Outer Coast Adventure
Happy Spring to All,
The day began with a dog bark and ended with a shower; in the blink of an eye lives and plans changed. On March 22, the Queen of the North sank. On March 18, we rode that very same ferry to Bella Bella. Until the dog barked, we’d been thinking about riding it south again instead of paddling to Port Hardy. We were camped in a cove on the Northwest side of Calvert Island. We arrived the night before at dark having paddled 12 nautical miles down from Triquet Island. We put up camp in the pouring rain and everything was soaked. We lacked the weather window to paddle the exposed outer coast of Calvert, so we were contemplating a layover to enjoy the surf that was building on the beach and to dry out our things on this rare sunny day. Then the dog barked.
Hakai Lodge is about a mile away from where we camped. The lodge caretakers were taking two clients along the beach when they spotted our “out of place” kayaks. They came over to investigate because it’s highly unusual to have kayakers on the central coast of British Columbia in March. They came over and introduced themselves and we did likewise. We explained that we’d started the week before from Bella Bella and were to be heading to Port Hardy but we thought we might change plans and ride the ferry back down giving up more time to explore the Northern part of the route.
Deva said, “There is no ferry.”
“What?” We exclaimed in unison.
“It sank, “replied her boys.
“No, come on,” we smiled back figuring they were playing a joke on us.
“No really, it sank!” They emphasized.
The reality slowly took hold: there was no ferry to ride south, the large boat that propelled us north was under 600 metres of water, and that we now had no escape-we had to paddle to Port Hardy. We spent some time brainstorming on the beach, assessing the building sea conditions, and thought we’d better get moving since we had lots of water to paddle. The paddle around the point the previous day had been quite spicy (our word for exciting and wild) and so we knew in the building conditions that it didn’t make sense to paddle back around so I suggested something quite heretical for sea kayakers.that we portage! I noticed that a narrow spit of land connected us to a passage on the other side of the island-we could make progress towards our goal without setting our paddles in the water. At first, my traveling companions looked aghast, as portaging is the last thing a sea kayaker wants to do. After considering all of our options, we decided to make a go of it and we started the long walk with our personal gear, then our group gear and finally with the boats. It took six trips in all so we hiked about 12 miles that day lugging our belongings with us.
Deva rewarded us for our diligence by allowing us to stay in the resort’s staff housing complete with hot showers and a propane fireplace. We dried all of our soaked belongings and could pack most everything for an extremely early start the next day. Given the tide and current schedule, we needed to wait until the next day to travel east along the passage. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have a hot shower or to sleep in a real bed in the middle of this expedition. Throughout the next week, we continued to wonder about the passengers who were on the boat at the time of the sinking, asking many questions aloud and to ourselves, wondering what happened and about how lives changed in that moment, revisited our voyage on the ship, and gave much gratitude for our safe passage.
The five expedition members met in Conway, Washington on March 16, 2006. We went over the route and made the plan for the next day’s logistics. We had to pack 18 days worth of food, get the equipment all together and make a 3:00 clock ferry to Vancouver Island. The day was focused and busy. We made camp about an hour from Naniamo and continued the drive up the island the next day. I was able to meet up with Norm and Bonnie Fair in Campbell River and they drove me up to Port Hardy so we could visit on the drive-a true treat! I could see some concern in Norm’s eye about our paddling route since he had fished on that coast. He sent me off with the fatherly concern to “stay warm and safe.” I promised I would.
We caught the ferry at 6 PM and the seas were bucking like an angry rodeo bull. I wondered how much paddling we’d really be able to do since I’d been watching the marine weather for days and there had been gale warning after gale warning and now the ferry was pitching and rolling in large waves. As we dropped in behind the cover of Calvert Island, the seas calmed and we all caught a bit of sleep before getting off the ferry at midnight. We shuttled our gear and boats around a fish plant and made camp beside a traditional long house. We fell into bed about 2:30 that morning.
