Category: Faith

Lake LouiseI’ve been thinking about courage lately.  What is courage?  What does it take to be courageous?  Since I get a lot of media coverage and public speaking engagements for surviving blind and alone on Mount Everest, I’ve been called many things, good and bad…one being courageous.  A few decades ago my job was to jump out of US Navy HH-60H helicopters in the middle of the ocean to save downed pilots.  Perhaps it takes courage to risk your own life to save another, but none of my SAR (Search and Rescue) buddies would have called it that.  It’s just what we did.  This past decade I’ve climbed mountains on the 7 continents with a solo summit of both Everest and Aconcagua.  Some would say it takes courage to climb big mountains.  I think it’s just how I’m wired and what I do.

As each year quickly passes as a father and husband, I’m reminded to ‘be still’, embrace the moment and reflect on the past.  It’s not my nature to live in the past since I’m a goal-setter, very driven and live for the adventure.  But with each talk or media appearance I’m asked the same resounding question, “what’s next”.  I typically rattle off some canned adventurous response that aligns with my past, but lately I’ve been pondering the question more and more.  Why does there have to be something next?  I think it’s the obvious question for an audience after they’ve heard what I’ve accomplished and survived, but I also think it plays into our society where we always want more.  Or we’re expected to deliver more.  If you do a good job at work you’re typically rewarded with more work!  I see these compulsive behaviors a lot in extreme athletes.  It’s the feeling that you have to continually challenge yourself and accomplish amazing feats or else you’ll let yourself or others down.  Plus athletes can feel the pressure with social media fans and sponsors.  There’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself and experiencing the world as long as it’s done for the right reason.  Too much of anything can be a bad thing, so do things in moderation.

So what’s next for me?  I’m not one to try to top what I’ve done, but that also doesn’t mean I’ll completely quit living life to it’s fullest.  My family is my life so my focus remains on them.  To be a present father and model good behavior and values to my kids.  To be a present husband and build my wife up so she can shine the way she was created to shine.  And I’ll continue to do amazing adventures but not because I’m expected to, but because it’s who I am.

What will you do next?

 

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Denali (Mount McKinley) – the great one – the highest peak in North America20150530_258

I love and hate Denali, but more hate.  It’s a brutal peak nestled in the Alaskan Range.  I’ve had 3 expeditions (1 guided and 2 that I led) over the past 6 years and it’s my final summit of the 7 summits.  At 20,320′ I’ve already summited 3 other peaks higher – Everest, Island Peak and Aconcagua, however Denali’s unpredictable weather has prevented me from standing on top.  As a goal oriented person I tend to be full in on driving toward my accomplishments but with experience and respect for the mountains I’ve come to learn that it’s not alway about the summit.  There’s a lot more in life than just standing on top of a mountain, but even falling short is better than not falling at all.  Adventure is vital to our existence.

A couple weeks ago my buddy, Jason, and I flew to Anchorage and drove to Talkeetna to make another attempt (his first) on Denali (McKinley).  We trained hard throughout the year with 70lb+ packs regularly scaling the local Cascade peaks in our backyard.  With any expedition you go in fully prepared with a plan and high expectations that the mountain will cooperate with favorable conditions.  Not the case with Denali, which has a small climbing season each May / June.  This May the mountain saw several teams but sent them all home with their dreams crushed.  Zero summits until the very last days of May.

On May 28th Jason and I efficiently made our way through a series of camps to reach 14,000′ (camp 4) in 4 days.  This is almost 15 miles carrying 50lbs in a pack and 50lbs+ in a sled at altitude.  We cached some gear (food / fuel / sleds / snowshoes) at the 11k camp and did a full carry (75lbs+) up to camp 4 (14k).  We then rested a day, climbing to the top of the fixed lines at 16.5k the following day.  After that we felt fully acclimated to make a move to high camp and a summit attempt.  It was great meeting up with familiar faces from around the world (Chile, Antarctica, Himalaya, etc.), plus the Disabled Veterans group and some Polish climbers.  However our plan was quickly shutdown with a storm hitting the mountain, pinning us down at 14k for almost a week with 2-3′ of snow dumping per day, moderate winds, -25f temps and zero visibility.

