Archive for April, 2011

Summits & Oceans

April 7, 2011

My climbing days are mostly behind me now, lacking both the knees and the willpower to subject knees to the weeks of limping that will follow the very moment I set back for camp. (my knees can still climb strong! it is the coming down part, if you have a helicopter and like flying to summits, lets talk).
Now my thoughts are turning to oceans as Christi and I are officially Kayakers, well in theory so far. YES we have been in the water now with Kayaks. YES we have practiced drowning, so that we can practice getting back into the boat. We DO have our Kayaks on order from Minnesota which should be here mid April. We DO currently own PFDs & Kayaking jackets, with many items like wetsuits, paddles, spray skirts, etc. etc. that still need to be obtained.
Like mountaineering the price of the buy in is steep! But from all of our observations & the quizzing of those who are veterans of this sport, kayaking equipment as with it kin mountaineering gear does seem to last well.
For as long as I can remember Christi has said to me “lets do something adventurous that involves beaches & water”. My answer has always been pretty much the same “what the hell are we going to do at sea level?”
So instead Christi has accompanied me to the ends of the earth, as we diligently always steered clear of oceans except when flying “overseas” then “the sea” was beneath our plane where it belonged.
For one of our earliest dates I took Christi up a mountain in 6 feet of snow, taught her how to build an igloo, then we lit a survival fire and cooked our meal in the cans that the food came in. At some point I noticed that Christi’s lips were turning blue and realized that her beautiful white jacket was far more beautiful than it was jacket and her boots & pants were spectacularly great sponges, so we climbed back down as she froze.

Christi has summited at least 3 peaks that I can recollect nearing 12,000 feet. One of them was a winter snow & night climb with no moon and her only light was her headlamp to guide her. I can say one thing definitively about summiting with Christi on a couple of those climbs we approached the closest we have come to divorce each time. Christi will promptly side with many of my ex-climbing partners and say “you are an ass! and this is not a death march!” Over the years the top three statements from my ex-climbing partners are 1. I hate you, 2. I hate this F___ing mountain, 3. I am never doing this again! I myself utter those same statements almost every climb myself mainly because I hate the camping part, so my motto is “One mountain, One summit, in One day!” But then as I swear off mountains for good and make my vows of mountain abstinence, I rediscover that I am an addict and about an hour or one beer later at base camp I will think or say aloud to survivors “which mountain is next?”

Christi has also accompanied me on “death marches” across deserts in the middle of summers covering as many as 25 miles in a day. She has spent Christmas time with me in in Tibet at 14,000 feet in -20 degrees with 50 mph winds for most of the duration and she has never been so cold for so long in her life and this was with her “high tech Arctic gear”.

One night in Zeku Tibet as we prepared to sleep in a manger (yes we spent Christmas in a manger) heated only by a Yak dung and coal stove. Let me describe how Yak dung works, if you take a box of wooden kitchen matches and set the whole box on fire, that is about exactly how long a dung patty will burn, while giving off less heat. The objective is to use your 45 seconds of flame to ignite a piece of coal to sustain the heat. That is providing the wind coming through the 2 inch gap in the door does not extinguish the coal or the yak dung first, all and all Yak dung is a practice in patience at it’s very best. As Christi sat there ready for bed fully clothed in her gear, inside a -25 sleeping bag, under a heavy Tibetan blanket wearing gloves and a hat with her teeth chattering so fiercely I began to think she was having a seizure and she said “Jimmy PALM TREES ARE NICE! Can’t we ever go someplace with beaches and a constant 75 degrees!?”
What the hell would I do there? I asked, as she just glared at me.

Now at age 45 being too young for a total knee replacement, besides the fact my conversations with surgeons generally go something like this?
You know these are only good for 5 -15 years at best with “normal” activity, right?
Will you participate in “normal” activity and take up a nice sport like golf?
Would you like me to prescribe pain killers?
Than I guess until A) You agree to do normal people things B) Stop traveling/climbing C) Or want to talk about pain killers, we really have nothing more to discuss, anything else?
Ok See you next time…

About this time of the year, 2 seasons ago I went out for a afternoon solo summit of a local mountain, it was a sunny day and the mountain had a 8 foot snow base on the mountaineering route which was fairly pristine from a late season snow. So I approached the climb in the mode of “gear light” leaving crampons and most my cold weather gear at home. When I was a few 100 feet from the summit I hit a patch of blue ice just below the surface of the new snow, and because I was not wearing crampons I went for a ride down the gully. While I was self-arresting my ice axe hit a rock outcropping, which caught hard, thus causing me to flip a 360 in the air while the adz portion cut my inner thigh on re-entry. When I came to a stop about 200 yards down the mountain from where I had slipped, I sat there bleeding and thinking “maybe kayaking should be my next sport?”

Well this time I shall “mostly” be honoring Christi’s wishes of adventures that include beaches, palm trees and “sea level!”, I am promising equal time in adventures this time.
But my wife is smart and wonderful, so she did opt to also purchase the same high efficiency, expedition 17 foot kayak as me, because as Christi says “Jimmy is still Jimmy and there will be death paddles”.
Already I am dreaming of paddling Alaska, Greenland & Hokkaido…