Denali January 2005

TA’s Denali Support Team #16 1/30/2005
Happy Four Months and Counting…

I arrive in Anchorage exactly four months from today…wow…that’s a slightly terrifying thought and an exciting thought at the same time… how did it go from nine months to four? I guess if I’ve written 16 updates that might explain the passage of time.

The expedition starts June 1st at 7:00 am. We will be picked up at the train station and taken to Palmer to the NOLS headquarters. We will spend the day packing food, equipment, and meeting each other. June 2nd we will drive to Talkeetna for a ranger orientation and then onto Wonder Lake. June 3rd we begin the 27 mile trek across the tundra and McKinley Bar river to the foot of the mountain. It will take us 3 days and umpteen river crossings to reach McGonagal Pass. We will pass through McGonagal Pass (5720 feet) and drop down onto the Muldrow Glacier…our home ice field for the next few weeks. We head up the glacier by-passing several icefalls then climbing Karsten’s Ridge (12,000feet) to the Harper Glacier…then there are several options to the summit depending on weather and snow conditions. In my wildest dreams, the bid for the summit (20,300 feet) would coincide with my birthday…having climbed 500 feet for every year I’ve spent on earth. The expedition wraps up on July 4th though we could be off the mountain sooner or off later depending on weather conditions.

My rest week is rapidly coming to an end as I will be back in the gym in nine hours. Sometimes I think the rest weeks are harder than training weeks as I often catch a little something or something else comes up to raise the stress level to training week level or beyond. Given all the shoveling of snow and slush of the last week, I’m not sure how much rest I got anyway.

I slept outside last night. At bedtime, the thermometer read minus 14 degrees…in the wind, the temperature felt more like minus 25. I was camped up in Pippy Park with half of my winter outdoor activities class. They build and slept in quinhzees…I slept in my mega-mid…a floorless, pyramid shaped tent item-it’s colder in a mid, though quicker to put up.

The weather treated us to a real gift this morning because it was warmer when we got up than when we went to bed (a rarity in winter camping). There is nothing like spending a night outside in winter to make a cup of hot chocolate seem like an elixir of the gods, a pot full of Mac and cheese a feast of champions, and a roasted marshmallow…the most divine dessert of Julia Childs…it’s as though the wicked cold frost sharpens the senses to their fullest edge cutting through the mundane into the sublime. I paused at moments to listen to the delicate crunch of snow beneath my feet, to marvel at the individual snowflakes stuck to every branch, and to sniff the wind for any hints of an upcoming storm.

Winter camping demands that I camp and live deliberately. As I say to my students, “sweat is evil and we must do everything to avoid it.” Every move is calculated from the perspective of will I sweat? Will I get wet? How will I get dry if I get wet? On a one night overnight, one can get away with be sloppy but not for two nights or 30 nights. I must admit that my thoughts turned often to Denali and the prospect of living on a glacier for 30 days-knowing that my safety and comfort will depend on my ability to live very intentionally and deliberately. Any wet socks will have to be dried on my own skin, the snow will have to be melted for drinking water, and lost equipment can spell disaster. I kept thinking of the words of Thoreau in Walden…”I went to the woods to live deliberately.” I kept thinking…I’m training for and climbing Denali to live deliberately…

Tomorrow morning Round Two of the Cosmic Yang begins-everyone is welcome to join me at 7AM in the gym. Have a good week. Thanks for coming along on this journey…I appreciate the company.


PS. For those in St. John’s, the Introduction to Meditation program last week was cancelled because of the big snow storm. It has been rescheduled for February 6th 1:30-5:00 PM in the PE 1008. E-mail me in you’d like more information.

TA’s Denali Support Team #15 1/22/2005
Happy Blizzard to All,

How do I spell relief? R-E-S-T-W-E-E-K!