The night was cold and frosty. I snuggled deep into my sleeping bag with worries of being really cold for the next weeks entering my mind.
In the morning, we slept in a bit and then began the amazing process of stuffing 16 days of food, gear and ourselves into somewhat tiny boats.
At first, the task seemed impossible but bit-by-bit, a home was found for everything and everyone. John and Doug wrestled much into the double while Ben, Moe and I crammed into the singles-the kayak decks were a bit fuller than usual. The crisp morning wind died down and we set out heading south along Campbell Island. What a relief to be finally underway!
On any sea kayaking expedition, there is a period of adjustment where the boat breaks in my body. It takes a few days for muscles to get used to being in new positions and being used in new ways. Legs cry out for beach breaks, hands burn with friction from paddling until calluses form, my back begs for mercy, and my butt revolts after being sat upon for hours on end.a time when it’s easy to question why I am out here. We made our first camp on a sweet pocket beach with teal green water lapping at its shore. Oyster shell remains gave the beach a glistening appearance when the sun came out to welcome us ashore.
Huge cedars, firs, and hemlocks hugged the shore and provided a deep green backdrop for camp. Using a driftwood pole, we erected our circus fly, a 4 meter by 4 meter haven from the elements that would serve as our kitchen, dining room, and living room for the next weeks.
After a hearty dinner (we wanted to eat a lot to make the boats easier to pack), we headed off to bed hoping for good weather to allow us to make a big crossing out to Goose Island the next day. The weather gods cooperated and none of us could believe the glassy smooth stretch of water that greeted us as we rounded the small islets at the edge of the 6 nautical mile expanse of water that separated us from Goose. We shot a bearing, chose a course and range line and then set a heading that made allowances for the current. We had a big snack and some water because the crossing would require us to paddle for 2 hours non-stop.
We checked for boat traffic and began to paddle. I was thrilled to be making a big crossing so early in the trip and watched as Goose Island edged a tiny bit closer with each stroke. As we neared Goose, my body began to tire and each stroke was more effort. I narrowed my focus and concentrated on putting one blade into the water after the next, returning my attention to the moment of each paddle blade entering the water-this distracted my mind from the pain of fatigue and we finally pulled into a cove with a sandy beach.
We snacked and watered again hoping to thread our way through some boomers to another beach on the outer coast of Goose Island. Boomers are barely submerged rocks that force the water to form breaking waves unexpectedly. There was a building swell coming in from the northwest and we weren’t sure if we could find safe passage. We paddled the kelp line and timed our passage through some frothy white water but our window closed with the rising tide when several large waves closed the gap we wanted to paddle. We gazed into the maw then turned our sterns into it and paddled back to the longhouse beach to make camp.
Ben needed to practice some rescue skills and reentries so he and John and Moe headed out to play in the cold water of the bay. It was already 4 PM so I passed since I’d have to use a wet suit and I wasn’t sure I was up for getting that cold so late in the day. Doug went on a long hike to get water and I prepared hot water and a big pot of black bean soup to welcome the cold paddlers back to shore. I felt vaguely guilty for not being up for a dunk in the cold water but I felt secure in my self-rescue abilities. I began to notice chatter in my mind:
small voices that wanted me to question myself, that begged to be noticed, that wanted me to beat up on me. It was being hard to hold onto my grasp of my own competence in such an experienced group of paddlers. I noted this in my journal and made a commitment to keep pushing those thoughts aside-to not take them seriously, to focus on “paddling the water in front of me.”
Indeed, the next day gave me many opportunities to do just that-we had the weather window to paddle the outer coast of Goose Island-we were be exposing ourselves to the entire fetch of the Pacific Ocean-the water we would paddle could be pushed all the way from Asia-and this amount of fetch could translate into very large sea conditions. We set out at low tide and could now thread our way along the less active boomers to our original destination. Things were picking up and we had to thread our way through several big waves to the open sea. Moe led the way and we all hoped to pass the boomers at the exact right moment-when the jaws were closed instead of open and ready to chomp. It reminded me of dropping into big rapids on the Grand Canyon where you ride the V wave down the pocket and hope you’ve got the timing and position right.and we did.we all made it through and turned south.
