Training to Trek – Nepal in Sight

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Will gear inspire?

It’s certainly not the glamorous part of scaling summits or long distance trekking, but without it, neither of the former would happen. And so with the close of a holiday season that unfortunately held as much in the way of work as it did gift giving and merriment, it is time to jump back on the training horse and start to ride. OK, that may not be an apt analogy but you get the picture.

I’ve been scraping by with a 5K here or there and a few sets of weightless stair climbs in my building over the last few weeks. Yoga fell by the wayside entirely. So wrong. You’d think after as many years as I’ve been doing this I’d know better.  But it’s hard to get your head into the necessary place even to start to exercise when the world is swirling around you with demands on every aspect of life – from family to social to work.

In fact, for inspiration today I even found myself changing my Facebook profile picture to one of me sitting on our front porch after a five mile run with a look of what I thought showed grim determination.  But after one of my friends commented that it looked like I was saying “get off my lawn!” I decided I better swap it out.

So, with Nepal and Everest Base Camp beckoning – and some deadlines now met – it’s time to take that proverbial deep breath and just start. (Note I resisted the “Just do it” slogan.)  Due to some changes in yoga class times I’m going to have to revamp last year’s schedule. I figure if I can write up a five page work to do list, surely I can assemble a seven day training schedule.

I’ll take any inspiration I can get. Right now those Tibetan prayer flags are helping. Just under four months.

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Gear Check #? – The Scottish Highlands

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Ok, so Speyside Way isn’t much of a summit. In fact, much of it seems suspiciously close to a river bed, and it’s still unclear to me how much above the ocean rivers can be anyway. I mean, they run downhill, right? Where do they start?

Regardless, the Speyside Way is so darn far north on the globe that it should still count as a summit of some sort. I can’t rid myself of  this vague idea that things to the north must be higher  than things to the south. And, of course, if you live in  Australia you must get very tired clinging onto the earth for dear life so you don’t fall off.

Yes, there are true mountains for us in the future including Katahdin in Maine. And we hope Mont Blanc next summer.  But for now – it’s four weeks to our multi generational trip to Scotland and England. More on all that to come in future posts.

As six of the eight of our traveling party will be engaged in a 67 mile hike in the Scottish Highlands during week one …. there’s still got to be  a gear check. Admittedly, this is luxury back packing (glampacking?). Our luggage will be  carted along by a taxi between b’n’bs and  small hotels and we only have to carry daypacks. A far cry from the barrels on Mt. Elbrus. (Yes, for those of you new to this blog – you really do stay in converted (but large) oil barrels on Mt. Elbrus.)

Nonetheless, we’ve learned from experience – there’s still gear that must go with you even while glampacking   So what does this trip entail?

  1. Hiking poles. Everybody but me on the trip rejects them, but after day 3 they will be thanking me.
  2. Headlamps. Who would have thought you needed them in Mt. Washington in October but after a late start and letting all the French Canadians celebrating Canada  Day pass us, it was a pretty dark descent.
  3. Hard candies. I’ve sworn by these since Kilimanjaro. Cinnamon is the best but husband J swears by cherry.
  4. Everything waterproof. I have a strong feeling that there is is a lot of rain to be experienced north of Aberdeen. As we celebrate Tropical Storm Colin here in Florida this week the wet theme is definite front and center.
  5. Gloves. Need I say more. Cold hands. (Not small hands.)
  6. Ibuprofen. It will make everything feel better. Especially after a couple of 15 mile days.
  7. A kindle. Weighs nothing. Battery lasts for months. And you can cart an entire library with you. There’s a lot of down time on hikes. You need a good book to read.
  8. Less than four weeks now. Ready for vacation!

Gear I Haven’t Used – A Closet of Dreams?

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All of us have those Purchases that seemed very logical to buy at the time. And perhaps they were, but life happens and the intended event for which said Purchase would have been just perfect never occurs. And now the Purchases sit there in a closet or a duffel or a garage as homage to lost hopes and dreams.

Granted, a bit melodramatic. But my climbing/hiking storage space is full of such items.

