling, especially, I think, on Illiniza Norte, to satisfy any inchoate desire to climb up a pile of rocks.

Cotopaxi is 19,348 feet, 7 feet higher than Kilimanjaro and about 800 feet higher than Elbrus.  Every time I have climbed a mountain I have always felt if I had a do-over I’d do it better the next time. But you don’t go backwards to a mountain. You just find a new one.