On an expedition like Denali you plan out your days with food and fuel rations.  This includes what you need up at particular camps in case weather forces you to stay longer than expected.  We planned for 21 days on the mountain so we were fine for the time being. However you have to plan for weather down at basecamp as well in case planes can’t come to get you.  During the time we were stuck up higher there were 70 people stuck at basecamp for 5 days waiting for a flight off the Kahiltna Glacier.  After 9 days on the mountain, majority spent confined to our tent at 14k, we had a 1 day ‘break’ in the weather.  We spoke to other groups in camp.  All from 17k (high camp) were descending without a summit attempt and the majority at 14k were gonna head out later or hunker down (conservative approach).  A few said they were going to move higher in hopes for a wishful summit attempt.  Jason and I discussed all scenarios and in the end decided it was better to make a break for basecamp rather than getting stuck higher for another week.  It’s a tough decision to make after we’d put so much into the climb and were so close to standing on top, but since our satellite phone stopped working 3 days prior we felt that it was also important to get back to our worried families.  The mountain would be here in the future if we decided to give it another shot in the future.

We packed up and headed down below the cloud layer from 14k to 11k.  With the fresh snow fall we were moving quickly and attentively to avoid potential avalanches, which we heard a few kick off earlier.  Then 40 mins into the descent a whiteout cloud cover hit us without warning.  Visibility went from 100% to zero right after the area called Windy Corner.  I slowed us down and used my Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles as a probe to check for hidden crevasses as I looked for wands (trail markers placed by GPS coordinates from NPS members).  My pole punched through the glacier with nothing below it and I paused to call out ‘crevasse’.  I slowly crept sideways and forward until a small wand came into view.  At that point above me I heard Jason yell as he partially punched through a hidden crevasse, but quickly removed himself from the danger.  A few yards more he punched through another one.  With each one I stabilized myself down the hill to ensure I had leverage to stop a serious fall.  I was completely blinded by the whiteout at this point and was in constant prayer to help gain guidance to the next wand.  I came down an area called Squirrel Hill and heard an unusually calming yell from Jason.  I looked back and all I could see was his head.  I got down on the ground and quickly placed a picket into the snow and anchored the rope to prevent him slipping deeper into the crevasse.  He stepped right through a bergshrund (area of glacier that separates from the mountain) and was hanging by the rope with 100’s of feet of exposure beneath him.  He said he didn’t mess his drawers but I wouldn’t blame him if he had.  He was able to take his pack off and climb out.  I used a prussik to bring him in closer to ensure he was ok and then talk about the situation.  We were blind moving down to 11k with winds picking up.  We needed to maintain our course and slowly, carefully make our way down the mountain.  I let him know that if it got too bad we could dig a snow cave or anchor the tent down with ice screws in certain areas (I had done this in the same area in 2012 due to different circumstances).

We moved in constant prayer and then out of nowhere I saw 2 skis crossed in the middle of the trail.  I moved toward them then a light seemed to shine down directly overhead guiding a path for us.  One wand appeared at a time as we slowly moved forward.  Then the area opened up as we reached the other side of the snow field.  At this section the winds kicked up to 60mph+.  The ice we stepped on was bulletproof.  One slip could have been tragic.  Then without warning my right crampon popped off.  They were super tight so this came without warning, but it made me pause to put it back on and assess the situation.  The only time this had ever happened before was when I was descending Everest blind down the South Rock Step when I took a fall and the fixed line shock loaded and saved me.  As I put the crampon back on a sense of fear came over me.  I looked forward at the hurricane force winds and signaled Jason to reverse out of there.  We hunkered behind a crevasse berm and waited for the winds to die down a bit.  I could tell he was getting exhausted but I told him he needed to dig deep and move when I was moving.  We could rest at 11k in our tent. After 20 mins there was a small lull in the winds and I said let’s go.  We moved quickly but with deliberate steps as to not trip and pull the other off the side of the mountain (1000’s of feet of exposure…certain death).  We made it down to the platform above our final obstacle before camp 3, which was Motorcycle Hill.  It is plastered with crevasses and overhanging snow / ice called cornices, which broke loose in an avalanche and killed 4 Japanese climbers in 2012 (they still remain in the crevasses).  We rested for a few minutes and switch to ice axes, which made stability worse because of the heavy packs but would give us a better chance of stopping a fall with self arresting on the axe.  We got up and moved, anticipating the high wind gusts and leaning into them then moving with any lull.  We made it up and over the top and descended down, avoiding crevasses but encountering waste deep snow.  It took us an hour to get down through the snow, which would normally take 15 minutes.  As we reached camp an Austrian climber approached us with hot drinks.  The entire camp had been watching us descend and congratulated us on making it through the unexpected storm (unexpected at lower altitudes).  It just goes to show how fast things can change on the mountain and how you have to be prepared to stay calm and react at any moment.

