It’s official I’ve registered for a Mountaineering School in May with RMI Guide Service. This is my first step towards summiting Mount McKinley.
The course is an intensive 6-day education on glacier climbing, and is based out of Camp Muir, which is one of several starting points for routes to summit Mount Rainer. It’s broken up by 1 day of foundational skills training, and then 5 days of hands on training, they leave the schedule somewhat flexible so that there are ample opportunities to summit Mount Rainer.
Overall there won’t be more than 12 people during my week, and there will be at least 4 guides, as they keep a 3:1 ratio of clients to guides.
I’m excited, and terrified at the same time. I used to enjoy heights, and found it exhilarating to feel the wind, and the freedom at the peak of a mountain, I wonder how I will feel now, almost 13 years since the last time I saw the view from above 10,000 feet. With the rapid weight gain, I experienced, a significant change in my equilibrium, and the heavier I got the more it seemed that the view from the tops of building would give me that feeling of having my manhood lifted into my throat, and not some awe inspiring moment of reflection.
I’ve been talking about committing to a trip, but hesitated for many reasons, ultimately it was serendipitous that I filled the last summer spot for any of their pre-Denali trips, especially because the day before this particular trip and date were full.
As I gained weight, the more self conscious I became, the more self conscious I became, the more afraid I became…I was afraid of everything, seeing my reflection in the windows of a building, deciding where to sit because I was unsure if the chair could support me (I’ve broken at least 5 office chairs in the last 3 years), and even being afraid to go outside. When you feel so shitty about yourself that you don’t want to feel the warmth of the sun because you might overheat and sweat profusely, or the breeze of a nice spring day because your afraid the wind will extenuate your fat contours, and there’s the development of “fat narcissism” (fat guy who thinks everyone is looking at him, and commenting to themselves about his fatness). You literally feel like every person that you walk past is saying to himself or herself, holy shit that’s a FAT GUY!
It’s an isolating existence. I even isolated myself from my friends, and refused to attempt to make new connections with people, because who could show any type of affinity for such a miserable person?
It’s this fear, which continues to push a person deeper and deeper into obesity. The fear, and the despair you feel from the constant state of feeling afraid it’s like living in an emotional cave with no hope of finding a way out into the light, so you learn to love the darkness.
My desire to climb Mount Rainer, and Mount McKinley are rooted in wanting to reconnect with a place in my life where I was happiest, but also at the age of 33 to overcome my newfound fear of heights. One of the proudest moments I’ve had in my life was in college when along with a fraternity brother of mine; we climbed a route, which was rated 1 degree harder than anything we had ever climbed before.
For some reason this day, I opted to lead the climb.
Climbs are rated by the YDS system. Which breaks climbing routes into 5 classes. Classes 1-3 are un-roped, and falls from these climbs are usually not fatal. Class 4 is still normally un-roped, but can be roped; yet the chance of death from a fall on one of these routes is high.
Class 5 routes are what is considered true rock climbing, when you see a picture of someone rock climbing they are always doing a class 5 and above. Class 5 routes then are rated in difficulty by decimal point, going up as high as 5.15, within each category on the more difficult end of the spectrum there are lettered ratings a-d within a category “a” being easier “d” being most difficult. Anything that’s a 5.10 and above is considered hard core climbing, if you are new to climbing I assure you won’t be climbing a 5.10.
It takes years to develop the skill, and specific strength to tackle a 5.10.
So on this particular day the route we were attempting was a 5.9, up until this point we had only climbed 5.8’s. I don’t know if it was the amount of pot I smoked the night before, the fact that I was making great progress with a girl I really wanted to date, or if I was just pumped up with youthful stupidity, but I decided to lead the climb.
Climbing is done in pairs, a lead climber and his partner or the belay guy.
In this partnership skill levels are comparable, but the lead climber is usually a stronger climber, or is mentally more equipped to handle the stress of lead climbing. The difficulty in lead climbing is that the leader is the one laying the protection, so as he is climbing if a route is unbolted he places equipment into the rock to secure the rope. If there are bolts already placed into the route then he is the one clipping the rope to the bolt using quickdraws. In any case this climber spends the vast majority of the climb exposed.
Think of it this way, if you are lead climbing and you go out 10 feet of distance from the last time you clipped in, then you are going to not only fall the distance you just climbed but the 10’ of slack that you are carrying with you. It’s a skill to fall correctly, because if you do it the wrong way you can really fuck yourself up.
Going back to my first 5.9.
We were at the Garden of the Gods which was a few miles from Campus, it’s an awesome place minus the dipshit C-Springs Townie Kids who always yell to the climbers “Don’t Fall!”, if I was as angry then as I am now, I’m sure I would have responded by saying don’t get pregnant and live your existence in a trailer park.
We had never climbed this route, so when I set out to lead it I was both scared yet completely psyched up. The first 10 minutes of this climb was tough but nothing I couldn’t handle. When I got to the crux I was starting to get scared, climbing routes have two things, they always have a point of new return, and a crux, and it’s the hardest point of any route (hence the crux).
The crux was about 15-20 feet from the top of the route, but while pressing my legs against this rock, and holding on with one hand under an overhang, it looked like it was a mile away. I held myself in this position for what felt like an hour, but it was probably 10 minutes. I was about 10 feet from my last quickdraw, and the next place to clip in was three-five feet above my reach.
I had to not only find the right place to go but pull myself over a slight overhang.
My breathing started to get labored, my right arm was starting to throb, and my forearm was knotting up, this while my left leg started to tap up and down, which used to be referred to as sewing machine leg. I’m sure my hips were in pain from driving them into this rock to stay on the face of this route, but when you are 19-20 I’m sure you don’t feel your hips.
At some point something clicked in my head, I closed my eyes, got control of my breathing, and then focused on specific movements that I could make to start moving again.
I visualized the places to put my hands, feet; I would imagine its something like a chess player, playing a game in his mind. My left hand just past the overhang, my left leg positioned just above my knee, then my right hand extending to reach a firm handhold, my right leg in that correct place to get me past this backward sloping surface. I then just did it.
I don’t remember much beyond this point, it’s incredible how when you have this visualized plan your mind can just make it happen. I do recall the feeling I had at the top of the climb sitting next to my good friend, enjoying the sunset in the Garden of the Gods. We didn’t say much to each other, we just enjoyed the serenity, as our eyes tried to comprehend this new palate of orange hues across a sky with a deep blues fading into blackness.
My hope is that during this trip to Washington, I experience this paralyzing fear again, and find a way to calm myself, focus and overcome it. I am tired of feeling the fear that I’ve felt for so many years.
I want to know that I am in control of how I overcome a difficult situation, and that I am capable of overcoming my fears, I’ve spent so much time catering to them, I need to teach myself to use them for my advancement or development.
We will see, now I have to work hard to make sure I’m physically ready to do the work. I’m hoping with the addition of CrossFit Endurance that my lung capacity expands to the point to handle the altitude change.
It’s time to get my ass moving, it’s only 90 days away now.