Another busy week has come to a close and I’m onto a rest week, saying good bye to the Green Tara program and hello to Cosmic Yang. Whew-what a week-busy by even my standards and I’m glad to be on the far side of it. I got in most of my training sessions losing one to a seminar, one to freezing rain, and one to fatigue. Though my lifting numbers haven’t been changing in the gym so much of late (indicating a need for a rest week), I’ve noticed strength gains in other arenas…for example, last night I almost decapitated my hockey coach during the game when I was clearing the puck into the opposing team’s zone-I thought I was using just enough pressure to shoot the puck out but instead put the puck in orbit with very little effort…another example, we were doing push-ups in my boot camp step class-the instructor was modeling half-push-ups (with knees on the ground), I decided to try full push ups and before I really noticed, I’d done 50…

I do a long run every weekend. Some days it’s on Saturday, some days on Sunday-depending on schedule, weather, fatigue, breakfast meetings at Zacchary’s (home of my current favorite potatoes). This week, I have a Sunday engagement so I knew today was the day. I also know a blizzard was forecast and so had to hit the road early. When I awoke, the wind was just beginning to howl and the snow swirling was on the wind’s coattails, “It’s now or never I thought to myself.” So I got into my running clothes, pulled on my hat, neck gaitor, gloves, ski goggles and headed off into the dawn of the storm.

Today’s run was 90 minutes (8 ten and ones)…and I headed off on my usual route down Forest, around Quidi Vidi and then up the Rennies River…it was a monochrome world tinted in amber by my goggles. The road was white, the trees were white, it seemed everything was white and I found the sense of visual dislocation to be deeply profound. It reduced my existence to the space two feet in front of my ever-fogging and snow-attracting goggles. I was reminded of life in the meditation hall…there was nothing to look at, nothing to be distracted by…I was entirely with my mind and body-though probably more present in my mind than body. I followed with curiosity the trail my mind took-which forks it turned right on and which forks it went left.

As I ran through the small village of Quidi Vidi, my nose caught the sweet smoke of a wood fire. I pictured a family curled up around a wood stove on a snowy morning, fresh bread in the oven and everyone feeling grateful to be in from the cold. Then I I thought of what life will be like on Denali…living on a glacier for four weeks…living life in shades of white, grey, and black with an occasion blue sky thrown in when the weather gods are kind…of life in the snow and cold…of being isolated from the rest of humanity in both activity and location. Will I wish to be elsewhere? Will I long for the comfort of woodstove and family? Will I want to escape to places warm and familiar?

Or will I, like this morning, revel in moments of new experience, welcoming fresh perceptions catalyzed by reducing stimulation and complexity-experiencing life in as raw a form as possible? Hard telling, not knowing…I’ll have to let you know once I get off the mountain. Until then, I’m happy to learn that I like to run in blizzards…I also like to eat them at Dairy Queen!

I asked my friend, Leslie Appling, who I used to instruct sea kayak trips with and who had summitted Denali, to share any advice/thoughts you had about preparations or what it was like on the mountain. I was delighted this week to receive her reply and I want to share it with you…

I’m not sure what to tell you about Denali. Um…. You’ll be in better shape than the instructors. It’s cold. If you get any big storms, it’s dangerous. You can’t predict how you’ll do with the elevation. Fitness is irrelevant – it’s strictly genetic. When I was there in ’90, the fittest member of our team is the one who went down with HAPE. It’s an immense mountain. I never saw it till after we’d climbed it, due to weather. When I finally did, it was quite far away and yet so huge that I couldn’t grasp it. I remember being in awe that I’d stood on top of such a magnificent piece of the earth. 24 hour daylight is really cool, although some people can’t sleep very well. You may be on a night schedule for climbing – cooler temps, safer passage over crevasses. The mountain is alive. All the icefalls constantly groaning and releasing thundering cascades. I loved just listening to it. And of course, the sparkling blue of compressed ice. Incredible color. When you come down, smelling living things again will intoxicate you beyond your wildest imaginings. The smell of the alder on the river flats is particularly wonderful, evocative of summer and the ephemerality of it’s fecundity. What else? Alaska is big and wild. Enjoy!!

