The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark.
― Barbara Hall
Snow days are wonderful gifts. They provide lots of opportunity for reflective thinking time during shovelling jags. They give an opportunity to stay put and enjoy home space and they provide the chance to write longer blog posts. So here goes…
I am asked two questions most frequently: “What is your next adventure?” and “Will you try to climb Everest again?” Sometimes I know the answer to one of the questions, sometimes the other, sometimes both at the same time. Last week on New Year’s Day, after about seven months of trying to sort all the elements of the decision into a decision, I’d reached an answer and took some steps to act on it. For a total of five days, my next adventure was going to be Everest and yes, I was going to try to climb Everest again. In 2015.
But now, three days later, I still know the answers. They are just different. I know what my next adventure will be…and I know I will try to climb Everest…just not in 2015.
Bear with me as I unfold some of the process for you…perhaps get a cup of tea and pretend you are sitting across the table from me and we’ll get started…
Since 2010, I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not, I’d give Everest a third go. On up days, yes. On down days, no. On confident and grounded days, yes. On hard and less compassionate days, no. Back and forth. Peaks and valleys. I’d practice thinking I wouldn’t go back and see how that felt. I’d practice thinking I was going back and see how that felt. Yes. No. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
As I write this, I am reminded of one of my favourite lojong slogans, “Whichever of the two occurs, be patient.” I’ve been patient. Very patient.
On the Great Big Walk last spring, Marian and I climbed Gokyo Ri and I saw Everest from a new angle (the view is in the picture above). I also saw deep within myself that my Everest dream was still very much alive. “I want to climb Everest,” I said to myself that morning and that has held true since then. It was then, a matter of when. I started shaping life towards a spring 2015 attempt. I turned in a teaching credit at work to create some training space. I met with a few friends and told them of my intentions. I upped that amount of savings I was putting into my Climb Everest fund. I decided to climb Ama Dablam for a chance to work on my technical skills and do a check in on how my training was going.
The fall ended up quite busy and I didn’t end up committing to the expedition before I went to Ama Dablam. I’d meant to. I’d hoped to. But I didn’t…the details/work of doing that didn’t happen and so I went to Ama Dablam with the idea that I’d have to ponder the decision the whole time I was on the mountain. And ponder I did. Probably in each step I took on the trek in, climb up, trek over, and trek out. I asked and answered the question over a million times. Answered it the same way. Answered it differently. Left it. Picked it up. Put it down. Picked it up. Threw it away.
When I first planned to go to Ama Dablam, my narrative went something like this, “I’ll go to Ama Dablam, the climb will go great, I’ll build my confidence to record levels, I’ll see that I am finally ready to go back, I’ll feel physically strong and mentally focused and I’ll sing from the mountain tops like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music.
As those of you who read my Ama Dablam Wrap-Up reflection piece, you know it didn’t quite turn out that way. Instead of being ready to charge up the world’s tallest mountain, I was humbled. I was beaten. I was flattened by doubt on the mountain. I struggled physically (or at least I thought I did…hindsight and reflection has me updating that to more of a mental struggle). I left the mountain wondering if I would ever climb to high altitude again.
But yet, three weeks later, I was ready to go to the mountain…Everest…the Big E.
I see you almost dropped your tea. “What the heck?” you ask…
I came back and examined my training record to see what I’d done and how it worked for and against me. I met with exercise physiology colleagues to see how fast it is possible to increase one’s cardio-vascular fitness (faster than I thought possible). I chatted several times with my potential expedition leader. He believed in me and helped me process a few more things about the Ama Dablam expedition. He was confident he would have enough climbers for a 2016 expedition. He had two committed for 2015. I’d make three and the expedition could happen.
So I sat with that for three weeks…mulling it all over. Could I be ready? Could I get all my ducks swimming in a row? Could I commit to working super hard in training to be physically ready for the rigours of super high altitude? Was I willing to go back without my Everest 3.0 list being completed? Was I comfortable with a shortened expedition but with more time up high? What aspects would I emphasize in my preparations? Was four months enough time? Could it work with the bigger picture of things going on in life?
I mulled. And I mulled. And I mulled.
Ama Dablam didn’t give me what I hoped. I felt behind the eight ball. An underdog digging out of a deep hole. Broken. Afraid.
