Test Number Two-Check! 8/31/2006
Today was another great day in Russia. We hiked up to the Khasktash Glacier to do some crampon training. We had more weight on our backs as we carried up our big plastic boots, ice axes, and crampons. I felt stronger having had a day to acclimitize. The glacier is dry (i.e. it has no snow) so we didn’t have to rope up. We practised many aspect of 10 and 12 crampon technique and learned lots of french from our guide, Phil.
The sun was shining again and we saw Elbrus again today. The summit was covered in a blanket of clouds and we’re hoping for our good weather to hold for three more days. Tomorrow we head up to the hut at 14,000 feet, the next day we do another acclimitization hike to nearly 16,000 and then go for the summit on Sunday if the weather allows.
The best news from today is that my leg did terrific. After one break, I felt it a small bit but it eased off and It felt quite good. I still have all body parts crossed that it won’t interfere but so far all looks good in that regard…thanks to Janine, Judy, Hong, Shanna, and Jennifer who helped get it healed.
I’ll try to call in a report sometime from higher on the mountain. Keep watching! Keep the team and me in your hearts on Sunday or Monday-we’ll start climbing in the middle of the night.
To 10,000 Feet 8/30/2006
Greetings from Terskol. Today was a big day. We finally got to start the process of our climb by doing an acclimitzation hike. We hiked form the valley at 7,000 feet up to an observatory at 10,000 feet. We got our frist view of Elbrus’ twin summits-phew-it’s tall! It’s easy to get caught up in how far away the summit is and not remember that every step takes you closer. And the way to get to the top/through anything is step by step.
This valley is beautiful-the lower arms of the mountains are ringed in a mossy green giving way to a cliffy shoulder that’s draped in a glacier scarves. The mountain tops are rugged, jagged, and cause everyone pause. The sky was radiant blue and the sun beat down upon us as it always does at altitude.
It was good to get out and stretch legs and lungs. I was pleased with how both felt. My leg did well through the 3000 foot ascent and descent. Tomorrow it faces another test when we hike to a glacier to test out our cramponing skills. I’ll be wearing my big plastic boots and hope the leg is up for that.
Yesterday’s flight was quite exciting as we had to fly through a lightning storm that bounced the plane about-we were all nervous since lightning had played a role in last week’s crash of the plane from the same airline. Everyone in the place cheered when we landed safely. We then crammed into vans for the 3 hour ride to Terskol. I was moved deeply yesterday morning getting to see paintings by Rembrandt, Leonardo Di Vinci, and a sculpture by Michaelangelo.
The team is coming together well. We range in age from 36 to 76. We are all starting to imagine and prepare for the 12 hour climb on summit day. I don’t think I’ve ever gone uphill for that many hours. I’ll be working with my mind between then and now and on that day for sure!
Thanks for keeping me and the team in your thoughts. We hope good weather holds and will allow us to have a good chance at summiting.
Heading Towards the Mountain 8/29/2006
I watched the sunrise this morning in St. Petersburg at 7:00 in the morning. It bodes well for bringing the light early on summit day. Yesterday was a very full day. We left the hotel at 9 in the morning and didn’t return until 11 pm. We toured the major sites of St. Petersburg including the Winter Palace, the Fortress of Peter and Paul, the University of St. Petersburg, and the Neva River. Highlights were climbing the Bell Tower at St. Peter’s Catherdral (a warm up for the climb at 42 meters), a boat trip along the canals of the Venice of the North, and seeing where Pavlov worked and where the Periodic Table of the Elements was invented.
The team is all here-one guy still doesn’t have luggage. Our ranks have swelled and there are now 12 climbers-I continue to enjoy the status of lone woman. We’re getting along well and eager to move today to Terksol from where we will begin the climb. I’ll try to keep you posted though I hear email is spotty in Terksol. The current plan has us trying for the summit on Sunday or Monday. I’m feeling good and have acclimitized to my new time zone.
Take good care,
Hello from St. Petersburg 8/27/2006
I’ve arrived safe and sound in St. Petersburg after 18 hours of travel. Settled into my hotel and have been strolling along Russia’s most famous street. I’ve met Tony from the team and the rest arrive in a few hours. It’s good to be here and underway.
