This flag has been to the top of six continents with me. I purchased it on a whim when heading to Alaska for the climb that started all of this, Denali. I packed it away, carried it uphill for 26 days, and pulled it out on McKinley’s summit to celebrate the moment of being on top. The view that day was mixed with the clouds occluding much of the view but on occasion, parting to review the magnificent views below. I didn’t know, in that moment atop Denali, that my life direction would change and that I would subsequently commit myself to the epic challenge of climbing Mount Everest and the rest of the Seven Summits (that came later that summer once I’d taken the flag home).
Now six and a half years later, this same flag was the first one I took out of the bag on the summit of Vinson Massif in Antarctica. If it were to happen that there would be only time or opportunity for one summit picture, I wanted it to be with this flag, the Newfoundland flag (as it turned out weather conditions were perfect on the summit and I could pull a number of items out of the “summit bag.”)
Why this one? Good question…
From the moment, I spied my first iceberg at along the rocky shores of Cape Spear in 1995, I knew Newfoundland and Labrador would occupy a very special place in my heart and soul. I love where I live. I’m proud of where I live. In taking the Newfoundland flag with me, I feel like I bring home along to the mountain. It becomes a symbol for sharing the mountain (whichever one it is) with friends and loved ones as well as neighbours, strangers, and school children. The flag becomes an invitation for all to join in in the expedition, to take a few steps in my boots, and to celebrate when we all reach the top. It does feel like I take the entire province with me (and anyone else who wants to come along)…I take each and every person who chuckled as I dragged a tire by them on Signal Hill, each person who stopped me on the trails to ask how my training was going, each person who purchased a Xander penguin t-shirt, each person who sent a kind word, or who clicked on refresh to see if we reached the summit along on the climb through this flag. Each of those interactions of support are in the pixels of the flag’s fabric and now, in the warp and weft of my life (both at home and while away on a mountain). Though I appear on the summit alone, I see all of you there with me.
This flag also hasn’t been to the summit of Mount Everest twice. Or the top of Iceland or France. The summit is never assured but is “some nice” when I have the privilege of standing there. The summit doesn’t represent “success” or “failure” to me but instead, a culmination of months (or years) of effort, focus, and perseverance coupled with a dose of luck and decent weather. Some times all those factors come together and I get to see the view from “where I can climb no higher” and other times, I must turn my back on that highest place and hope to reach it another time.
I, along with my team, reached the summit of Vinson Massif on December 11. I wasn’t confident we were going to get there until we started up the final summit ridge. The weather remained perfect. The ridge divine. As we reached the final rise that marked the top, I welled with emotions that ranged from soaring happiness to deep grief (we landed at Vinson base camp on the second anniversary of my dad’s death). I soaked in the view of the Sentinel Range and stretched my eyes to the icy expanse of the Antarctic Plateau. “I am standing atop Antarctica, I am standing atop Antarctica, I am standing atop Antarctica,” I repeated over and over. And you stood there too!