Monday, October 4, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Afternoon Stress Relief

Spending too much time at the computer?  Need to get outside?  Take a break right here and imagine you just rode this bike 2,000 vertical feet and had to set it down to go retrieve your lungs off the road before a coyote gets to them.  Take a second, say a prayer, focus on your to do list and when this is over go do it and put as #1: Have a great Weekend!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Would the Real Philip Yancey Please Step Forward?

[caption id="attachment_84" align="alignright" width="225" caption="Philip Yancey - Marron Bells near Aspen"][/caption]

Recently I formed a strong, and no doubt lasting, relationship with well-known author Philip Yancey.  That's right, I "liked" him on Facebook.  What could possibly break this bond of friendship forged over the red-hot coals of interwebcyerificness?

An imposter?!

No, I "liked" the right one out of the all the choices I had on Facebook.  I could deduce that he was not the black woman, nor the teen boy, not the proud dad nor even the "boy band", no the real Philip Yancey had to be the one with the most fans - over 2,000 (a little weak for a guy who has sold over 14 million books, but this has to be him, I recognize the photo of Shakespeare's look-alike).  Still as I read on there was the quote "I'm Philip _#*bleeping%# Yancey!"  Something was not quite right.  Philip writes books on God, Understanding, Forgiveness, Grace, Jesus and topics like this, how could he have a comment like that right there, out in the open for all to see?  Well there was his picture, but two or three of the profiles shared the same, and even authentic picture of the real man.  So which was real and which the imposter?

Just the other day had the chance to climb a peak with my wife, Philip, and his wife.  As we neared the 13,000 foot high saddle of the mountain my wife, due to her keen sense of electrical storms, decided to turn back.  Philip graciously offered to go with her back to the car knowing that his wife's wish for a summit on one of her last remaining 14ers,  and hope of getting to the top, rested with me.  We gave it our all, yet we too were forced to turn around.  I was thankful that my wife was in good hands, and that Philip would give up his bid on a summit with the one who wanted it most, to care for the one who wanted the summit least and needed care the most.

This was the real Philip Yancey.  His actions matched his words.  His character emulated the one he claims to serve.
That is the mark of the genuine article.  When lined up and compared, the counterfeit won't measure up.  I later found the real Philip Yancey on Facebook with all of his 200 fans (201 now) and on that site I saw the evidence that matched the man.  The books, the deep thoughts, the insight and help he offered showed me this is the authentic Philip Yancey.  I am now challenged to look for imposters of my own,  finding sometimes it is possible to be my own worst enemy.  If you happened to see Philip running around Aspen with a  cute young Blonde, again it is not what you think; that was my wife and he bought her a real blueberry muffin.  Beware of those who impose and of judgments quickly made in haste, dig deeper and discover the truth behind the face(book).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Anger Management

Is anger really something that we should let control us? I was out on the rocks doing some climbing on what was a stunning Colorado morning. I was making a personal video with my Canon 7D (an expensive semi-pro SLR) to use for an upcoming web-conference. I had shot some clips and had some fun climbing around, setting up, and even tried to get a shot rappelling. To get this shot I had to set the camera up on a tripod close to the edge of an 80 foot cliff. It all seemed great; I grabbed a few wild raspberries, ate them, clipped in to the rope, hit record, and then laughed my way down the face thinking for sure I had captured something cool for my little production. I felt free almost as if I had just been able to fly.

My camera was surely jealous, it too wanted to taste this freedom, at least that is my only explanation. Because just as I unclipped from the rope I could see a dark shadow falling. Then I heard a few loud cracks, and once I realized what had happened, released a few loud cracks of my own. A gust of wind had knocked over my precariously placed picture taker and sent it pummeling down to the platform of granite below. I got the clip I needed, but somehow this failed to make me smile. I was angry. In fact I was so angry that no outburst ensued. I was beyond emoting. Perhaps there in lies a lesson on managing anger - usually there is nothing you can do about it anyway, so why waste a beautiful day. When it gets bad like this, you just have to say - "it is only stuff anyway." WWJD? He probably would have had a cheaper camera, and set it up properly to begin with, but I know he would not have had a little bratty fit. Proverbs 29:11 - A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Something Old, Something New

