Happy Autumn (and nine months to my birthday 🙂 9/24/2006
There is that wonderful crispness in the air–combine that with a sunny clear day–and I am a happy camper. I had a good week and an even better weekend. I finally caught up to myself after the trip to Russia, got fully unpacked, started training in earnest, and found a bit of breathing space. How could I ask for more?
I’m back in the gym three days a week, doing yoga and Pilates, using running, step, and biking to do aerobic conditioning, and hockey is beginning to go full tilt. I did my first “long” session yesterday. In the past, it would have been a long run. With my running injury, I now make my long aerobic session a mix of activities. I rode my bike to Middle Cove and back. I finally braved the “Outer Cove” hill and rode back the same way I biked out. Then I ran around Quidi Vidi Lake and finished by hauling my backpack up and down Signal Hill a few times.
Today basking in the endorphins of yesterday’s exertion, I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep. So before the sun rose, I sat at the computer working on the sponsorship package for my Everest climb and then designed a brochure for speaking to youth groups. After that, I moved onto baking a pumpkin pie, cooking a hearty pot of chili, and treating myself to an old favorite recipe of tofu. All before 10 am. It was one of those mornings where the universe conspired to remove all obstacles and productivity reigned.
The other big event of this week involved making a leap of faith. I have come to intimately understand why such moments are called “leaps of faith.” Jumping into the abyss requires a decent helping of faith, a solid serving of courage, and perhaps, a dash of wild abandon. I have been perched on the edge of a metaphoric diving board for several months now, knowing it would come to this: the big leap.
This leap required me to step up to the brink, stare fear profoundly in the face, not know where the bulk of the money for the expedition will come from, take a deep breath, and hit the send button to transfer the deposit for the Everest climb to the outfitter.
This leap marked the moment when I stopped saying I was going to climb Mount Everest and actually began to climb it. Because for me, the climb begins the moment I pay the deposit for an expedition. With the deposit paid, I take away all escape routes in my mind. It is no longer a question of, “If I am climbing, but when?”
I’ve chosen International Mountain Guides (IMG) as my outfitter for Everest. I was impressed last spring with how they conducted themselves on the mountain, the service they provide, and the reputation they bring to the table. Given my experience on Elbrus with IMG, the way to the Himalayas became clear. And, I knew it was time as my father has often said to, “S&%t or get off the pot.”
If any of you are looking for the adventure of a lifetime, IMG offers the opportunity for folks to trek to Everest Base Camp along with the expedition climbers. It’s a unique chance to participate in the beginnings of an Everest expedition. Here is the URL for the trekking program:
Here is a brief description from the website:
Nepal Base Camp Trek March 18 – April 10, 2007
The trek to Everest Base Camp is simply classic. Going in with the expedition team makes it even more special. Organized by Eric Simonson and Ang Jangbu Sherpa, our Nepal Trek will let you spend several nights at Everest Base Camp and join the climbers and Sherpas for the team’s puja ceremony, the traditional kickoff for the climbing. Then, trek back out to Lukla with our crack Sherpa team for the flight to Kathmandu.
I did the trek to Everest in 2002. It was a most amazing experience so feel free to send questions about it my way. It would be fabulous to have some folks come along for part of the adventure.
I hope your week went well. Thanks for all of your kind words about Elbrus.
Four Vanilla Dip Week 9/17/2006
Update 17 on the 17th…cool! I love number synchronicities.
Okay. I’ll admit it. It was a four Vanilla Dip week. And a one Chocolate Dip week (I was practicing being unpredictable). I couldn’t help myself. Many folks wanted to celebrate my safe return with my favorite donut and I had a deeply seated need to appease the Vanilla Dip goddess. You see, things didn’t go very well for Velma the Vanilla Dip on Elbrus. Not at all-it’s taken me a week of recovery just to be able to talk about what happened to Velma.
You’ll remember that I asked folks in my cyber community of support to recommend names for the Vanilla Dip donut that was attempting to become the first donut to ascend the seven summits. People rose to the occasion and submitted many names. I chose Velma because it means “protector.” When going into high altitude mountain environments, one needs all the protection one can get. With that name in mind, I journeyed to the donut midwifery otherwise known as Tim’s and selected the “about to be famous” Vanilla Dip and took it home. It was hard not to eat it. I left it out to dry and shellacked it. Bad idea. Sprinkles and shellac don’t get along very well.