You may have noticed that I haven’t spoken of any “Ring of Fire” challenges this past two weeks…this is because life, itself, has been a ring of fire itself… managing the fine art of juggling work, training, food intake, sleep, and hockey…Wednesday was one of the fullest days of my entire life beginning at 6:00 am and cranking through to 10:00 pm that night…Thursday I sat for two hours in the evening staring at the wall to balance out all of the previous day’s activity. So I’m still up to ring of fire challenges…keep sending them my way…I’ll get to them as life allows…my 2 and a half year niece sent me a doozy this week…and as soon as I can get to the bank…I’ll give it a go…

Hi Auntie TA!

My dad screwed up and sent you the wrong ring of fire challenge. The concept was correct but the details were wrong!

My inspiration for this challenge comes from how much I love my piggy bank and my new winter mitts!

The 7- day challenge is as follows:

1. You must carry a minimum of $20 cash on you at all times (and yes this includes EVERYTHING, showers, swims, workouts, etc.). No denomination larger than a quarter.

2. All transactions for 1 week must be paid for with cash, no denomination larger than a quarter (in other words you need a stuff sack full of change)

3. In order to complete your transactions you must wear your favorite mitts when exchanging money for goods or services.

The lessons learned from this ring of fire are to: a) increase your strength (have you ever weighed $20 of quarters???) b) increase your patience (..ever had to sort $20 worth of change in a busy line????), c) appreciate the value of an essential item (hey when your 2, change is everything!!) and finally, d) to improve your dexterity (people say you can’t pick your nose with mitts on… but hey perseverance is everything!!)

Have fun with this new and improved ring of fire challenge (my dad’s version was too easy for my auntie!!!)

Love Rayne, Kaimyk and Taglu

We’re have a great storm here today-we’ve had about a foot of snow thus far…part of me is tempted to go build a snow hut in the backyard but part of me is not since I will be taking students out winter camping (thanks be to snow) the next two weekends.

Have a good week and use good posture when shoveling,


TA’s Denali Support Team #14 1/16/2005
Happy Martin Luther King Day to All,

At the beginning of this week, I felt like I was sucking the marrow from the bones of life. By Friday, I felt like life was sucking the marrow from my bones…thus goes my journey of extensive and exhaustive training. Start strong and hard… finish feeling like folks should get out a spatula and scrap me from a puddle on the floor. Friday morning, after dragging myself through my morning workout, I asked my yoga teacher if we could spend a longer time in horizontal grounding (translated as I need a nap), she kindly obliged.

I completed all training obligations this week but one…I skipped step class on Friday…the lure of a vanilla dip instead, was too strong. In total, I trained 23 hours this week. By Friday, I was beat. I was busted. Stick a fork in me, I was done. I was proud. Yesterday I reveled in a rest day; today I completed my long run and I feel ready again to face another big week.

After a lull over Christmas, my appetite kicked in this week with a vengeance. I frequently found myself declaring to no one in particular “I am a hungry bear.” No matter what I ate or how often I ate, I seemed to have an ever-increasing black hole in my belly that made a sucking sound louder than a Hoover on steroids. As a result, I spent some time this weekend cooking and buying a baby freezer (not a freezer that freezes babies but a small sized freezer).

Given the demands of training 20 or so hours a week on top of everything else I do, I have to be pretty organized about eating and clothes changing. I’ve found it efficient and useful to cook large quantities of food on the weekend and freeze it in individual servings…this way I can just reach into the freezer and pull out a wholesome, nutritious meal that is easily warmed up while feeling so hungry that if I’m not instantly fed, I may start peeling the counter top from the cupboards and eat that. I go from feeling no hunger to ravenous in about 2.654789 seconds. It’s pretty entertaining to experience and I’ve taken out stock in bananas and soybeans since they seem to be my staple foods.

In case you’re curious, I put up 8 meals of macaroni and cheese with tuna, 7 meals of pesto pasta, 6 meals of red curry miso tofu pumpkin soup, and 6 meals of traditional miso soup. (At my current appetite level, I’ll have them all eaten by tomorrow J). Those joined meals of chili, pasta with mundo bizzaro sauce, pasta with spinach sauce, espinachas, and Indian curried pumpkin soup already in the freezer. I also cooked and froze brown rice as meal accompaniments. Thus, the need for the baby freezer…many thanks to my Oma and parents whose generosity made the new appliance possible.

