A Valley Between the Holiday Summits – Looking toward the New Year

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Mount Elbrus, Russia

I’ve always felt that the week between Christmas and New Year is one of those odd no man’s land spots on the calendar. I nearly always try to take the full week off work; unfortunately this year due to the vagaries of the calendar and my work schedule I’m stuck working a couple of days of what ought to be a glorious week of nothing.

Christmas and New Years do make the close of the year a double peaked mountain.  The first peak comes accompanied by tremendous anticipation; by the time you descend to the pass and face the next peak you start wondering if you’ll make it up. It reminds me of Mt. Elbrus – a long slog up in the wee hours of the morning, hitting a high point – and then a graceful swoop down into the saddle (where I’m convinced I fried my face due to incorrect zinc application). But then you look up – only to see an equally graceful arced curve reaching up toward the summit.

We’ve been in North Carolina this week – not in the mountains but in the Piedmont – itself a spot between the summits of the mountains and the sea.  In fact, North Carolina has been called the valley of humility between the two mountains of conceit – Virginia and South Carolina. Apologies to any folks from there but the old saw fit nicely into my theme.

So as we venture through this no man’s land on our way to the next peak of New Year’s, I’m looking ahead to the summits and swamps of the new year.  June is the beginning of our Stok Kangri adventure. I read this morning that seven soldiers were killed near the Pakistan border today. That caused me to bring out the atlas attached to my parents’ ancient Encyclopedia Brittanica to confirm that Leh is not too close to the border (it’s not – although it is in and around Kashmir). For those who don’t recall – Stok Kangri is to be our first 20,000 foot mountain and husband J and I will be attempting it at what will then be the ripe old ages of 58 (J’s birthday is on day 2 of our travels) and 57.  Challenges for the new year abound; plenty of training yet to be done; and lots of summits out there to conquer.

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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!

Running – The World is Flat After All

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What's up; what's down
What’s up; what’s down

As I plowed uphill on the first half of Saturday’s seven miler, I reveled in the knowledge that the backside was going to be all down. I was running a new route – through “downtown” College Park, our area of town, all the way up Edgewater Drive, past the public high school, the Catholic high school, an abandoned juke box store (who has thought of those for a while?), a gun shop, a driftwood designer, and assorted and sundry other small establishments.

But after I turned around at the half way mark, to my utter horror, nothing but uphill faced me. I kept running along, confident that at some point I was bound to find the downward trajectory of the long hill I was sure I had climbed. But none was to be found, at least until I reached the very short half block leading down to our lake.

I’ve been punked like this before. Mt. Elbrus has a fake summit that after several hours of climbing looks like the real thing. And on the long slog down, the random metal structures that dot the slopes of Elbrus all resemble the barrel huts we were staying in. Not to mention our explorations of the buttes around Sedona, Arizona where I was convinced that each arch must have been the one that would lead us out of the vortex and to the parking lot that housed our rental car and escape to civilization.

I can’t risk thwarted expectations on the way up Cotopaxi, much less Chimborazo or whatever other mountains we end up climbing. They stop you in your tracks; they bring you down – figuratively, and in the case of climbing, literally. I just need take each step in the moment, so that when that summit finally appears, or the refuge hut out of the winds can be seen, it’s a wonderful surprise.

And maybe it’s not so bad not to have the downhill stretch. There’s either an optical illusion where long flat stretches ahead of you appear to rise up in a gentle swell – or, it could just be the fact the prescription in my sunglasses is wrong. But the real point is that maybe something that can feel so hard is really easier than you’re letting yourself believe. Maybe the world is flat after all.

The Power of Fear – Two Month Countdown to Cotopaxi

Mt. Elbrus - an avalanche seen from across the valley
Mt. Elbrus – an avalanche seen from across the valley

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.

How does it work for you?

Summits – The To Do List

Part of the broken trekking pole
Part of the broken trekking pole

We have reached that point of every major travel adventure where the to do list seems as daunting and insurmountable as we fear the summits of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo themselves might be. So on Saturday I suggested to husband J, as he struggled with a new computer which seemingly has no spam filter, that perhaps he would feel more organized if he made a list. He didn’t follow this sage advice, and for that matter, neither did I. But I did think about what I would jot down in one of the many notebooks I have left over from the daughters’ school days that I use for such purposes (I can’t bear to throw away unused paper), if I were so inclined.

