I’m busy. I leave tomorrow. Everest.

No photo in tbis blog. I’ve been too busy. I started this post with five days to go. And now I’m staying in the hotel at the airport in preparation for a 6 am flight, followed by 24 hours plus of traveling.

I’ve faced my usual paranoia that the ridiculous hours I’ve been working in order to garner 2 1/2 weeks off will have so impeded my training I’ll find myself coughing as soon as I hit 10,000 feet, only to have a so far unexperienced asthma attack, get pulmonary edema, and expire somewhere at an unimpressive 12,000 feet. Matters have not been helped by the death of Ueli Steck a few days ago on Everest.

One can’t help but wonder about the possibilities. But more important than the possibilities – however tantalizing they may be – at least for those of us who have some great need for adrenaline – is figuring out why you’re going up the damn mountain  in the first place.

The busyness – business of our lives has taken over. I don’t know about you, but if one more person asks me to do one more thing, I might just combust. I’m called upon every hour multiple times per hour to make decisions. Some small; some large. Whether my recommendation affects one or thousands – you know what? It’s just as important if it affects one person’s working life as it is if it affects many.  Jobs are important to people.

Back to topic. I’ve been training for this trek since we came down from the last. And I really, really need to get away from that busyness – business. I’m hoping that somewhere in Nepal, on the way to Everest, there’s some fabulous lost horizon that’s going to give that sense of peace.

Namaste.

Trekking – Bridges Cross Gaps

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On the way to base camp – photo by James Hellman

I’ve been thinking about bridges a lot lately. Perhaps partly because I am living by a ten year construction project called the Ultimate I4.  So far it has manifested itself as a series of disconnected bridges to nowhere. There’s nothing quite as majestic as running under an overpass, only to be met on the other side by a 1000 foot strip of raised concrete floating on mid air like some sort of giant teeter totter.

But I’m also thinking of bridges because I’ve been looking at photos of the trek to Everest Base Camp and have suddenly realized there are a heckuva lot of suspension foot bridges that cross extremely high ravines. I think I read somewhere that there are 27.  Now, when I was much younger (and to be truthful, up to the present day) I used to have a recurrent anxiety dream that involved being stuck on a swinging bridge over a deep gully, absolutely frozen and unable to move either forward or back.

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Grandfather Mountain swinging bridge – even scarier in the 1970s

I’m sure this goes back to the kernel of a true childhood memory (funny how “truth” becomes relative when you’re talking decades ago) when my family went to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina.  While I frequently recalled crossing the swinging bridge – from which you could quite definitely have slid through the side chains that were all that separated you from doom – I never admitted to anyone that I was absolutely terrified, right down to the white cotton ankle socks that I’m sure I had been made to wear.

Mountain climbing – or at least aspects of it – is like that. Regular readers may remember a post from a few years ago about training to climb Mt. Elbrus by scrambling  around on my roof. ( Training Up on the Roof ) We did have leaves to remove from the gutters but I also thought it might help conquer a fear of heights.

I guess bridges will be have to be my next such training location. Making myself go forward one step at a time without freezing in place – that’s something to which we can all aspire.  And these days, it’s a lot better to cross a bridge than to build a wall.

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January 21, 2017 – Artwork by A

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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Seeing the Summit – Getting Ready for Everest Base Camp

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I’m not sure I’ve formally announced the next choice of mountain…but the winner is – Trek to Everest Base Camp! Now I realize for you purists out there it’s technically only a trek up part of a mountain, but for those of us who took up mountaineering in our 50s it’s probably as close as we’re going to get to that particular summit. And there are a few peaks along the way, so surely that counts. Much more to come on this latest adventure in the coming months.
But the title of this post is Seeing the Summit and that has particular meaning at the moment. For – for the first time since the reading eye following my lasik for monovision in the early 2000s stopped reading – I can see without glasses!

The secret – a little thing called contacts. I haven’t worn them since the late 90s, but suddenly the glasses were just too much and too heavy. You need a light touch for summits and the glasses weren’t doing it.

It’s quite disconcerting to see your face close up without glasses for the first time in years. I definitely have more wrinkles and grey hairs than I realized. But the ability to read something whenever I look down (ok- I still can’t read the directions on cleaning products) – is amazing.

There’s got to be some clarity in that. And as I resume the type of training regime I think I’m going to need to reach the highest overlook of Everest – Kala Pattur- at almost 18,500 feet –  and to spend about 10 days at over 12,000 plus feet…some clarity is sorely needed.

You can see a lot looking down from a summit – but getting ready to look at one up can be equally as important.

Rest – How to Reach a Summit

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Rest – in Belgium – many years ago

I’m currently watching Adrian Ballinger’s and Emily Harrington’s attempt to climb Cho Oyu in under two weeks on Snapchat. And today’s Snapchat involved Emily explaining they had one more day to rest before their summit attempt. With joy in her eyes.