The sky turned to steel grey with the sea hurrying to match the same shade. The swell grew to two meters and we paddled up one side before dropping down the backside of each undulation of water. The wind picked up and we were soon paddling against both the wind and swell-a sensation similar to paddling uphill. To stop paddling would cause me to lose ground so my paddles were kept in constant motion. My eyes constantly scanned the moving horizon for more boomers, rogue waves, and gusts. It was at the same time both exhilarating and tense. There wasn’t much room for error and this was no time or place for capsize.
My loaded boat rode the wild water well and I actually felt quite comfortable in “the big water.” This was what I as here to do-paddle big conditions-big conditions in cold water-just the skill set I would need for big expeditions in Newfoundland. We slugged south for three hours and I was beginning to lag. We took a quick break and then mustered to find a way through the line of boomers guarding the south end of the island. The swell and waves rose to three meters. Things were getting spicier by the minute.
The passage to safety hid from view until we neared. The line of islets seemed to stretch until Los Angeles and I wondered if my paddling muscles could keep doing what they needed to do. At last, we spotted the line and turned our kayaks beam to the swell and the ride got crazier for a bit until we could turn again between Goose and Gosling Island and take the swell on our sterns. The large sea propelled us forward at much greater speeds and bounced us waggling to and fro as only a following sea can do. Five hours after taking off that morning, we pulled up on a beach and pried ourselves from our boats onto wobbling, stiff legs. The cold wind cut through me like a hot knife in butter and all heat seemed to drain from my being.
We set up camp on Snipe Island in a delightful spot nestled amid the large tumble of driftwood logs. We checked and re-checked the tides to ensure we wouldn’t receive a rude salty awakening in the middle of the night and fell into bed. We hoped to cross back the next day but we awoke to a stiff wind. We ventured out from our sheltered campsite to assess conditions and the crossing was already littered with whitecaps. We were stuck on the beach-the sea conditions were too risky to initiate such a big crossing in. We decided to do some rough water rescue practice and got suited up for immersion.
Ben and I carried his boat down to the beach and the wind threatened to blow it down the beach so he stood guard. I went up to help bring Moe’s boat down. As we neared the water, the wind howled and large ice pellets stung our faces and hands. We caught each other’s eyes and beat a hasty retreat dragging the boats back up and huddling under the circus fly. We brewed up hot drinks and shuddered at the thought of being in the middle of a crossing in such conditions.
I knew I was out kayaking with a group of men when, during a lull in the weather, they ventured forth with logs and levers and fulcrums to move stumps and huge logs in order to make a new tent platform-it was a life-size game of Lincoln logs. The day’s plans changed as frequently as the weather. Every time we tried to get on the water, the weather would lob something that would send us for cover. Given some extra time for cooking, Doug treated us to fresh baked buns stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and freshly grated Parmesan cheese in a Portobello mushroom reduction.
Near sunset, the wind abated and hope returned for crossing the next day on the 23rd. We were up early and the sea had calmed down from the previous night’s storm. Fifty-knot winds had buffeted the coast further south on our route and doubt crossed all of minds about our route. Could we make it all the way to Port Hardy at this time of year? Because I had lagged on the previous day’s paddle, I elected to take a shift in the double. With two paddlers sharing the load of a longer hulled craft, we sped along and I was spared the angst of being the last paddler. I continued to notice how my mind was making me miserable and self-doubting so I tried to contradict it with my Lojong slogan for the trip, “Always have the support of a joyful mind.” I knew some of what was happening for me was related to being the only woman on the trip and so I kept trying to counter the thoughts the socialization was dishing up. It was humbling to fall prey to them but I worked hard not to beat myself up for beating myself up. Much of the challenge of the expedition was internal at this point-my inner sea had risen with storm force gales while the outer ocean afforded us the opportunity to make our way back from Goose Island.
