The alarm rang around midnight. Nervous excitement. The original plan had been to board the Sno-Cat at 1 AM, but due to one of them getting stuck in the snow, the schedules were way off. So we had a bit of waiting, which was mainly problematic for me because I failed to hydrate throughout that time. With no water source immediately nearby, the only option would have been pulling from my pack, which I already suspected was a bit light on water. Notes for my future self.

Photo Jun 16, 2 08 47 AM

Photo Jun 16, 2 09 16 AM

But at 3 AM, the team and our guides got on a Sno-Cat from Timberline Lodge to the top of Palmer. Starting at 8000 ft at 3:30, we strapped on our crampons and started hiking.

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Weather had been ideal the day before and continued to be, but unfortunately, my own physical conditions were not. I haven’t slept well any time I’ve left home in the last six months, and this trip turned out to be no different; I slept a total of five hours in the two nights before the climb.

I started feeling my hurt knee and calf and my lack of sleep as we ascended, but maybe even more troubling was a persistent sense of fear. I stopped looking backward because I didn’t want to think about how we were getting down (not that that actually prevented me from thinking about how we were getting down, mind you). In hindsight, the fear is a bit of a mystery…though it’s a 35- to 45-degree incline, I certainly had the training and footwear.

Photo Jun 15, 6 05 04 PM

But I just couldn’t shake it.

Around 6 in the morning, we reached Devil’s Kitchen, a large fumarole site at about 10,200 ft. Standing on relatively flat snow, I finally took in the sights. Illumination Rock. The shadow of the mountain on the surrounding hills and forests. And most of all…the summit of Mt. Hood, only just graced by the rising sun.

Photo Jun 16, 6 05 45 AM

Looking up at climbers tackling the next 1000 feet, I felt two things: 1) immense pride in what I had accomplished, and 2) certainty that I didn’t have the juice left to get to the summit and back down. And so, along with a guide and a few climbers from other parties, I turned back.

Photo Jun 16, 6 10 40 AM

I’m still proud of how far I got — and not just on the mountain today, but what I accomplished, mentally and physically, in four short months. While I’m still carrying more fat and less muscle than I need to be prepared for serious climbing, the ratio has markedly improved. And I’m well aware that as I climbed with cold muscles in the dark, I was drawing on my increased ability to keep going when I wanted to give up, which I developed in my running program, and an increased ability to stay with a mentally undemanding task, which I honed through my longer hikes.

I’m proud of not holding my team back; though the opportunity was there to press on and turn back later, I respected my limits and picked an opportune time to cut bait without delaying the others. And I was justified in my decision; though the fear disappeared quickly on the way down, the physical challenges remained. It was 4000+ ft back down to Timberline, and I was completely spent when I arrived around 9:30. Adding hours and exertion to that, I’m sure, would not have ended well.

I’m proud that while today wasn’t the day, I am not very far from being able to take on this challenge.

I’m proud that I raised $2210 $2410! to benefit underserved kids in a profound and impactful way.

And perhaps more than anything, I’m proud of that first Yes — and that I stuck it out. My reward is a new pursuit that I love — one that challenges me in ways that I want to be challenged.

The Beginning.

Update: How could I forget the best news?!? Except for one member who opted not to go at all due to injuries, the rest of my team did reach the summit. Can’t wait to see their pics.

bluebonnets_1982When I was a kid, my family camped all the time. These excursions were normally at campsites, either in forests or at the beach, so they weren’t as hard-core as a lot of families like to do, but my childhood was also filled with swimming in the ocean, climbing trees, fishing in lakes, riding horses and bikes, and running through fields.

I never really thought the fact that most kids don’t do that any more until my friend Kris recommended The Last Child in the Woods to me last year. But it’s true that nature is becoming more and more abstract, less and less accessible, to each new generation. And it very well could be to the detriment of kids’ health and everyone’s environmental consciousness.

Some kids will always have access to nature, but many more — the ones who can benefit most from facing and learning from the challenges that the wilderness offers — just don’t have the resources. And that’s where Big City Mountaineers comes in.

I have been deeply inspired by the work that BCM is doing, provides mentoring and wilderness programs to at-risk youth, focused on building character, resiliency, and decision-making skills. (They have information on the effectiveness of their programs on their website, as well as videos like this one featuring graduates of their programs.) And that inspiration is even more powerful because Summit for Someone — the BCM fundraiser that I’m participating in — has helped me rediscover my own love of nature and the confidence boosts that come from tackling nature’s challenges.

