Friday, September 30, 2011

Lessons from the Mountain (Longs Peak, The Sequel)

I climbed Longs Peak a couple years ago and posted a bit about it here. I went back up with my friends Zach and Nate earlier this month. Neither had done it before but Zach rides his bike to work everyday and Nate is a rock climber, so I figured they'd keep pushing me up the mountain. This climb was more difficult in some ways and less difficult in other ways compared to last time.

More difficult: I was seriously sleep deprived this time. Working on London time from Boulder, and working a few too many hours each day, I was barely sleeping the two weeks before this climb. But I was excited and determined to climb. I packed the right energy foods and electrolytes. I was all but physically prepared for a 5,100 foot elevation gain and scrambling up steep boulders at altitudes above 12,000 feet. (Longs is 14,259 ft. and the highest point in RMNP). Unlike last time, the altitude and sleep deprivation made me almost pass out in exhaustion/exersion at one point on the way back down from the summit. At one point, I stopped to sit down, and when I would blink, I would fall asleep. I couldn't sit and blink without the blink turning into unconsciousness. That was kind of concerning for safety reasons and the ensuing schlep back down was an exercise in mind over matter.
Also, there was some slippery/icy/snowing conditions on some of the already very tough scrambles for about a thousand vertical feet below the summit.

Less difficult: The weather at the keyhole was relatively mild and pleasant, but because we were climbing later in year, it was cold all the way up and down. I didn't take my fleece off the entire climb, no matter how hard I was hoofing it. Also, I knew where I was going and what I was doing this time, so my preparation made for a better and quicker climb. I think I was in better climbing shape this time too. But that was pretty much cancelled out by not starting with enough rest.
The thing that blows me away about this hike/climb is how long it takes to get back down. Our descent was almost as long as our ascent, which can be baffling, considering how tough the ascent can feel. I think it's slow coming down for two reasons:

1) The same scrambling that is tough and dangerous on the way up is tough and dangerous on the way down. "Slip and die" situations are just as much "slip and die" going down as they are going up. The ice and snow don't help to speed things up coming down.
2) We were energetic and stoked going up, so we made good time, even if I was backed up on 2 weeks of sleep. By the I was 9 hours into a grueling day and my only fuel was the 500 or so calories I could stomach (but lots of water, don't worry), I was reminded of the true clinical definition of exhaustion.
The lessons a climb like this teaches / reminds me:

Some things need to be done, not despite them being incredibly difficult but because they are incredibly difficult. You learn things about your own abilities on days like this. Especially when you start with the physical handicap with which I have to admit I started with, if I'm being honest about how stupid my experiment in sleep deprivation was. I've done this and other difficult climbs before and the life lessons and principles don't ever get diluted. Conquering a peak like this leaves you exhausted, but confident in other challenges in life. It proves that you can do things that others can not (or will not). Let that carry over to your personal and professional life, attack challenges smartly and with the tenacity of a 14th century Scottish warrior and you can do most anything. But starts and stops with the will.

Physical preparation is important, but mental strength conquers all.
All things are relative. I climbed the standard full Half Dome trail (in Yosemite) a couple weeks before this climb. Some of my party on that hike didn't make it to the top. I felt great and made it to the Half Dome summit well before the rest of my party. That's a 14+ mile round trip hike with a 4,483 f.t elevation gain rising from about 4,000 feet to 8,483 feet, then back down again, of course. Except for the cable climb at the end, Half Dome is pretty much just a giant, fair weather StairMaster walk with incredible vistas all the way. No real adverse high elevation effects.

Longs Peak on the other hand starts at a trail head elevation above where Half Dome tops out. Longs Peak is also a 14 mile round trip day, and it gains 5,100 vertical feet, only about 600 more vertical feet than Half Dome, but the similarities stop there. Elevation makes a huge difference (to most mortals with normal lungs, hearts and brains affected by altitude). Also, the nature of the largely trail-less scramble up Longs' Keyhole route makes for a more strenuous experience on top of the effects of altitude. Longs Peak's high altitude struggle makes Half Dome feel like a lovely stroll through the Garden of Eden (which it is, by the way, and that's what's great about it).

