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Friday, February 20, 2015

Finding comfort in discomfort

I'm laying here in my new little tent breathing oxygen-depleted air (equivalent to 15,000 feet or 4500m) while I post this latest update.   It is 5:01am local time and I'm wide awake after waking up at 3:50am this morning to shuttle my son to his swim practice.   Oh,  it is 2°F outside and the roads are a little hazardous after a small snowstorm last night.   Why am I telling you these details?   Some people hate discomfort.   They dislike early, cold, and inclement mornings more than any other threat to their comfort.  I love these mornings.  Why?  On those 65°F days when I get to sleep in until 7am and enjoy a peaceful, sunny new day, I appreciate them more by experiencing and remembering these more challenging days. A little deprivation goes a long way for me.   Still, I actually prefer these cold days; I have learned to like them and embrace them.  

Embracing discomfort also affords me a greater sense of luxury in small doses of comfort.   I cannot even fathom what a former POW, for example, must feel when he or she gets to sleep in a newly made bed for the first time and eat a self-selected meal.  These contrasts must be overwhelming and hard to even describe to others.  I'm not saying my experiences are even remotely close to theirs but we can all experience a little pleasure magnification by doing without.

Learning to like discomfort

I recall my formative years where I raced sailboats with my family.   Most of these races were overnight - offering us all little chance of sleep or comfort.  A race would typically start on a Friday afternoon and end on a Sunday morning.   We all had fun in some way or another but to call it fun is a stretch.   It was - to be sure - gratifying to do well as a team but there was something more to these outings.   We had shifts or watches throughout the race; mostly,  we slept or sailed for 4 hours in alternating fashion. Sleep often consisted of crawling down into the soaking wet cabin I foul weather gear and passing out from sheer exhaustion on equally wet sails.  Sailing, similarly,  offered little rest.  If the winds were string,  we changed sails and kept a lookout for other boats and obstructions.  Light winds meant we all battled our eyes and hoped our 4-hour shift would end soon.  We sailed through rain, squalls, doldrums, cold,  heat, and wind....often more than we or our boat could easily manage.   These experiences taught me more than any other about the importance of sacrificing comfort.

If you asked my dad,  brother, cousins, or friends about these races, they might recall different moments or highlights but we all recall the amazing comfort of our own beds on Sunday evening.  What a joy to sleep for 8 hours in a heated or air conditioned room!  Again, the contrast between discomfort and a little comfort got magnified.

How does discomfort relate to climbing?

Climbing - especially high alpine climbing - affords little luxury. Often the little bit of available luxury comes in the form of a piece of cheese or chocolate after a hard day. Cold, damp tents situated in windy, exposed areas make for less-than-ideal sleeping conditions and yet most of us enjoy this activity. Again, finding enjoyment in these situations can be tough but many of us go back to experience the hardship repeatedly.  

Why go back for more?

Many of us climb to re-experience life.  We soon need to feel a little deprivation to fully feel alive and climbing provides that deprivation.  Climbing is an activity that provides few benefits beyond the experience.   Some climbers use summits just as stamp collectors use stamps; they collect them like trophies in a checklist of objectives.  Others capture pictures and sacrifice to get the perfect shot.  Each climb gives the photographer another opportunity to capture the essence of a mountain.  Still others just like being out in the wilderness and "experiencing" nature for the fun or companionship available in the outdoors.  Each of these motives result in the same behavior.  The person goes back for more. I believe after a person gets a taste of the discomfort, that taste becomes a craving.  None of us like to be miserable but we slowly get accustomed to slight discomfort and we soon appreciate the contrast I mentioned previously.  Neither the checklist, picture nor "fun" acts as sufficient motive to endure hardship.   There must be something else and that something might be a need.

Do you need a little discomfort to feel satisfaction with everyday life?  I do.   That need is why I climb, sail, ski, snowboard, hike, swim, run, drink, and work.  I find comfort in discomfort.   How about you?  Post a  comment below with your thoughts.

Thanks for joining me on my adventures.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Working hard and enjoying the snow...

Today is my day off but the past few days were hard efforts with plenty of weather to keep me energized.  I also finished a few books while lounging in my tent at 13-14,000 feet (4000-4300m).  Life is pretty good.  If you are interested in reading adventure books, I highly recommend Ed Webster's 3-part series on his adventures to Everest.  Check out... Snow in the Kingdom: My Storm Years on Everest

Just to give you a taste of the good life in Northern Virginia when it snows, I posted a picture of me post-run on Monday afternoon.  All smiles of course.