The Road to Elbrus 8/26/2006
All my bags are packed; I’m ready to go…love that sappy sentimental music from my youth. All the gear decisions have been made, things are in bags in bags, and I’ve got the morning to finish up some last tasks and go for a bike ride. I always vacillate during the gear selection process because I get stuck in a mindset of “if I only chose the right combination of things, everything will be OK–I won’t be cold, hungry, wet.” I have to remind myself that most choices will get the job done and that I’ll probably have moments where I suffer even with the best gear. I’m always fine once the decisions are made and I’m underway–in truth, I can make do with anything and often with very little.
One of my favorite outdoor times, and one with a steep learning curve, was when I worked with adjudicated youth. The program was primitive living skills based and so we slept in two wool blankets, carried our simple belongings in a rain poncho, started our cooking fires with a bow and drill, and all of our food for a week fit in a one gallon Ziploc bag. Life was reduced to walking, talking, cooking, and sleeping. I have many stories to tell from that summer-ask me about Henry sometime over a beer. I remember being scared before I worked my first course that I would be cold, uncomfortable, and hungry the whole time. And indeed, there were times, but I left that summer with a desire to take much less into the woods with me because I’d tasted the freedom of few belongings.
So, sometimes when I’m packing I do actually have to remind myself to take more…I packed very simply for the urban experience on this trip-just one pair of pants and two shirts-some of my mountains clothes can double as city clothes if need be. All my climbing gear fit in my small duffle and I’m not worried about weight restrictions on the planes. My ice ax is encased in foam and my crampons in a small box so they don’t wreck havoc in the luggage compartment. I’ve got lots of reading material packed as I figured out that I’m flying 25,000 kilometers in the next two weeks.
With packing and room renovations checked off the to-do list, I’m left only to begin the process of transitioning from my life here and into the adventure that awaits. Transitions are always tough times for me and I’ll be eager to meet my teammates and get on with the climb. I knew that shouldering my pack and getting to start putting one foot in front of the other will help quell the butterfly migration in my midsection. My leg isn’t 100 percent and that enters into the butterfly quotient in a big way–it has introduced a kind of doubt that is tough for me to deal with–I have to use all of my mental training strategies to put that worry beside and go forward into the uncertainty.
All of life is uncertain but the leg injury keeps that truth more firmly planted in the front of my consciousness than usual. All I can do is give it a go and hope all comes together…as I usually say in my presentations, “the summit is when 10,000 hours of training meet moments of luck.” I’m hoping for a high degree of luck over the next weeks.
A wise friend of mine once said “you have to do things twice, once is merely an accident.” So after I jumped out of an airplane, she suggested that I do it again. After I had my first Big MAC after a decade of vegetarianism, she prompted me to have another. It was her belief that the second was actually harder than the first…and I’ve come to notice, that for me, that’s true. Before I climbed Denali, I’d climbed other high peaks and had been to high altitude several times, but it was my first big expedition that I’d spent months training and planning for…and of course, the entire experience was life changing. A colleague said, “There will never be another Denali.” And she’s right as well, it was a first–a very big first–so it does feel different to be heading out for “Number Two.” In some ways harder since I know intimately the challenges of living and climbing at high altitude and in some ways easier since I know intimately the challenges of living and climbing at high altitude.
The two mountain experiences couldn’t be more different if I tried-with my Denali experience being a 30 day wilderness route with few others and Elbrus being a much less remote mountain that’s likely to draw more crowds. I’m working hard to drop all expectations of the experience and live each moment of the adventure. To get out of my mind and into my body and the mountain-to work hard, push myself, and see what happens…
I had a grand phone call with my Oma last night-she’s turning 89 while I’m on the mountain. She’s a hardy soul who takes the stairs to her fourth floor apartment at least once a day. From her, I inherited my great perseverance, energy, and soon to be world famous sweet tooth. (Velma the Vanilla Dip is packed and ready to go–had to get a second one since it turned out that shellacking the first one was a rather large mistake). Oma and I talked about taking what comes, going forward despite obstacles, and walking every day…all things that will have me in good stead over the next weeks. Happy Birthday Oma!
Finally, I spent much of the week feeling a sweet poignancy. The internal twinges of “I might not come back, this might be the last time I see this person, and wow-where I live is so beautiful” magnified much of my affect through the week. I appreciate the reminders of my (and everyone else’s impermanence) and felt them deeply while at the same time reminding myself that those things are possible each and every day and I aspired to remember that…to notice and appreciate those who surround me and my surroundings…since there is no guarantee that they will exist tomorrow or the next day (a high degree of certainty but no degree).