So I headed off to adopt another Vanilla Dip and set it out to dry. A few days later, I packaged it up into a lovely round Ziploc container and put it into my luggage for the long voyage to Russia. Velma was a little nervous since she didn’t like flying and hadn’t managed to secure a Russian visa but she made it through to Terskol. There, I unpacked all my gear and started sorting things into stay low and go high piles.
This is the moment when great sadness struck. When I opened the container to say hello to Velma, an amorphous mess of decomposing sprinkles and general stickiness greeted me. It seems that containing Velma was not a good idea and she was in no state to try to summit Elbrus. Her bid for the seven summits was truly over before it began… at 7000 feet in the lovely pastoral village of Terskol. If you visit my website, you can see a picture of Velma just before I fed her to a stray dog-and a few other new pictures from the expedition.
So–that’s why I needed to eat September’s quotient of Vanilla Dips in one week-to both consol my grief and try to placate the donut goddess so you won’t curse my next expedition. I’m seeking better ways to preserve a Vanilla Dip for my next try on Aconcagua. Anyone have access to a freeze-drier?
I spent the week getting onto Newfoundland daylight time, training lightly, doing a few media gigs, and clearing piles of papers off my desk. When I’m training hard, I end up with piles of belongings everywhere and so, during slower weeks, I try to migrate everything back to its rightful place. Tomorrow I start week one of the Green Tara program once again. I noticed a new intensity to my training this week as my visualizations are turning to bigger and bigger mountains. Aconcagua is almost 7000 meters tall and so that’s a big jump in height over Denali. I’m trying to incorporate the lessons learned from this summer about training intensity/overtraining as I design this next six months of work-outs.
I’m also watching the cybercasts of Wally Berg’s expedition on Everest these days. Each read is bittersweet as I am both glad to have six more month to prepare and I’m sad that I’m not there now. If you’d like to follow along, here is the URL to his cybercasts: http://www.bergadventures.com/cyber/everest0906/everest_0906_main.html
I hope all is well with you. Drop me a line and let me know what you are up to this fall. I’d love to hear from you.
Back from Elbrus 9/10/2006
The moon beamed down a bright illumination onto the freshly fallen snow that blanketed the sleeping peaks surrounding us. There was not a hair of wind moving. The night was still and crisp. Elbrus would give up its summit today and we were driving away. Twenty-six duffels piled in the van, sleepy people packed in beside, and Phil and I made eye contact–acknowledging deep within ourselves that mountaineering is a sport of luck.
When I give motivational speeches, I show a slide that says, “The summit is when 10,000 hours of training meet hours of luck.” During this climb of Elbrus, we experienced no luck with the weather–there was summit-friendly weather during our acclimatization period and as we drove out of town but the time it mattered most to us– when we were standing one Signal Hill below the summit (150 meters), the weather luck was not with us.
“Abandon all hope of fruition” is one of my favorite Buddhist slogans. I reminded myself of it both times I set out for the summit of Mount Elbrus. It was a hard adage to actualize given I had been training hard for six months, with the aim of standing atop Europe’s highest peak.
Seven hours into our first attempt, the summit seemed like a sure thing. We were climbing well and reached the saddle between the twin peaks in good time. We were warm enough and the dawning light had finally broken through the thick, dark clouds.
We had only 150 meters of climbing left when the wind accelerated to 100 kilometers per hour. The storm threatened to knock us off our feet and the visibility dropped to 5 meters. The weather made continuing foolhardy and near impossible. We turned our backs on the summit and consoled our disappointment during the three-hour descent to our base.
48 hours later, Phil, Jeff, and I set out again with high hopes. This time, the wind was blowing hard from the moment we stepped out into the darkness to strap on our crampons. With each step upward, we silently hoped the wind would drop. The wind thrashed us with snow pellets and each step up was a hard fought victory. Three hours later, we huddled together with our packs blocking the wind, and made the hard decision to descend once again with an even deeper disappointment stinging our hearts and minds.
