As we near two months out from what I expect to be our hardest climb ever, up Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, it’s the power of fear that’s keeping me training. By now I’ve hit the point when I’m terrified that taking even one day off from some sort of exercise will cause the last months of training to be flushed down the toilet. Irrational, I know, but that’s what fear’s all about.
By now I have probably watched every YouTube video and read every blog out there related to these two peaks. They range from tales of cheery climbers who apparently think not twice about the journeys up and down to poor souls who are wheezing, pale, and throwing up even before they reach 18,000 feet. And, of course, everyone posts the photos that make both mountains appear the most insurmountable – veritable jungles of crevasses and steep walls.
Things haven’t been helped by the news of this week. An earthquake in Nepal that causes an avalanche at Everest Base Camp – filled with many trekkers who had no higher ambition than base camp itself – only to find themselves in the path of runaway snow, rock and ice. A volcano in Chile – good for underscoring the fact that Cotopaxi is still active and erupted only 70 or so years ago. And celebrating my 54th birthday this past week can’t help but remind me that I am not exactly going to be the youngest or fittest climber out there. A point that one of my fellow climbers brought home to me last year on Mt. Elbrus when he pointed out most of those on the mountain were half our age. And that was a year ago.
Now it’s not as though I’m a stranger to fear. You can’t be a litigator and appear in court without having experienced dry mouth or pounding heart before you embark on an impassioned plea in defense of your client. But there’s something that’s a little bit different when it’s you up there against the forces of Mother Earth.
I just keep saying to myself that fear is good. It keeps you going. And it keeps you grounded.
Perhaps not an iconic photo of Moscow, but that was the view from our hotel room at 3:30 a.m. this morning when my eyes popped wide open. We are staying at the Hotel Gamma Delta in the Izmailov area, just a few metro stops from downtown Moscow. The hotel is part of a tourist complex built for the 1980 Olympics and there are presently just as few Americans here as I suspect there were back then.
The trip to Moscow went smoothly, although accompanied by the usual hiccups – such as the last minute search for ski baskets for my trekking poles (none to be found in Orlando in June) only for the original six we had purchased months ago to be located under the pile of gear in the guest bedroom. And I shouldn’t omit the re-packing of all our carry-on luggage at the airport when we became concerned our backpacks exceeded the maximum 22 inches in length.
Our first day started with a long traffic jam as we left the airport, during which our non-English speaking taxi driver seemed to take particular delight in playing games of chicken with much larger vehicles. Our route took us past innumerable high rise apartment buildings. Some rehabbed; many not. They stood in stark contrast to the incredible green surrounding the airport. We spent the afternoon recovering from jet lag and exploring the Izmailov area, which includes a reconstruction of a wooden Russian church and brightly painted castle and surroundings, now used for the History of Vodka Museum and weddings. There’s very little English here, and I’ve been looking up how to say “please” and “thank you,” not to mention trying to gain some understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet.
After dinner at a traditional Russian restaurant last night with our guide and one of our climbing companions (who has climbed Denali and Acongagua, among others), we spent the day touring Moscow. The Armoury Museum at the Kremlin – itself surrounded by 15th century walls, is incredible. The opulence of the dress, crowns, carriages, and jewels rivals Versailles. No wonder there was a revolution. Particularly interesting was seeing the two presidential helicopters land only a couple of blocks from us in the Kremlin, then take off again, and shortly after we saw the presidential car with its two security vehicles exit the Kremlin.
We ended the day with dinner at a very ultra modern Italian restaurant that embodies the new Moscow. Now it’s back to re-packing everything for a long travel day to the Baksan Valley in the Caucasus Mountains where our mountaineering will really begin.
And who knew? The name “Red Square” has nothing to do with the
Soviet Union. The word red means beautiful.