A super nice Swiss couple helped us dig out and build a camp for the night.  We also found our cache from a week earlier and dug it up for our descent. At 3am the next morning we woke up and packed for our 10 mile descent to basecamp.  It was snowing 3′ a night and we took turns post holing through waste deep snow with 100lbs+.  It took over 10 hours to get to basecamp, with one of the most brutal descents I’ve experienced.  Several other groups followed hours later and thanked us for creating a trail for them.  I guess someone had to do it.

In mountaineering there’s so much more than just reaching the summit. Obviously you need a goal, which is the summit, but the ultimate goal is getting home safely.  I continue to learn so much about the mountains and myself.  Through my years of experiences I’ve put less and less importance on the summit and more on the adventure itself.  Denali continues to elude me, but that’s ok.  There’s plenty of other mountains out there and maybe some day I’ll head back.  For now I’m at peace with coming within 1000′ of the top.

“A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the mountains– where does my help come from?” Psalm 121:1

2011-04-17 (12)aAfter last years disaster on Mount Everest where a massive block of ice calved off above the Khumbu icefall, killing 16 Sherpa, nobody could have predicted an even bigger tragedy the following year.  After a 7.9 earthquake destroyed several major cities in Nepal, including Kathmandu, another block of ice broke loose on a saddle near Mt Pumori 3000′ above and behind Everest basecamp.  The impact of ice was compared to a bomb explosion spraying rock, ice and snow, killing at least 19 (more unknown) and injuring 120+.  Huge aftershocks kicked off additional avalanches in the Khumbu icefall making it too unstable to climb through. This is truly a unique circumstance outside of mountaineering since it was an earthquake outside of the region rather than an isolated incident like the year prior.  This is also unique in that basecamp is a relatively safe area, providing a central home away from home for climbers for decades.  The devastating avalanche didn’t come from the Khumbu icefall but from the opposite side of basecamp.  The unfortunate campsites closer to Pumori didn’t stand a chance.  This will certainly have an impact on the location and precautions for Everest basecamp in the future, but nobody could have imagined this.  When I climbed Everest in 2011 we got dusted from avalanches on Lho La and Nuptse (mountains framing the Khumbu icefall) but never felt at risk of injury while in basecamp.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to be there.

The next few days everyone at basecamp put their climbing ambitions on hold and took on search and rescue / triage roles.  They were able to use some further away camps like IMG and Himex to put the wounded.  As soon as the weather cleared helicopters started shuttling wounded down to Pheriche to get better medical attention, but those facilities aren’t equipped for this magnitude of need.  They were then picked up on larger helicopters and flown to Kathmandu.  The problem is Kathmandu is completely wrecked with 5000+ dead (this number continues to grow).  The hospitals are completely full and people requiring attention are waiting for help.  It’s a truly horrible scenario.

Back on Everest close to 200 climbers were stranded above the icefall, but fortunately in the safest area of the mountain with plenty of supplies (fuel, food, stove, tents) so most of them would agree that they were the lucky ones.  After a few days they had a good weather window and the highly skilled Nepalese helicopter pilots were able to shuttle 2 climbers at a time down to basecamp.  Only a few remain in the Western CWM at this time.

