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ptownclimber

Thank you mentors

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This May during the long, slow, cathartic, soul-cleansing slog up one of our local volcanoes, I began reflecting on some of the experiences I’ve had in the past 15 years of climbing. My thoughts moved to the people who have expanded my horizons, pushed me to overcome bigger challenges, and taught me the craft of climbing. I thought about people like Rick Posekany. Within a month, I was shocked and saddened to learn that Rick had passed away.

 

In 2003 I was a young, headstrong climber at the start of my career. I signed up for Posey’s climb of Aconcagua. I was in over my head, even more than I realized at the time.

 

Soon after arriving at Plaza de Argentina basecamp (just under 14,000 feet), I started feeling lousy. Really lousy. Rick took me to see the camp doctor, who confirmed what Rick suspected – I had acute mountain sickness. They put this little contraption on my finger, which recorded the oxygen saturation of the hemoglobin in my blood. While at sea level this would read around 99%, at that time it was in the low 80’s, which somewhat explained why I felt about half as good as normal. Imagine a bad hangover with a dose of heavy lethargy. I was physically, mentally and emotionally wrecked. I was twenty years younger than the other guys, and yet I was the one who wasn’t going to make it anywhere near the summit. I had a deep, sinking feeling about all the time and effort that I had committed to this trip – for naught.

 

They started me on Diamox and told me to rest. In his gruff, terse, gentle way, Rick kept tabs on me and told me not to give up hope. The next day Rick, Mark and John carried loads to camp 1 while I rested. The following day the pulse oximeter read 88%. I was feeling better and cleared to keep ascending. We moved on to camp 1, then camp 2. I moved a little slower, humbled by my own frailty. We got pinned down by a bad storm at camp 2 for 6 days, testing our patience, supplies and determination. We had carried a load to another camp called Piedras Blancas, at about the same elevation but closer to the ascent route. Nearing the end of our allotment of time and supplies, the weather began to clear. We scrapped our plan to move; instead Posey and Mark retrieved our cache of gear from Piedras Blancas. It was a short, flat traverse, but the wind was such that they had to break trail through the snow both ways.

 

The skies opened and camp 2 turned into a bustle of activity as nearly everyone mobilized for the summit. After so much bad weather and luck, I could hardly believe we were actually headed out. It was an incredible day – dark, blue, cloudless skies and no wind – hard to believe after the weeks we’d spent there. On Aconcagua the wind is a nearly constant figure. It blows tents away. You can hear gusts coming, like an airplane. It is visible in the form of lenticular clouds – the viento blanco. I was getting used to the cold, the wind, not eating enough, and hanging out in those stinking tents reading Atlas Shrugged.

 

Rick was exhausted from breaking trail to get our boots and stuff from Piedras Blancas. The trail out of camp 2 was deep with snow. The day seemed long as the sun cut through the high, thin air. The final approach is a dusty slog. We labored slowly up the slope, fighting the thin air. Rick was unselfishly carrying a lot of group gear – first aid, extra food, extra gloves and so on. He was falling off the pace. I waited for him; we fell behind the pack. After many, many rest stops I finally convinced him to switch backpacks with me. There was no way in hell I was going to the summit without Rick. After all the extra work he had done for the team, I would not have made it without him; I would not have earned it.

Our pace picked up a bit with the weight redistributed. As we climbed higher, the views opened to the northwest, west, and southwest. We reached the summit around 7pm and spent all of 15 or 20 minutes on top, after two weeks of hard effort. Coming down the sunset was pretty amazing. Rick and I didn’t make it back to camp until after midnight. It took us 19 hours to climb 4,000 feet.

 

I had never felt so physically and emotionally exhausted. I can’t say I was elated that I summited, although I know I would have been disappointed to come all that way, put forth all that effort and expenditure, and never make it past Piedras Blancas. More than anything I felt a great sense of relief about not going home empty handed.

 

Together we made it to the summit. That climb taught me a powerful lesson – that climbing is a team sport. Life is a team sport.

 

The things I learned on that climb helped form the foundation of my climbing experience. We talk about climbing in terms of mountains, cliffs, routes, grades, ratings, buttresses, glaciers, faces and couloirs. New climbers quickly accumulate the latest, most-improved gear, mileage, summits and routes. With maturity we begin to appreciate more and more the importance of partners and community to the climbing experience. To quote Gaston Rebuffat: “the choice of companion is as important as the choice of the climb.” As specific climbs fade in memory and significance, the bonds forged between partners only become more meaningful – and transcend the climbing experience.

 

Very soon two of my mentors will be heading out on an epic adventure. They’ve motivated and inspired me to be a better climber and a better person. Our mentors are not always older or more experienced.

 

Wherever you are in your journey of life, stop and take a moment to reflect on who your mentors have been, and how they’ve influenced your life. Thank them, and pass it on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aconcagua_summit.jpg

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