1. Go to Iceland. Now that may not be first on most people’s list of mountain climbing preparation, but it is a fact that we will be spending five days in Iceland in the beginning of March. And that upcoming adventure has created other subset of to do lists that I won’t even begin to address here.

2. The gear check. This is an inevitable part of any expedition and one that I both anticipate and dread at the same time. Certainly we are in much better shape than we were back on 2011 when we climbed Kilimanjaro but now we have broken gear to deal with and new and unusual gear to get. We are in good shape for crampons, but have never before had to buy any rope. Since the guide company supplies rope I’m still not sure why we have to have our own as well – an emergency supply in case we fall into a crevasse on the way to an outhouse? The possibilities are not reassuring. We have to call Travel Country to see if the balaclava/face mask I ordered has arrived and if climbing helmets in a smaller size are in stock yet. And we have to replace the trekking poles that somehow daughter #1 managed to break on Mt. Washington. I still don’t know how she hiked the last 5 miles not realizing that one pole was 12 inches shorter than the other. And this is just a fraction of the gear issues.

3. Order zinc for lips. As those of you who followed our climb up Mt. Elbrus know, it never occurred to me that my allergies to regular sunscreen meant that I couldn’t use Chapstick with any sort of sun protection. In fact, this didn’t occur to me until I was on the side of the glacier on summit day, realizing that I looked and felt like I had kissed a hot burner on a stove. Never again.

4. Write to do lists for work, training, family and trip. Yes, this is a circular blog post. But I can’t think of any other way to try to have some certainty about what remains to do for the next few months. Should it be one giant list, or multiple lists for each area? I’m trying to make some order out of chaos – but I’m afraid that if I overthink it I’ll be doing the reverse. Wish me luck.

Ascent Up Holiday Mountain

Lake Ivanhoe
Lake Ivanhoe

Summits, as I’ve implied before, are hard to find here in Florida.

But starting in October, the holiday season stretches on and up like the long trudge up parts of Kilimanjaro. And, of course, trying to fit work and training in between both hosting and attending the social functions of the season can create a stress level no less intense than the oxygen deficits you feel at over 14,000 feet.

Here in the U.S., at least, it starts with Halloween. Even though the daughters are no longer among the bands of ghosts and goblins marching through our neighborhood in search of treats, for over 20 years now we have shared the evening with the parents of two other children of identical age (and I do mean identical because we met in Lamaze class).

A short three of four weeks after that is the annual trek to California for Thanksgiving – see earlier post about Point Lobos – and trying to cram as much time as we can with family and friends into a barely four day visit. Let’s see, that works out to how many minutes a person?

The Cooking Operation- Making Meringues
The Cooking Operation- Making Meringues

The return from California starts the cycle of my work party, the husband’s work party, the book club party, the women’s group party, various and sundry parties, and then one I host to prove that I too can do something other than practice law and climb mountains. This one was particularly challenging since it came on the heels of an unexpectedly extended out of town business trip. Always make sure the day 1 jacket will match the day 2 skirt to create something that looks vaguely different for day 3.

I suppose everyone feels the holidays should culminate in a summit at Christmas or New Year’s – as immense and amazing as that incredible spot at the top of Mt. Elbrus  – or perhaps, to use a more accessible image, the fantastic ice castle at the top of the mountain in Disney’s Frozen.  But maybe it is really the gentle valleys hiding somewhere amid all the revelry that give the holidays some meaning – the few quiet moments where you can sit for a few minutes, meditate, and watch the sun reflect on the summits that surround you, whether real or metaphorical. Happy holidays, everyone.

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Yoga and the Art of Climbing

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. Certainly, when I have been training for various climbs and treks, adding cardio to my work out was an essential component of success. But much of climbing or trekking is the sheer grit of simply keeping on going even when every part of you is saying stop right now. And that’s where yoga has made all the difference – and here’s a shout out to my many, many yoga instructors over the years, whose voices were in my head on so many of these hikes. Elbrus on the long slushy slog on the way down. Mt. Hood, where the 60 mile an hour winds were blowing me into the mountain and I couldn’t see because the blinding snow had totally occluded all vision.

I remember my first Bikram yoga class in 2007 or so. At that time, Bikram Yoga Orlando was located next to an elevated expressway in an small old strip center (and I mean old – circa 1960s) next to a pet grooming place. That’s the reason I had seen it – I had dropped off the dogs (who are now 14!) and picked up a schedule from the pile outside the door. I’d been doing yoga for a long time and had heard of Bikram, but had never tried it. But I was then working long hours on an arbitration – the precise contours of which have long escaped me – and I thought, maybe this is just what I need as a break.