[caption id="attachment_71" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="July flowers on the flanks of the Wetterhorn"][/caption]

Standing on top of 14,015 foot Wetterhorn peak recently with twenty new friends, offered me a new perspective on climbing these old mountains, the act of which sometimes makes me feel as old as they are.  I had been here before on top of this remarkably beautiful and rugged mountain, but every time out offers something different.  I was climbing with a group of "tweeners", teenagers between high school and college and our objective was to challenge ourselves in the mountains and then apply the lessons learned in the day to a talk that night.  The talk would focus on college life and how best to prepare for the mountains of challenges that lie ahead.  The group had travelled from Indiana for the experience of climbing a couple of Colorado's famed fourteen thousand foot peaks, and their enthusiasm was immediately made apparent to me.  There were a lot of questions, a lot of nervousness, with enough excitement and energy to light a small city.

For me the thought of waking up early, setting a slow pace on familiar ground, with a large group did nothing to make me nervous, excited, or even feel challenged.  The challenge for me now was to not let my crusty attitude diminish the joy of their new discovery.  The rains came and doused our camp threatening to dampen our gear and our spirits as well.  I have spent a lifetime pursuing outdoor adventure and have seldom felt this way, but it seemed to be getting a little old.  Maybe it was me. Maybe I am getting old!?  Was it the rain?  Was it the longing to be with my family?  Am I too out of touch to hang with teenagers anymore?  Am I impatient, irritable, selfish...or just old?

[caption id="attachment_72" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Hoosiers hiking"][/caption]

Our steps carried us up at about the same rate as the sunrise, and as we made our way up this rocky peak I began to see a bit of myself and my past in these kids.  I saw them laugh with each other, lean on each other, and open up to each other through a shared challenging experience.  I saw them face their fears in front of their peers, clutching at the rock exhausted, exasperated, and exhilarated.  What I soon realized was that I had a role in this.  I didn't get a single person up to the summit (and they all made it) but what I did do was provide the opportunity to fall in love with something I have often considered mine - the Colorado outdoors.  Soon they were observing subtleties in colors, flowers, animals, rocks and even smells and pointing things out to me that had been forgotten.  Just a piece of what had become old was now shown to me and made new again.

The joy, enthusiasm and fresh perspective that these kids brought to the mountains challenged me to open my eyes anew and take a fresh look at the many things that may seem to be getting old in and around my life.  I may be adding on years, however that is no excuse for getting old.  Now I can't wait to take my own girls out and show them these old mountains from a new perspective.

[caption id="attachment_73" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Climbing Wetterhorn's Summit block"][/caption]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The World's Most Beautiful Mountain

[caption id="attachment_61" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Route"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_53" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Alpamayo - 19,511'"][/caption]

I can say from my experience in climbing with Erik Weihenmayer that there is  more to climbing than just seeing the objective.  It is the journey, the camaraderie, and the aesthetics of the environment that include sound, feel, movement, smell and the rush of cold air over the skin.  The exhilaration of achieving a goal and the physical challenge of climbing difficult pitches at extreme altitude.  The mountain demands precision in planning, and in moving, which make the challenge all the more enjoyable when success is somehow won.

[caption id="attachment_48" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Wilakwain - 1,500 years old"][/caption]

The journey began as we met our local guide and outfitter Rodrigo at the Lima airport.  Having made some poor communications we had no idea that he would be there to meet us and had made our own arrangements for a taxi, hotel, bus, and porter - all of which we had to cancel at the sight of Rodrigo and his sign which read: Eric and Erik.  Flights arrive late in the night and busses leave early in the morning.  Not a big deal because there is plenty of rest to be had on an eight-hour ride to the town of Huaraz at 10,500 feet.  The bus leaves from sea level and travels over a 13,000 foot pass at about 10 mph and I believe I could make the same drive in my own car in about 3 hours vs the eight that the bus takes.  As we got organized for the climb we would acclimate and take some short hikes around this area which is the gateway to the Cordillera Blanca.  The first was to see the Incan ruins of  Wilkawain, and taste some new exotic fruits that Rodrigo had purchased at the open market on our way walking out-of-town.