But yet at the same time, unafraid. Excited. I was at the bottom really. There wasn’t anywhere to go but up. Nothing to lose except my ego and some money. Motivated in a different way. Motivated to do it all differently. Motivated to recognize that truly, I would never feel ready. Motivated to accept climbing the mountain, as I am…flawed, imperfect, broken, yet strong, determined and compassionate. I’d found a place of equanimity with it and I knew I wanted to go back to Everest and I knew I wanted to go back in 2015.
I saw with it for another week. I waited for the internal winds of my soul to shift the decision but they didn’t. The clarity remained. I was ready to act. With a deep breath, I reached out to the expedition leader and said, “Yes, I want to go back and 2015 is my year.”
I didn’t hear back immediately. It turns out he was off ice fishing for the weekend. As I waited for his response, my intuition starting pinging me with “Oh oh, I don’t think the expedition is going to come together.” I contemplated that and looked for a few other options-“Were there other outfitters I was willing to go with?” For awhile, I thought yes-there might be. For awhile, I thought no. Then I decided not to cross that bridge until I got to it.
Monday evening I connected with my expedition leader. He’d gotten two emails while he was away. One from me. One from a teammate. One yes. One no.
“How classic,” I thought…”I’ve just spent six months making a decision between yes and no and here was yet another yes and no.” With my yes and the other no, the team was still too small to go, it wouldn’t be financially viable. I felt, at once, intensely disappointed and intensely relieved. My short-lived clarity was tossed into a raging January sea with waves of thoughts and feelings passing over me. Marian patiently listening and I talked through it all and as I looked at other mountains, other paths, other ways of thinking…and in the end, I’ve decided to wait until 2016.
The extra year will give me time to finish my list. It will give me more time to work with my mind and continue to develop compassion for the places I struggle. It will give me 16 months of anticipation, preparation, and visualization. It will give me practice at hanging in and keeping on because there are so many days I just want this wonderful (and taxing and challenging and humbling) decade’s long project to be done…and hanging in and keeping on will be something I will need deeply on summit night. The year will give me time and opportunity to deepen/build my relationships with my expedition leader and teammates. It will give me time to build an insightful and demanding support team for me here. It will give time to see how the 2015 Everest South Season unfolds.
The other day I played hockey with some folks I hadn’t played with in about a year. In a locker room joking kind of way, they gave me a huge gift. They were teasing about making me play the entire game because I would be the fittest one there (never mind that over the past 8 months I’d only played a handful of games and still felt clumsy on my skates). For a few moments, I saw myself as they see me: strong, fit, confident, physically able, able to do most anything…exactly the mindset I want to take with me to Everest (and in daily life) and it gave me words/a goal to work towards…I want to see myself as others see me: strong, fit, confident, physically able, able to do most anything…including summit Everest.
I want to treat myself with gentleness, kindness, and compassion. I want to see and know my confidence. I want to overcome all shame and humiliation that I carry (it makes my backpack way too heavy).
And, I want to know that I can go forward and upward even when I can’t be kind to myself, when I don’t see/know my confidence, and when I am buried by echoes of the past…and this is the gift that Ama Dablam gave me because I did climb higher each day when I couldn’t be kind, when my confidence was lost and my backpack was very heavy…
So to you, my kind supporters, I thank you for your belief in me. I thank you for inspiring me to keep climbing and to keep growing. I thank you for your patience…and I look forward to drawing on your strength and courage and bravery and kind acts/words in the next sixteen months. The answer is yes.
I will tell you soon about the awesome climb I have planned for this spring and beyond soon…I seem to be in a writing mood and I’ll look for moments like today to indulge…
It was amazing how you could get so far from where you’d planned, and yet find it was exactly were you needed to be.
― Sarah Dessen
I have always thought you would go to Everest again…I didn’t think you were finished with it yet in your own mind. Giving yourself another year to get your body and mind around it sounds like a great plan to me. You know we will be with you every step of the way. Looking forward to hearing what THIS year’s climb will be though.
Thanks Shelagh. I just need another snow day. 🙂
Well, here’s another Sheilagh chiming in.
I am on such a similar path in my life and I cherish you sharing your experiences as it helps lighten my own backpack.
I love having two Sheilagh’s in my life! Glad to have you along sister (s)! You rock my world as well.