Climbing Priorities: Back to the Beginning

When I was in 3rd grade, we did a report on a hero in history that interested us. I chose to do my report on Edmund Hillary. I vaguely knew who he was as my dad knew a lot about Everest. As I researched Edmund and learned more about him and his expedition myself, I became very interested in Mount Everest. I wondered if it would be possible for someone like me to climb one day.

At 13 years old, I had the opportunity to summit my very first Colorado 14er with Cheley Colorado Camps. On the summit that morning, my camp counselor suggested we dedicate this climb to someone important to make this climb even more special. I decided to dedicate my climb to my baby sister who passed away when I was 10. Longs Peak became a very special and sacred place for me from then on out. I have summited it 3 times, climbed Mount Lady Washington for it’s epic Long’s Peak views, hiked to Chasm Lake more times than I can count, and just get unbelievably excited whenever I see mountain any time I drive into town. After that first summit was also the first time I really began thinking, and dreaming about the possibility of one day summiting Mount Everest.

Longs Peak was my first real connection with the mountains. The meaning placed on the summit that day gave me a truly spiritual connection to that peak. Before that I honestly hated hiking. As a kid, it was always a miserable experience. It wasn’t until I was able to find my own genuine connection to the mountains and nature that I was able to truly feel that sense of calm and peace I continue to experience in the mountains today.

Longs Peak helped me heal. When I was 21 years old I was in recovery from my eating disorder, I had already made a goal in the back of my mind to work up to the ability to travel to Everest Base Camp, but I didn’t quite yet believe it was possible due to years of self-doubt. Summiting Longs again gave me the confidence to realize that it was not only possible, but really got the ball rolling on working towards making it actually happen.

When I eventually got to go to Nepal and see Everest for myself in 2017, that became the most profound and defining experience of my life. My spiritual connection with the mountains grew stronger than ever before. I was already at a point of transitioning away from the religion I was born and raised in, and Nepal really helped me in my journey. I found more peace and serenity in those mountains than I had ever felt in any church building. I met the most genuine, kind, and loving people in Nepal, more than any Christian I have ever met. I was not focued on the persuit of a summit, rather the journey and the experience.

I believe in the magic and power of Mother Earth. This planet is magnificent. When you are able to truly connect with nature, your eyes are open to all the cycles of life this planet has to offer. When I am able to connect, I feel completely in sync. I feel calm, and completely present in the moment. The anxieties, stressors and worries of life completely melt away. I feel… at home. That is the only way I can think to describe it. I feel like I belong. That feeling is indescribable no matter how hard I try. I feel like I can fly when I’m skiing. I feel like I’m on a cloud when I stand on top of a high peak. I feel serenity sitting next to a calm lake on a sunny day. I feel awe and wonder when I watch the magic of a sunset or sunrise.

Much of the time, I have been able to get that warm bubbly feeling anytime I’m out in nature. However, in the last couple years, persuits of some big climbs have left me in a rut where I have had a harder time connecting. Anytime I had to do a “training hike” with a heavy pack, or go just for the sake of getting miles on my feet and altitude for my body, or anytime I felt like I was just checking off a list I have been lacking that connection. It was burning me out and I wouldn’t want to climb.

Last summer, I developed a stress fracture after climbing Mount Whitney. I was forced to take 2 months off and it really gave me time to think and re-prioritize a bit. My first 14er after my foot healed was Wetterhorn and it was the most fun I have ever had on a 14er ever! I wasn’t climbing it to check it off a list, I wasn’t climbing to “train”. I was climbing it just for fun, with my friends and to enjoy the beauty of the mountains and it was a reminder of why I climb in the first place. I told myself from then on, I was going to really try to make sure I was always climbing for the right reasons. It was then that I also decided I was no longer going to focus on the Seven Summits. Everest was always the main goal, anything else was a bonus.

When my best friend passed away at the end of December, it broke me. That desire for my natural connection became even more important. Rowan and I met at Cheley and climbed mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park together every summer as we were growing up. She was just as connected to nature, if not more so. I feel closest to her in those mountains, and in nature in general. I spent much of the first half of the year battling my mind. I would try to make sure anytime I would go out into nature to make sure I was going for the right reasons, but I was also still once again trying to train for Rainier. Motivation to train was completely non-existent as I battled a cycle of grief and depression. Getting out in general was incredibly difficult so I would try to really listen to my body and mind.