Although the south side of Everest isn’t officially closed it won’t have the support required to get supplies and to fix lines from basecamp to the summit, thus making it very difficult to climb with only a month left before monsoon season.  Everest is climbed each April – May, just prior to monsoon season due to more predictable weather windows.  A few groups will stick around to see if there’s opportunity to climb, but my guess is they’ll eventually cancel their expeditions.

On the north side the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association officially closed Everest climbing due to the potential of future aftershocks.  I have friends on both sides of the mountain and from all that I’ve spoken with they are ok with the decisions to not climb this year based on the circumstances.  Again this is much bigger than climbing goals being crushed, it’s about a country in shambles after the worst earthquake in 80 years.  1000’s of people dead, lives forever changed, temples (some aging from the 12th century) are gone, villages destroyed or even wiped away in landslides and the list goes on for one of the poorest countries in the world.

So what now?  From a climbers perspective it’s about taking a step back and gaining some perspective.  This doesn’t change the fact that Mount Everest will remain the highest mountain in the world.  It doesn’t remove it from any climber’s life long goal to summit it’s majestic peak. It can be tough in the moment after training for years, being financially and emotionally invested, but out of respect for the local people and the state of the country it’s important to press pause on personal goals to allow Nepal to recover.

What can you do?  It’s easy to see a major tragedy in the news, feel bad for a few moments and then move on.  It’s the society we live in.  For those of us that have been there it’s close to home.  We know how wonderful the people are and how deserving they are to not just get a few sympathy tweets and prayers (please continue praying).  Break that cycle and actually do something.  However be smart about it, do your research and be cautious about who you send money to since Nepal has a history of having a corrupt government and non-profits will turn up in times of disaster to take money without giving to the cause (this world really disappoints me sometimes).  But that shouldn’t discourage you from helping, just be smart about it.  A country is in desperate need.

Here are some viable causes and blogs to find additional information:

World Vision

Juniper Fund

American Himalayan Foundation

Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation

Mountain World Blog – Jake Norton

Alan Arnette’s Blog

“Rise up and help us; rescue us because of your unfailing love.” Psalm 44:26

The 2015 Everest season is getting underway with teams arriving in Kathmandu.  I have friends making attempts on both sides of the mountain and other 8000m peaks in the area.  As I see their posts and have discussions with them prior to their departure I’m taken back to 4 years ago when I was preparing for the adventure of a lifetime.  There’s a ton that goes into a 2 month expedition logistically, but the most important is making sure your work and family are in order prior to stepping on that plane.  With any adventure, large or small, the anticipation of leaving is worse than actually leaving.  I remember creating spreadsheets with financial and bill information, listing contacts for everything I could think of, hiding gifts with clues throughout the house for the kids and appreciating every second I had with the family.  I also did one of the hardest things I ever did, made a video…just in case.

EverestBlind Descent – Prologue:

In a matter of days, I would set off on my two-month expedition to Mount Everest. It wasn’t the climbing that had me anxious—it was the thought of being away from my fam- ily for so long. When it came to the climb itself, I wasn’t worried. I was in the best shape of my life, and I had planned everything down to the last detail. But I was also aware of the reality that people do die on Everest. No matter how well prepared you are, there are always things that are out of your control—extreme weather, shifting icefalls, avalanches, cerebral edema. Let’s face it, there’s a reason they call the top of Mount Everest the death zone.

As the winds picked up and rain began pelting my office window, I cast one last glance at the darkened face of Mount Si, which was slowly disappearing into the Washington mist. Then I sat down at my desk and powered up my MacBook. After I’d centered myself in the video frame, I took a deep breath and hit Record. I could already feel the tears burning behind my eyes.