We aimed for Purple Bluff and the crossing went smoothly. Doug kept trying to get me to cut my paddling cadence in half as I was blessed with more fast twitch muscles than he and he had to match it so to keep our paddles in alignment. We took a break on the far side and I mastered the art of peeing over the side of the boat. It was quite a production since I had to wrestle by storm bibs down through my spray deck, then turn and hang my butt over the edge of the boat while Doug edged the boat the other way, and somehow manage to begin to pee in the company of everyone else-fortunately they were quite skilled at making running water sounds. Let’s here it for dehydration.
We paddled the outer edge of several islands on our way to Triquet-fighting a building wind near the end of the day. The weather extended some kindness and allowed us to get camp set before the deluge of rain began. We awoke to a clear morning and got packed to paddle to Calvert. We took a rest on a sand spit and were greeted by huge wolf tracks. As we came around the northwest point of Calvert, the seas began to dance like a gifted belly dancer. The waves curved and rolled and pitched and bucked at awkward confused angles as we tried to keep a steady eye out for boomers and other hazards. The conditions were once again hot and spicy. We landed on a few beaches under surf and finally settled on one tucked in from the northwest winds just as the sun was abandoning the sky. This was the beach on which, the dog barked.
Two days later, I packed a single-a Necky Looksha IV-the same kind of boat I have at home and we headed 6 nautical miles down the Kwakshua Channel towards Fitz Hugh Sound. The wind picked up as we clawed our way four more miles south on the west side of Fitz Hugh before crossing to the other side. We tucked in behind some islands for a break from the wind then continued to fight south against the tide and wind.
Twenty-one and a half nautical miles later, we managed to beat the shallowing tide through a channel to take a shortcut onto a beach on Fury Island. As per usual, rain welcomed us to our new home. I had fun hauling huge stumps across the beach to construct our kitchen. The storm of doubt continued to rain on my soul through the day so I continued to offer it arguments and evidence to the contrary finally saw cirrus clouds form on my internal horizon signaling an imminent change in the weather.
The wind swung round to the north the next morning and gave us a push for a change. We scooted down the coast to our intended camp in record time so decided to do another big push and aimed for Indian Cove. We pulled into the most beautiful cove around 3 PM to brilliant sunshine and a lovely sandy beach. I decided to treat the guys to a gourmet dinner with my field specialty of African Ground Nut Soup followed by a spice cake I baked. Indian Cove was so beautiful and we’d gotten ahead of our required schedule by making another 22 nautical mile move (40
kilometers) that we chose to take a layover day to enjoy our surroundings. We did a surf management class, a towing class and practiced some strokes and even fit in a nap in the delectable sun.
Hoping to find some surf to practice in, we headed south the next day to Burnett Beach, a 3 mile long sandy paradise. We had a favorable window for going around our second to last obstacle on the route: Cape Caution. We set off in silky smooth seas but as we rounded Cape Caution the wind stiffened and blew the sea into a chaotic mess on the shoals just past the point. The confused waves were spicier than a Latin tango and I was repeatedly soaked by waves crashing over the bow. We landed at high tide to an every shrinking beach and I sacrificed my watch during the unloading process-I’ve been timeless since.
The next day brought no surf but we spent the day discussing student leadership on the water, listening to the VHF weather reports, walking on the beach, and soaking up some more rest. We had to portage the boats and gear a long way across the beach because we were loading near low tide because we needed to time our crossing of Slingsby Channel to coincide with slack tide. We arrived a bit early but managed the crossing without being set by the current too badly. We pulled into Skull Cove for a very cold lunch and were very eager to get back in the boats for the last miles to Shelter Bay.
