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.