“Hello, JoAnna,” I began, a sob catching in my throat. “If you’re watching this, something must have gone terribly wrong, and I’m in heaven now, watching you.”Blind Descent

Fortunately nobody but me as seen the video to date.  I know that each climber goes thru similar struggles of living life as an adventure balanced with the responsibility of having a job, family, friends, etc.  For those far removed from this type of adventure it’s impossible to understand the risk taking, but for those wired to reach great heights…they get it.  Each person, summit or not, will return a little bit different.  Statistically some won’t return and their family and friends may resent their decisions in letting them go.  I pray that 100% return, but for those that don’t come back I hope their family / friends honor and respect their decisions and know, in their minds, they were truly living life beyond what others can imagine.

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14

TrekViewaDo you ever reach a point of burnout that you don’t feel you can recover from?  I’m guessing yes.  Growing up I don’t recall having that issue since I was more bored than anything.  In the 1980’s I didn’t have a computer or cable TV so I was forced to inspire my own creativity. I built forts, obstacle courses on the mountain I lived on, rode bikes with friends and climb local peaks with my dog and just sat and daydreamed.  Now if I have an extra second of time I fill it with something.  It’s the same with work, hobbies, family…pretty much anything.  We live busy lives and the onslaught of technology has become a gap filler.  I regularly detect my burnout meter approaching redline and I have to slow life down to reshuffle things.  And since I share the house leadership role with my wife we have to ensure our kids aren’t overcommitted either.  We want to model good behavior, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds.

Recognizing your load capacity and allowing 20% of fluctuation is a survival mechanism.  If you constantly run at 100% then your body will eventually shutdown.  Have the courage to say no!  Nobody else will regulate your abilities, so if you continually say yes and take on additional tasks then your job, friends, social groups, etc will continually add to your load.

Step away from the norm.  Get out and exercise!  This is critical for me in that I tend to balance a lot of different things but when I can get out for a hike or run I’m able to release a lot of the burnout stress and refocus.  It’s amazing how anchored we become in our daily routines, making it seem impossible to step away for 30 minutes to an hour.  Force the issue, it’ll pay dividends!

*I purposely kept this short to not add to your burnout load. 🙂

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31 (NIV)

Superbowl XLIX was one of the most exciting I’ve seen in my 40 years.  However this year will be remembered for a couple things; deflated balls and a “poor play” decision with the game on the line.  Sports are tough since players and fans get overly emotional and a last minute loss can cause depression, invading individual’s personal lives.  I’m guilty as I consider myself an honorary member of the Seattle Seahawks 12th man.  Even though we won the NFC Championship 2 weeks prior with a miraculous comeback, I was in an emotionally trance for a few days replaying the last 2 minutes.  This year’s Superbowl was the same where we had it won, even after giving up the lead with minutes left in the game.  We just had to continue our momentum and give the ball to Marshawn Lynch (Beast Mode) to plow through one final yard to the end zone for the Hawks to be back-to-back champions.  Not so much, the decision was made to throw a short pass, which was intercepted by the Patriots, thus deflating Seahawks fans around the world.

There’s a great lesson to be learned from all of this.  You learn a lot more from failures in life.  You just don’t think as much about the successes as you do the failures.  They haunt you, you replay them and figure out ways to avoid them in the future.  In the military and in the mountains you live and die by the decisions you make.  You’re given information within your reach (possibly some additional intelligence) and based on your experience you calculate your risks to ensure you and your team come out alive.  In some cases you avoid the risk completely due to it’s greatness (i.e. weather conditions on a mountain).  Hindsight is perfect, especially to everyone not involved in the process, but in the moment you make the decision and live with the consequences.  For the Seahawks it didn’t work out so well, but in the end it’s a game and nobody loses their lives.  Players and fans may go through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) but time will heal.

In the military, business and mountaineering I’ve worked with some good and bad decision-makers, but the worst of all are the ones that sit on the fence paralyzed by choices.  I have a lot more respect for someone that makes a wrong decision than one that refuses to make one.  Progress, to me, is moving forward or back.  Even if you make a mistake and move back, you’ll learn and be better moving forward. I’m happy for Tom Brady and the Patriots, as they are a solid team.  In any competition there are winners and losers.  Losing stinks, but it’s an opportunity to embrace the moment, gain some perspective and come back stronger!