Shelter Bay was our last camp before making the 20 mile crossing to our take out at Beaver Harbor (a few miles south of Port Hardy). We knew we needed an extended window to make our way across the Strait of Georgia because we had to cross many shipping lanes and there wasn’t much opportunity to camp in the island groups along the way. The marine forecast was predicting a gale to arrive mid afternoon the next day so we didn’t think we had enough time to safely cross. The day dawned sunny and warm. The sea remained calm all day. The gale was late. We sat on the beach. We were pissed and second guessing our decision. We practiced towing and played “golf” on the beach with a piece of driftwood and a tennis ball.
The next day, the forecast was worse-40 knot winds for midday and 50 knot storm force winds for the evening.rain.more beach time.now we were getting a bit worried. The gale stalled and slowed. Still late.
Would we ever get across? Food was beginning to run low. The wind picked up. The gale was arriving. How long would it stay? We decided to construct a wind totem to help the weather move along. Doug and John found a stainless steel sink and hosted it aloft on a long pole.
We invited a new game called “Sink Stick” that kept us occupied for several hours-it was a cross between basketball and horseshoes. The Easter Bunny came for a visit leaving eggs hidden under the circus fly. We listened to every marine forecast. We heard a small opening in the weather and made a plan to exploit it. We would get up at 4, be on the water at 6, hope to ride the last bit of the storm swells and beat the wind before it turned northeast.
We didn’t listen to the forecast when we got up. We heard no wind. We packed the boats in the dark and launched at 5:45. The window was open and we started to cross. The wind picked up from the northwest earlier than we hoped and we wondered aloud if the window was about to slam shut. We kept paddling and the wind dropped as we made it to the first group of islands. We got a boost from a following sea during the next phase of the crossing and then the wind laid down. Yahoo. The weather would cooperate. We would get off the water today. No more trail food! We landed around noon in Beaver Harbor, unloaded the boats for the last time, carried everything across another stretch of beach and loaded the trailer and van for the jaunt down Vancouver Island back to Conway. We got to within an hour of the ferry, threw up the tents in the pouring rain and fell deeply to sleep. The next day we found some showers in Naniamo and then journeyed to the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver on our way back to NOLS. On arrival we spent 3 hours cleaning up gear and boats before watching slideshows of our trip-digital photography is amazing that way.
I’ve had a few days rest at my friend Kristen’s house on Orcas Island and I fly home tomorrow. I’m so pleased to have traveled 160 nautical miles (300 kilometers) down the central British Columbia coast. Once I travel somewhere, the map is never the same again. Traveling through by my own power gives me an intimate connection with the landscape and the resulting cartography in my mind is hard to shake. The map of this coastline will never look the same to me again, and now that same map beckons me north.
Having lived 16 days with the rhythm of the sea, I can’t help but notice that I’m not in control. The tides go up and down regardless of my wishes and dreams and hopes and fears. I can only adapt to what the tides bring. Water flows up and down the beach reminding me to be in such a flow myself, to have patience, and to know that everything changes. Even my mind. The sea provided both a struggle and a mirror to witness that struggle within and the lessons from this trip will be deep and unfolding for many tides to come.
I’m on a Buddhist retreat this next week in St. John’s so I may not be able to respond to your replies immediately. My website has a new look-please check it out and let me know what you think. Also, I’ll hope you’ll be able to join me on April 27 at the INCO theatre in St. John’s for an evening of stories from Denali.
With gratitude for having you along on this most amazing journey,
Happy Almost the Ides of March 3/12/2006
There is something rewarding and significantly perverse about having
run 10 miles before 8:15 AM on a Sunday morning. This morning rewarded
me for getting out of bed with the most gorgeous and moving dawning
light. It was like a golden fleece blanket comforting both the
landscape and I as we rose to face another day. Tears streamed from my
eyes as I glimpsed the profound beauty surrounding me. I was thankful
for the empty street so I could just enjoy my strong body and open,
tender heart without worrying about my wet cheeks.
