Three years ago, I received a simple message from a dear friend, who was obviously bored and looking for a distraction.
From: El Jefe
To: The Mountain Männer
Date: Tue, Dec 30, 2014 at 7:32 PM
Subject: Rainier at the moment
Rather than read the NYT durin' lunch, I somehow found myself at the RMI site (again), then I wondered what today's weather was like...
His message included a picture of Mt. Rainier from the National Park Service. The summit of the mountain was obscured in the distance. The foreground shows snow-covered trees gently sloping down the mountain. The trees create a natural path for winter adventurers.
Mt Rainier Weather Conditions in December 2014
Little did my friend know that his message, a mere snowflake, would trigger an avalanche. His curiosity about the weather conditions on the mountain sparked a series of email messages about climbing Denali in Alaska.
A few months before in September 2014, El Jefe and Valentine (the Mountain Männer) attended a skills seminar on Rainier that left them wanting more. They proposed Denali, and they knew I would swallow the bait. Climbing Denali was a long-forgotten, childhood dream of mine. A group of conspirators might finally make an expedition possible.
Our first email exchange led to an ongoing barrage of texts, phone calls, video conferences, and more email messages. We argued how to best prepare for Denali. Do we need more experience at higher altitudes? Should we train in a winter environment? Would we kill each other when we were stuck in a frozen tent? Was a trip to Ecuador or to Mexico better than another seminar on Rainier? How could we prepare for one of the Seven Summits when we live at sea level? We spoke about financial costs and equipment, and, finally, after several long debates, we decided to attend a winter seminar on Rainier in 2016. We would attempt the West Buttress of Denali later.
Now, after a 20 year leave of absence, I have returned to mountaineering. In my youth, I climbed Rainier, spent months in the Northern Cascades, and enjoyed back bowl skiing. After graduating from university, I lived in the vertically challenged capitals of England, Germany, and Texas. Those places curbed my enthusiasm for mountaineering and led me back to flatland sports, such as swimming, biking, and softball. Although my passion for the mountains never died, my attention shifted to hiking, which didn’t require as much preparation or equipment. I bagged Scottish Munros, stood atop Yosemite’s peaks, climbed Mount Whitney, backpacked sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and almost relocated to a town near North Conway with my first wife. Our divorce put any further outings on hold.
When I met my second wife, we would often escape custody disputes and our confining inner city lives by taking our children on hikes. We took the kids to Big Bend in Texas, the High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry) in Slovakia, and the Rennsteig in the Thüringer Wald of Germany; but, I always felt cheated on these trips. We slept indoors, carried suitcases, and ate warm meals. Meanwhile, my trusted 65 liter backpack gathered dust in the hall closet, and my German made climbing boots (my first purchase with a credit card as a college student) became stiff from disuse. I wanted a real adventure. I hated making Campingplatz reservations months in advance. I wanted to traverse a glacier not buy another ice cream for the kids.
Fortunately, my wife and the Mountain Männer have made a new, advanced stage of youth possible for me. They have inspired and encouraged me to take the next step in my journey back to the mountains.
With my wife’s help and understanding, I now train almost daily. I have also attended mountaineering courses in the Austrian Alps, Scottish Highlands, and on Mt. Rainier. Although my wife often scoffs at my equipment purchases, she is quietly comforted by the fact that I’m not wasting money on booze or bimbos.
I look towards my next summit as a respite along a continued journey. Despite any difficulties I may face, I am comitted to achieving my dream of climbing Denali. In the meantime, I’m enjoying being back in the mountains again.