Bikram is supposed to be practiced at 105 degrees and 40% humidity – and at the new studio it is. But at that old place down on South Street I swear you could see clouds forming overhead and I am sure there were a couple of times rain drops actually came down.

After my first class – and I didn’t leave the room nor did I lie down, despite the heat – I thought – Ok, I’ll try this every other week. But the next week I was back. And, although I’ve kept “regular” Wednesday and Sunday yoga classes, pretty much every week I’m also at Bikram. For someone whose job is comprised of making decisions, to be in an environment where there is no decision except the one to go on is an incredible luxury. I follow what the instructors say; I know the dialogue; and each class I feel my body respond and become stronger. And there is a particular moment where listening to the dialogue and your own physical presence merge and become one – and for once, you can be in the present – no decisions to make except for the one to keep going.

And I don’t want to dismiss my so-called “regular” yoga classes either. Where else have I learned the ability to literally stretch my body into shapes and places it wouldn’t normally go. The beauty of Bikram is that it’s the same every week – but the beauty of the other yoga is that I’m challenged to see where I can move my body in space and create that extra last dimension around me and fill it with movement.

So why does this relate to summits? I’ve learned to control my breathing. On the mountain, I think – breathe normally, in slowly and out even longer. On Elbrus I recited the Bikram dialogue in my head. I went into that quiet place of the present that allows you to take those last few steps that lead to the summit – and just as importantly – that allow you to descend.

Summits of All Sorts

The Swamp - not sure how thus translates to climbing granite cliffs -
The Swamp – not sure how this translates to climbing granite cliffs –

I’ve been in the saddle the last couple of weeks – that is, the place between summits. Actually, that’s not true at all. Instead I’ve been climbing one of those sudden summits you encounter in your professional world – and, happily – have scaled it.

Which brings me to the point – there may be summits in all parts of our lives – but none quite the same as the true top of a mountain. Once you’ve reached the top of a mountain you have it forever. No one ever, ever, ever can take it away.

But even on mountains there are lots of different summits. When we hiked Kilimanjaro surviving seven straight nights of sleeping in a tent was its own summit. It is remarkable how you can put something down – your headlamp, for example – only for it to disappear 30 seconds later. And that’s not to mention getting up every day knowing you would hike, and hike and then hike some more. Elbrus was different. It was 14 hours of sheer determination and physical exertion. For me it was saying no to those snowmobiles at the very end who were just dying for us to pay them a bunch of money to save the final two hours of hiking. It was the counting in fours the last hour just so I knew I could continue to put one foot in front of the other.

But now we are thinking of a really different sort of summit – climbing the Grand Teton, the highest mountain in the Teton range. It’s only 13,775 feet but it involves rock climbing, not just bouldering, and is a class 5.4 – something we have never done before. And what most don’t know is that I historically have a pretty good case of fear of sheer vertical drops. In 1985 I froze walking down the Eiffel Tower and it was good long time before I made it to the bottom. So, if we really do decide to do this four day, three night trip it will be a summit of a type I haven’t reached before.

The more You Tube videos I watch the more intriguing it seems. There’s a practice rock climbing wall near us. Maybe it’s the next stop?

A Wild Card Day or Summits Don’t End

Now that I’m back in the swamp, Internet speeds are much faster, so I’ll start this post with another visit to the summit:

Stepping onto the summit of Mt. Elbrus:

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At the summit:

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We made it!

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We reached the summit Tuesday morning, July 1, and spent Wednesday reversing our trajectory back down the mountain, via chair lift and gondola, having a celebratory lunch and returning the much maligned puffy jackets to the rental store.

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Because we summited a day early, Thursday was what my family affectionately refers to as a wild card day – one of those days with no plans, no reservations, that stretches out before you like a vast plain of infinite opportunity. Well, maybe not always that poetic. We decided to go horseback riding and take a picnic lunch. We rode back up the observatory trail that we had hiked, enjoying the different perspective on the still beautifully in bloom fields of windflowers.

The ride wasn’t without its share of danger, though, as the horses now and then veered ever so closely to the steep precipices below. I just kept thinking – remember, the horse doesn’t want to fall any more than you do. I felt I had a particularly western swagger since I spent most of the ride with my bandana covering the lower half of my burned face for the masked bandit look.

