Saturday, September 29, 2007

These Boots Were Made for Walking

I started to write my mountain stories several months back and got as far as Whitney and Shasta. The next chapter on Mt. Rainier was partly completed when interrupted by our trip to Russia. Patty picked up on the Russia chapter of our life, and I left the writing to her. To date she has us only out of Moscow sailing up the Moscow Canal... who knows when that story will get finished! I thought I would get my mountain stories finished, interspersed with the Russia stories, but it didn't happen. I thought I could add this current story on as a final surprise. Time is running out so this story is written out of order. The intervening stories will get written, I promise.

Darjeeling, India, 1998. I was a late comer to mountaineering, beginning as a complete novice on Mt. Whitney when I was turning 50 and now - six years later, six years older, and many mountains in between - I was sitting with world renowned climber Nawang Gombu, seven years older than I and still climbing and guiding. Gombu, nephew of Tenzing Norgay and national hero in India, was the first man to climb Mt. Everest twice (with an American expedition in 1963 and an Indian expedition in 1965. He was a young sherpa with Hillary's and Tenzing Norgay's first summit of Everest in 1953. Our small climbing group had just finished a foray into the Indian Himalayas, guided by Gombu's brother-in-law, Phursumba, and we had come to Gombu's house in Darjeeling for a celebratory dinner.

Gombu is a gracious and gentle man, not more than five feet tall.

The rest of the group had dispersed around the house, and I was alone with Gombu in a room filled with pictures of Gombu with President Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth, and other heads of state.

The following year Phursumba was leading an all woman expedition to Imje Tse ("Island Peak"), a 20,000' summit in the Everest Region. I wanted to go. I would be 57 years old. Underline OLD. Young elderly, as Kelly would say. But Gombu was even older and still climbing.

The question was burning to be asked. He listened to my quandary about whether to try for Imje Tse. What did Gombu think?

Quietly and simply, in his Tibetan Buddhist way he said, "Another year doesn't make a difference."

That was all the license I needed, and I kept going... Imje Tse, Kalapathar, Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Sanctuary, Machu Picchu, Salkantay ... if it went uphill I was ready to go. I was inspired by the story of the man from Perry's Expedition who, at age 89, returned to the Antarctic to climb a mountain named after him. I dragged along my girl friends, and even Patty. We went places no one sees except on foot, or maybe yak or llama or water buffalo. Some are still climbing - Ellen is off to Kilimanjaro this weekend, Hisako is off to New Zealand in February.

San Diego, September 2007. Very soon I will be leaving for a Bhutan expedition - 150 Himalayan miles on foot in 14 days including two rest days, elevations 8,000 to 16,000 - led by Phil Ershler from International Mountain Guides. Phil was guiding in my group when I climbed Rainier some years ago. He has climbed the Seven Summits twice, once as a bachelor and once with his wife. His first American summit of the north face of Everest is legendary. He is on my hero list.

Almost as soon as I made the commitment by paying my money I began to have doubts. I woke up at night doing the math. 150 miles divided by 12 days ... hm-m-m that's like six consecutive Whitney's, twelve half marathons. I was plagued in training by the muscles in my left leg that had fused together from years of being on foot.

My left leg fixed by Keith Alban's neuromuscular therapy, my muscles and ego beefed up by Deon Lourens, my cardio pumped up by Cowles and Iron Mountains, I am ready to go... again.

I'm still following that philosophy - another year doesn't make a difference, and Phursumba's mantra - you don't conquer the mountain, you only conquer yourself.

Patty's note: If you can't make the link for Deon Lourens work, don't feel pregnant - we can't either. Just type "" in your browser's address bar and you'll get to his site. The boy is a hoot.


Pat said...

Did you tell me you were going to Bhutan? Sheesh - my memory is sucky. So much for Gombu's philosophy.

joan said...

You are close to my neck of the woods now. I grew up in North East India.