As I rounded Quidi Vidi Lake, I reflected on the past week. When
thinking about how I make major life decisions, I often offer up the
metaphor of a snow globe. I imagine myself inside a snow globe with
blizzards of options flying around me like a fierce storm. When I try
to discern what direction I could or should take, I’m greeted with a
wall of white confusion and doubt. It was from within this snow globe
that I wrote to you last week. Now a week later, through a process of
discernment, intuition, and patience, the white flurry in the globe has
all fallen to the ground, leaving that squeaky clarity of freshly
fallen snow. Time has transformed the doubt into resolve, direction,
and action. With that transformation, I took yet another leap of
faith, and put the deposit down to hold my place on the International
Summit Climb Expedition on Cho Oyu for Fall 2006. The expedition
starts September 3rd.
I went to the bank to get the bank draft and the tellers all crowded
around to hear where I was going next. I explained Cho Oyu and then
flushed with the realization that the significant amount of money I
held in my hand was only 10% of the expedition costs…fortunately before
too much panic set in, I put the draft in the mail and couriered it to
the United Kingdom before the terror of fundraising could rear it’s
ugly head once again and scare the clarity out of me. Last night,
several folks got together to help plan the fundraising event for April
27. I know you were all obedient last week and so you went and wrote
the date in your calendars-now I want you to write down the time…7:00
PM and the place…the INCO theatre on the MUN campus and I want you to
invite two friends to come with you. Tickets will be $10.00 and will
be available from various outlets around town-I’ll keep you posted. We
hope to sell out the place. I will be telling lots of stories from my
year on Denali, there will be door prizes, and a few other things fun
things on the go.
Along with attending, you can help out in two other ways. First, if
you live in St. John’s (or are willing to fly in), we’re looking for
one or two folks to get up and address the audience about how you’ve
been moved by my adventures-it can be a very short talk-maybe one or
two minutes-drop me a line if you are willing to volunteer. Second, if
you don’t live here or can’t imagine getting up in front of what will
hopefully be a large crowd, could you e-mail me a few lines addressing
the same thing…how you been moved by being a part of my support
community. I want to integrate some of your thoughts into my
presentation. Some of you have sent such thoughts throughout the year
but I’d appreciate it if you could send them once again, so I can
collect them all in one spot. Thanks in advance.
I’ve been attending a Buddhist program this weekend on the Three
Jewels: The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. We’ve been examining
and exploring the Buddha’s life, his teachings, and our community of
people who’ve chosen the Buddhist path. I spent some time reflecting
on last March when I took refuge and became a Buddhist. Wow! What a
year’s it’s been…and I realized that taking refuge was also a big leap.
Most dreams, in fact, require or demand taking leaps at some point in
the process…I likened taking refuge to jumping off a diving
board-sometimes the board seems one meter off the pool and other days
it must be 100 meters from the water…signing up for Cho Oyu felt
similar. I know in my heart it’s the right path and thing to be doing
but I’m not sure yet how high the leap is.
Here’s another short bit from my book from June 15 when I was thinking
about Buddhism from within the context of mountaineering:
Woke up tired. Didn’t want to get out of bed. Felt miserable when we
first started out. Missing folks from home. Felt like quitting.
Things shifted after the first break when Vanessa confided she was
having a hard day as well. I wasn’t the only one who felt tired. I
also changed my day by reaching out to my tent mates and to others in
the group with small acts of kindness. Had thoughts of how glacier
mountaineering is like Buddhism. We are all tied to the same rope. We
are all connected. Having enlightenment go as slow as the slowest
person on the rope team. Like the Bodhisattva Vow. No one summits
unless we all summit. Needing to be in the moment. Concentrating on
only the task at hand. Don’t transfer the ox’s load to the cow. I’ve
decided just to take on the morning tasks of cooking and water making
for my cook group.