We were on an aggressive schedule and did not want to spend too much time here in Huaraz.  We hit the road the next day driving to the trailhead at Cashapamapa.  This for me is the scariest part of the trek.  Riding in a large van with small tires, fully overloaded on a narrow, dirt road that is uneven, worn, and washed out in the corners that hangs high above the valley makes a person wish they were blind.  The drop might be huge, and an accident would mean certain death, but at least the driver is going recklessly fast!  With the mules loaded, the bell on my finger, and Erik behind me listening for that familiar ring to show the way - we were off for a grand climb.

[caption id="attachment_49" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Beasts of burden"][/caption]

The scenery is stunning, which makes this a very popular trek.  The peaks rise high above the Santa Cruz valley with their icy white caps contrasting the lush, green, river valley below.  The trees were flowering around us and cascades of water rushed out of the canyon walls with force and regularity.  The constant roar of the water made for difficult communication, and therefore navigation, which made avoiding the ubiquitous evidence of our bovine residents impossible, the result of which was greasy, stinky feet.  As the miles went by the evidence of the cows only increased - so much so that I really can't recommend this route as a trek.  The cows were in the water, on the trail, in the camps, and many times nearly in my tent!  It was either the cows doing their business in the river, or some poor hand washing which led to contaminated food that gave us all a reason to run to the bathroom multiple times daily.  It saps strength and energy and dehydrates a person as well making an already difficult summit that much harder to attain.

The camp by the river was serene, but the next day as we made it to Alpamayo Base Camp we were greeted by a scene even sweeter.  I would not have been surprised that while camped here we would receive a visit from a few waywardly Hobbits.  We entered via a large, flat ,open meadow with one large boulder in the middle.  Being the nice guy I am I made sure blind Erik climbed over this giant boulder on our way into camp without telling him there was no need to surmount the obstacle.  Still 2,000 feet below the glacier we rested in a forest of Quinwahl trees on the edge of the moraine.  From this 14,000 foot high camp we would launch upwards onto the mountain.  Coming down the trail as we headed up were a couple of groups of climbers that had decided to turn around when they deemed the route out of condition and "unclimbable".  The group was made up of two fit european men and two Peruvian guides.  When we told them our objective, they laughed and said "you'll see."  We continued on knowing conditions can change over the course of a few days and that we could well determine for ourselves if the route would go or not.

[caption id="attachment_50" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Moraine Camp"][/caption]

From Moraine Camp the real work began: moving over the glacier, carrying a heavy pack, walking as a rope team, and even employing my ice-axe.  Things moved along smoothly even though Rodrigo on the front of the rope would go well out of his way to make sure blind Erik did not have to step across any open crevasses - which were small and well within Erik's ability.  It wasn't until we climbed a sixty degree pitch leading directly into Col Camp that we got, or at least I got, my first view of the route in all its splendor.  The mountain from this angle, from this proximity was jaw dropping in beauty and in the stark reality that it looked like it would be hard to tame.  The sun went down as our tent went up, the mountain illuminated in an orange, pink and purple hue which almost made this frigid place feel warm - almost.

The climb commenced at 1:30 in the morning.  It was the typical alpine start that allows for safer climbing before the sun hits and loosens big projectiles above the route.  With Erik in the middle my job was to cast my headlamp towards his feet to ensure that they would not lead him into a crevasse while at the same time being alert as to where I would step and avoid that same fate.  Quickly we were roped and moving up the mountain in 70 meter pitches - the most our ropes would allow.  The deep snow at the bottom slowed our progress but was by no means

