Three words. One comma. A philosophy of life. Oma’s favourite advice.
And…the words I am taking solace in to cope with the disappointment that ice conditions on El Pico de Orizaba forced us to abandon our summit bid on Mexico’s Highest Peak at about 17,000 feet above sea level.
What comes, comes. Roll with the punches. Revel in the journey. Take the life lessons. Live to climb again.
After taking a rest day in Puebla, we travelled to the base of Orizaba to catch a ride to the hut at 14,000 feet. The ride, in a four by four truck, brought to mind “Shake and Bake” and we wondered if we were beef or chicken as we were bounced mightily around the back of the truck on the way up. After 90 minutes of being tossed about, we arrived and set up camp. This being our third visit to this altitude, we noticed it was slightly easier to walk about. I asked Marian to take this picture of Oma and I in front of Orizaba.
We had a yummy dinner (for which all of us finally had an appetite-gotta love being more acclimatized) and turned in about 7:00 pm. JJ’s wake up call came just after midnight and we hit the trail to start the climb through “The Labyrinth” at 2:00 am. Once again, I appreciated the darkness’ cloaking of the challenging terrain. There had been big wash-outs of the trail and we were forced far right to make our way through. A middle steep snow section got everyone’s attention followed by an hour’s climb of a dirt rib in crampons.
We topped out of the aptly named Labyrinth section around 6:00 am and looked forward to the regular rhythm of climbing snow all the rest of the way to the crater’s rim. Small steps taken in combination with breathing had us making steady progress. There was little to no snow underfoot…just a layer of hard, polished ice. Our crampons barely bit in but there was enough traction to head up.
What there wouldn’t be was enough traction for the way down. In the picture below, JJ and Kato are scraping away the top cover trying to ascertain whether the slope’s covering would soften with the coming of daylight. JJ likened conditions to the Lhotse Face and they were not carrying enough gear to protect the group from a fall with either running belays or a fixed line. A fall would be impossible to arrest in such hard ice conditions (two climbers were killed on Orizaba in the past week from falls) and would likely take all rope team members down the slope to catastrophic injury or death. After a long deliberation, the difficult decision to retreat was made. No climb is worth dying for and we carefully made our way back down the slope to scree and talus of the Labyrinth.
Bathed in early morning sun, we tried to find a frame/outlook with which to work with our disappointment. I thought immediately of Oma and the multiple disappointments/struggles/crises she faced in her life and said aloud, “What comes, comes.” I could almost perceive Oma’s presence and saw her twinkling smile and impish grin at playing a prank. Perhaps this was her final poking of fun with me or perhaps a test…a test to make sure that I maintain perspective on commitment to, without obsession for, the summit. When I first starting climbing these big peaks, she was angry with me-she didn’t like me taking any risks and she was a legendary worrier. As she saw me training hard and practicing my skills, she came to understand that it was something I needed to do and eventually gave her blessing.
As we descended, I pondered the word “disappointment” as one of my teammates had asked me how I cope with the disappointment of not summiting. As the day’s light got stronger, I broke the word into “dis” and “appointment” and thought, “Hmmm…dis…appointment…dissing an appointment…breaking an appointment…the feeling of not having something come to fruition in the time frame I want it to. I had “an appointment” to stand of the summit of Orizaba that morning around 11:00 am.
The volcano, however, had me pencilled in for a future date as yet undisclosed. I recognized once again, that it’s not that the summit won’t happen, it just won’t happen on this trip/at this time. Sometimes it takes more than one try. Two. Three. Four. Maybe even five tries…that is, if the will and desire remain in the face of the different time frame, there may be another date with the summit…this repeat only took 26 years to make…”Third time is a charm” might be the way for Orizaba…and maybe another “small” peak
This is, indeed, a lesson that seems to come over and over again. Finding meaning in the slopes and valleys as well as the peaks. Finding the deep well of perseverance to keep stepping in the midst of hardship. Finding the joy of shared challenge and marvellous views that only come when we work hard and risk discomfort and disappointment. It’s all good…and it’s all what comes, comes.
The team enjoyed celebrating our accomplishments and folks are all now flying home (or trying to amid Hurricane Sandy). I loved sharing the climbs with Marian and I am very proud of her budding alpinism. I am so glad she decided to stay in Mexico after kayaking and share the slopes with me.
Here’s to you, Oma. I miss you so much. I’ll carry you in my heart to the summit of all that I do. You are my mountain. My rock. My inspiration. Thanks for showing me the path in so many ways. All my love to you.