The day before a summit attempt is weird. You are informed that your job is basically to stay in your sleeping bag, hang out, appear for meals and eat a lot, and essentially do nothing. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially when you know you’re going to have adrenaline pumping within 24 hours to do something well beyond what your body normally does.

We don’t take this seriously enough in our regular working life. How many times do you realize that what you truly need to get ready for some high risk, high stress work performance is rest? Yet we don’t do it. We’re too busy prepping.

As I get ready, along with apparently 100 million other people, to watch the presidential debates tonight, I keep wondering how much rest the candidates have had. They – and the country – might be better off if they took time for some rest – introspection and contemplation.

 

Contrasts

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The last couple of weeks have involved being sick, attending graduation, Mother’s Day, out of town business trips and a serious lack of any sort of exercise. And no blog post last week.

It all started almost two weeks ago Monday when “she who never gets sick” felt and was sick as a dog that night. (I wonder where that phrase comes from. My cat does just as good a job as getting as sick as the dog.) Work was out of the question the next day as I knew I would be about as welcome as  an ant at a picnic.  And of course being sick then led to the inevitable “I shouldn’t exercise until I am really and truly better” – which, while doubtless good advice, is sort of a nice excuse for a little break.

But all breaks must end — not to mention the profound fear of every 55 year old that if you stop exercising you’ll never be able to start up again – that spinning tire will just slow down and there won’t be any gas in the engine to start it up again. So Saturday I was back at it – only for a four mile run since it has been an entire two weeks, after all.

And not very fast. Last time I ran it was a beautiful dry day. And today it was a beautiful humid day with temps, I’m sure, in the mid 80s. The contrast is huge. Those of you who run in dry air don’t know what it feels like to run through a sponge. I have to believe it’s good for you. Somehow? Maybe?

The other remarkable thing about running in this weather is the difference between shade and sun. On days like this I find myself criss crossing streets and paths to find that 12 inches of shade. It may only be a few degrees but it makes a difference.

I’ve been following #EverestNoFilter on Snapchat. (Ask someone under 20. They can tell you how to do it.) It’s a real time account of Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards’ attempt to climb Everest without oxygen and is probably as close as I’m going to ever get to that summit. One of the things they talk about is the sun/shade contrast on the mountain. A T-shirt on one side; a down suit on the other.

Those contrasts can be a pain to deal with. But without one we certainly wouldn’t appreciate the other. Some might characterize it as meaning the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But, for those of you old enough to remember Erma Bombeck – the grass is always greener over the septic tank. Now, that’s a contrast we can all appreciate.

 

46 Earthdays, 55 Birthdays

Where am I going and where have I been? The Big Island, 2013
Where am I going and where have I been? The Big Island, 2013

The last thing I expected in May of 2014 when I hesitantly pressed the “publish” button (see   https://fromswamptosummit.com/2014/05/12/how-it-began/ ) was that two years later I’d still be writing this blog. What started simply as a means to keep family and friends informed about our upcoming trip to Russia to climb Mt. Elbrus ended up being a weekly place to muse about past adventures, think about new ones, and contemplate the here and now in between them.

And as my 55th birthday comes and goes – serendipitously I was born on what 9 years later became Earth Day – it gives me a moment of pause to reflect about the last five years and consider the next. As a friend of mine put it, somehow the “five” birthdays that split the decades seem even more significant than the “zero” ones.

You see, this entire mountain climbing, summit seeking, trekking business all started when husband J asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday. And surprising myself, “climb Kilimanjaro” was what popped out of my mouth. Hey, it could have been a lot worse.  At least I didn’t say “Redrum.” And over these last five years, we’ve climbed a heckuva lot of mountains and trekked a boatload of trails. And this was for someone who had last slept in a tent at age 18 and hadn’t run over a mile since her first early 20s. Yes, I did yoga and dance and all versions of 1980s aerobic classes (remember those?!) but it was hardly the same.

Dead Woman's Pass Inca Trail with the Family, 2012
Dead Woman’s Pass, Inca Trail with the Family, 2012

So we’ve got this summer worked out – not really a summit, but the Speyside Way in the Scottish Highlands with the Daughters and the Boyfriends.  But that alone isn’t quite enough to provide the inspiration that I increasingly need to drag myself through the dreary grind of daily work.  What I really need is to figure out the next mountain. After five years of doing this, J and I have realized that some of our ascents have been due to the combined luck of excellent guides and decent weather and not and because of any great skill on our part.  So perhaps a mountaineering school is in order – to add some real training to what we’ve learned on the run.

There’s one in Mont Blanc that I’ve got my eye on. After all, in another five years I’m hoping I’ll be getting ready for the summits of the next five. I was born on Earth Day. How can I not be an optimist?

And Work Gets In the Way….That 20,000 Foot Goal

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Training – 25 pound pack – fire staircase at work at lunch. I own that staircase.