For a long time, this process was about getting physically ready to climb — hopefully to summit — Mt. Hood. And in 17 days — SEVENTEEN DAYS — I may reach the summit or I may not, for reasons that may or may not be within my control. But no matter what, I win, because I’m helping so many others. And I’ve almost reached my fundraising goal of $2500.

If you’re inspired to help, please do so…

  • here (tax-deductible for you), or
  • here (matched 100% by my employer).

I’ll definitely be able to add all donors’ names to my t-shirt for donations received by June 9 — after that, I’ll do what I can!

Thank you so much to everyone who has already pitched in; your encouragement has meant more to me than I can express.

I was on the mountain by 8 AM yesterday, with one of my climbing partners, for an absolutely gorgeous hike. Again starting at Timberline, we took our time and topped out at around 7600 feet a little less than three hours later. Time flies when you’re having fun! Weather was overcast when we started but the clouds rolled off the mountain quickly, and at the top of our trek, this was our view:

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This was a good opportunity to try out a few new things, mainly Smartwool’s 250-g/m baselayer bottoms and mountaineer socks. (PS — All Smartwool socks are 30% off at REI right now. PPS — I’m developing a Smartwool addiction and I’m not going to rehab.) The new gear worked beautifully. AND I brought my husband’s homemade energy bites! Yum. These training runs are obviously good for getting physically in shape for climbing at higher elevation, but they’re also becoming instrumental in trying out my gear and making sure I’m accustomed to how everything works. One gear discovery this week is that my gaiters aren’t going to work…so those go back on the shopping list.

A bit of a bummer at the bottom of the mountain…almost as soon as I hit the dirt, I hit it too hard. And the rocks, too. With my knee.

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Eh. Today is a rest day anyway. Will do my PT for my knees, but not too much else. I feel good for making the effort without other injuries acting up.

All in all, this climb in was good for my mental positioning. I have to admit, as much as I enjoyed the showshoeing last week, it wasn’t inspiring. What was the difference between the two climbs? Hiking instead of snowshoeing, for one. Climbing with a partner, for two…having someone to help pass the time and share encouragement is huge. Experience. Being in a little bit better shape. Using trekking poles.😉

Right now I feel better than I ever have about my own readiness — and I also feel inspired to keep working hard for 27 more days.

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One of the things I *really* wish I had written more about in the early stages of this journey is how much terminology I learned. What’s the difference between hardshell and softshell? What are Schoeller and Capilene (both of which I now own and love)? What the hell is a balaclava?

It was quite intimidating at first, and right now at four weeks out from the big climb, I’m thinking about it again as I check my gear list and see how much I still need to procure. I have my big items taken care of, but still need some different options in base layers and a wool hat. And a balaclava.

Does anyone have any sites to share for inexpensive gear or general mountaineering advice?

Apparently, this coming weekend, my crew is climbing Mount St. Helen’s…to train for Mt. Hood.

I guess I’m pretending to be bemused, but really I’m thrilled. I feel stronger than I have in a long time, inside and out. I am liking this.

For a bit of training in elevation, I strapped on my snowshoes and hiked from Timberline Lodge up to Silcox Hut today. It was harder than I expected, but it was rewarding. I’ve never used snowshoes before, so it was definitely a learning experience.

I also learned how to lock my trekking poles in their extended position, since I’ve either been using them retracted or not using them at all while hiking. Unfortunately, I learned that while at the top, thanks to a friendly fellow who was skinning up at the same time. So, even though I hate to share this because it shows how much of a novice I am, I’m also kinda proud. I made it up from 6000 to 7000 feet in an hour(ish), in very basic snowshoes, no poles.

My right calf protested a bit on the way down, keeping me from digging in like I would have liked. Even still, I don’t get how people say that going down is harder than up. Up sucks. Especially with no poles.

Weather: Foggy. I put on my Gore-Tex shell to protect from light rain about halfway up.

A bit of weirdness: My iPhone turned off (died of cold?) when I pulled it out to take pictures before heading down. When it returned to normal temperatures, it turned back on with as much battery as it had had at the top — over 50%. Looking for advice and recommendations…I want to be able to use it to take pictures and tweet (if there’s signal) on my upcoming climb. Here are the couple that I was able to get today:

From Silcox Hut

From Silcox Hut, facing south (panorama)

From Silcox Hut (panorama)

From Silcox Hut, facing south

I took a big lesson in pacing today. It’s not a race. Choose a pace where oxygen can get to your muscles and just keep going. That was hard. Really hard.

