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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.


If You Don’t Challenge Me, I Will

I do like to challenge myself. I get a kick out having some private goals that seem laughably impossible to reach. These self competitions are usually nothing major, just a list of things that would be satisfying at the end of the day or week or month if completed. I prepare for these lists as if I’m packing for a trip, I’ll have everything prepared in order to have a chance of getting to the end goal. I also count steps up flights of stairs. For some strange reason I’ve known how many “I Knows” there are in the song Ain’t No Sunshine since I was a kid (its 26 per chorus).

I don’t announce that I’m having these little one man races in my head, its really more like a game to keep things interesting, plus if I announced what I was doing Mimi might have my head checked. Challenging ones self is one thing but its really different when someone else challenges you. Right out of the blue one day one of my best friends asked me if I would care to attempt a summit on Mt. Rainier in Washington state a year from that day. Without really realizing what I’d be getting myself into I agreed to go for it. I rushed right home to investigate what summiting Mt. Rainier a year from then was going to mean. He had attempted that one twice before, once successfully, once not.

He knew the guide company to set it up with so I didn’t have to focus on that part, I focused instead on learning mountaineering. I had plenty experience backpacking around in the mountains so it wasn’t completely foreign to me but it was going to be far more technical than anything I’ve ever dreamed of. Mountaineering requires ropes, ice axes, crampons and gear to keep a person warm enough during nighttime rest stops with temperatures wind chill below zero degrees. I was very nervous but also very excited about having a thing to prepare for for a whole year. Training for a climb while living in Mississippi is a challenge, the goal is to get as strong in all the right places including the lungs in order to be successful at high altitude. These guided trips are not inexpensive so I had every intention of going all the way to the  top unless Mother Nature had other plans for me. When climbers and hikers are preparing for a long one they will do a lot of pack walking because it is the best way to condition your body to be able to carry lots of extra weight for long periods of time.

With all the Boy Scouts in Jackson its not too unusual to see Scouts pack walking through Fondren. When you see that it means its time for some of the troops to be getting ready for the infamous Philmont treck in New Mexico. I did a lot of pack walking, running, weights, and bike riding in that year to have myself aerobically ready for that climb. I also worked on getting myself mentally ready for that push at the summit and to me the worst part, descending. Summit day would be a 15 hour ordeal, I was going to have get through some mental hurdles. Any one who has attempted a marathon knows all about the mental work that comes when your body is screaming for you to stop, out of gas. You have to get your mind right to overcome that, its almost like an out of body experience, when it works its very exhilarating.

The time had come to pack my bags for the flight to Seattle. I was as ready as I could be. As we approached Seattle the plane flew right past the giant mountain. Seeing it for the first time was quite startling, the mountain juts up into the sky 14,400 feet straight up! I took a photo of it from that angle and sent it to Mimi, that didn’t calm her nerves much, she wasn’t loving the idea of this journey but she knew it wouldn’t do much good to convince me other wise.

We chugged up to the guides meeting place and got oriented with our gear and the others that would form the rope teams with us. The next couple days we learned how to use the ice axes and ropes and how to fall and more importantly how not to fall. The weather down where we were was perfect, There was plenty snow and good sunshine. The weather up top was a different matter, the top of the mountain has its own micro climate that can be totally unpredictable. As rope teams ahead of us were reporting back it sounded like very few were making it to the top, the winds were over 50 miles an hour and it was precipitating hard. They would wait as long as they could for a window of doable weather long enough to make it to the top, some got turned around within 600 feet from the summit. By this time I was extremely nervous about the whole thing but ready to make a dash for it, I wasn’t willing to let all that preparation be nothing.