The rope. We carefully ordered on line the exact specifications identified in the gear list for our July 2015 trip to Ecuador. Our local hiking/climbing store didn’t carry the precise dimensions and we were sure those few millimeters would make the difference between success and failure. Alas, it turned out the rope wasn’t going to be necessary unless we actually climbed Chimborazo, and once there, we made the wiser choice of allowing our summit of Cotopaxi to be our crowning glory.  Shifting Winds Lead to Cotopaxi Summit.  The rope lies curled in waiting. One day.

The stove. This was to accompany us on our multi day backpacking trip along the Muliwai trail in the Big Island in Hawaii In 2013. Those plans were kaboshed when J came down with the flu and was told by the doctor he’d have to be helicoptered out if he tried it. I did the first couple of hours in my own, but there was hardly a need for a stove. Ah well, the alternative we found – the Mauna Kea hike – was pretty spectacular. Journey to Another Planet – Mauna Kea

The tent.  See The Stove.

Odd square pieces of aluminum foil, carefully folded. I think they relate to the stove. Highly unclear what they were for or why I saved them.

Long and skinny gaiters. These were on sale at some point and were apparently so cheap because no one else could figure out what they were for either. They haven’t really gone to waste because I used them to wrap my crampons in. Actually that didn’t work very well and they too are now relegated to the pile of great unuse.

Those are just the gear items that come to mind. I’m only now putting everything away from our January Orizaba trip, in preparation for getting a lot of it out again for our Scottish Highlands hike, which starts 60 days from today.

There’s still room to realize all the dreams of the unused gear.

 

Shifting Gears – A New Year and A Gear Check: Orizaba Here We Come

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So we leave in two days and I’ve managed to do an unbelievably good job of procrastination with the gear check. It started off as – oh, we did this six months ago, how much more can there be to do – to, well, maybe I need to go to Trak Shack and by more gu’s tomorrow because I’m down to five.

But procrastination – i.e., let’s do anything besides the gear check – enabled me to do just a tiny bit of work this morning to welcome in the new year in appropriate lawyer like fashion. It also helped me take down all the Christmas decorations, mop the kitchen floor, communicate with daughters A and S, and go for one last leisurely walk with pack on. Oh, and there was time for the martini on the porch while watching the sunset.

But while on the porch, I did find myself black thread and needle in hand as I mended my Thermasilk glove liners, which clearly could not be replaced within the next 24 hours of globally warmed Florida. Just before sundowner hour we did venture into our guest room, which is where we do gear assembly, to start the preliminary review. What I hadn’t realized about a gear check after having climbed a number of mountains is that you wear out your equipment. As I pulled out the glove liners and saw each index finger was completely ripped, I suddenly recalled that I’d climbed Illiniza Norte in Ecuador with only my liners – they kept my fingers warm but I could feel the rock, unlike my heavily lined gloves or my even heavier mittens. (But I was very happy to have those mittens on Cotopaxi when I realized my fingers were going numb.)

There’s still an overwhelming amount of stuff to go through in what used to be called the guest room. And only 72 (or is it 48) hours to sort it out.  Are the lithium batteries still good? Is there a leak in my Thermorest pad and does it really make a difference anyway? And will gorilla tape actually work to repair our very ripped up duffel bags?
Any answers to these questions or other tips for climbing Orizaba are more than welcome!

I’m excited. Next post – from Mexico, at altitude.

Books for High Places – What to Read at 18,000 Feet

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The “Old” Library

When most people think of climbing gear, they have in mind ice axes, crampons, helmets, and the other accoutrement needed to maintain life and limb at high altitude. But to me, an equally vital piece of equipment is whatever book I’ve selected to accompany me in whatever arduous spot I find myself in.

Believe it or not, there are a lot of opportunities to read while climbing high mountains. You’re typically going to bed as early as 7, especially if you are aiming for a midnight or 1 am departure for the summit. And that’s just summit day. On a lot of acclimatization days you find yourself collapsed in a hut or hacienda by mid afternoon following your first few forays over 14,000 feet. And, if you’re like me, you can’t sleep unless you’ve first consumed at least a few pages of a novel.