Thanks for all your well wishes and support. Please keep me next to your heart over the next two weeks, send me good energy, and check my website often (http://taclimbsdenali.com/russia/default.asp) -I hope to post some messages to the Elbrus section from along the way. Go well. Take good care. Reach out to someone today in a new or different way. Thanks, as always for coming along for the journey. Catch ya from Russia.
A Week of Clarity and Healing 8/20/2006
It’s felt like a big week of healing and clarity. Thanks for all who expressed care and concern about my leg and special thanks to Janine for her donation of bodywork this week. I feel like my injury has turned the corner and I am on the mend. I’m still taking it pretty easy and tentative in training and still worried about how it might impact my climb. I’m continuing to take it day by day, keeping stretching and icing, and hoping for continued healing.
I also came to realize that in the weeks leading up to my injury, I was overreaching in training. The experts break down “doing too much” in training as first overreaching and then overtraining. I learned that factors outside of the actual physical training can lead to overreaching and I think that’s what happened to me as I tried to balance my heavy teaching load, heavy training load, and fundraising on the side. I’m thankful now for the injury in that it slowed me down and helped me moderate what I was doing both inside and outside of training. Given six months of exhaustive training, it’s time for a break and I look forward to getting to put it all to good use on Elbrus. This time next week I’ll be in St. Petersburg. I’ll send out one more posting to the list before I go. We’ve updated my website with more details about Elbrus.
This week, as well, I’ve come to see that I letting go of yoga and Pilates from my training program was a mistake. I got away with it for much of the year but that decision has caught up to me (and my tight connective tissues). When they were giving out bodily flexibility, I was in the back of the line. Fortunately, for a life in outdoor adventure, when they were giving out easygoingness/life flexibility I got more than my share. So, I’ve been working with a yoga DVD for now and when I return from Russia, yoga and Pilates will once again be an integral part of my training program.
Over the week, I embarked on a brave act. I painted trim. To you, this might not seem like a courageous task but for me, it was huge. I hate painting trim. I suck at painting trim, though Buddhism has helped me improve some. So there I was, painting bright Solaris (a yummy rich orangey yellow) trim next to a fresh, bright white wall. Big bravery needed. Lots of mindfulness and focus needed. The feedback was instant and unrelenting. As I glanced back at the colorful baseboard, I saw that every slip in mindfulness was recorded for posterity (or a least until I decide to paint that room again). I was reminded of learning to referee hockey-it was a very public learning curve with my mistakes blatantly on display for all to see. The same with painting bright orange trim-except that these mistakes do not fade from memory since they are immortalized in fiery swatches of strayed bristles.
Although my first urge was to chastise myself for my losses of mindfulness or lack of fine motor skill, I decided instead to celebrate the bravery of the attempt. Celebrate going for it rather than staying with the relative safety of white baseboards. Celebrate all of the times I painted within the lines and the times I did not. Celebrate my willingness to have people notice that I suck at painting trim and did it anyway. Learning and life and mountaineering are full of mistakes and miscues and strayed paint, I’m enjoying embracing all experiences as part of the path and noticing that they are indeed purveyors of prajna (wisdom). Yes! I really do like alliteration.
Now that the trim paint is complete, I’m trying my hand at sub-floor installation and then laminate flooring installation. As a classic Myers-Briggs “P”, I’ve vacillated through much of the week about whether or not I would attempt the installation myself. Some days it seemed too hard and too fussy and I couldn’t possibility do it and other days, I reminded myself that I’m quite handy and could probably figure it out.
This afternoon, I finally managed to get two panels to “click” together…every journey begins with the first few steps. Mostly I’ve been amazed that I’ve taken on a room renovation in the two weeks before I leave for Russia-I shake my head in disbelief at myself and then proceed to make baby steps forward and cross things off the big to-do list. Overall, I think it’s filling a nesting need that’s been being put aside in the midst of all of the latest adventures.
I rode my bike out to Flatrock this morning for my long ride. I had to fight a head wind much of the day but I enjoyed the multiple views of the coast along the northern Avalon. My leg granted me two stair-climbing sessions in the Education building this week. I climbed the five storey building 25 times each time taking the elevator down between each ascent. I found a stair climbing log site on the web and it told me that in those two sessions, I’d climbed nine percent of Everest. If only it were that easy! Friday, I found my way back to step class and that was a real treat. Throw in a bit of yoga, some interval running, and some barbells and you have my training week.
