Sunday, December 2, 2012

A 29,029 foot tall decision.

Ty and I displaying our Denali climbing permit, Talkeetna, AK. 
"I wouldn't even invite you if I didn't think you could do it," I said to Ty during a phone call a few months ago. I was making a joke, of course.  Ty is a proven and accomplished climber who does not require encouragement from anyone. But recalling how these words from him had set me out on climbing the seven summits I could not pass up the opportunity to hand them back as I made the case for joining me on Everest. "That's the big enchilada, Mr. Mauro. You've certainly got my attention. Boy. Two months away, $50,000, and the best shape of your life" Ty said.  "That's pretty much what this hill asks for," I agreed.  "Boy." "Yeah, I know," I said, "but I can't see climbing this thing without you. Just think about it." It seemed unlikely. 

There was no question in my mind of Ty's physical ability. He and I have climbed to 22,811 feet on Aconcagua without supplemental oxygen. I do not recall ever seeing him even look tired. But very few employers can or will allow a two month absence. It had been something of a wrestling match getting UBS to consent in my own case. Then there was the matter of money. Lots of money. I knew Ty already had most of the gear for Everest, but logistics, permitting, air fares, food, Guides and Sherpas would quickly hit the $50,000 number he referred to.  I made the invitation as though we were going dutch to a baseball game, but this was the sort of sum that sets a family back for years. 

I checked back with Ty a few weeks later. The practical considerations of time and money had taken roost, but the dream had awakened and would not be quieted. "I'd love to say SURE and we can both get all worked up, but I just don't see how I can pull it off," he lamented. "Your sister supports me doing the climb, but I don't know," he added. I encouraged Ty to consider seeking sponsorship to defray the financial burden. With his many contacts around Anchorage he could surely sell some advertising space on his climbing suit.  But I could tell he felt uncomfortable imagining himself in the role of selling. 

Ty decided to first approach his employer. These days Ty manages  PR for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a multi billion dollar tribal consortium funded largely through oil revenues. He was fairly sure they would decline his request for a two month absence. This would end the whole idea of Everest and he could just go back to his happy life. But they embraced Ty's dream with enthusiasm, also recognizing the marvelous exposure they might gain along the way. 

By now the payment was due to maintain a spot on the expedition with International Mountain Guides (IMG), the company I had already signed up with. That meant Ty would need $20,000 immediately or risk the team filling up. Once that deposit was in he would have a few months to raise the remainder of funds. Ty made a handful of contacts with potential sponsors to test the waters.  The response was quite positive. 

"I ask myself," Ty started during a call a few weeks ago,"if I am ever going to climb Everest. And if so I can't get much better circumstances than to climb it with you." Ty and I are a solid climbing team. We are typically the fastest climbers on whatever hill we find ourselves. This matters when passing through high risk areas, the likes of which we would spend much time in on Everest, especially the Khumba Ice Fall where most fatalities occur.  As well, we are good friends and get along nicely even when sharing a tent for weeks on end  ...though he sometimes make a wheezing noise when he sleeps and I want to smother him with a filthy sweatshirt.

Still Ty was not ready to commit. He said he needed to look into a couple things first. I took this to mean the family finances. Several days passed and no word came from Ty. The last time I spoke with IMG there were only 4 spots remaining for their 2013 Everest Expedition. By now they might be taken. I started preparing myself for the notion I might be climbing Everest without Ty. 

But we spoke several more times in the days that followed. Each time Ty sounded closer to declaring himself in, however he fell short of saying it outright. As I sat down to write this entry I tried to recall the exact words Ty used to finally commit to going.  It was then that I realized he had not actually done so. So I called Ty at his home in Anchorage. "I think it was that conversation where I said let's make this thing happen," Ty recalled. "So I can tell my Readers you are definitely going?" "Tell away," he consented.