The beauty helps to temper my disappointment. Muir Peak and I have unfinished business.
I don’t want to miss any opportunities. I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to live without fear.
So I ought to start acting like it.
I wish I had those thoughts running through my brain as I climbed Muir Peak. I would have had a blast. And proved to myself that I am 100% capable of climbing what was a very reasonable peak. A rocky hill. I regret not having a second go of it. Not being able to climb her without fear.
I decided I was going to fear the experience as soon as I saw Dallas standing on top after fixing the rope. From that point it was a done deal. He was able to will me up, but I was tense, clenched, not me. When I fell back in the snow, relieved I was down, a large part of me was disappointed instead of feeling jubilant. I felt like I failed the test.
On that day I answered my own question. I am not brave enough to climb Mt. Everest.
That night I finally got my sleeping bag to play nice. With the help of every piece of clothing and hand and toe warmers, I had a shot at a decent night’s sleep. Good thing because we were going to move our descent up a day due to an incoming storm. The winds had picked up. Snow was falling. The brunt of the storm could take her time or arrive just in time for us to get lost in it. The memory of the ping pong ascent and the rumbling of avalanches not so far off in the distance competed with the idea of a whiteout with 50 MPH winds making it impossible to find our tiny little flags that would save us from walking off the edge of the world. My insides were wrapped around feelings of regret, a missed opportunity to kiss off fear in favor of believing in myself. I didn’t want to admit it then, couldn’t see it, wouldn’t look at it. But I discounted my own ability, physically and mentally.
I didn’t trust me. And there was no good reason why.
I was presented with an opportunity to experience something really cool. I made a quick choice. I chose to fear it. So the overall experience was less than, not all it could have been. A missed opportunity.
The next morning I summoned my adventurous self after a night of dreams about blindsides and mountain lions and me lost in a winter jungle. Being preoccupied with the descent helped me to focus on the task of packing up the gear. Dallas estimated it would take four hours to get back to our campsite. We buried our tents and cooking gear in the snow cave. We’d have to dig the gear out and rebuild camp. I was ready to do it in any weather, but I was hoping for some fun. It would help to take my mind off my lame performance on Muir Peak.
I was disappointed in myself.
The winds were whipping across the ridge where the buildings of Camp Muir perch requiring goggles instead of sunglasses and buffs instead of bare skin. We put our snowshoes on in the shelter to avoid being pelted by snow. There was no ceremony, no pictures snapped. We just bolted. The summit would have to wait for another time.
The Snowshoe Plunge took us down her face. I never mastered the nose over toes posture. Somehow, irrationally, I felt I would fall over. The guys gained ground on me when the slopes got steep. At one point Sarah stated the absolute obvious as I gingerly plunged and slid down a particularly steep section:
Cleo, this is a low consequence fall area!
Seriously. What would have happened if I fell over in fluffy, fresh snow? Seriously.
I have an issue with being brave.
I have stamina. I can persevere. Endurance is second nature to me.
But there’s something about being brave…without it I replace exhilaration with apprehension.
I need to stop being afraid.
The mountain flowed behind us. The winds calmed but didn’t fully abate once we descended off the ridge. The rhythm of plunging down the mountain fully supported the excavation that was going on inside me. It took until Day Five, but I finally got down to business. The business of figuring out why I was on the mountain in the first place. It took some commitment to get beyond the particulars in my life – the unknowns, my Mom’s transition off the planet, Mr. Perfect Timing, the tug of war between the part of me that needs to remain independent, the part of me that wants to experience true love, the part of me that doesn’t want to risk being hurt but would risk getting swept off a mountain.
I stopped cold. Sarah was off retrieving a flag planted on our ascent. The guys were up ahead. My buff was stuck in my mouth. I felt like I was choking. I plunged my poles into the snow. Pulled the buff down and sucked in a deep breath.
Do I really want to be in a tent for two months with diarrhea and splitting headaches and frozen hands? Do I desire to climb a mountain so fiercely that I’m willing to risk not seeing my children again? My family? Do I really want to cause them to worry and stress for days and days? Am I willing to die? Am I that selfish? What am I trying to prove?