Beside hunger, the other thing I thought about this week was failure. My weight training program has me aiming to be lift an amount of weight that causes my muscles to fail just before the last repetition in each kind of lift. It’s humbling to fail. Sometimes, it’s tempting to cheat and lift a lighter weight so I can know the joy of success and reach the desired number of repetitions. And some days, I do. Other days, I marvel at my inability to move the weight…I sit there looking at it, willing it to move with my mind, sometimes it does, most times it does not and my muscles begin to shake and shimmy like a tire that’s lost its true. And I put down the weight and rest. And begin again. Maybe I hit the same number of reps. Maybe less. Maybe more. What’s most important is staying present in each lift, recruiting every fiber to each lift, and taking each lift to the max until it all leads to failure…and in this case, failure is success.

Failure…success…failure…success…it’s all in the framing I guess. In any given season, about 50 percent of climbers succeed at getting to the top of Denali and about 50 percent fail…so I find it fascinating to be working so hard to have a 1 in 2 chance of failing…or a 1 in 2 chance of succeeding…but that’s using a fairly traditional definition of mountaineering success and I’m often not all that traditional…I think that’s why it’s been so important to recognize (and celebrate) the many successes (and failures) along the way to the mountain…

It was a huge success to sign on to the climb in the first place, it’s been a huge success to train hard and long, to wear dresses and host dinner parties and bake brownies without tasting, and to greet folks while I’m out running and to run when I’m dog tired and to sleep when I’ve got enough energy to fuel a nuclear reaction, and to write each week and to stretch every fiber of my body and soul, and to learn to meditate, and to both believe that I can and can’t do it in the same breath…and realizing that success for me in this endeavor is not about reaching the top of Denali (though that would be frosting on the cake or flambé on the whipped cream)…

Rather, it’s about choosing to struggle, choosing to suffer, choosing to overcome, choosing the hard route rather than the easy route, choosing discomfort over comfort, choosing to be the person I want to be moment by moment. It’s about giving up preconceptions and preoccupations, it’s about building connections one experience at a time and seeing the sunrise most everyday, it’s about knowing the wind direction and the weather both inside and out, it’s about growth both at a glacier’s pace and at torrents that would put most rivers to shame, it’s about building determination and perseverance that will serve a lifetime and laughs and humility that will serve beyond…it’s not about reaching 20,300 feet on Denali but reaching 20,300 moments within myself.

Enough of that philosophy stuff…have a good week. Send me a note and let me know how you are doing…what are your thoughts about success and failure. I’m back hard at it in the morning.

For anyone in St. John’s that might be interested, the Shambhala Group here in town is offering a one-day Introduction to Meditation program on Sunday, January 23 from 9:30-4:00 pm in PE 1008 on the Memorial University campus…e-mail me if you’d like more information.

Take care, TA

PS. The dinner party was a grand success and the Denali Chocolate Wafer Cake with flambéd Ring of Fire was a sight to behold and a delight to consume even though, in the huge excitement of flambé, I forgot to serve the raspberry sauce…I enjoyed eating it on bananas with chocolate chips all week.

TA’s Denali Support Team #13 1/9/2005
Greetings to All,

Wow…what a week! 2005 is off with a heck of a bang…

Where to start…at the beginning I guess…I was quite relieved when the alarm went off at 6:00 am on Monday and I bounded out of bed and into training. The familiar routine and context took over and life shifted from “do I train?” to “when do I train?” once again. I’m back in the Green Tara program for the next three or four weeks which means in the gym lifting, yoga, and step aerobics on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. Running, swimming and Pilates on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a long run over the weekend. Wednesday has become the day of many clothing changes…into training clothes, then into office clothes, back into training clothes, into outdoor teaching clothes, into hockey gear, into running clothes, into meditation clothes, and then into pajamas.