The Seahawks have been very professional and classy, all taking credit for the team decision.  Russell Wilson continues to impress me with his consistent behavior as a faithful leader on and off the field.  We definitely need more role models like him in the world.  Go Hawks!NFC Championship Football

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

#Seahawks #GoHawks #SBXLIX

After 10 days in Hawaii it’s nice to be back home to enjoy the autumn colors of the Pacific Northwest.  While in Honolulu I was called in to be on a show for Trinity Broadcast Network.  JoAnna ended up being on the show with me, which was cool because so many women always want to know her perspective.  Plus she’s a Christian counselor and is able to help others with struggles like fear and anxiety.  I was super proud of her for being on the show, since it can be nerve racking once the cameras go live.

Since I got back from Everest and started speaking to large groups I’ve realized that a lot of people struggle.  During my TBN interview we touched on this as there are so many dealing with issues in their lives.  I survived my scenario on Everest for a reason and I’m continually reminded why, as I’m humbly able to touch the lives of others.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as flawed as the next guy, which I think helps people relate to me.  When I look back as to how I got down from the summit blind and alone it really comes down to two things: focus and faith.  I didn’t panic at the situation, instead I focused on what had to be done to survive.  One step at a time I inched my way down from 29,035′.  During this time I never lost my faith.  I felt a tangible presence with me the entire journey and at 27,500′ when I ran out of supplemental oxygen I surrendered to God.  I could no longer do it on my own and I asked for help.  I was then overcome with unexplained energy and life.  An oxygen bottle that had previously failed began to work.  Without overthinking it I continued my focused movements to get down to high camp.  After 30+ exhausting hours of climbing I made it safely to others at the bottom of the death zone (26,000′).  I never gave up my focus or faith and I’m now here to tell the story and continue my journey through life.

We all hurt.  We all struggle.  If not today, we will tomorrow or the next day.  It’s human nature and we live in a society that has too high of standards for anyone to live up to.  Each day we must put one foot in front of the other, keep our focus and never give up on faith.  Hard times will come (and many times compile all at once), but eventually we get past the pain and can celebrate the glory.  I know it’s easier said than done, but focusing on smaller tasks can help build a more attainable plan of success.  Simplify the plan, execute the tasks and reflect on your successes.

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13

TBN

Life is an adventure, if you allow it to be.  So many people are too busy with life that they don’t stop to enjoy it.  Then it’s over and they live with regrets.  I could never accept that so I try to do rather than say.  Meaning if I say it, I do it.  In most cases I don’t even say it, I just do it.

This past week I had the pleasure to be on My Faith Radio, American Family Radio and Cole Hatter (podcast to air in June).  It’s such a blessing to share my story and describe the impossible to such a wide audience.  The more I share the more I realize the humility that goes into climbing; I could NOT do it on my own and surrendered to God for His help.  Thankfully He answered!  Most climbers can relate as they are nothing compared to such grand peaks.  It’s hard work and you have to stay focused to persevere the many struggles of mountaineering.

This past weekend a few friends and I drove 4 hours to the North Cascades and climbed Big Craggy Peak (8,470′).  Due to the early season the creeks are raging and knocked out the bridge to access the peak by trail.  We decided to bushwhack up the side and look for an easier area to cross.  We ended up peaking out at just under 6000′ on Sherman Peak.  4 hours of climbing, navigating and creek negotiations will take it’s toll, but we decided that it was safer to descend and reassess.  We could have packed it up and drove home or found another smaller peak, but we discussed a plan to attack the mountain down by the trailhead where we could drive down further to avoid the raging creek.  4 long hours later of bushwhacking, post holing (deep snow) and scree (loose rock) climbing, we stood on the summit.  By embracing humility we accepted the terms of the mountain and by remaining focused we pushed through to our objective.  There’s great satisfaction in never giving up and accomplishing a task!

Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.

craggy1 craggy2