It doesn’t happen that often, but when local ice develops because of unusually cold temperatures the brothers jump on it!
We had been watching the forecasts and as soon as the kitchen faucet froze I knew it was time to go climbing.
Overnight lows all the way down to -3 made for a very brittle experience. Thankfully the wind only came on now and then. It would have been a terrible experience on a windy day at those temperatures!
I grew up in an old farm house out in the county. Most winters we had no heat in the bedrooms and all of us brothers can attest to waking up with the glass of water by our beds frozen solid. It makes for happy memories and tough bodies. I wouldn’t trade that real upbringing for anything! Its interesting though how those cold nights created in me an absolute love for the bitter cold. It makes me come alive now. We had a woodstove downstairs that eventually evolved into gas logs. The central part of our house being the kitchen and den area were the main areas of congregation and coming together as a family. At home we came together as a family for meals and for recreation. We did a lot together there and often dad would take us up and out into the hills as well.
I can still remember vividly rubbing dad’s heals raw on some hikes that ended after daylight had faded away. It was a rush to be there in the wild with dad climbing down to the water falls or exploring the hills in a Land Rover. There is something about being with your dad during those early ages that instills and awakens in a child a love for the hills– a recognition of the Freedom of the Hills. I often wonder if its built into everyone to enjoy the mountains or if its in our DNA. Our great grandfather, Jakob, came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and no doubt was surrounded by mountains. Did he also enjoy climbing and passed it on down the DNA tree? Did dad awaken that bit of history through exposing us to the hills?
Whatever the case, three of the five boys are bitten severely by the bug. Dad is to blame. I have already made steps towards instilling the Freedom of the Hills in my children as well. It will be interesting to see how my four children take to it.
Last month I celebrated 10 years of marriage with my woman. Kelli and I were married on October 27th, 2007 in Harrisonburg and spent a wonderful honeymoon in Colorado for several weeks. It seems the mountains are always at the heart of what we do together.
This year we had the family and climbed, hiked, and spend good time around the valley.
We even managed to get out on a date to Hidden Rocks then went downtown to Staunton for some amazing Pho at Snap Dragon on East Beverly.
I’m often called to the mountains, but its my wife I yearn to be with. There are a few songs that make me think of her. One in particular stands out:
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home (Official Video)
“Home is whenever I’m with you.”
Have you ever been to a far off place or to the edge? It seems that all I can think about when I am here are my loved ones– especially my wife of ten years this October 27, 2017.
The back story: Recently I traveled to Colorado and left my family behind to climb in the Rockies with two of my brothers. I actually have four brothers. Two are domestic and two are wild when it comes to the mountains. We had a grand scheme to climb Capitol Peak and a whirlwind 27 hour window.
We took off from my Aunt’s house at 7 or 8 or so Thursday evening and finished the trip back at her house at 11 or so Friday evening with a two hour bivy in the middle. Pretty rough! Needless to say we were wiped out. Check out the photos and story here.
At one point in the climb I became aware of the sheer drops on either side of the ridge that plummeted down unforgivingly a thousand feet or more. The wind whipped at me and the snow came in waves off and on. I am a mortal man and felt I had enough looking over the edge slick as it was. I admitted defeat and sat there looking down the path I had come. In my head all I could think about was my wife and the sheer beauty of her friendship. The view is incredible and my body is warm beneath the layers. I could sit here for a while. Home calls.
Once again the mountains are calling. My boss is gracious enough to let me have a few days off from our very busy logistics schedule to tackle the freedom of the hills.
Today is my youngest brother’s birthday. To celebrate he wanted to climb the Crestones in Colorado. Weather has other plans for us and is currently dumping snow on them. We are now going to climb Capitol Peak via the Capitol Lake Trail. It will be a lot of work with 17 miles round trip and over 5000 foot elevation gain for some descendants of an Austrian. We will fly out in a few hours from now.
I can’t help but feel excitement at the opportunity, but also a sense of dread leaving my wife and children. Its an odd feeling that twists my insides.
Where I work we were encouraged to write a safety commitment letter. This is what I penned out based on my work experience and our most recent mountaineering adventure to New Hampshire in February 2017.
As most of my co-workers in the 2440 building know I traveled to New Hampshire at the end of January 2017 to climb in the White Mountains. It has become a favorite spot for me and the climbing team I go with. We partake in classic alpine ascents on the Presidential Range in some of the worst weather imaginable as well as partake in the more technical side of climbing called “ice climbing”. This technical climbing involves ascending frozen waterfalls sometimes hundreds of feet vertically with wild exposure for the climber. We spent time on Frankenstein Cliffs and on great frozen routes called “Standard” and “Dracula”.This year I made an observation with a close climbing friend. The two of us noted that the climbing party had several jokesters and more than enough smiling faces. However, we observed that as any one of the members began the climb up a column or frozen face the smile would instantly be replaced with a very serious expression. With this observation in mind I did a self-check: what was I feeling while climbing with hundreds of feet below me on a frozen waterfall? I can tell you I felt no fear, but in its place a steady, grinding, intense focus realizing that what I was doing was very thrilling and dangerous and needed all of my attention!
The party did not lose track of keeping safety measures in place in all of these excursions and verbally and physically checked on each other’s wellbeing and equipment. We would examine the figure-8 knots attached to our harnesses; critique each other’s placement of anchors; provide feedback to belay positions; teach new alpine belay techniques to aid the newer climbers. We all recognized that alpine and technical ice climbing is a very serious business, and we all consciously chose not to take the gift of life for granted.