Now books for such trips must meet certain requirements, at least in my mind. First and foremost, they have to be available on a Kindle.  When every ounce you carry can make a difference, lugging paper around doesn’t seem like a particularly wise choice. They have to be of sufficient length to engage you. I love short stories but somehow they seem more suited for an evening jaunt in the neighborhood – not a multi-day expedition. And they have to be engaging. If your goal is to blot out an altitude headache, to forget how cold you are each time a part of you inadvertently slips out of the sleeping bag, and to screen out the assorted snores and noise of your fellow hut dwellers, you need something that transports you into some alternate world. The odd thing is that life on a mountain can be so surreal that the imaginary world of some novels can seem a more likely reality than the one you’re in.

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The “New” Library

So, what are some of my top choices for high places?

Our first trek, in 2011, to Kilimanjaro, was accompanied by Abraham Verghese’s Cutting For Stone. The story of a doctor and his twin brother it globe trots from Africa to New York, and kept me enthralled at Crater Camp on the Western Breach, where we camped at 18,000 feet. It’s 690 pages long. Of course, I would have been in no shape to write a scholarly analysis of it at that altitude, but it was a good read.

On this summer’s trip to Ecuador I relied on the fantastic creatures and characters of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld to get me up the steep slopes of Cotopaxi. Yes, I do like science fiction and some fantasy, and the alternate reality of Weaveworld and its 768 pages (now you see why a Kindle is essential) fit the bill. Years ago, on a much tamer trip to California I read Barker’s Imagica, and I think it would be a equally suitable high altitude choice.

Some others? Consider:

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – a story of a family in Afghanistan and elsewhere, covering multiple generations and places.

The Dust series by Hugh Howey – a post apocalyptic world – or is it? Be prepared.

The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner – I will never forget the opening description of speed racing on the Bonneville salt flats.

These are only a few. What do you take with you on your travels? Let’s share.

Boots With Soul

Boots with soul
Boots with soul

This coming week I’m planning to lug the hiking boots back to my office so they can start to climb stairs with me again. They are full leather Lowa Renegades that I bought in 2010. You could tell back then if a climber was from Central Florida because those were literally the only full leather boots being sold in the area.

I figure that it’s a good idea to be back in hiking boot mode before the Mt. Washington trip in a few weeks. And I know my daughter, who is going along for this trip, is tired of me telling her to do some hiking in her hiking boots – but since I don’t think she has done so for any length of time since the Inca Trail in May 2012, I certainly think it’s advisable.

Each time I put on my boots I see just a little bit of dirt or dust from treks past. Some days after the Boston Marathon bombing occurred and the bombers identified, I was climbing up and down the stairs in my office building. We had just returned a few weeks before from hiking down and up the Grand Canyon – South Kaibob and Bright Angel Trails. There was still red, copper dust ground into my boots that reflected the rusty color of the stair rails. The burnt colors around me, and the cavernous recollection of descending down into the canyon converged and I was overcome with the tragedy of how the two brothers could have so missed the point of the mountains and sun and whether they even realized what they had done.

I dragged around dregs of Kilimanjaro for months on my boots. The husband and I hadn’t bothered to take advantage of the repeated offers to clean our boots when we were in Africa – hence, even when we returned, my navy blue boots had a grey ashy sheen that outlasted multiple rainstorms. Each time I put them on I felt a little bit again the magic of that moment if stepping on the summit.

Elbrus didn’t make as big a mark on my boots as it did on me. Probably because once at the Barrels – the converted oil barrels where climbers stay at 12,000 feet – we were in our double plastic boots and crampons. But my boots still bear a little dust of the Caucasus mountains, especially the fields of wildflowers on the observatory hike and the dried salty sweat from the horses as we went horseback riding. And I’m sure that somewhere hidden in the creases of my boots there is a bit of olivine sand from Green Sands Beach in Hawaii, or the deep rich soil of the Inca Trail.

I’m hoping my boots have a lot more miles in them – although when I looked at the soles they have lost a fair amount of their grip. But grip or no grip – they have a lot of soul.

My Bags Are Packed and . . .

Except they’re not! Instead I’m lying in bed writing this blog while the bed in the guest bedroom remains covered in all the gear for the trip. My most recent interaction with said gear has been taking guests to look at it, as if they were being introduced to some elderly, crotchety relative who lives in a back bedroom, or to view an important but obscure work of art. We gaze upon the equipment reverently, with appropriate looks of awe, and I secretly wish I had less reverence and more knowledge about all of it.

