Thursday, August 9, 2012

Reflections on "The Great One" (Denali)

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t upset about not summiting Denali. That said, I am very proud of myself for giving it my all. In the end, it was not my fault I did not summit. In fact I did everything humanly possible to try to get up there without putting myself in danger. Mountaineering is a variable sport, and weather is a big part of the game. So, all things considered, it’s really not bad. And in a weird way I’m actually happy that I didn’t summit because it means that I will likely get the chance to return next June.

35%...that's a pretty low success rate. Not as low as Foraker's 0% though...

My experience on Denali taught me several things. Primary among them would be that big expedition mountaineering—when you’re spending weeks to months on a mountain—is even more mental than other mountain climbing. Climbing any mountain is a mental game, that’s for sure, but “the hang”—the sitting around for days on end waiting out bad weather—adds a whole new, difficult component to the picture. I don’t think I’ve mastered the “art of the hang.” as Joe used to call it, but I do think I’m getting there. You can’t over-think or over-analyze it. You’re on the mountain, so you must enjoy it. If it’s meant to happen, it will happen—eventually.

It also revealed to me how close one gets to his or her teammates on an expedition. I cannot remember the last time I felt as lonely as I did the day after I joined the second group at Camp III. I was shocked how much I missed my old teammates, not because my new ones were less cool, fun, or interesting, but because I had developed strong, meaningful bonds with my old team that were very difficult to forget or replace. Luckily, I established new relationships quickly and began to develop a strong rapport with my new team that complemented—but never replaced—my bonds with my initial team. 

Finally, Denali reminded me that we cannot accomplish everything perfectly. I knew going into this project that it would be unrealistic for me to go “7 for 7” and summit each mountain without fail. That said, I still held onto a naïve hope that it would happen, both for my sake and for the sake of my parents’ wallet. But Denali proved to me that you have to be ready to try again, and I think I am up for that challenge. You can count on one thing, Denali, that you’ll be seeing me again next June for Round II. Because even though I didn’t summit this time, I haven’t given up. I’ll be back. 

My final group...a mix of three Mountain Trip expeditions!

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