Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"What?!? Are you crazy?!?"

Days remaining before I leave warm and sunny Arizona for the Himalayas: 55
Simulated altitude at which I am sleeping with my hypoxic generator: 12,100 feet

Everest here I come, but first I’ve got some explaining to do, so this is an open invitation—I’m begging really—for help from my fellow mountaineers. Please share your thoughts and feelings about what compels you to climb big mountains. You see, I’ve noticed something about high-altitude mountaineering. As long as I keep my plans to myself, I can remain blissfully deluded that I’m a veritable model of sanity, the sensible sort of man you can rely on to make rational decisions about what to do with his time, talents, and resources, but the moment I begin to articulate my mountain climbing ambitions out loud or in writing to friends and family, typical responses make it seem like I can keep whole teams of psychiatrists busy for years. Why do we do it? I know it all makes sense to my fellow climbers on big mountain-climbing expeditions, asylums for people who think this kind of thing is fun, but how am I supposed to explain to everyone else what is so appealing about spending the equivalent of the gross national product of several third world countries on technical climbing gear just so that I can voluntarily expose myself to howling gale-force winds, absurdly frigid temperatures, white-out blizzard conditions, and excruciating levels of physical and psychological fatigue, not to mention the very real possibility of dismemberment, disability, or death from falls, frostbite, hypothermia, AMS, HAPE, and HACE? Do you know what happens when a contemporaneous webcast of a big guided expedition reports that you had a brush with HACE almost 23,000 feet up in the high Andes? I do. Your friends and family Google “HACE” and freak out. It’s not enough that I’ve already put them through Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Denali, Carstensz, and Kosciuszko on my quest to reach the highest point on each continent. Now I’ve set my sights on Everest. Isn’t there a 12-step program for this? It’s sort of like what I’ve heard about flying from fellow pilots. It’s a disease for which there is no cure, only treatment. So, dear friends and family, this is me getting ready to check into yet another mountaineering rehab facility. This one is called Everest.

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