An Announcement- Stok Kangri, India

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Stok Kangri is a snow covered mountain 6153 meters, or 20,187 feet, high. Yes, that is a reference to Hemingway’s “Snows of Kilimanjaro” and I don’t expect to see a snow leopard, dead or alive, anywhere up there.  It’s supposed to be pretty arid.  And, it’s only partially snow covered. But Kilimanjaro is what started J and me on this summit journey, seven long years ago. God willing and the creek don’t rise, we’re off to Stok Kangri in the Kashmir region of India starting on June 24 of 2018.

To top it off – it’s not just the two of us, but our friend SB, from Alaska, is going too! I sent a casual Facebook post to him about our tentative plans, and within 72 hours he’d committed. SB is the person who gave me that last push – and I mean a literal push – to get up that last steep incline to the top of Mount Elbrus in the Caucuses region of Russia when I started this blog in 2014. Ever since, J and I have said how much we’d like to climb with him again –  and now we are! He’s climbed Denali and Aconcagua and actually knows what he’s doing. Provides a lot of confidence for J and me.

This is going to be a first. We’ve made it to 19,347 feet on Cotopaxi in Ecuador in 2015. But we’ve never made it to that elusive 6,000 m/20,000 ft. peak. This is our one chance, before we go totally grey and spend our time sitting by the fire – although in Florida that would mean before a cool air conditioner. There will be a lot of more details to come.

The training begins.

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Everest Base Camp – M and S Speak! Guest bloggers.

IMG_0142It did all start in 1991. Only one of our now four children had been born. She (A) spent much of her time in a plastic contraption that we called her rocket seat — a plastic rocker with a foam insert and a carrying handle that proved very useful for lugging her around to all the restaurants we still planned to go to with our good friends M and S.  The fact we were 29 and 30 and found ourselves with an infant offspring was not about to deter us.

As the years went by and the offspring expanded to include three others, we four parents found ourselves in high risk environments – such as a fondue restaurant with four under 8 year olds – with hot oil, fire and long sharp forks – and various other and sundry similar problems and situations. They are the subject of another blog post – or possibly even another website.

But throughout it all was always what we used to call our travel fantasies. It could be Vietnam, New Zealand, wherever. Just something more than New Smyrna Beach or – heaven forbid- the Outer Banks. We called it travel p**n – the fulfillment of our travel fantasies – but I’m concerned WordPress and Facebook will block the  phrase of what we actually called it. Just understand – it was supposed to be the ultimate escape and self realization.

Travel po**n kept us going through many a career shift, stressful work situation and the other vagaries of life in the ’90s and ’00s.

After some preliminary trips to see if we really were compatible adventurers – see Iceland Part 2 – The Golden Circle, or All Roads Lead to Fludir, we decided late 20’s angst could translate to mid 50s midlife crises. So we went for it. I’ve already published J’s and my experiences on our trek to Everest Base Camp with friends. Here’s the take from the other bedroom in our amazingly cold tea houses in Nepal and how it happened:

M and S speak:

“You could definitely do it!”

J nodded emphatically as he picked up the conversation thread from MR. As always, J’s contribution focused on the technical specifications. “It’s all trekking. There’s no climbing, so no ropes or crampons.  We go alongside the Khumbu Glacier, not across. Highest we get is only 18,000 feet at Kala Pattar—that’s the best views of Everest.  Kala Pattar is steep and there’s some scree.  But you should be able to make it!

MR chimed in eagerly at each reference, “It’s basically just a really long hike.”  “You’ve got boots and rain gear. You’ll just need to buy some poles.” And “Kala Pattar is an optional day. We could just leave you behind.” [They did.]
E familia.

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“Just leave me behind,” S called out, only half in jest.  He was sitting on a rock, head bent down, one arm stretched in front of him, palm facing out.  It was the universal signal of defeat.  We had updated the wills before we left but our Nepalese guide, Z, wasn’t having anything to do with S dying. “You have to keep moving, S.  It’s not good to sit too long at this altitude.”  I caught up to where S had planted himself.  It wasn’t like I was moving any faster.  Z exhorted both of us with the now familiar, “Tomorrow will be easier.”  Z told us things that weren’t always 100% true.  Like “rest days” were anything but.  Turns out every day was hard and “rest days” (a/k/a acclimatization days) were the hardest!

Since S and I spent most of the time staring at our boot tops, we are grateful for MR’s detailed posts which we can confirm are based on contemporaneous and copious notes.  S and I huddled exhausted around the yak-dung fires in tea houses fighting to stay awake long enough to eat dinner.  MR was on-line busily researching and cite-checking.  It was enough for us to simply say, “We did it!”

“We did it” began long before we were captured, smiling but completely, utterly spent, in the photo taken at Base Camp.

“We did it” began years ago at that very first meal with MR & J talking about how, one day, after the kids were grown, we would go on a “couples vacation.”  Until this year, that continuing conversation had yielded only a few extra pounds, a shared condo in St. Augustine for the Gentlemen of the Road concert, and a long weekend in Iceland functioning as something like cold-weather gear crash dummies for one of MR and J’s upcoming summit attempts.

“We did it” included:  going to a gym to attempt to regain something resembling good shape (and updating the wills just in case); buying a ton more gear than MR and J let on would be required; flying twice as far as we had ever flown; trekking ten times farther than we had ever hiked—and that was twenty years before; sharing close quarters and more about our bodily consumption and elimination than we were comfortable; and worrying that we might end up ruining someone else’s trip of a lifetime by succumbing to altitude sickness or injury.

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We did it” also included:  being graciously welcomed into the homes and monasteries of people from a rich and vibrant culture; sharing the trail and tea house conversations with travelers from around the world; getting, if not to the top of the world, then pretty close; beating back the demons that taunt us as we age with the bold statement that we’re not dead, yet; discovering that friendship can survive the trek to Everest Base Camp; and, having taken every step together as a couple, finishing the last, longest, hardest day together.   Our marriage is the stronger for it.

MR and J were right.  We could definitely do this!

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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.