Working with this logistics company has opened my eyes to what we often take for granted–driving. Statistically speaking driving is the single most dangerous activity in which any American can be involved. Thousands of people die every year in automobile related crashes…but, wait; that great tune just came on the radio so let me reach over to turn it up and take my eyes off the road for just a few seconds… With all of this in mind I wish for myself, my driver group, and my family that we all would assume that same sense of danger inherent in ice climbing when we get behind the wheel of a vehicle and recognize that life is a fragile thing!
Today as I write this I am 63 hours into a 72 Hour Water Fast. I’ve only ever endured a 24 hour fast before and it has been some time since then. I’m doing it for a number of reasons not necessarily in this order. The first reason is for the mental challenge—mind over matter. The second reason is for the health benefits as noted by multiple other bloggers. The third reason is to encourage my prayer life. So let’s explore each of my reasons and how it applies to mountaineering.
The first reason as it applies to Mountaineering is the mental challenge. I remember climbing my first big hill with my forever friend Isaiah in August of 2005. We hiked in to a camping spot below Hagues’ Peak, CO. around late afternoon on a misty and rainy day. It was our first long hike and climb and so we invariably had not planned well enough in terms of food. I will always say men learn best through experience. We enjoyed a MRE meal (before I knew what hydrogenated oil and artificial everything was) and crashed early in preparation for tomorrow’s climb to the summit. We had approximately 3000’ to go up steep and rocky terrain. It was difficult going and slower than anticipated. The top never seemed to get closer. At one point we did what everyone does in an endeavor– you look at each other, look ahead at the trial still to come, look back at the easier way down that ends the pursuit. There is that part in a man where mental stubbornness begins to do battle with that weakness called the body. We looked to the summit and pushed on. At the top there is jubilation, however it is only half of the battle! We still need to get all the way down. By mid-day and with almost ten miles still to go we are out of food. I can recall talking about food the entire way back. We took a ridiculous selfie once back at the faithful Honda Civic and drove straight to Subway! I can tell you several other stories of mountaineering adventures through the years that I have shared with friends and family. The theme is always the same. It is always a mental challenge to beat your body into overcoming the mountain. Even packing enough food it will be a trial. It will be a mental challenge as you gaze at the peak that never seems to get closer. Day three of this fast has been the most difficult. I am closer than ever to completing the fast, but am faced with the temptation every moment of ending it early. I chose to walk a three and a half mile loop on quiet back roads. It was good. It transported me back to remembering long arduous climbs, hungry, tired, but persevering through the trial of the mountain. The trial is sheer joy. It is mind over matter. Pressure makes diamonds. The fast keeps my mind ready for the next mountaineering adventure. Try it and see!
The second reason I am doing this fast is for the health benefits. According to an article by Steven Salzberg commenting on a couple of studies he states that “fasting (or starvation) forces your body to ‘recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed’ which explains the drop in the white blood cell count. Two of the key mechanisms are an enzyme called PKA and a hormone called IGF-1, both of which are reduced by fasting. Once you start eating again, your stem cells kick back into high gear to replenish the cells that were recycled.” We never seem to give our body a break from eating. The system is constantly working and never seems to hit a reset. Almost like a vacation from work it seems our bodies benefit greatly from a “vacation” of sorts from eating. After a three day fast the body has cleansed itself of toxins, reset the immune system for the body, and cleared the mind of clutter and junk as the individual doing the fast is forced to focus on the task. Let Us Reason puts it like this: “Fasting does have a rejuvenation effect on the body. Nearly all animals instinctively fast when they are ill, when we fast our organs and glands get a much-needed rest. The body is able to concentrate on other things besides digestion. The Bible refers to “fasting” with spiritual goals in mind. In a general sense fasting can give us control over the weaknesses of our flesh we normally may not have. In a more specific sense fasting can help you concentrate on spiritual matters. We set aside our everyday activity to concentrate on the Lord.” As a man I need my body at its peak to perform the tasks at hand including the ability to climb the mountains of life put before me by the LORD. The body is a gift given to me. As a steward of it I seek its wellbeing through a 72 hour fast.
The third reason I choose to do this lengthy fast is for the spiritual benefit. At every moment I’m faced with a pang of hunger I pray for the strength to carry on. I know that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul wrote these words while sitting in prison almost 2000 years ago. He was dealing with some pretty tough times as he sought to spread the Gospel. It was not his strength he leaned on. He recognized that the strength he had was given to him from Someone higher and thus gave God the glory for the accomplishment. Today while walking I asked for the strength and healing to carry on. I am only a man. I am finite. I am frail. I am bound within created time. Time does not wait. I can still remember all of my children at the time of their birth. It is burned into my head. Man is born and man will someday die. But while we are here there is quality of life that can only be truly achieved as a gift from the LORD through prayer. American busyness has quietly and persistently overwhelmed my prayer life to the point that some days I forget to pray to my Maker and Sustainer. In fasting I’m reminded with every hunger pang, every moment of fatigue to turn to my Lord. It is good training for life yet ahead. Try it and see.
Personally this is my first lengthy fast. As mentioned before I’ve done 24 hour fasts, I’ve done 13-14 hour mountain adventures without food, but three days is like nothing I’ve done before. The benefits are there if you are physically able to do it. I am looking forward to some amazing food when this is all done in roughly 10 hours—boy am I looking forward to it! I will have to slowly introduce simple foods like chicken bone broth and diluted tart cherry juice so as not to shock my body. My senses are heightened like never before in anticipation for a wonderful end to the fast. The benefits will pay off and prepare me physically, mentally, and spiritually for not only the next Mountain, but life.