My pace quickened. I could see the parking lot structures below. We were closing in on camp but there was no way four hours had passed. I felt disoriented emotionally but strong physically. I had expected it to be the other way around.
Mt. Everest is a red herring.
A beautiful, stirring, spiritually robust place on the planet. And a red herring for me.
Before discovering my former spouse’s affair, the idea of climbing Everest was a day dream I never took seriously. And I was okay with that. But then the Pocket Call. The full (maybe) disclosure of his double life. Which threatened to reduce my life to a sham. Self-preservation elevated my lofty dream of Mt. Everest to Must Do. Must climb.
I’m not okay with dying. Not now. There is no way I want to risk leaving the boys without me as their Mom. NO way. I can handle being tested, but that’s a pretty extreme move. So, what was I trying to accomplish?
I was trying to prove that I was strong. That I was capable. That I was fearless.
We pulled into the site where we spent our first few nights on the mountain two hours after leaving Camp Muir. Record time. Philip, Terry and I dug out the tents and kitchen gear. Dallas dug out a kitchen. While I filled in the snow cave, the guys cut out walls around our tent site to protect us from the storm that had not yet fully arrived. The snow was wet and heavy. The trip was almost done. One night left on the mountain.
The week blew by.
And left behind the realization that extreme glacial climbing is a dangerous misinterpretation of what I need.
A red herring.
What I need is to stop being afraid.
That night Terry, Philip and I made the most of our last slumber party. Laughter cut through the snow and wind prompting Dallas to scold us for having too much fun. I felt so at ease with them from the moment we met. I wasn’t self-conscious in ANY way. I didn’t filter my words. Talking about my hips that could birth all of Stockholm or busting my blue bag cherry was as natural as talking baseball. We even talked about HGM and how I got tossed to the curb. And how I was afraid on Muir Peak. Maybe it was the mountain. Or their spirits. Or the close quarters. But I didn’t fear being judged by them or failing expectations. Of course, there’s less skin in the game when love isn’t involved.
And then a story about Eagles and a night with Barbie with Brains would remove the red herring once and for all. Leaving me totally exposed.
My heart is with the families of the sherpas that lost their lives in the avalanche on Mt. Everest. While we can never eliminate the dangers, and we shouldn’t ever stop following our dreams, tragedies give us opportunity to pause and reflect. RIP.
Chrissy Ford says
I’m loving it, Cleo. No doubt you’re brave. I wouldn’t ever want to climb a mountain, but living through your climb by reading it is exhilirating. Can’t wait for the next entry. Are you going to make me cry again with it? I sure hope so. 🙂
If you’re crying know that I am crying right along with you. I’m going to get real vulnerable in ways more daring than the climbing of a mountain. At least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself of today. It’s a moment by moment choice, C. I don’t want to have regrets. Not on mountains or in love. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am grateful you are here. Love yourself,
M Reese says
I don’t want you to climb Mt. Everest. It’s too much to ask of your family. You may or may not survive but it’s too much. Unless you are crazy rich and can afford the gear, training, trust funds to leave for your kids, etc. etc. It’s way too selfish and not who you are today. We all have weaknesses. If you aren’t the bravest person, then so what. You are genuine. You are loving. You are self sufficient. And probably a lot more because you are obviously loved. Keep searching, keep seeking. Your quest for answers has been insightful to me. I’ve learned that I have trust issues too which makes me controlling. I learned that from you. You are on the right path even if it doesn’t lead to the top of Everest.