[caption id="attachment_51" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The Alpine Start"][/caption]

insurmountable as the other climbers would have had us believe.  The bergschrund was a brief 20 feet of ice climbing, and after two pitches we were beginning to swing into solid ice.  The route is called the french direct after two french climbers who were killed by ice fall, but was originally climbed by two Americans in the 80's.  We moved slowly up the 65-70 degree slopes to be cautious, but also due to the fact that we were now moving into the area of 19,000 feet with stomachs that were still not settled. I could easily determine that Erik was not having his best day as he kept his head down and his mouth shut.  Words were few as we used the rope to communicate what needed to be said.  A tug of the rope meant come on up, a little slack would signify a pause, and a yell would serve to say "move over left, you are off route!"  Having Rodrigo along was a huge help as he could lead and leave me to direct Erik and also allow for me to take some pictures.

The climb felt solid as the tools could be sunken into good ice and the screws could be well placed.  Even so small projectiles found there way to our positions at 80 mph.

[caption id="attachment_54" align="alignright" width="200" caption="In the Guts"][/caption]

In the middle of a sentence I might hear Erik scream out "ooowwww! #*%!"  At which I would ask "are you okay?" then laugh only to be hit myself a

[caption id="attachment_52" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Erik W Swinging Away"][/caption]

moment later right on the upper lip "OOOwwwWW! #*%!"  A good reason to keep the hood up and the head down.  The day dawned in a brilliant show of light and color on these white cake frosted peaks around us, so bright and intense that with the angle of the slope our faces were just inches from the reflected light which in turn caused a significant burn.  By 11:30 we had reached the summit and it appeared that the whether would hold long enough for us to get back to camp safely.  The clouds rolled over the top just long enough for me to miss out on good photos, however the celebration still took place just above the hole that had to be dug so that we could get onto the summit.  We rapped down the route and traversed back across the glacier to high camp; this is when I should have noticed things were awry.  I had no energy.  I could not keep up with the guys on the front of the rope, I felt like passing out.

[caption id="attachment_55" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Nearly There!"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_56" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Burrowing through to the Summit"][/caption]

2:30 a.m. I awakened because I was having a hard time breathing.  The next breath I took brought back a familiar and awful sound.  There was a raspy, gurgling in my lungs which indicated I had pulmonary edema.  Ten years earlier I had experienced this, but have had no problems since, and I have even been to higher elevations.  In the dark of night, knowing that Erik still needed me to get him down off of the mountain, there was nothing I could do.  Nothing but pray that is.  I did just that; I put in my headphones and listened to praise music to drown out the sound of my breathing, I sat up, since every time I laid down the gurgling would return, and I prayed, waiting for the sun to rise to allow us to depart.

[caption id="attachment_57" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Col Camp 18,200'"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_58" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Col Camp - Quitaraju in Background"][/caption]

If it were absolutely necessary I am sure that Rodrigo could have gotten Erik down without me, but it would have been awkward and maybe a tad unsafe, so I decided that until my condition worsened I would gut it out and remain with Erik until Base Camp.  Thankfully we were able to rappel down a large section of the glacier and then walk down to Base Camp relatively quickly.  Though I felt a little better, my lungs were still not clear and I knew that in the morning I would need to get down to a lower elevation ASAP.  Reading some scripture gave me peace, as did the music and the fact that we were on our way down.  This event certainly once again affirmed to both Erik and me that this is why he needs to climb most of the time as a party of three.  If something were to happen to me and it were just the two of us, he would be left alone, on a glacier waiting for help to pass by.  The element of trust is essential as is our need to make plans and be as safe as possible in executing these plans.  In leaving Base Camp we changed things up a bit.  Instead of guiding Erik out on foot for two days we opted for a one day horse ride for him and an eleven mile hike for me.  My pack was light, and in going down my edema didn't bother me too much, but it wasn't until we were back in Lima that it totally cleared up.

[caption id="attachment_59" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A is for effort!"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_60" align="alignright" width="300" caption="A&W on the Summit!"][/caption]

What insights did I gain from this summit?  Hydrate, filter don't boil, sleep low - climb high, loyalty makes strong friendships, always bring a good book as well as THE Good Book. Never give up, give in to faith not fear.