The views up the mountain were amazing today. As I traversed the
icefall with its big blocks of ice and hanging seracs, I thought of the
Khumbu ice fall and dreamed of Everest. We crossed several bridged
crevasses-hanging out over the big abyss praying for snow bonds to hold
until we passed over. My O2 saturation is 92% tonight-low for the
group but I have no altitude symptoms. My body got stronger as I went
up the mountain today. Building a well of strength within. I will
climb this mountain step by step and bite by bite.
I had a great week in the Cosmic Yang. I could feel my body getting
stronger every day. This new strength came to fruition on Friday when
I set a new personal best for the squat by lifting 100 kilograms 25
times. Friday afternoon, during a pool session, I asked Ian to line up
to be ready to give me a T rescue since the previous week, my roll had
abandoned me…I giggled nervously and flipped myself over. A few
careful paddle movements later and whoop, I was upright. I was SO
startled. What was I doing up? I thought my roll was history. I
thought I couldn’t do this!!! I flipped over again. Whoop. I was
upright. Again. Again. Again. I was thrilled at this development
when I looked at the sea state reports for the central coast of BC this
week. I may need my fully functioning roll with 2-3 meter seas.
Rather than paddling the outer coast of Vancouver Island, we are taking
the ferry to Bella Bella on Campbell Island and are paddling 120
nautical miles south to Port Hardy. I imagine it will be quite the
I head out to Edmonton tomorrow to visit my family and then to Conway,
Washington to meet the kayak group on Thursday. I hope to send out one
more update before I head out in my boat for the two weeks. I’m
attaching two small photos from the pool session-one of me completing a
roll and one of me with “my guys”: Antony who biked with me last fall
and Ian-my blizzard paddling buddy.
I hope this week finds you happy, healthy and enjoying life.
Happy in Like a Lion March, 3/3/2006
In the St. John’s area, we’ve had over 3 feet of snow in the last week. Shoveling has become second nature and donning my bug outfit to go out for a run no longer seems strange. The snow is up to my front window and if I could get out the door to my deck, I could easily make a snow shelter to sleep in. Snowstorms have come to seem normal. Along with the outer blizzards, I also faced an inner tempest as well this week. I’ll called it a storm of doubt.
I’ll digress. Monday I completed the first draft of my book. I finished spending time on Denali remembering every nuance and moment of struggle and joy. Our memories are like panning for gold-through the passage of time they seem to allow the sands of hard times to drop away into the current, while keeping the nuggets of golden times firmly in the pan of our minds. Although my memory at this point would mostly say that climbing Denali was “a good time,”my journal tells a different story. Here’s another excerpt from the book from the day after my fortieth birthday:
Yesterday’s climb was tough with the heavy packs and steep slopes. I hate breathing hard. It scares me and I feel inadequate, especially when I am out of breath around camp. When I start exerting and can’t find a rhythm, it feels like I will pee and shit myself. I finally had to decide that if I shat myself, I shat myself and somehow, that calmed the panic of not having enough air and then I could settle into a regular pattern of stepping and breathing.
I was scared when we first arrived because I felt like we were way out there with the dropping temperature and the condition of the group after the long travel day. My hands and feet were really cold and I had trouble having any dexterity. I wanted to be rescued again but I realized that I just needed to dig in and shovel to stay warm. I pushed well beyond what I thought was possible until I got quite stupid and lethargic and cashed it in by getting into the tent.
Everyone is wiped out and nursing headaches and nausea. It’s funny to come to a place where you feel like shit. I’ve got a boomer headache. Had it since arriving at High Camp. What a birthday! Got up and made water and lunch-a two hour proposition. Life is a struggle up here though we’ve been blessed with a sunny day.
