Ladder Practice for the Khumbu

Greetings from Another Week,

Downtown St. John’s is a cacophony of colorful rectangular houses whose front doors open onto the street and whose back doors open into secret gardens that double as cat paradises. Today Marian and I had the joy of moving two sixteen-foot extension ladders into the back “yard.” You’d think this would be an easy task and you’d be wrong. You see the next house is only four feet from by back door. The door is seven feet high. You do the math–it’s impossible to have enough angle to get the ladder out the back door.

Plan Two. Carry the ladder up to the second floor. First, open front door and back ladder back unto street and angle up the stairs. Make sure not to take out any passer-bys with the ladder. Carry ladder upstairs and into bathroom at top of stairs. Back ladder into dining room-the kitchen counter is full of dishes and is backed by a beam we need to maneuver the ladder around. Ease ladder into corner of room and knock plant off windowsill but manage not to put ladder through large window. Scrap past beam and open door and take ladder out to deck. Reflect on the experience and move second ladder through the same path with greater aplomb.

Celebrate. Ladders are longer than the deck so slide one onto neighbours roof in order to separate the extension piece from the ladder piece. Easier said than done. Go downstairs for pliers and return with whole toolbox. Good thing since ladder is playing hard to get and my dad always said use the right tool for the job. Eventually, through much problem solving, vice grips, handsaw, and many sockets, the Siamese twins are separated and lowered off the deck. Another ladder is set at an angle using the old cupboard from the utility room renovation last summer–always knew that would come in handy. Make another ladder course down below using some old cement blocks.

Get excited. Go find mountaineering boots and crampons–it’s time! Balancing on the ladders with sneakers was proving to pretty easy so time for the real stuff! First choice…use middle space between front crampon teeth and back teeth? Use front points on one rung and back teeth on another? Use the space between the mid points to balance? Try all three. For now, the last option seems to be working best. No guide ropes on the home course yet as there will be in the icefall so balance is key. Soon I’ll install some rope to be able to practice fixed rope technique (sliding my ascender along as I climb up the one ladder and across the others). I figure my fitness can get me only so much speed–other speed will be gained from having quick ladder and ascender changes. Check out this week’s picture album at (sorry about last week’s broken link).

My dad. Missing him today and most days. Heard the song “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley this morning. We used it in dad’s memorial video. Every time I hear it I see the pictures of my mom and dad enjoying life together in my mind and my heart goes out to my mom who I know is missing her dear love. I enjoyed working with tools this morning on the ladder project this morning because my dad taught me how to use them. He taught me to take things apart and put them back together and how to make things work. Dad taught me to put on winter tires and change the oil and cast lead bullets for the black powder rifles we would shoot together. He taught me to drive a boat, snowmobile, and standard transmission. His tools lessons often carried life lessons as well and I often hear myself repeating some of his wise adages. I’m grateful that my dad taught me these skills and the confidence to use them. I know his support and teaching have helped me go forth into many arenas considered non-traditional for women including Mount Everest.

Practice. Dad taught me the secret to any skill was practice whether soccer or downhill skiing, ladder climbing or grass cutting, public speaking or baking. Practice does indeed make us closer to perfect and I appreciate my parents for both demonstrating this in their own lives as well as inspiring it in mine. Practice. It’s what I try to do in preparing for all of my climbs–practice the skills and attitudes I will need on the mountain. Mr. Hamilton, my English teacher in high school who taught me to rock climb, said it wasn’t good enough to tie a figure eight knot fast. He said, “You need to be able to tie it fast behind your back in a cold shower.” I aspire to practice so that I can cross the ladders in my back yard backwards, in crampons, with a big pack in the dark! The Khumbu Icefall is a very dangerous place and I aim to be ready to get through it as fast and as safely as I can. Practice will help.

Camp Two. I’m just finishing up the phase of training called Camp Two. I’ve got eleven hypoxic training sessions in the can and eleven to go. As I enter Camp Three phase, the pace of training will increase once again to prepare me for the rigors of the Lhotse Face. The phases are all at once, literal, figurative, and metaphorical (Mr. Hamilton taught me well). We passed the two-month countdown to departure this week. Time is both flying and moving slowly. The to-do list grows exponentially each day and I remind myself to breathe frequently. What needs to get done will get done and everything else will fall away. Time to stop writing this and start laying the foundation for Camp Three.

Have a great week. Thanks again for coming along!


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