Yesterday, I had two moving moments. Someone who has been reading my columns and watching my website called me to say he appreciated what I was trying to do and he hoped there was some way that he could help out with fundraising. I was very touched. Soon after that, I headed over the Fairmont to deliver a speech at a conference luncheon for a group of women. After all the talking I’ve been doing with children, it was different to face a room of adults. I loved watching their faces as different pictures appeared on the screen and I loved telling stories from the Ring of Fire. At the end of the talk, many of the women came up and congratulated me on my efforts and two were moved enough to make a donation on the spot. I was surprised and grateful. I like imagining that the women I talked to yesterday will go back to their homes all over Canada and say they met this interesting woman who climbs mountains and has a fondness for Vanilla Dips.
Speaking of Vanilla Dips, I made it to Thursday this week before indulging. I bought two. I ate only one. Although it was very painful to do so, I left the second one on my desk to dry out. Today, declaring it rock hard and inedible, I applied the first coat of spray shellac to it. That lucky donut is going to Russia and the roof of Europe with me. It will be the first Vanilla Dip to summit (we hope) one of the seven summits. This Vanilla Dip needs a name-please email me with suggestions. Along with alliteration, I love anthropomorphizing most inanimate objects.
Those of you in St. John’s or those of you with web access can catch me tomorrow on the CBC Radio St. John’s Morning Show. I’ll be on around 8:45 am.
It’s been an important, profound, and moving week. The path has been most educative (love that word) and I appreciate you coming along for the ride (rollercoaster and otherwise). Thanks for your support and encouragement.
Take good care,
Happy 225th Day of the Year, 8/13/2006
I swear time is on speed-what other explanation can there be for it being Sunday again already?
News flash Number One: TA did not ingest one Vanilla Dip this week. Yup!!! A major miracle-no colored sprinkles, no vanilla icing, no religious experience. I guess the two I had the week before packed enough religious fervor that I managed without this week.
In two weeks at this time, I will be in St. Petersburg, Russia. All my gear and clothing for the trip is piled high in the living room-I will soon make the final go/no go decisions. I only have to buy some snacks, batteries, and stuff like that and I’ll be ready to head for Elbrus’ twin summits.
My right leg continues to be causing some concern. I have IT band syndrome, which seems to be easily irritated these days. I’m being very gentle, trying to avoid anything the leg doesn’t like, and spending hours in therapeutic settings receiving many healing modalities. I need to be on a quick healing time line. As a result, I’m spending much more time on my bike again these days. This morning, I rode out to Cape Spear and back. I left the house shortly after sunrise so I was headed into the dawning light.
As the traversed the hilly route to the most easterly point in North America, my mind played with ideas of light. I imagined I was pedaling to the Great Eastern Sun, which in my Buddhist lineage is one of the symbols for enlightenment. The young light of day also spun thoughts of my Quaker times where I was taught to “Look for that of God in each person–to look for the Light within each.” When someone was struggling, we would “Hold her or him in the Light.” As I was held in the fresh golden rays, I also thought of how each day brings the opportunity to reinvent, recreate, redirect, reinitiate, recommit or indeed, invent, create, direct, initiate, or commit.
Riding into the new day reminded me that every moment is fresh. Each moment is all that there is and if, I can notice that, my surroundings and my mind become much more spacious. There is much uncertainty in our lives but we can pretty much count on the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. The light that the sun sends changes in each moment. It also changes over the course of the day, the season, and the year. Thick clouds or fog or night can hide it, but it is there even when I cannot see it.
A few weeks back, I lost sight of the sun. There were clouds of doubt blocking my view. I wasn’t sure which direction my Road to Everest was heading. Now, a few weeks later, with another sponsor committing unexpectedly to the Everest cause this week, a few rays of light and hope are making their way through and reinvigorating my desire to train and fundraise.
I spoke to a group of children and adolescents at an oncology camp this week. I put up the classic photo of me on my 40th birthday at 17,600 feet with a swollen face and pounding headache. There were many nods of acknowledgement when I said, “Many of you in the room probably knew what it was like to feel this way.” When the song, “Ring of Fire” played during my slide show, the whole room clapped excitedly because one of the campers had claimed that song at the campfire the night before. It was such a magical moment I can hardly bring it to words–but I’m sure that moment–of a young man who’d lost his hair with giant scars glaring across his body dancing around the room to Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire–will power my steps up many a mountain.
Thanks to all who sent fundraising ideas. They were great. Keep ‘em coming because I’m hoping to utilize many of them early this fall because I have to make a large financial commitment to the Everest expedition soon after returning from Russia.