Here's the elevation profile for Half Dome (round trip):

And here's the elevation profile for Longs Peak (just from the trailhead to the summit (notice the start and summit elevation difference):

Wilderness if good for the soul. 'Nuff said.

In conclusion:

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right." Henry Ford
My mom read me The Little Engine That Could a lot when I was a little boy. Thanks, mom.

Now, go climb a rock.

Humblebrag about Jaime after five years of marriage.

Just a few (hundred) words about my roommate. Warning, this likely won't be a very manly post. Skip over to your favorite Ace Hardware or Motorcycle Chopper blog if you want a manly post today. I have other manly things to post about climbing mountains and home improvement projects and tripling my tool collection in the past month. I've got some catch-up blogging to do later. This is for Jaime.

On September 23rd, 2011 we had been married 5 years.

I feel really good about this woman. I hope she keeps on keeping me. I could list off the the ways she impresses me, but I've been thinking about it and I've decided to condense it into three main pieces of amazement.

Her laid back cheerfulness. I only list this because it's to the nth degree. She is what everyone wants to come home to and what everyone desires in a travel companion. She is cheerful, happy and loving enough that it perfectly counters the stress at work or other inconveniences of life that may be invading my busy mind, but she's not so bubbly head cheerleader ra-ra-sis-boom-unicorns-and-rainbows-ba that it annoyingly feels as though she doesn't know what life is really like. If things are going well, she makes them feel even better. If things are tough, she makes them feel fine. She's not an alarmist (like I am sometimes). She's nice. She thinks of others. She thinks of me a lot. She's cheerful in a comforting way, not an annoying way. I'm noticing now as I'm trying to write it, that this is quite difficult to express why this is so impressive in today's world. I figure you either know her and you get it, or you don't and you think I'm just going on and on about something kind of abstract and generic.

When I was in London for about 3 months without her this summer, that time served as a perfect case study for how her presence can clear the clouds of life. Or rather, how the lack of her presence can make a big difference. Now I'm home and kind of twitterpated. Sorry.

Her work ethic. Chalk this up her being raised well. I like to think I'm a crazy hard worker, but I know I didn't teach this to her. I'm sure all that nice stuff I mentioned in the above paragraphs plays an integral role here as well. She's had steady work keeping her busy since we've been married. Ever since the very first week when we I moved her life to Miami, then Boulder, she goes after local jobs and gets them. She has other unexpected gigs offered to her just because people like her so much. She proven trustworthy, smart and very likable and so I guess people throw opportunities at her (mostly to take care of their kids). The thing that really opens these opportunities up to her: She's open to them. She wants to work. Lately she's been nannying for a disabled boy and her brother, babysitting others at night, substitute teaching at Boulder Country Day School and working at Pottery Barn Kids as a seasonal gig, just for the discount.

Now that she's nesting and getting later in the pregrancy, I've been begging her to stop working so much and I think she's starting to humor me this week. I've been working hard for over 5 years so she can afford to do that now. She's got a dog, the pending birth of our first kid, church callings, friends and part time gigs to keep her plenty busy in the meantime until she's got her hands 110% full with our infant son. Her cheerful desire to work and stay busy is nice. I think I'd be pretty annoyed if I married someone who didn't have this important character trait. It would probably be a huge point of tension. Instead, it's a huge motivation for me to keep up with her, and is good for our communal ambition, thus resulting in a healthy level of prosperity for (and in preparation of) our our little growing family. She deserves a lot of credit for that.

Her beauty. She's just getting better and better looking. I love her jaw, her tiny nose, her eyes, her hair, her teeth, her giant dimples and other parts of her body I'll spare description. You know how they say pregnant women glow? Well Jaime glows anyway, so whatever.

I often hear realists warn that marriage is hard. That it's a lot of work. With my limited experience I'd like to counter that with a clarifying correction: Life if hard. A successful life takes work. Marriage, when cared for and your friend and partner is picked wisely, is a treat that makes said life a whole lot better. So stop saying that marriage is hard and takes work unless you're just picking on marriage as one aspect of a general life principle of work.

And if you think I'm just luckier than most, then fine. I can live with that. And no, you can't have her.

Love this girl.