Everest 3.0: It’s Not About the Mountain…

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I’ve written a bit about my process and reflections in deciding to return to Everest…

With all of the difficulties/natural disasters/tragedies of the past two Everest climbing seasons and all of the media hype about Everest and all the questioning of the value/cost/risk of climbing Everest, I’d found myself in a very questioning and mixed place of asking…Did I still want to climb Everest?  Did I have enough heart to climb Everest?  Was it worth dipping into retirement savings to climb Everest?  Was it a worthy accomplishment? Did I have what it takes? Could I face another go?

Then, one day last September, when my expedition leader asked me if I was ready to commit to a 2016 climb, I realized I was.

I’ve often found the title of Lance Armstrong’s book (too bad he’s fallen so far from grace), It’s Not About the Bike, coming to mind when I think about my own relationship to Everest…in a funny way, “It’s not about the mountain.”  It’s not about standing atop the world’s highest mountain, it’s not about completing my goal of the seven summits, it’s not about country high points, or any of that (though those, of course, are woven into the fabric of the experience/dream)…

It’s much more about not wanting to give up on myself.  It’s about wanting to overcome a huge barrier to being all of who I can and want to be.  It’s about believing and proving to myself that I am good enough. It’s about abandoning scarcity thinking, abandoning PTSD thinking/patterns/hooks, abandoning thinking that holds me back and limits me, abandoning a growing sense of fragility and vulnerably…and on the converse, it’s about raising windhorse (Buddhist gig for raising energy and intention), it’s about performance under pressure, it’s about completion and not giving up.  It’s about applying lessons from past climbs, hard work, and inspiring others.  It’s about climbing respectfully and as safely as possible, in an incredibly harsh yet beautiful environment.  About giving to others.  About overcoming instead of giving in.  It’s about climbing as high as I want to and seeing the view…the view of myself as whole and complete and not broken…

Looking back, when I went to Everest in 2007, I was overtrained and fatigued from all the outreach I had done before going–training was thrilling and full of intensity and I put everything I had into getting ready.  As a result, soon after arriving in basecamp, I got the team cold/respiratory infection and had a hard time fighting it off and ended up out of rotation from my team.  Eventually, I got better enough and went up on an acclimatization rotation one on one with my personal sherpa but then picked up Giardia from contaminated water.  The folks at the HRA first thought it was altitude related so didn’t treat the Giardia for ten days but then I had dropped 10 pounds, was weak and wasted and I called my expedition off because I didn’t think I was strong enough anymore to be safe up high.  I was on the only woman on the team, there was much emphasis on moving fast/being dumped off the team for being too slow, it was a highly macho space, my connection with my personal sherpa was tenuous, and the entire experience was incredibly lonely and isolating…

In 2010, I put many of those lessons from 2007 to work and arrived at the mountain much more rested, very fit and not over trained.  As the team was ready to go up, I got a bladder infection that was hard to fight off.  I should have gone down valley at the first moment of diagnosis instead of trying to fight it off up high. I eventually went up on my first acclimatization round once I finally for the infection taken care of by going down to Pheriche.  Once again, I was climbing without my teammates; I was climbing one on one with a sherpa I barely knew. The sherpa and I climbed to Camp Three and I was moving pretty well.  I wished we had stayed up at Camp Three for the night but our expedition leader was advocating just tagging it.  We then headed down to basecamp the following day so the sherpa could rest enough to go up on the first summit bid.  After my rotation up, I headed down valley to Loboche to meet Marian and to rest a bit lower.

I got called back up to base camp to go on summit bid the very next day (much much sooner than expected) Instead of a week off to rest, my schedule was as follows:

I climbed to Camp One for one night, climbed to Camp Two for two nights, and climbed up to Camp Three and tagged it.  I returned to Camp Two, descended to basecamp for one night, hiked down valley to Loboche for one night, hiked back to basecamp for one night, and then climbed back up to Camp One for one night and then I moved to Camp Two and hit a very large and imposing wall of exhaustion. My teammates were moving up to Camp Three for what was thought to be the second (and last summit bid) but I felt I was maxed out after nearly ten days of moving without a break/rest.