Given winter has firmly hit St. John’s, trail running is out of the question so when Thursday’s intervals rolled around I was at a bit of a loss as to which hill to run up many times…I decided to stick close to home so did a bit of a warm-up and settled on Cochrane Street, a lovely long hill around the block from Wood Street. My friend Jen and her son, Jackson live on Cochrane Street. As I ran my third interval, I was finally high enough on the high to reach their house. It struck me funny that at 6:15 in the morning I was running up their street in the dark in minus 18 degree wind chill while they were most likely happily tucked into warm beds. Why was I running up their hill over and over again? In the hopes of making my way up an even BIGGER hill in even COLDER wind chill…the whole thing struck me as so absurd I laughed aloud almost toppled myself over…from the absurd to the sublime…

Thursdays’ cold weather also spawned another Denali training opportunity. My neighbor Brian and I had a date to change the alternator in my car. Outside. In the cold. We dressed in many layers and headed out to the street. Brian, a veteran of much work in Canada’s frigid north, has hands that managed well in the cold. I, on the other hand, got to practice taking off and putting my gloves on ad infinitum. As my feet got colder and my fingers got colder and as I danced from one foot to the other, I thought, “what perfect practice for when the stove goes down at 14,000 feet and I have to pull it apart and put it back together again.”

The weather also froze my water pipes for the third time this winter-got some practice in melting snow to make water. When it also froze my sewer connection, after I hadn’t gotten to sleep all night, I got to hone my skills in attitude adjustment and creative problem-solving and my thoughts turned to how much we take for granted in city life. On the mountain, we will be carrying PVC canisters so we can remove our own solid waste (euphemism for poop) from the mountain…so as our packs get lighter when we eat our food, they will get heavier again as we carry our “processed” food off the mountain in its new form. Don’t worry-it freezes solid very quickly as so can’t leak!!!

Sylvia, a friend in Chicago, suggested cooking a turkey dinner for eight as a ring of fire challenge. I wrote back saying that the cooking wouldn’t be so much of a challenge but the organizing and inviting and actually pulling off a dinner party would be…so tonight is the night! As I write, I’m waiting for the five guests to arrive. The table is tastefully set, the stove stands at the ready, and I’m eager to bring the Asian inspired menu I’ve chosen to life. We’re starting with miso soup, followed by edamame and crab/avocado/red pepper maki rolls. The main dish is broccoli and tofu in a red curry/kefir lime leaf sauce served over coconut rice. Dessert is a special treat…in honor of the occasion of a ring of fire challenge for my climb of Denali, I’ve constructed a chocolate wafer and whipped cream cake in the shape of Denali (complete with North and South Summits)…using my new internet gained skills in flambé, I will light a ring of fire around the base of the mountain and serve it with my friend Suzanne’s, (the domestic diva) “to die for” raspberry sauce. The planning, shopping, organizing, and cooking are all excellent things to practice as the exhibition will require all these skills and more.

So, the first week of the year was full of surprises and challenges to overcome…I’m thrilled to be back at training and to falling into bed each night having squeezed most everything out of life each day. Thanks for being there, surrounding me with your support and care and inspiration…I wouldn’t want to be doing it without you.

With gratitude, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #12 1/1/2005
Happy New Year!

I hope your holiday season was filled with Light and joy. I’ve been back in St. John’s for two days and have been getting my house and mind ready to go back to an intensive training schedule. 12 weeks of piles are being sorted and returned to their rightful places. I’ll be teaching again this term starting January 10th…the first six weeks have been commonly referred to as “boot camp” in the past because I teach double hours in winter outdoor activities for the first six weeks of the term. I also become a weather junkie visiting the Canadian meteorological Website more often than my e-mail (I know many of you would find that hard to believe).

During my travels, I was humbled to learn how contextual my training habits were…out of my normal routine, I struggled to make training happen…it’s funny…I find it easier to train when I have more on the go…the more on the go, the easier is to be on the go…so I had a restful time…did a few runs, a few walks and hikes, a trip to the gym with my Dad, and a few skates. Monday… I’m back at it hard. I’m going to repeat the Body Transformation program for the next 14 weeks. So, I’ll be back in the Green Tara program in the gym, running, swimming, Pilates, and yoga. My body feels ready-the nagging aches and pains of the first 14 weeks have healed up and I’m ready to go back to the discipline and routine that made training easier. A few of you may remember that in my first e-mail I said I might need a kick in the butt once in awhile (several of you said you were good at that sort of thing)…this would be a good time for some kicks in the butt and some carrots hung out in front of me…inertia is a funny thing…I’m eager to be a body in motion again.