Hope you had an enjoyable week so far.  My training week begins tomorrow (Thurs-Tues) and just 9 more weeks until I get to rest.  I have a ton of ideas to post in the meantime.  Here are a few just to whet your appetite:

  1. Finding comfort in discomfort.  Have you ever found that a little bit of discomfort leads to a greater sensitivity and appreciation of comfort?  My colleagues and I are interested in discomfort tolerance but I see it as a necessity; others of you may find it something to simply endure.
  2. Routines help us get things done but sometimes routines can be destructive.  I have several examples where a training routine can be useful to get going but can also lead to overtraining if I become a slave to that routine.  The post on routines shows several personal projects I had over the years that ended with both good and bad outcomes.
  3. Slimming down, shaping up, and readying yourself for failure in the mountains.  Fitness can be a key ingredient but it can also lead to serious problems at altitude.  I recount several instances where the fittest people work too hard, too early and fail to acclimatize.  Thus, I intend to go fat, fit, and acclimatized - a sharp contrast from the greyhounds that run up hills.  

Thanks for following.  See you in a few days.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Ten weeks left of training...then I get to rest

Today marks only 10 weeks left before I get to rest and then climb.  It has been a long journey.  I began training and preparing to climb Everest 20 months ago today.  Yep, 20 months.  Since that time, I climbed several mountains, traveled the world, met some fantastic people and still have yet to reach the summit.  I have no regrets and cannot wait to turn the page on this fantastic journey of self-discovery.  Here are a few thoughts that occupied me over the past few days.

Thankful for all the support, criticism, and doubt

There are so many things to complain about in life but I find it invigorating to thank those who support me, doubt me, and question me.  All three groups - even a fourth that ignores me as some crackpot - motivate me to get better.  I thank you all for your continued support, criticism, and doubt; keep up the good work and keep me focused on the prize.

People who strive for big goals keep me energized

I have a lot of great friends.  Some I see regularly and many I have not seen in years.  There are even a ton I recently met and plan to meet up with in the near future.  All of my friends seem to have big goals - many bigger than mine.  They strive to make themselves better and, in the process, to improve the world.  Thanks for being such good role models.  You all know who you are so pat yourselves on the back to recognize you made a difference in many people's lives - particularly mine.  We will enjoy a pint together soon, I promise.

Live every day...like it is your first (not last)

Yeah, I know the tired old saying that "you ought to live your life as if it is your last day of life" seems more fitting and inspirational for some.  For climbers, we ought to focus on days ahead.  Living each day as if it is our last means we do foolish things today.  I say live with a focus on tomorrow but enjoy today for its beauty and novelty.  Life is great - take advantage of each day.  Say yes to new options.  Meet new people.  Grow.

That is what I am up to these days.  I think.  Yeah, I train too.  I decided to cut back on the training updates.  You can see a long history of training logs posted from last year.  I am doing the same routine this year, however, I plan to post more thoughts about my preparation rather than the rote, weekly training grind.  

See you in a few days with more thoughts and observations.  Thanks for being part of the journey.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Aconcagua recap #5: The retreat to Mendoza and beyond

Life has been unusually hectic since my return.  I will post several updates over the next few days.  Here is the one I promised earlier...

Aconcagua Finale....

Thanks for following our journey.  I left you last time with the post-summit celebration at basecamp.  We were all overjoyed with the dream of getting off the mountain.  Patrick and Kathy summited an 18,000 foot peak nearby while Brendan and I summited Aconcagua.  It was a long day for us all and we were looking forward to steak and wine in Mendoza.  So, off we went...on the long, downhill slog.

The Retreat

We woke up early to get our bags weighed and sorted for the mule service down the hill.  These mules provide us with a huge weight offset so we can easily climb up to and down from basecamp without hauling a ton of gear.  Aconcagua is unique in this respect that animals are allowed to "operate" on the mountain; other hills like Denali do not allow animals so we climbers are forced to haul our loads up/down the mountain.  Below are some pictures of our trek down from PdM to the Horcones ranger station.  It was a long (5.5 hour) trek in the dusty valley.  Wish I could say it was picturesque but I would be lying.

Brendan and I left PdM at about 8:20am - a full hour or more after Patrick and Kathy shoved off.  It was a glorious morning with almost no wind and cool temperatures.  We were all smiles at first.
All smiles at first.  Yeah, more rock and scree but at least this will be the last of it for some time.
Here are more pictures of our retreat.  Not much more to say other than we were extremely happy to get away from this scree pile.


I'm smiling believe it or not.

Live action photo of Brendan crossing a very cold stream en route to the bottom.

YES!  Stuck the landing for at least a 9....judges?
Brendan and I caught up with Kathy and Patrick and then proceeded down the hill at a rapid pace.  My toes were beaten up from over 20 hours of descending over the past few days.  Blisters and purple toenails seemed to be the day's special.

Yep, still smiling.

The last bit of running water until we hit Penitentes.

Brendan coming up and bearing the heat and dry climate quite well.  He might have something different to report.
We passed by several ascending mule trains.  These guys hammer this trail.  Humans have nothing on them.  Go mules, go!

Mules...and more mules.

Brendan still chugging along...quite happy to be leaving this hill.
The trip out took us about 5.5 hours and seemed to last in our heads much longer.  If you look at the pictures of the terrain, you'll see nothing but loose rocks and fine dust.  The rocks provided no traction and the dust blew up in a nasty cough-inducing cloud with the slightest wisp of wind.  Good grief!  I signed up to climb a mountain not a giant dirt pile.  Unfortunately, I got the latter.  Oh well.  Good fun....(NB...fun ain't always fun).

