Lessons Learned

July 21, 2012

I didn't expect coming home to be difficult, but it was.  I was excited to see friends, family and my beloved dogs, but it was hard to be around people for several days.  I felt like I had a climbing hangover.  Thank goodness work was slow and understanding, because there were times in the first few days that I couldn't look at those 700 e.mails.  Plus, I felt like Humpty Dumpty - I needed to be put back together - massage, acupuncture, hair cut, wax, sleep.

Even two weeks after coming home my priorities felt shifted.  I think that when you spend three weeks thinking about basic things like eating, drinking, breathing, and sleeping everything else feels overwhelming and unimportant.  It was hard to have drinks with friends who were focused on very normal things like work and weekend plans; none of these things seemed important to me.  

On Denali, more than any other mountain, I realized why I enjoy climbing - it focuses me to be in the moment, which is a place that I seldom occupy in my 'normal' life.  Climbing is pure and simple, everything other than staying safe and taking care of yourself doesn't really matter, and I find that I need this break from time to time.  I also realized while on Denali that I take too many things for granted.  I promised myself to carry with me the simple pleasure of sitting in a chair or washing my hair or chapstick.  

In terms of my physical preparedness, I believe that my training plan was sufficient.  I would have liked to spend more time in the hypoxic tent, and would have done more upper body strength training.  I thought - and worried - a lot about my ability to carry the eighty pounds or so in my pack and sled on the days when we carried the heaviest loads.  While I knew that I could physically carry this much weight on my small frame, I worried about keeping up with the rest of my team.  In the end, this wasn't an issue, and I'm thankful for the endless intervals that I ran and the relentless tire drags around my neighborhood.  Ultimately, I felt mentally and physically prepared for the challenges of Denali.  

To support my fixation with clean clothes, I will take more dryer sheets with me on future expeditions, and I will take antibiotic ointment to use as a moisturizer for cracked and sun burnt skin.  I will also invest in moon boots, which I saw several savvy climbers wearing to stay warm and give their weary feet a break from mountaineering boots.

I relied a lot while on the mountain on cards and quotes from my friends and family.  I would read them when I questioned my strength or ability, and it helped me to know that I was capable of achieving my goal.  There is one that was especially meaningful from Winnie the Pooh:

If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together ... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.  But the most important thing is, even if we're apart ... I'll always be with you.
 --- Christopher Robin

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