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That evening we celebrated at a restaurant by the Baksan River with its own trout pond. Ordering fish meant being handed a fishing pole. After I almost impaled our guide with a fish hook in my zeal to pull my first trout out of the water, I did manage to catch one. Fortunately others on our team were a bit more successful.

The next day we were supposed to drive the three hours back to the Minerale Vody airport, and arrive back in Moscow by noon. The best laid plains…..I can only sum up our 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. travel day in a series of bullet points:
– Board plane and wait for 45 minutes. Maintenance person goes in cockpit and doesn’t come out. Bad sign.
– Plane is broken.
– Get off plane and wait in terminal.
– Instructed to walk to another terminal to pick up luggage and recheck bags. Unclear why bags couldn’t be loaded directly onto another plane. Ours is not to reason why.
– Go through security again.
– Wait.
– Offered liter bottles of coke or sprite. But if you are a party of two or less you are given a paper cup with no lid instead of a bottle.
– Get in little bus to go to airplane on runway, together with open cup of coke or sprite with no lid if you are a party of two or less. Bus stops by plane; door opens. Instructed not to get out of bus. Bus door closes; continue tour of runway. Return to terminal. Unclear what purpose was except to distract restless passengers. Ours is not to reason why.
– Instructed to pick up bags again and recheck them.
– Go back through security.
– Riot almost breaks out among delayed passengers, who have lost patience with the interminable treks to pick up baggage, recheck and go through security. Multiple people filming confrontation of passenger vs Aeroflot rep vs Aeroflot rep on cell phones.
– Wait.
– Told to get back on little bus and finally onto a plane, six hours late.

It was July 4, and we clearly needed to celebrate. As we were all exhausted from a very long and frustrating day we did what any red blooded Americans in Moscow would do – we went to an Italian restaurant near the hotel. There, a number of our group drank to the 4th with a red, white and blue drink appropriately named a “Russian flag.” I decided to stick to white wine. Our waitress didn’t seem overly enthusiastic – think the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. She apparently regarded it as a personal insult if something was ordered from the menu that the restaurant didn’t have. Nonetheless, we were all still on the high that comes from the summit, and a little bit of brusqueness was not going to rain on our parade.

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July 5 we flew back to the swamp. But even though the Elbrus trip has ended – at least in real time – the lessons learned, friends made, and summits reached are still with me. And one other thing I have learned – I like writing this blog. So, neither it nor the trip is over. There are all sorts of summits – and I’m going to write about lots of them. And no sooner do you reach one summit then you need to be looking for the next, and that’s what I’m doing right now.

In fact, when I returned to work on Monday, I was already back climbing the stairs by Tuesday.

Steps on the Summit

Summit Date, July 1, 2014. Should be said with the appropriate Captain Kirk, Star Trek inflection.

We all awoke about 1:20 am, dressed, and had breakfast at 2. Yes, it really does take that long to get all the gear on. By 3 we were in the snow cat going up to the Rocks where we had climbed the day before – we had already rejected, as a group, the notion of taking the snow cat to a higher elevation. Alec, always the gentleman, felt compelled to ask me if I wanted to ride in the enclosed cab, but that held no appeal to me. The ride up was gorgeous – the Milky Way clearly visible, stars strung against the black velvet sky like the diamonds and pearls adorning the intricate gowns we had seen at the Armory museum in Moscow.

Once off the snow cat, our skiers broke off fairly soon to zoom up the mountain – or zoom as fast as you can uphill with skies. The rest of us – three climbers including myself and my husband, Alec (our Russian guide), and Alec’s friend (who spoke no English, had never climbed the mountain, and had accompanied us in the various acclimatization hikes) – plodded on up, along the snow cat trail to the higher drop point. Always a little disheartening to walk along what is essentially a road. Finally passed that point, and started up steeper and steeper hills. The sun started to rise behind us – streaks of pink wafting over the tops of the mountain, but I was so busy following Alec’s footsteps in front of me I could barely look up to see it.

After one particularly steep area, we emerged onto the traverse. This is a flatter area that runs along the side of the east peak. It is a relatively narrow path with a steep drop to the left. Needless to say, foot placement is important – and we had been using various of the steps we had worked on the day before. By this time, the altitude was kicking in. I had been using the rest step – step, all weight on one leg to let the other rest, breathe out, breathe out, breathe out, and step again – on the steep sections. Like some slow wedding march up the mountain. The traverse, for all its potential for slipping and falling, was a relief.