Wednesday, in the throng of unbeknownst premenstrual hormones, I watched a documentary of a climb of Cho Oyu that a friend had ordered for me. The aim of the film was to show that although Cho Oyu is the “easiest”of the 8000-meter peaks, it’s ridiculous to put the words easy and Cho Oyu in the same sentence. We watched the climbers looking more and more haggard as they pushed themselves up the mountain. One quote from the documentary stood out for me. “You have to push from the bottom of yourself for every step up because your entire being is screaming for you to go down because humans don’t belong up here.”
Combining spending a week with detailed memories of Denali, watching the DVD of Cho Oyu, and receiving word from Bhutan that November 2006 wouldn’t work for a visit, seeded the storm of doubt in my mind. Doubt is such a heavy emotion. It is laden with penetrating confusion and its swirl of snow pelts my inner world as surely as a March blizzard. It demanded immediate resolution to quell the fiery cold prickly sensation within, that called my resolution to climb Cho Oyu into question. “Do I really want to work this hard to go to a place where humans don’t belong?” “Do I really have what it takes to go to 8000 meters?” “Wouldn’t another plan be easier and more fun?” “Do I really want to suffer again?” The questions cascaded over me like a spring stream in flood and I began to feel like I was drowning in the raging torrent of my thoughts. I longed for a PFD (personal floatation device).
Later Wednesday night, I e-mailed another friend about the doubts that had arisen. She wrote back with this piece that felt like a PFD to me:
“Yes, I totally believe you can do it—the pertinent questions are “Do you want to do it?” “What do you get from it?” and “Is it enough to justify the work, discomfort and risk?” I suspect there are mountaineers who keep doing it because it’s like the hammer that they keep hitting themselves with to feel how it is to stop.
“What part of it feeds you?”–that would be the question I’d want to keep very central in this process. Of course you would have doubt–never get immune to your doubt –it helps in the sorting and keeps you knowing what a huge undertaking it is. Embrace the doubt. At the same time knowing you can do it one step at a time.
So don’t climb the mountain because you have said you will climb it, or that things are rolling along in that direction. Climb it because it burns in you to climb it and you will imagine the immeasurable gains from it. And don’t give up the mountain because of doubt about ability or fundraising, only alter that dream if it no longer burns in you. Only you, in your heart, will know the intensity of that burn.”
So, just like it doesn’t make sense to start shoveling out the sidewalk until the blizzard stops, I’ve decided to make no decisions until the storm of doubt has passed. I’ve come to see doubt as a gift not something to fight against. Doubt asks me to question my passion and my dreams to see if they are still focused where they need to be. Doubt gives me the chance to practice at sea level, the skill of reconsideration, a critical task at high altitude. Doubt teaches me to navigate the middle way between unceasing commitment and giving up. Doubt is the fertilizer of dreams. I wrote this definition last summer. Impossible: what dreams initially appear.
ll of this is to share, that the approach to any mountain is filled with moraines of both emotional and physical challenge. Through my year on Denali, I became skilled at dealing with the physical demands of training. Perhaps, my year on Cho Oyu is teaching me how to climb mountains of doubt in additional to those of rock and snow.
It was great to be back into the Cosmic Yang phase of training. I love some of the lifts I get to do this month and I had two tremendous runs this week. On both Thursday and Saturday, I dodged both snow and cars on the narrow streets of St. John’s. Yesterday, I ran just shy of 10 miles (16 km) before breakfast and delighted in a rare morning of sunshine. I spent Friday afternoon in the MUN pool practicing braces and other kayak skills in preparation for my upcoming expedition. It was humbling to realize that my Eskimo roll has all but abandoned me though maybe my braces will keep me out of the surf so I won’t need my non-existent roll.
So, a busy full week…please keep April 27 free on your calendar. I will be having a fundraising event at the INCO theatre here in St. John’s. We’re still working out the details but it’s going to be a great evening of excitement and entertainment….so get out your calendar right now and write down that date and try to keep it free…thanks for all of your support-I count on it and appreciate it so much.
With a mountain of gratitude,