A friend recently made a comment that I never seem to grow up. I am not sure if that was a compliment, criticism, or maybe some jealousy. Though, he may have a valid point. Afterwards, I thought about his comment, and I guess I do seem to live a life on the edge or at least do things that most people never would even think about doing.
This year was no exception.
20 years ago, I had returned to the US after walking off of Kilimanjaro. My first stop was at the apartment of my future wife. I am sure I looked like hell, I had not shaved or cut my hair in forever (yes I did bath). I don’t know if she knew it then, but she knows now: I like to do things off the beaten trail. The same friend who told me I don’t grow up (this same friend is who introduced me to my wife), asked why I do these things. I put my head down, thought about it, and looked at him and said, “I want to do things people only dream of and don’t actually do“. He said he appreciated my candor; I laughed.
I love climbing, I love going high on a mountain. But with kids and that silly thing called a job, I had stopped climbing. I knew I was getting restless, so after a long period, I decided I need to determine if I still “had it”. I wanted to try some glacier climbing on Mount Rainer as a prep to see if I could do Mount Denali. I looked at the best groups to help me reach my goal and chose RMI Guides.
Unfortunately, the trip did not exactly go accordingly to plan. Two months before I was to leave, I was told that I had two hernias and needed to have surgery. However silly it sounds, that did not deter me. My surgeon convinced me that I could still climb and wait until after I got off the mountain to have the surgery. And that become the plan.
My coach changed my workouts to accommodate my hernias, and I was no less determined to make the attempt. 60 days later, we started the climb up to base camp. I quickly found that I was having a hard time; I was not sure why, but I knew this was not going according to plan.
I realized it later, but somewhere I had developed a nasty cough. And it was a bad cough; I felt like I was going to bring up a lung sometimes. That clearly did not help me in meeting my goal. Breathing became hard and I often had to stop to catch my breath. I had guessed that my hernias might cause a problem, never did it cross my mind that a cold would stop me.
After an acclimatization hike, one of the guides pulled me off to the side and asked what was going on. I shared with him my frustrations and the hard time I was having breathing. He listened and politely said, I should not try and summit. That if I did, and continued to struggle, I could put other people’s lives at risk. I knew he was right. I thought about it, thought about the work I had put into getting to where I was and finally had to acknowledge that I was not going to make it to the top.
Ultimately the weather did not make anyone’s life easier. One day, we had average wind speeds (average, not high, not low, average) of 59 mph. Gusts were over 90 mph, air temp was below zero and I am guessing we got a few feet of snow that day. None of that is good when you are looking to climb a mountain made of ice and glaciers. Unfortunately the group that attempted the summit did not make it. They turned around a bit above 13,000 feet. They simply could not see where they were going.
As I came off the mountain, I thought about two things: First I asked myself, did I fail? Second, I reflected on a promise I made to my wife and kids: If I ever felt that I was unsafe, I would turn around and stop.
To the first question: I am not sure. Part of me says yes, the other part says no; Clearly I did not summit. So to that goal, yes I did fail. But, to my overall goal of an adventure, I did not. I did things that week on the mountain that most people only think about and I had my adventure. And to my 2nd thought: I did the right thing. For whatever reason, I was not ready to make it the top. Was it because of hernias or my cough? I will never know for sure. But I do know that I kept my promise and turned back.
This past week, I asked my wife what I should do for my next adventure. She looked at me, tilted her head (in the way that she does when she is thinking “really!?”), furrowed her brow and walked away.