We had climbed over 7000 feet in the two attempts and had not brought the expedition to fruition. In the traditional sense of mountaineering, we failed since we had not stood on the crown of Elbrus.
For me, however, I measure success in mountaineering in multiple ways besides the summit. Long after the despondent feelings have passed, I will remember the golden dawn on the high flanks of Elbrus after hours of climbing through the night, small acts of kindness and care in the harsh mountain environment, and the privilege of climbing with Phil Ershler, our guide and one of the world’s best mountaineers.
My highest aim for the climb was to make the path, the goal by being present during every step up the mountain. Back in Newfoundland, warm and safe, I am pleased to report that Elbrus taught me much, challenged me well, and that the expedition was a grand success. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to test out new clothing and gear systems and to check out the folks at International Mountain Guides and have them check me out, as they are the number one contenders for outfitting my attempt on Everest. I had mountains of thoughts on Elbrus about Everest and I’ll be sharing some of those in the weeks to come.
You can read day by day accounts of the Elbrus climb on my website at http://taclimbsdenali.com/russia/account.asp and I’ve posted pictures from the trip at http://taclimbsdenali.com/dynamic_photos.asp?strAdventure=russia . I would like to thank Joe Lawson for letting me use his satellite phone on the mountain to make updates and Karen Warren and Judy Cumby for posting the calls to my website. I enjoyed knowing that some of you were following me every step of the way. Thanks to my sponsor AppleCore Interactive for providing the website and the means to update it from all over the world.
It was motivating to me to know that people were watching, reading, and cheering me on. I look forward to cybercasting from Aconcagua in December. I’m hoping to sort out access to a satellite phone for that climb as well.
I’ll be on the Morning Show on CBC Radio St. John’s again tomorrow morning around 8:15 am if you’d like to tune in. Hopefully I will make it onto the CBC archive for the day and you can catch me on the internet later in the day if you’d like.
I arrived late last night in St. John’s after 48 hours of travel. At first in Toronto, they didn’t have a seat for me on the plane to St. John’s. I wanted to curl up into a fetal ball and cry. But as mountaineering and Buddhism have taught me, such moments are transitory, and I pulled it together and waited and hoped and waited and hoped. Unlike Elbrus, the plane seat came to fruition and I was able to get home as scheduled.
I’m making my way through jet lag to Newfoundland daylight time, starting to unpack, and smiling at all of the adventures and connections of the past two weeks. Thanks for all of your support and kind words.
Home Safe and Sound 9/10/2006
I arrived late last night in St. John’s after 48 hours of travel. At first in Toronto, they didn’t have a seat for me on the plane to St. John’s. I wanted to curl up into a fetal ball and cry. But as mountaineering has taught me, such moments are transitory and I pulled it together and waited and hoped and waited and hoped. Unlike Elbrus, the plane seat came to fruition and I was able to get home as scheduled.
I’m making my way through jet lag to Newfoundland daylight time, starting to unpack, and smiling at all of the adventures and connections of the past two weeks. I hope to post pictures from the trip later today. Thanks for all of your support and kind words.
Rained Out 9/6/2006
Hello from Rainy Terskol,
Our ice climbing plans were shelved when we awoke to pouring rain which continued through the day and shut off the electricity for much of the day. We practiced anchor building and crevasse rescue indoors in the morning, had Russian kabobs for lunch, and I took a luscious nap for the afternoon. My lips are breaking out in their usual high altitude cold sores and i’m hoping my new drugs help them heal fast.
We’re up at 3 am to begin the 3 hour drive to Mineral Vode then the 2 hour flight to Moscow. We hope to do a bit of shopping and sightseeing tomorrow. Our team begins the process of heading separate ways tomorrow in Moscow and then the next day in Frankfurt. I return home on September 9th very late at night.
Today Mount Elbrus was hit with another big storm. No one has summited this week we heard. Tough times for mountaineers in the Baskan valley. I’m enjoying reflecting on the experience and am greatly appreciative for all the learning and adventure and know deeply that success is measured not by the summit but by the path along the way.