Well, our plane tickets are bought. Our hike of five days along the Whisky Trail in the Scottish Highlands is booked – basically meaning we have pre-made reservations at BnBs for various small villages along the Speyside Way. Daughters have been duly informed that the last day’s hike is 17 miles – oops, sorry, only told oldest daughter that fact. If the other one reads this blog she now knows it.

It’s a bit odd, since I don’t feel the same necessity of super duper training we’ve needed on some of our other mountain adventures. But since we’re still planning on some more high altitude peaks out there, I can’t just sit back on my laurels (however miniscule they are anyway). But without a very high mountain peering down at me, and with the distractions of work ever present, it’s harder and harder to feel the pressure to train. It was over 80 degrees today – the first day of spring – and when I ran back him from yoga at the Y, it felt more like a slog.

The title for this post was work gets in the way. Perhaps that’s a cop out. I like to believe that if I didn’t have to get up tomorrow and be a fully functioning plus individual, my day would be open to write, draw, remodel rooms of my house, recycle more and work on my vegetable garden. Is that really what would happen? Would I actually just putter around in pajamas and wrestle my Westie to be the first to look at the junk mail pushed through the the mail slot? Somewhere and somehow I still need to know that 20,000 foot goal is there. When it’s in the mid-80s and hot – that’s the only thing that keeps you running the extra mile.

Whither Next? The Whisky Trail?

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Malcolm, our 15 year old West Highland white terrier, showed up at just the right time. He’s older than the scotch.

I’m finding it increasingly hard to keep up my training regime without the threat of a large mountain looming over me. And even though it looks as though this summer’s adventure is going to be more of the hill and dale variety, it’s getting imperative to make it definite so I at least have the goal of making sure I’m ready for several days of intense hiking. I’m also beginning to think that maybe an intensive course in single malt scotches is needed.

So far the logistics of the trip are presenting some of their own summits. Husband J has become enamored with the idea of hiking the Speyside Way in the Scottish Highlands, also known as the Whisky Trail. I pointed out to him that I am not a scotch lover (I like my Irish whisky better), but he contends  that four or five days of hiking along a beautiful river with stops at distilleries along the way will change my mind. And daughters A and S and respective boyfriends, who are to accompany us on this trip, seem to feel a whisky trail in Scotland is eminently appropriate for young Millenials. Even our travel with friends friends, M and S, are interested so we may form quite a merry band of pilgrims.

But that’s just one aspect of the trip. It will start with J and me flying with my parents from Orlando to Manchester, where they will visit with friends while the remainder of the group goes off on the whisky pilgrimage. Then the idea is to rent a house, perhaps AirBnB, in Scarborough or somewhere else on the North Yorkshire coast for a week before returning to Florida. I grew up spending time either on the North Yorkshire or North Carolina coast (rather a stark contrast), so it’s going to be a throwback for me. We last took the girls to the North Yorkshire coast in 2000.

So, the plans now entail planes, trains and automobiles and everything else along the way.  We have to obtain plane tickets, figure out multiple modes of transporting ourselves from Manchester to the highlands (some combination of train and bus and I’m just hoping we can avoid hitch hiking), find a vacation rental house for one specific week that can accommodate at least 8 people, rent a car, and identify a tour company that will provide 6 or 8 people with guest house reservations and luggage transport as we toddle along between distilleries.

I think it may be easier to attempt an 18,000 foot mountain.

Topsy Turvy Days of Christmas

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Anticipation.

That’s a watch word of the holidays. And as true this year as any other. But this year the beacon of Pico de Orizaba is looming ahead of us – our first January climb – and the first time we’ve climbed a big mountain only six months after another (Cotopaxi).

The path to the summit has been anything but straight this last few weeks. It’s been a bit like one of the children’s fairy tales I used to read where the young girl and boy suddenly find themselves in upside down land.

We’ve gone from the perils of party giving (only a few broken wine glasses) to the hurrahs of house guests. I’ve turned my normal cooking routine into a small scale catering operation. And we’ve had and are having a round of visits from both daughters 1 and 2 (now known as A and S), and boyfriends N and P, respectively, not to mention my parents and uncle.

In the midst of it all I keep thinking that in a week we are off to Mexico. And in another ten days or so we will be wending our way up 18,500 feet. I checked the weather and it actually doesn’t look too cold. Probably good, given that we are now acclimatized to 85 degree Orlando Christmases. I celebrated Boxing Day today by deciding to run a 5K in intervals. I probably should have started this particular training endeavor more than a week before the trip. Interesting – even with eight minute runs followed by a walk my times were the same or quicker than my regular long distance training runs. I’m just hoping a little of this will give me that final push that I need for the inevitably and always incredibly steep push up to the crater rim.

Christmas and family and friends. There’s a never ending flow of shared memories. But new ones are created each holiday. Like a river picking up flotsam and jetsam – they form new land – a big muddled complicated island somewhere near the ocean. I wouldn’t change a thing.