Cleo Everest says
M, Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Your words help me to take a deep breath and realize that I don’t have to have all the answers right now. That it’s not a failure to release a goal I’ve clutched for three years. I feel like I’m in limbo in a way. But, as you point out, at least I am not running head first into a challenge that could alter so many lives if I were to fail. That I cannot do. I do feel that I am on the right path. That I am close to embracing what Mt. Everest means to me and how she can help me from afar. We’ve got some trust issues to deal with, and so we shall. Thank you for your kind words. Stay close…Love yourself, Cleo
Red Girl says
Ahhhh, Cleo. So much of this post could have come from my own keyboard. I know KnOw KNOW that feeling of self-disapointment in being fearful and wanting so much not to be; and doing my best to show an unwaivering bravado to the rest of my world. But as an expert once said to me when I confessed a small example of a situation I thought I SHOULD have been more brave in, he asked me why I wanted to put myself in an emotionally difficult situation just for the sake of it ? He challenged me to consider that I might have been brave to follow a course of action but at what personal cost ? and after that cost was extracted what was my nett position ? It was one of those (valuable but often annoying) AHA ! moments, giving myself permission NOT to just be BRAVE for the sake of it but to be brave because of the benefit. Now, what was I going to use to light my way ahead ? I realised quickly I had been using my bravery as a barrier in fact preventing me from honestly moving forward.
Would I like to be emotionally braver than I am ? Sure would. But do I now assess every situation that puts me in an uncomfortably-brave position so that I understand the REAL reason for my desire to be brave ? Sure do and I a better for it.
I admire you for going so far along your Everest journey and then showing real bravery in deciding it isn’t actually for you (for now maybe ???). Changing course is far braver than pushing along head first irrespective of the consequences and doubts.
Cleo Everest says
Thank you for taking the time to comment. Your words help me put into perspective the releasing of the goal of climbing Mt. Everest. For now? For good, I believe. I’m still working this one out. THIS I love: “I realised quickly I had been using my bravery as a barrier, in fact preventing me from honestly moving forward.” It feels good, comforting, grounded to be in touch with my true motivations. That is my priority over all big, hairy, audacious goals. I’m still going to climb mountains, tho, R. But you probably knew that…stay close… Love yourself,
Robin Black says
This comment is going to be way too short, as I’m gulping coffee down to head into the wilderness for a few days, but I’ve been trying to think of how to express what I’m feeling since I read this last night (and I”m still not there yet). Short version: I have been in a similar situation before (though not as consequential as yours), and I’m STILL not sure how to express what I’m feeling in my gut, that I want to say. I’m not sure your definition of brave is accurate, because I’m not sure you’re being fair to yourself (yet) in that regard. It also takes a kind of bravery to let go of a goal that’s been so important to you. In think you are incredibly brave, based on what you’ve shown us of your heart for the last three years. You also have the gift of grace–don’t forget to use some of that on yourself. Safe travels to your mom’s side, and safe travels to her as well. Big, big virtual hug from me.
Cleo Everest says
R, May your journey into the wilderness be productive. And wild! Thank you for your kind words. They sparked in me a recognition that to be most brave is to love exactly who you are and freely share that being with the world, as is. And, more intimately – which is a challenge still for me – with one other. These physical challenges I’ve exposed myself to are, on some level, a way for me to feel brave but to still be so protective emotionally. That’s going to need to change. So grateful you are here to help me along. Thank you. Love yourself,
Maggie K says
Your post totally made me think of this quote by C.S. Lewis!
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Cleo Everest says
M, Oh, my. I don’t want my heart to be impenetrable. I don’t want to regret not having experienced true love and true vulnerability and the magic that comes from throwing open wide the doors to one’s spirit, soul, heart, being. I need to keep reading these words. And put into practice all that I’ve been spinning on these ‘pages’ the last three years. Thank you SO much for taking the time to post this quote. Powerful. Love yourself, Cleo
Maggie K says
Okay so I read the other comments and I just gotta throw out one more quote 🙂 This discussion of bravery and courage got me thinking about sometheing that Brene Brown said (and if you haven’t read her books or watched her TED talks, do!). She researches, teaches, and speaks about shame, authenticity, courage, connection, and compassion. So basically, she rocks. Anway, she said the following, “I want to separate courage and bravery . . . Courage, the original definition of courage when it first came into the English language, is from the Latin word cor, meaning heart . . . the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” I’d say by that definition you have courage nailed, Everest or no Everest.
Cleo Everest says
Thank you for adding these words. When you read today’s post you will know why I am so moved right now. These might be the most powerful words I will ever hear: “…tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” I can’t thank you enough. Love yourself,