Back in Terskol Safe and Sound 9/5/2006
Hello to all. I’m back in Terskol. Jeff, Phil, and I tried a second summit attempt early this morning. We said good-bye to the rest of group yesterday morning and spent the day and hibernating in the hut trying to gather strength and resolve in an ever-deteriorating weather situation. We watched the barometer fall through the day, the wind pick up, and snow begin to fall. We tried to stay positive that the weather would give us the break we would need. We had an early dinner and then tried to rest/sleep before our first weather check at 11:30 pm. The clouds had started to break but the wind was still high so we pushed our start back to 2:00. About 1:30 am, the sky was clear, the winds howling, and we decided to give it a shot. We dressed, forced down some chow, drank hot drinks and headed out. The temperature was brisk and the wind unrelenting. We climbed into 35 mile per hour winds for the better part of three hours before calling it at about the 4600 meter mark. The snow was pelting our faces and eyes and each step was a big effort. We got back to the hut around 7:00 am, deeply disappointed that the weather had shut us down again. I’ll have much more to say about the past few days in the next while but wanted to get word out that I am back in the relative low lands. I’m pretty tired as I’ve climbed over 7000 feet of elevation over the past 48 hours with very little sleep. I’m sad and disappointed naturally but also eager to share some of the deeper moments of the experience as time allows. Tomorrow we ice climb and Thursday head to Moscow. More very soon-please check back. TA
Summit Attempt Number One 9/3/2006
The clock struck 12:34 (my favorite time of day) and Phil said, “Let’s go climb Elbrus.” We rolled out of bed, fed, and watered. Out of the hut, into the darkness we clammered to put crampons onto our boots. The path, barely lit by the single beam of my headlamp, revelaed itself in step by step increments. “Crunch, crunch, step, step” were the only sounds entering my ears. The mountain doesn’t seem so steep in the dark.
Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. The path is the goal. Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe. “Don’t think of the 12 hours of climbing ahead of you,” O remind myself. There is nothing to see but the pairs of boots ahead of me, nothing but black.
About the time we needed light for our bodies and spirits, day broke with a golden light peering out from behind swiftly moving clouds. Now I could see the remaining steep pitch leading to the saddle. The wind picked up. We climbed higher. The wind continued to rise. We reached the col and the visibility dropped to 10 meters. The wind began to blows us around-sometimes even picking us up from our feet. When the winds reached 60 mph we knew our summit attempt was over-we needed to turn back. The weather had spoken and we had to listen. We turned our backs to the summit and turned our faces into the stiff wind and beat our way back down over the next hours. Disappointed. Sad. Proud. Hoping for another try.
safe but a weather shut-out 9/3/2006
The weather shut down the team’s summit bid. They got as far as the Saddle – only a few hundred metres from the summit – but the weather was pretty vicious, with winds of 60 miles an hour. The weather Gods said they could not push on.
TA and the team are down at Igor’s Hut and all are doing really well. Most of the team are done and will descend. Some may try another summit bid the day after tomorrow (present forecast of winds of 35 km. an hour and windchill of minus 21).
TA is doing really well and climbed really well so she may stay on for a second attempt at the summit. The person with the satellite phone may be descending, so we may not have further communication from the mountain.
pre-summit bid day 9/2/2006
TA and the team did an acclimimatization hike today, ascending 1,500 feet to the Pastukhova Rocks. The team is currently sleeping back at the Diesel Hut, at approximately 13,000 feet.
They are preparing for a summit bid tomorrow, and plan to be up at 1 a.m. and start hiking at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, which will be 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, Newfoundland time.
The weather is variable right now, as a hail storm passed through. The current forecast at the summit – 18,510 feet – on Sunday is for winds of 40 kilometers per hour and a windchill temperature of minus 23. They are hoping for a nice weather window and to be on the summit Sunday evening!
from 13,000 feet 9/1/2006
TA called in from 13,000 feet on Mt. Elbrus. The trip is going great and her knee is doing fine. The group is doing well and moving up the mountain.
They got their first snow today. They will stay at Diesel Hut tonight at 13,000 feet (3982 meters). Tomorrow they do an acclimatization hike up to Pastuckhov Rocks at 14,850 feet (4500m) and return to sleep at the hut at 13,000 feet in preparation for a possible summit bid on Sunday.
TA wants to thank all her supporters for their good thoughts.