Years ago I was a climber and hiker, and it was a challenge from a friend just a few days after my 53rd birthday that made me realize I was excusing myself from the kind of work needed to climb a big mountain. I’m acting older than I am, time to flip the bit on aging. Rather than retire I’ve decided to climb two volcanoes in Ecuador this winter (Ecuador’s summer). Cotopaxi and Antisana, pictured above, are my targets.
Now I need to get into shape. Mountains require a good deal of respect. If I am not ready this year, I’ll go next year. For now, I am an older fat guy with 50 lbs. to lose — and a lot of strength to rebuild — before I can venture to the 18,000 ft. – 20,0000 ft. peaks of these Ecuadoran volcanoes. Pleural edema (bleeding into the lungs) at altitude will be my biggest challenge, as I live and train at sea-level. The opportunity to acclimatize, while working and remaining an engaged father and husband, is the hack I need to figure out as I start training.
It is very easy to die climbing mountains and I don’t want to creep or freeze off this mortal coil. I do want to see things from the top of the world. It’s the moment you reach a summit and turn to look at what you climbed and the view around, that makes mountaineering worthwhile. Except for all the rigorous exercise and your climbing partners, the ascent is something that each climber has to get themselves through largely on their own in order to be a good team member. My getting in shape is what I owe the people I’ll climb with, or I will not go. I’m no Into Thin Air kind of guy; I like to win and stay alive.
Today, I did my second hike to prepare, a three-mile run over a largely hilly, albeit at sea-level, route. I climbed about 400 feet. It wasn’t exhausting. I’m sore. Coming on the heels of a five-mile walk with my son yesterday, it feels like this year’s climb may be doable. Either way, I will lose a lot of weight and be ready for a climb this year or next.
With the disasters on Everest and Rainier this season, it may seem a strange time to decide to climb. I was on Rainier in 1980 when the biggest ice fall collapse in history killed 11 people on the mountain. This year’s Everest tragedy, which claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas, was very similar in terms of the kind of sudden failure of a glacial body that killed so many people in 1980. The unexpected is to be expected while on a mountain. I can only prepare to see if I’ll be able to make the trip this year. If one is smart about mountaineering, giving nature the respect required to survive nature on its worst days, the worst outcome for this new goal is: I lose a lot of weight, get in shape, strengthening my degenerative back in the process, to add maybe more than a few years to my life.
Onward, to Cotopaxi and Antisana.