The front page of my website should be changing sometime this week with more information about and a picture of Elbrus. I’ll also post the famous TA picture and a picture of the Omamobile to the Road to Everest Gallery today as well. Many folks have wanted to have a visual on one of the most famous vehicles in St. John’s. I hope you’re getting outside and drinking in the joys that summer can bring.
Take good care,
Happy August to All 8/6/2006
Sitting here with ice on my leg again-but this time I’m icing to support my body’s healing rather than because I hurt. I took it easy last week laying off all running, step classes, and hiking until today. I also found my way to physiotherapy and acupuncture and I seem to be on the mend. I trained some in the pool and on my bike but also took a few days completely off to make up for the non-rest days in my last rest week…and what a difference it’s made. Rest is important–remind of that when I forget! It is good to practice pushing through fatigue sometimes but it’s also critical to rest.
Along with rest, a few projects came to fruition this week that also helped raise my spirits. I secured two new sponsors in addition to AppleCore. These two sponsors, dovetailing on each other, will ensure that all my gear and clothing for all three climbs is covered. It was terrific news to hear from both of them this week and this outcome came out of many months of discussions and letters between them and I.
It’s funny that just as I wondered if the garden would produce a harvest, the first plants bore fruit. Now ALL I need in order to climb Everest is an airplane ticket to Nepal and $50,000 in cash. 🙂 I’m open to any suggestions, however far-fetched, for fundraising ideas. I’m contemplating having folks sponsor sprinkles on an almighty Vanilla Dip-something to the effect of “Sprinkle my Steps”…at a dollar a sprinkle…that’s only 50,000 sprinkle sponsors I need to find.
Speaking of which, this was a two Vanilla Dip week. I made it all the way to Thursday before giving in to my favorite carbohydrate addiction–getting one to celebrate the last day of classes. Then suddenly, later that day, I found myself at Tim’s for lunch. I said aloud, “I can’t possibility have another Vanilla Dip.” Natelle, my teaching assistant, said nonchalantly, “Why not?” Taking that as permission from the universe, I indulged and celebrated the wondrous experience that is soft fried dough dressed with vanilla sweetness and multi-colored crunch for the second time in one day. Fortunately for my caloric bottom line, I spent the afternoon sea kayaking with the students.
My new down parka arrived today-it’s a bright orangey yellow which the manufacturer called “Tiger.” My favorite Winnie the Pooh character is Tigger. It’s good to feel like bouncing again after last week. You can see a picture of me in my new parka in the Road to Everest Gallery on my website. Perhaps, I could do a marathon in a local grocer’s walk-in freezer section as a fundraising/test the new clothing event.
In the year that I trained for Denali, each week’s training brought new achievements-I was lifting more, running further, getting stronger and stronger each week. Now, at the dawn of my third year of training, such moments are much rarer. On occasion, I see a strength gain in the gym or a burst of speed in running but mostly the gains are much subtler and harder to detect. There are much more frequent plateaus as well, where progress slows to a crawl. I realized this week that my motivation needs to come from a deeper well of purpose and determination rather than from the recognition of rapid gains and their resultant gratification. As usual, I continue to aim to enjoy and be mindful of every training moment and the lesson each can bring/suggest/provide. I do try to remember to embrace the motto of my undergraduate college; this is a journey not a destination.
Speaking of destinations…and journeys…I reached another milestone this week. I packed up the manuscript and book proposal for “A Year on Denali” and sent it off to two potential publishers on Friday. I was thrilled to get that finished up in the midst of my heavy teaching and training load. Please keep your fingers crossed for me.
Three climbers died on Mount Elbrus yesterday. It’s always sobering to hear of such accidents and especially so, just before I’m heading to the same mountain. In the week before I went to Denali last year, three climbers had to be rescued off of Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak and it really shook me up. Their accident gave my preparations a new urgency and focus.
Learning of these deaths on Elbrus, though not knowing the circumstances, has had the same effect. I have renewed my commitment to be very mindful every step of the way, to train both my body and mind, to listen to my intuition, to practice impeccable risk and hazard management, and to commit to both the summit and a safe return. It can take more courage to turn one’s back to the summit than to press on and I visualize such a decision in my mind over and over again as I train. I’ve got a date with a friend and some rocking chairs for age eighty and I’m doing everything I know how, to ensure I keep that rendezvous.
I hope your summer is going well. Do drop me a line if you’ve got the time-I always love to hear from folks.
Take good care, practice impeccable self-care, have fun, and enjoy a treat this week.
TA the Vanilla Dip Queen