I think we lost our smiles by this point.  We just wanted to be done.  At this point, we were about 3 hours into the descent.
Almost home.  One last uphill and then we are off for more toe busting downhill to the finish.  

The long dusty trail that lead us to....
Here we are!  Finally.  Ugh.
The ranger station!  We made it.
I got to the ranger station and immediately took off my shoes to reveal some nasty toes.  For the sake of all of you, I decided to omit those pictures.  They are not suitable for any age.

Hey, wait a second, where is Brendan?
Brendan followed close behind and I couldn't wait to see his expression.  Here, in these pictures, I tried to capture his last few steps on our expedition.  Above, he is in the distance....

Oh, there he is....

Looking relieved.
Made it.  I think I can see a smile.   Nah, it is probably a grimace.  Brendan...comments?
But not exactly happy.
We celebrated the accomplishment.  More accurately, we celebrated the end of the scree pile.  We had visions of beer, wine, and steak that filled us with enough energy to get down that hill.

Fake smiles...but we are done.
And then the beer came...when we arrived in Penitentes.  Brendan, note I am omitting our wait at the ranger station.  That was not exactly fun but the beer was worth the wait.  Check out the wild style hairdo Brendan was sporting in these last days.  

Real smiles followed with our first beer.  Ah beer.  Nectar of the gods.  Nice hair dude.
Patrick and Kathy followed close behind.  Well, actually, we waited at the ranger station for roughly 2 hours before our ride arrived to ferry us back to Penitentes.  I figured my family would be about 3-4 hours behind but they beat my guess and arrived about 2.5 hours after we set foot at the bottom.  They hammered the last part.  What troopers!  We managed to land another awesome ride from Eduardo and got back to our hotel in time to shower and eat.  Here I am post shower:
Very happy to be done.  Time for beer.
Our arrival back in Mendoza could not come soon enough.  We were all ready to eat real food and enjoy a nice, comfortable bed.  I managed to negotiate a one-night deal at the Huentala hotel - the same place I crashed for two days to shake off my sinus infection.  It was worth it just to have a place to spread out our gear and get re-established in civilization.  Below, Kathy is enjoying our first night out.  Great to see her smiling again.
A very happy Kat.
The next day, we found ourselves in a rather precarious spot.  It was new years eve and nothing was open.  We had to scrounge to find food and during the typical siesta time.  Our choices...slim.  Here is what remains of the most disgusting hot dog I ever ate.  It was something shaped like a hot dog but tasted like something I never ate before.  Pure hell.
Hot dog?  Don't ask.
After a few days rest, we opted for a wine tour and headed out to make the most of the few days left before my family left (and Brendan and I headed to Chile).  Patrick had a blast just being back in civilization.  Here he is trying on some new clothes.   No, the Oregon shirt was his but the hat added a nice new twist to school casual.
Very nice lid.
The wine tour was a hoot.  Two of us enjoyed each stop to the fullest and even purchased a few road bottles to enjoy between stops.  The bus driver did not take too kindly to us drinking during the long, hot tour but Brendan and I found that drinking eased our pain considerably.  Even Patrick had fun on the tour.  See, he is smiling (see picture below).  He was finally fully recovered from the AMS.
A happy kid.  

and who wouldn't be happy amongst all that wine?

We enjoyed the bus ride with our road pops (not pictured for fear that the bus driver would kick us off in the middle of nowhere).
After our trip, we walked about the following days and enjoyed the quiet comfort of our hotel room.
On a walkabout with the family.

Our luxurious sweet suite - courtesy of Hotels.com.  Thanks guys!

GS scooter...how fitting after I listened to Quadrophenia for most of my climb.  Patrick was just digging on the Doritos
I spent the majority of those rest days catching up on my climbing journal and drinking beer to regain some of my lost 18-20 lbs.  Yep, climbing is one very difficult way to lose weight but a dangerous way too.  Perhaps next time I will eat more butter.  Mmmmm....butter.
Beer, writing, reading, and beer.  Not always in that order.
We finished off our trip together with an outing to the huge park.  It was a nice day trip on one of the hottest days I can recall - post living in Tucson.  Man was it hot and I hate the heat.  We trudged around the city and walked through what amounted to a jungle in the middle of Mendoza.  It was an enjoyable day that ended soon enough.

Oh yeah, a hot day in the park.
Our trip lasted until January 5th together.  On that day, I headed off to Santiago, Chile to meet up with Brendan and party...er, sightsee through a new country.  I will post some pictures of that trip below.  The most memorable place we visited was Valparaiso.  If you ever get a chance to head down to Chile, I highly recommend that little city on the coast.  

OK, fini!  We are done with Aconcagua.  My next objective:  Everest.  Stay tuned for some posts related to my preparation for Everest.