Same As It Ever Was
Same As It Ever Was

In any event, the daunting task of packing, together with other last minute activities, remains. It’s been a harried week, with work and a week long visit from our daughters who are briefly in town (but who have shown little interest in helping their aged parents pack). I can no longer use this blog as my vehicle for procrastination today.

I hope to have decent internet access here and there. Please excuse any typos in posts from the road as they may well be written on my phone. To Russia, With Love!

The Last Minute

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One of my law partners suggested that I title this post – only one week out – “the morbid post,” focusing on all that might happen should I not return from Elbrus. It was a tempting subject. Who can forget Tom Sawyer standing in the back of the church as he watches his own funeral unfold, and becomes overwhelmed by his own hitherto unknown virtues. For years I have treasured a Shouts and Murmurs column from the New Yorker that consists solely of the author’s self-satisfying rant as he imagines the accolades he will undoubtedly receive when his time comes from his ex girlfriends and others who never appreciated him enough during his short, but now clearly worthy, life. Something like, “It was not until now that we realized [insert your name]’s true talents, skills, generosity, and overall wonderfulness.”

But, alluring as morbidity may be, as an eternal optimist, instead I will simply observe the last minute activities of the week.
1. Tickets – Since flights have already changed departure times on numerous occasions I have no doubt they will do so again. Cross fingers two hours really will suffice for a layover in NYC.
2. Cram gear in duffel bag. Having already unsuccessfully tried to convince Delta we should get two free bags each instead of one due to the way the baggage fees were described, we are stuck with one bag each plus carry-ons. Somehow I don’t think the ice axe can go in the carry-on.
3. Practice with gear. Although we had the best of intentions to really learn our equipment, my motivation was gravely affected by the zipper debacle. See post – Gear Check #2. Although said zipper was fixed, the much anticipated practice session still hasn’t taken place. The pointy things on the crampons go down, right?
4. Get psyched to leave work behind and shift gears to preparing to climb!

Gear Check #2 or How to Break Your Equipment Before You Start

The Gear
The Gear

It is a well known fact that men like gear. Trigger alert – this post may disturb some of you gentlemen so continue to read at your own peril.

My husband is no exception. He has studied the meaning of “soft shell guide pants,” weighed the respective benefits of Black Diamond vs. other brands of crampons (that dilemma was easily resolved when the Black Diamonds wouldn’t fit his boots), and by now has a vast knowledge of the respective merits of multiple types of plastic boots.  The number of emails he receives from  Moosejaw is by now probably equivalent to those he receives from the president or other political luminaries.

I realized gear was a large part of the male enjoyment of the Great Outdoors many years ago on a one night camping trip in the Adirondacks with the husband and several of his male buddies. We arrived in the small town outside the state park about noon, and then proceeded to spend the entire afternoon buying equipment for what was probably no more than a six mile hike the next day.  We got to the camp site just in time to drop off all the new gear before heading back to town to have dinner at a restaurant.

The wind up for this trip has been no different. The husband’s latest mail order has been the much wondered about soft shell guide pants made out of some special fabric apparently guaranteed to turn the most inexperienced climber into something worthy of Everest. But in all fairness, I have to admit I have not been immune from the gear bug. At Travel Country’s last sale (by now they recognize us and devote an entire cash register to us as soon as they see us coming in) – I found unbelievably expensive hard shell pants at half price. Water proof, breathable – clearly if my body fails, these pants will surely walk me up the mountain by themselves.

But yesterday we decided to practice putting our crampons on, zipping and unzipping pants over our plastic boots, etc. Unfortunately, I forgot that my highly exotic full side zippered pants zip both up and down. After I couldn’t figure them out, I resorted to my husband’s clearly superior gear skills to solve the problem by yanking on the *#%@ zipper. Following a fair amount of cursing and blame and tugging – now the zipper doesn’t work at all! The pants are now off at a tailor in the hopes they can be fixed, labels still pristine.

All I can say is, despite all my maligning of my husband’s obsession with his equipment, all his stuff still works. At least so far.