Monday, August 6, 2012

It's the journey, not the destination

The summer has been going by so quickly. Since July brought with it the oppressive heat and humidity,  I haven't been climbing as much. Call me a fair-weather climber, but when it's so hot the rock is sweating, I lose all motivation to climb. Wake me up when it's fall.

In the meantime, I've been preparing for a climbing trip of a different sort. This time next week, I'll be on a plane, headed for Seattle. Our objective: to climb the Disappointment Clever route on Mount Rainier. Three ladies, no guide. Just us making the decisions for our team, shouldering our own loads, the only ones responsible for our success or failure.

I've never been on a glacier before. About ten years ago, when working in Colorado one summer, I did have the opportunity to play around doing some self-arrests on a tiny snowfield. Also while in Colorado I had the opportunity to hike 14,256 feet Long's Peak. I did OK with the altitude then, but I also had spent the whole summer living and working at 8,000 feet. That is the full extent of big mountain/high altitude experience. In comparison to something like Rainier, it seems laughable.

So Rainier is going to be quite an adventure. A foreign environment, new skills, and unknowns about how my body will perform. Part of me is very excited, part of me is scared to death. I'm looking forward to the challenge, but not sure how I will handle it if I don't meet it. This is perhaps the most important thing I hope to gain from this trip.

In my climbing, I struggle with remembering to enjoy the journey. I only count myself as having succeeded when I top out the climb, lead the climb or otherwise meet what a general consensus would consider the 'end point.' I often get so caught up in chasing numbers and grades, I forget to stop and smell the proverbial roses- to enjoy the journey of climbing.

But as I began to prepare for this trip, I have had Ed Viesturs famous quote, "Getting to the top is optional. Getting down in mandatory" repeated to me on more than one occasion. And it's a good reminder for me. The summit rate on Rainier is 50%. I have a 50-50 chance of reaching the mythical end goal. If I consider my trip a failure because I didn't summit, then what was the point? What was the point of taking time off from work, spending all that money, flying to the other side of the country and freezing my butt off? There will be no point.

To justify the sacrifice, I must learn something of value. There certainly is the potential to learn plenty of valuable things- how to travel on a glacier, how to travel as a roped team, how to pace myself for long, hard efforts at altitude, how to feed myself so as to maintain my energy, how to adapt to altitude in a relatively short amount of time, how to go to the bathroom on a glacier. But the real lesson while be if I can learn to value these skills above the value of the summit.

So stay tuned friends, for a report on the my trip, including what I learned along the way.