I had a few ring of fire challenges during the holidays as well. With Leo and my nieces, Sarah and Lucy, I had my first Mary Kay makeover. It was quite an experience. I just about passed out when I saw the four stations set out on the consultant’s kitchen table…each one had a mirror…I wasn’t “having” a makeover…I was doing it myself…I almost went screaming from the house. We’d seen the movie “Meet the Fockers” the day before…whenever the one character was stepping out of line, his wife said “muskrat.” On our way to the makeover, we were listening to a Cuban singer…he sang often of his “Corazon” or heart. It became our codeword…whenever it looked like I was about to bolt, hide under the table, or digress into tears, one of my young companions would say “Corazon” and I would snap out of it, have an instant attitude adjustment, and get back into the task at hand.

The consultant knew she was in for a challenge when I filled out the little questionnaire she’d given me… question number two…what products do you usually use as part of your skin care program? Fortunately, there was a box I felt comfortable checking…”What is a skin care program?”

She asked me quizzedly…”You don’t use any products on your skin?”

“Nope” I answered.

“Not even soap and water?” she asked incredulously.

“Water, yes…soap, no” I answered proudly.

She came quickly to her consultant senses and said “you have a great complexion then.”

I’d never thought of myself as having a complexion…who knew…one moment I didn’t have one, the next I had a great one. Fortunately, the makeover began with exfoliating our hands…a warm-up is always a good thing. Next we used several products on our faces to exfoliate, buff, and moisturize our skin. Next she pulled out this clear plastic thing that she held up to our face to determine what shade of foundation we needed to use…I was a 200…who knew? The idea was that it match my skin tone perfectly so no one would know I was wearing it…now forgive my ignorance, but I thought it was funny to put on something that would essentially be invisible…why bother?

I guess it protects the skin from all the products that would come next…eye shadow in three shades that came with a paint by number diagram…I tried to put it on but only succeeded in making it look like I’d been punched…Leo came to my rescue…she rescued me on the blush as well…I did manage to put on my own lip gloss- she gave me lip-colored gloss (you realized I was the subtle type).

Based on my previous ring of fire experience, I flatly refused eye liner and thought “my eyelashes already met you before I did” so I steered clear of mascara as well…just the thought of applying it or having it applied made me recoil in horror. This was a “challenge by choice” makeover!!! After the makeover, we had an opportunity to shop and I came away with some moisturizing lotions called happiness and harmony, (useful additions to my post-training showering routine) and lots of fun memories of an afternoon of stepping WAY outside my comfort zone in the company of some awesome young women with huge corazons!

The next day, Shanna took me on another ring of fire adventure. This time to the Garden of the Gods Day Spa…she went first. A good thing too…we were having our lips and eyebrows waxed…having the hair ripped out of my lower legs was one thing-the nerve endings are very far apart down there but on my face I wasn’t so sure…I gave my eyebrows a little tug and knew I was in for some pain. Funny thing, Shanna didn’t even scream or wince or squirm-she actually almost looked like she as going to fall asleep.

I thought she must have high pain tolerance…soon it was my turn and for the first time in my life, I had my eye brows combed, cleaned, ripped out and plucked…not quite as painful as I imagined but I don’t think I’ll make a regular habit of it…clearcutting is overrated! The lip was much more painful than the brow…I think I like being a fur bearing animal and since I got a bunch of Denali books for Christmas and since they reminded me that temperatures can easily drop to minus 20 to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit once we reach 14,000 feet, I think I’ll need all the fur I can get!

On this New Year’s Day, I wish you all of the best of joy, adventure, connection and peace in 2005. Thanks for sharing this upcoming year with me.

Take good care,


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