I arrived home early Sunday AM (Denver time) after a quick helicopter-aided departure from base camp to Kathmandu followed by the looong flights home. I had time to contemplate, process, and digest (excepting that chicken-like dish they served in-flight) many things on the 15-hour flight from Delhi to Newark, thanks in part to United leaving the interrogation-style reading lights blasting the entire way and the rhythm-less 4-year-old that sat behind me working on his far-distant futbol or field-goal kicking career (and clearly with his current rhythmic skills professional dancing seems to be out of the question for him). Regardless, I was thinking of the 5-ish stages of grief, which include (with apologies to Doc Reilly since I took his Psych 101 class over 20 years ago): denial, anger, hunger, sleepiness, need a haircut/shave, depression, still more hunger, acceptance, and need a shower. Something like that. As I said, it’s been a while. But, I’m home now (very gratefully), have finally slept (a little bit anyway) and am lingering somewhere between “more hunger” and “needs another shower” at this point. I think this shows great progress though in only a few short days, but, again, I’m no expert…
Life does move on though, doesn’t it? The team has all summited, returned safely to base camp and now are drinking their way down the Khumbu Valley. I can almost hear the celebration from here. I just hope there’s enough San Miguel on hand to keep this team properly hydrated on their descent (a key, yet often overlooked, component of descending any big mountain successfully — my own descent was diminished by the Flagyl still in my system (violent side-effects when combined with alcohol) that prevented me from drowning my sorrows appropriately on the way down… life can truly be cruel at times). Regardless, the fact that all remaining team members stood on top and made the safe descent to base camp in remarkable time is a testament, again, to the strength of the team and each individual on it, the good conditions on the mountain, the (what sounded like) pristine weather they had on summit day, the quality of the support and decision-making of IMG throughout a tumultuous season, the unbelievable strength and character of the Sherpa team, and a collective will to endure what was a very tough Everest season. Truly impressive. My hat’s off (pay no attention to the current mullet, though, thank you)!
The reality is that Everest is a very unique mountain that requires a lot of mental fortitude and physical toughness to climb. It draws us to it because of not only what it is (the world’s tallest peak) but also because of what it stands for (a way to measure ourselves in extreme conditions in an extreme environment for months at a time). To that end, I think I got out of Everest what I needed to… for the most part. All except the fun climbing and the big, only truly unobstructed view on earth (ok, admittedly, there’s a bit left on the table), but the reality is that after nearly 30 years of climbing I’ve turned around on more peaks than I’ve summited. Often times, conditions, weather, personal conditioning, health, injury, etc. force a hasty retreat and that’s simply a part of climbing and sticking around. As the expression goes: “There are bold climbers and old climbers, but few bold, old climbers.” This retreat is a bit unique in that it was on one of the most iconic peaks in the world (if not the most iconic) and was caused by a health issue at just the exact wrong moment in time, which forced 2-months of effort to be for naught. But, this very thing happens all the time to all sorts of climbers (many/most of whom are much more accomplished than I) on all varieties of mountains (large and small). C’est la vie.
The bottom line is that my passion for climbing and adventure has not subsided in the least as a result of this disappointment (sorry Mom). In fact, this trip may have reinvigorated it and certainly refocused it on objectives that have been on my list for years (some of which have been on the list for much longer than Everest ever was). Ama Dablam (unbelievably beautiful, and to have finally seen that one in person…), Cerro Torre & Fitzroy in Patagonia, Mt. Shinn & Tyree in Antarctica, Mt. Cook, the Matterhorn, the Eiger, Mt. Kenya all come to mind and none take 2-months away to attempt. In the immediate future, I’m going to do the Casual Route on Long’s Peak and likely a few others, hopefully in preparation for routes up El Cap and Half Dome in Yosemite later this year. I have always wanted to experience big wall climbing and hope to take full advantage of some of the time I will have this summer to do so.
Certainly, in the end, this “failure” does not define me. I’m neither diminished nor enhanced as a result of this experience. It simply will seep slowly into my being and the collection of experiences that have accumulated into the person I am today and who I will become tomorrow. No more, no less. As I awoke this morning (laying diagonally and decadently across my king-sized bed), walked to the fridge to grab a Odwalla GoMega-Berries drink and took a hot a shower, I realized that I have a terrific life with much to be thankful for and much to look forward to. I will proceed from here, I hope, with humility, grace, generosity and possibly the occasional touch of class. Try to hold me to those standards if you will. Goodness knows, I could use the help.
Finally, I’ll close (thankfully, I know) with a line I was reminded of last night by a beautiful, young Brazilian lass that I wrote in a letter to friends over 15 years ago, which stated:
May this note find you in both good spirits and good health. As always, please remember to take care of yourselves and each other, pass along any stories of good fortune, and upon occasion allow yourself the luxury of being the big yellow lab in the car window cruising down life’s highway simply feeling the wind blow through your hair.
May the wind find its way through your hair (thinning or not) often and when you need it most! All my best…