But the biggest lesson was a mental one, as usual. I definitely got to a place — a couple times, in fact — where I felt like turning around, or even felt like What the hell am I even doing?. Learning how to push through that will be key. The biggest difference between stopping 100 ft short of my goal (which I desperately wanted to do) and making it all the way there was not the extra workout my legs and lungs got. It was the workout my brain got. It was the difference between doing what I set out to do and choosing to fall short.

I just transferred my first lump sum of donations to Big City Mountaineers. $800 – WOW! Feeling humbled by my friends’ and family’s support.

That $800 will be matched by Nike and added to $150 already donated directly to BCM…for a total of $1750.

70% of the way to goal!

Today the whole team had an orientation conference call with our guides from Timberline Mountain Guides. They did a really good job getting everyone well informed and comfortable. I’m more confident now that my training routine is sufficient, which isn’t to say I’m going to slack but is to say that I will be less likely to push myself into more injuries.

Also, good news…we have another climber AND the guide:climber ratio is 1:3, so we will definitely have two guides. I have less concern now about being the weakest link.

Went out for a hike yesterday, with pack and with some of my climbing partners, and all went great until my right calf started hurting last night.

And then I went for a short walk with a coworker this morning — no big deal, a two-mile stroll — and I think I angered it.

I think people who have been active all of their lives have normal routines when something like this happens. They have medicine regimens and wraps and know when to use heat vs. ice. But I don’t.

Anyway. Staying off of it as much as possible and continuing any training that I can.

Some good news, though…it looks like pdxmountaingirl will be able to climb, as long as her PT keeps going at this rate. Yay! (I may not have written about it before, but she got hit by a car while riding her motorcycle a few weeks back. Not good.)

So, the running hasn’t been great for my knees. I’m up to 3 1/4 miles at a time now, but my knees are starting to hurt. Really lucky to work at a company that has a sports medicine center with free physical therapy for everyone who is on the company insurance.

I’ve enjoyed the running. I’ve enjoyed, more than anything, the rewards of keeping going past when I would have given up before. I don’t run fast, but I reach my goals.

No more running for a while, but I’ll keep hiking and doing ellipticals/whatever my knees will allow. And, of course, rehab. Yes, yes, yes.

Today I braved my first REI gear sale and managed to score the last two big items that I needed: an insulated jacket (Marmot down, $50), and hardshell pants (North Face, $118 on clearance but new). Still and all… SCORE! Especially the jacket.

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In addition to my running, I’m trying to go out for hikes most weekends between now and Mt. Hood. Today I tried out my new hiking boots and my pack (which I’ve had for a couple of years but never used). And my new softshell pants and Capilene top. REI Outlet FTW!

The boots are these and I love them. One of my climbing partners got the same ones and she loves them too. They won’t be the ones we climb in (TMG is providing real mountaineering boots for us), but they’re great for training.

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Today’s hike through Forest Park: 8.7 miles in 3 hours, with a 20+-pound pack. It felt really, really good. There’s a mental shift here — I’m learning the ability to keep going…and going…and going. At first I looked at my watch every 5 to 10 minutes. Then, gradually, I stopped.

I’m glad I didn’t have a recurrence of last week’s sickness. With only four climbers, we think we’re only going to have one guide, which means when one of us has to turn back, we all turn back. I don’t. want. to be. the person who makes everyone turn back.

I decided to start taking long hikes on the weekends, and even though I’ve been sick for most of the week, I started today.

That was probably a mistake.

I did get out on the trail and ended up hiking a few miles, but on the way back, I got really weak. I had to stop a couple of times and while the terrain was hilly, it shouldn’t have been anything I can’t do. I hope it’s just sickness and not being really out of shape.

When I asked pdxmountaingirl how I would know I’m in good enough shape to make the climb, she said I needed to have the stamina to run five miles. Well, I’m not much of a runner, but if I start now with one mile and increase 1/4 mile per week, I’ll get there.

I ran the first mile that I’ve run in a really long time — I’m going to go with decades — tonight. Wow. Feeling great.

I wrote about how it started here, on my regular blog.

The short story:

This is a big challenge for me. This blog will chronicle the journey.

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