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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.