I was willing to try to go to Camp Three but we couldn’t figure out the logistics of my sleeping bag (i.e. the sherpas would carry it up but, of course, would go much faster than us and I didn’t want to have to go to Camp Three to have something to sleep in…a week later I realized that we could have had a teammate carry mine and send his up with the sherpas so if I wanted to turn all that would have to have happened was for my m teammate to give me my sleeping bag and I’d carry it down.  We should have called down to basecamp to get help with thinking the decision through-that’s a lesson I will carry with me forever…people downhill/at basecamp have better brains to figure out such things…it also told me that perhaps, if I’d had a personal sherpa, I could have rested a day or two at Camp Two and hoped for another summit window, instead of trying to go on one without a proper rest/enough healing in place.

In the end, the summit bid I rushed back up for didn’t go. They climbed to Camp Four and then got turned back by weather and they came back to Camp Two for nearly ten days…Another climber and I, not knowing there was going to be another summit window/bid, both carried our stuff off the mountain.  When we got back to base camp we hung out for two days and then learned there would be another summit bid after all but our expedition leader said we’d have to carry all of our own stuff back up through the icefall to Camp Two (because there wasn’t enough sherpa support) if we wanted to try for the summit…by then I’d been up and down twice in less than ten days, I had had three bladder infections that I’d barely fought off, and as much as I wanted to try again, I couldn’t muster the will or energy to carry a huge load back up the hill…

In hindsight, I wished I’d been able to ask for an appropriate rest between my acclimatization foray up to Camp Three and my summit bid.  It was still very early in the season and there was much time (as evidenced by the second team spending 14 days at Camp Two and above) and I wished I had stayed at Camp Two when I hit the wall, asking what the options were instead of descending the same day…I’ll always be left wondering what if.

Hindsight is always clearer in retrospect and I am using these reflections in planning my next go…These are my lessons for Everest 3.0…I want my team to have enough size/support so I can have help carrying stuff if/when I need it.  I have had no trouble with illness whatsoever on my past three expeditions in Nepal since 2010 but I know to treat things early and vigorously and to consider early descent to speed healing and I will commit to all preventive measures that I can think of…It’s been lonely and isolating being on the mountain without teammates-I hope and plan to stay healthy enough to enjoy my teammates’ companionship on acclimatization forays and summit bid…

I have a team leader who believes in me and can help me muster both the internal and external supports I need to reach my expedition goals…

I’ve put in a mandatory sit and wait period if I hit a wall or walls (i.e. sit with it/sit in front of the wall for 24 or 48 hours before making a decision to stop if the situation allows (i.e. not above Camp Three, good weather, etc.)…Basically I’ve told my expedition leader that I will keep climbing unless he tells me to turn back.

I will communicate more and sort out less on my own…

I will ask for help/support when I need it…

And indeed, I can put this all in place, and it still might not all come together…I know that…but I know these steps/commitments will give me the best chance of getting beyond where I’ve gotten before and that’s where I want to go…ideally all the way to the summit of both the mountain and the summit that’s beyond my stuck spots.

I know that if you always do things the way you’ve done them in the past, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten…or something like that…so going into attempt three…third times a charm, third times lucky, I am trying some new things…new training styles/methods/attitudes, developing deeper team connections, asking for support, and visualizing myself feeling strong, focused, and unbroken every step of the way.

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7 Responses to Everest 3.0: It’s Not About the Mountain…

  1. Jill says:

    Sounds like a very wise TA going into this round! It will not be as intimidating!

  2. Shelagh says:

    I agree with Jill and will be with you in spirit every step of the way!

  3. Vicky says:

    This resonates in so many ways. Every mountain tackled (or competition approached) is its own experience, it seems, even if it’s the same mountain or competition format. You learn. You always learn, whether you succeed or don’t quite get as far as planned. I saw a quote on a gym wall once that said, “If you lift all that you can lift, you’ve won.” Whether or not you reach the peak (and I have no doubt that you can), if you put all of your available brain and body and soul into this climb, you’ve conquered. The sum total of who you are is magnificent and can do miraculous things. 🙂

    • TA Loeffler says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts…I know I appreciate how you share your process of learning/living through lifting and how that journey can be like climbing/running/life…

  4. lookingforlori says:

    You truly amaze me. I am rooting for you!!! The courage you display is very inspiring ❤

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