We got an early start on the slow and gorgeous hike to the base camp at 10,000 feet. The alpine flowers were blooming like crazy, my mind wandered a few times trying to identify the flowers to the point that I had to play catch up to the group more than once. When we got to the base camp the winds were getting fierce and it was precipitating like crazy. Over the years the guide company had developed a shelter for the teams to be out of the weather while waiting on their chance to summit. The shelter is basically a plywood box with plywood shelves  that were four high. Each shelf is big enough for one man and his gear that were tall enough so you could sit up during the wait. Our wait was going to be a few days, the weather wasn’t improving. The winds were steady at 70 miles an hour and it wouldn’t stop showering all sorts of precipitation. The guides were getting doubtful that it was going to work out, we only had one more day to wait before we would have to call it off so the next group could come in to wait on their chance. We would get bored and stiff during the days so we would gear up and head into it for short practice runs to get comfortable with the gear and to keep from cramping up.

On our last possible night to make a go of it the guides busted into the box at 1AM to say that the winds have died down to 50 miles an hour with sheets of rain, any one that wanted to give it a whirl should get ready quick. There was no way I wasn’t going to experience this so I scrambled to get geared up. With headlights on we snapped on our crampons and roped up to the four other members of the team. We would have to do this climb completely blind because it was coming down so hard. The only way to know if you are going at the right pace is to be able to feel the ropes taughtness . If the rope attached to your harness was tight, you’re going to slow, if the rope was loosley dragging the ground you needed to slow down a little.

The march towards the top had begun, it was wild as anything Ive ever done but I quickly got in the groove. Every step forward was one step closer to the goal. We would take a rest stop for about ten minutes every hour. During these rests your body cools off really quickly so as soon as you get your pack off you put on the expedition down jacket, gulp down as much carbs that you can stomach, gulp down some water and make any needed adjustments all while still still roped up to the team. When the guide belts out that its time to move you don’t want to be the guy that holds up the team so everything is packed back up and ready before he calls out. You don’t want to wait around long because you’ve taken the extra warm stuff back off since you body is about to exert a lot energy and heat.We had passed a few teams that had gotten turned back because the weather stayed to rough up top, they left too early. I think around the third rest my buddy who was on another rope team had gotten nauseous and gone back with some others who weren’t going to make it for various reasons.

The guides were checking each of us by this time because the next leg would be the most difficult and it would be very difficult to turn back from here. In all the hurry at the rest I was never aware that my friend had gone back to base camp, I didn’t find out until we reached the top and it was time for some quick photos that he wasn’t up there.

By this time my climbing legs were spent, luckily I had worked out my legs so that my descent legs would also be strong. I made it back to base camp where I reunited with my friend only to find out that we would have to keep rolling right away. This was a serious bummer for me because in my mind we were going to hang around for a restful couple hours. It was everything I could do to make it to the bottom, my legs were completely spent. It is an amazing thing that your mind can do when your muscles are seemingly not going to take one more step and your mind takes over to make the finish. After all I couldn’t exactly stop and start crying for someone to carry me down so there wasn’t much choice. Once we made to the parking lot the shuttle unceremoniously whisked us off to the guides headquarters. We all reconvened over some dinner that night and had a little awards ceremony and story swapping session. The guide company was posting our progress all along the way so Mimi was able to keep up with the weather conditions and the decisions that were being made along the way so she knew the attempt had been successful. The funnest part of the whole thing was calling her to tell her all about it.

Mimi was back home worrying so she had to do what she had to do to keep herself sane so she worked day and nights with a headlamp on basically redoing our yard. She surprised me by having a team come out and uplight the live oaks on my driveway and the front of the house for my Father’s Day present. It was perfect because my flight came in late enough that it was dark when we pulled up to my home sweet home. The trees were gorgeous with the lights aimed perfectly at the lower branches.

That was an experience that I will forever remember and one that I vowed would not happen again, I am more of a hiking guy. My vow to not let that happen again did not last too long, A year before Max graduated from high school he asked me if i would consider doing the climb with him upon graduation. How could I say no? Once again the training began, except this time I would be able to train with my son. I couldn’t imagine anything greater than that.

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