The traverse took us down to the saddle – the area between the east and west peak. We had been resting every hour; in fact, Alec had take our guide’s instruction so seriously he had set his phone to ring every hour. We had a longer break at the saddle, as that was the point to ready for the final push. There were a number of other large groups, and one area off the track seemed to have unofficially evolved as the place all the women went to the bathroom, and another for the men. This is also the spot where I should have done a much better job applying zinc to my face and lips.

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We left our packs In the saddle, as did nearly all the other groups, taking with us only our ice axes, a hiking pole, and some water. After the saddle came what our guide said could only generously be called a “head wall,” the part of the mountain right below the ridge that takes you to the summit. My standards being much lower than our guide’s, I will willingly call it a head wall! At this point, Alec roped us all together, since this is the steepest part of mountain, and we started to use our ice axes to climb up.

Now a quick digression on the ice axe. You do not use the hatchet part to claw your way up in some sort of Spiderman position (unless you are climbing the Matterhorn). Instead, you use it like a short walking stick – it is always in your uphill hand – you plant the point at the bottom of the ice axe handle, plant your pole, which is in your downhill hand, and step. It provides way more stability than poles alone.

Although the weather was absolutely perfect, little wind and azure blue skies, it was still very cold. Yet we were all sweating from the exertion. We made our way up the head wall to the exposed ridge, and after a certain point, Alec unroped us. There the mountain taught more of its lessons. Any number of rises appeared before us, each of which looked as though it could be the summit. And each time it wasn’t. So, we just went on and on until finally we reached what was indisputably the top.

I don’t want to minimize the effort this was taking by now. We had made good time and reached the summit only half an hour later than our guide predicted as the standard time, which I felt was an achievement in and of itself. Every single step I was taking, though, required each of those flights of stairs, that extra mile of running, and those final few pounds of weight to lift. I didn’t feel any of my training was a waste.

A lot of it, for me at least, was psychological. Just keep going forward, living in your own head in the moment. My thoughts ranged from deep metaphors about what I was doing to reciting the entire Bikram dialogue to myself. Which reminds me to give special kudos to my various yoga teachers for teaching me to breathe and control my heart rate.

Immediately below the summit is one last extremely steep section, almost like one last tease from the mountain, just to see if you can do it. But with the summit within feet, there’s no debate.

We reached the summit at 12:30 pm, 18,510 feet, about 8 1/2 hours after we started. It was cold and windy and blue, a few puffy clouds below. All beneath us was laid out the tremendous jigsaw puzzle of the Caucasus, each ridge and valley fitted into each other, seamed together with white ice and snow. The feeling at the top is pure euphoria – the culmination not just of that day’s work, but the months of training leading up to it, and the sheer bliss of being only in that moment, at that time, in that space.

I’m inserting the one summit photo I currently have access to. Once my teammate gets his photos up, I’ll post them. My phone, which had earlier died, reawakened itself just enough for one summit snap.

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But the cardinal rule of climbing mountains is that everything that goes up must come down, and so we did. After retracing our way along the ridge, we got back to the head wall. To my utter amazement, Alec handed me the end of the rope and clipped me in. I somehow just assumed more rope would appear ahead of me – but no, I was indeed to be the first person to pick our way down the very steep section. Despite the altitude, I mustered enough brain cells and energy to pick out the correct footsteps to follow and gradually wend our way down. I really enjoyed doing his – it was like solving a maze and. gave me something to think about besides being tired and burned and cold.

It took us 5 1/2 hours to get down – 1 1/2 hours beyond what it should have. It’s a long slog down, the hardest part of which was trudging through the by now very slushy snow cat tracks. Moreover, starting at the Rocks, snowmobile drivers are waiting, tempting you with the promise of a ride, albeit expensive, back to the barrels. But not being ones to give in to temptation we struggled on down. I hadn’t hydrated enough and had to keep stopping to drink, which slowed our progress. Also, by then it was becoming apparent that my lack of appropriate lip protection had resulted in something resembling third degree burns, which didn’t help matters either. I’m convinced that if I had a do-over I could get it right!

Around 6 we were back at the barrel, and never has a barrel looked more welcoming. Our third climber had gone ahead of us, so it was just my husband, Alec and myself, and it was great to rejoin our team. After a 7 pm dinner we collapsed into bed – although I must admit I awakened in the night feeling that my mouth was on fire.

But it turns out summits aren’t the end – they are just the beginning of other adventures. Our trip wasn’t over, and with an extra day in the valley there were still some things waiting that amaze, and bewilder. Next up – horses, trout fishing, and a tour of the airport runways.