Rainier finally came along, and I finally got to check that mountain off my list. It had been a long time coming and it was such a weight off my shoulders to not have to train every year and not have it happen. I had fun on Rainier, I had moments of connection, but I also struggled mentally. It was beautiful, and magnificent, but it was also the hardest climb I have ever done so far… Harder than Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar, and harder than Kilimanjaro. Because of how difficult this year has been on me mentally, I was much more suceptible to those intrusive thoughts of negative self-talk and fears. But looking back with hindsight I know it really wasn’t that bad, but at the time it was incredibly difficult. Overall, it really fueled the fire inside me and I felt more ready than ever to tackle the next big step towards Everest.

Shortly after Rainier, it was a rollercoaster of figuring out my next move. I had a new teaching position that was definitely going to be difficult in working around for getting time off to go climbing. I was debating on Aconcagua over my Winter break but flights were out of control expensive and there was no guaruntee I would get the time off approved around my Winter break. After talking with some climbing friends that went to Everest this last season, I decided maybe Denali would be a better option as climbing season is in June during summer break, and much more teacher friendly. It is a mountain I am much more interested in for one, it is incredibly physically and mentally demanding and would be an excellent test for Everest. However, it technically does not meet the 6500m requirement for Everest permits. I was not really worried about the altitude as I have never had a problem, and naturally acclimatize pretty well. I had hope that maybe it would still allow me to climb Everest without having to meet the 6500m requirement but I would be taking a huge gamble.

Just when I was about to do my Denali paperwork I finally got covid after 2 1/2 years of avoiding the plague, and it did a number on my asthmatic lungs and immune system. My asthma became much more sensitive and my allergies got much worse. I was dealing with a lot of wierd long-hauler symtoms which eventually lead to a near fatal asthma attack. The attack was then followed by an anaphalactic reaction to the prednisone I was perscribed to help with my asthma inflammation. That allergic reaction was then followed by another severe asthma attack. I felt my worse fears coming to fruition… “what if my body fails me and keeps me from going after my dreams?” I put Denali on hold while I dealt with my health, but it also gave me time to rethink my climbing priorities a bit. Everest is my #1 priority at this point when it comes to my bigger climbing goals. As much as I would love to eventually do Denali as well, I really want to try to get to Everest as soon as possible, as efficiently as possible and I shouldn’t risk gambling whether or not my expedition leader will let me climb Everest with Denali as my highest point. I need to climb something high enough and technical enough to meet the requirements for Everest, and to help me feel confident and ready.

The more I thought about it, the more I also realized I want to again ensure I am climbing everything for the right reasons and focusing on that connection with the mountains, and not just checking something off my list. I thought back to my first trip to Nepal, and how I felt there. I wanted to feel that again. In reality, I have wanted to go back to Nepal ever since I first returned. Ama Dablam is a mountain that gave me incredible awe while I was there. I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life. I told myself, in those fields above Dingboche as I stared up at those magnificent walls, that I would climb that mountain some day… and that is exactly what I am going to do.

After Everest Base Camp, I got lost in the checklists, I got caught up in the Seven Summits, and got burned out on the endless training. I would occasionally feel ambivalent on certain summits, bored on others. I lost the spark. I want EVERY mountain to feel special and meaningful to me. I want to do it right. I don’t want to get to Everest and feel that ambivalence… I want to embrace the awe and wonder of standing on top of the world that first intrigued me as a kid. I want to climb the mountains that inspire me, that give me wonder, and help me feel grounded and connected. No more lists.

I am aiming and hoping for Ama Dablam Fall 2023, however there are some hurdles to jump over first. Physically, I need to ensure my body can get back to where it needs to be. My asthma has been much better the last couple weeks and I have been slowly re-introducing cardio and weights. I still fatigue quickly and lack endurance, but I have had some successfull ski tours and am feeling confident that I can be ready to hit up some Colorado 14ers for altitude come summer. I also need to figure out my next move with work. Climbing season for Ama Dablam will be October-November, and teaching and climbing in Nepal aren’t exactly cohesive… I’m figuring it out, but when I want something, I will make it happen. Ama Dablam WILL happen. I have never felt more calm and condifent about a climb in my life.

I’m ready.

Climbing for Campers:

In honor of my best friend, Rowan Meredith, I am planning on climbing Everest in her memory. In congruence with my climb, I am raising money to send kids to camp through the John Austin Cheley Foundation. This scholarship program helps kids who couldn’t otherwise afford it have the opportunity we had to grow confidence in themselves, build lasting friendships, and create memories to last a lifetime. Camp meant the world to Rowan and I, and I want to share that opportunity with others. 100% of the proceeds raised will go to the foundation. If you are willing to support this cause, you can donate here.

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