Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Call

I have been asked many times if I will climb Everest. This is a perfectly reasonable inquiry as it is one of the Seven Summits, a list from which all my climbs have been drawn. Most typically I have said I did not know.  This must have seemed like a silly response. It might be just as acceptable to say I am not as to say I am going to climb Everest, but how could I not know

Though I was climbing mountains listed among the Seven Summits I was never committed to  climbing all Seven.  Instead, I waited for each mountain to call to me and occupy a place in my quiet thoughts.  I would leave it there for a time. If it lingered I would accept its invitation and begin preparations. This is how they came to me; Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Vinson Massif, Carstensz Pyramid. There was no way of knowing which call would come next or if any call would come at all. I found this approach satisfying as it allowed me to fully appreciate and experience each mountain for what it had to offer, as opposed to checking off another name on a list. For me, the last five years have been more a spiritual journey than an exercise in goal setting. 

"I believe you will definitely climb Everest and you will summit," my brother in-law, Ty, said to me while we were still working our way up Aconcagua. I liked hearing it, but the notion rang hollow to me. I had not heard the call for Everest and would not go unless I did. At one point I re-read Into thin air and decided I would not climb Everest. I suspect this book has a similar effect on most readers.  But this notion too rang hollow for the same reason; the decision, principally, was not mine. I had accepted that my life was on a very specific path, and though I did not know where it was taking me I would remain committed to that path. 

I spent most of July this year in Papua New Guinea, climbing Carstensz Pyramid. It was daunting and dangerous, tiresome and muddy. Very muddy. Incredibly hot and humid. Did I mention the mud? Yet so many gifts came to me in the course of that experience. One of them was Everest. 

Normally I will wait at least a month after a climb before even thinking about mountains. This gives me a chance to savor the recent experience and restore balance to my everyday life. But this time it did not happen that way. I was still on Carstensz, rappelling down the steep rock face. We had summitted an hour earlier. I stopped on a rock ledge to rig the next rope in my figure eight descender.  It was raining, and my leather gloves were soaked, my fingers numb. Suddenly it just came into my mind like the solution to a math problem I had been struggling with; Everest.  It was not so much the word or the image that came with it as the energy.  There was a warmth to it. Though the only things I knew about Everest scared the heck out of me, yet the notion suddenly and inexplicably seemed doable. 

I kept my own counsel on this matter through the remainder of the expedition, unsure if I had mistaken the euphoria of a successful climb with an invitation to the next. But again and again it was there. It smiled confidently at me.  It was the call I had always wondered about, and it could not be more clear. Lin seemed to pick up on it soon after our rendezvous in Bali. "So I know you don't decide on the next climb until a month or so has gone by, but you must have some idea about Everest," she asked as we lay in the sun. "I would like to climb Everest this coming season," I said. We were both quiet for a moment. Lin said that of course she had thought this decision might come but hoped it would be a couple years away. She said my going to Everest scared her but she supported it and she believed in me. 

Yet, this is not how my story starts.