Thursday, January 1, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

“Are you going too?” That’s not such a presumptuous one. The one I hate is “Aren’t you going too?” That one really bugs me, I guess. When my wife leaves on a climbing trip, the questions always seem to come up. As if the idea that a husband can let his wife go on such an escapade is still completely foreign to our 2009 minds. I’m sure if it were me leaving and her staying behind to take care of the household, all those questions would be asked of her, right? Yeah, right. I think only one Everest climber per average middle class family is really acceptable. Those couples that can afford to climb everywhere together are either professional climbers, corporate executives, or probably owe their firstborn children to American Express. No, I’m man enough to admit that my wife is simply better at climbing than I am. To make her drag me along on every adventure is not only selfish, but would be counter-productive to accomplishing the husband’s ultimate goal – making his wife happy. Still, I always have to field these queries.

In July 2004, Gineth left for Russia for what we thought would be the first summit in her quest to climb the Seven Summits – the highest peak on each of the seven continents. We didn’t know it then, but it would grow to become the ultimate focus of our life even to this day. A pursuit of a dream - her dream, which in turn became my dream as well – the desire to see her dream come true. Through our climbing experiences to that time, plus the exorbitant costs involved with it, I knew the right thing to do was to set my own climbing aspirations on the back burner.

The Seven Summits project was developed to benefit in a few different ways. Even then, Gina’s ultimate goal was to get to Mt. Everest. Thinking practically though, we knew this wasn’t a possibility at the time. Aside from the clearest hurdle – money – there was the other obvious obstacle, experience. My wife may dream big, but she is very realistic when it comes to making them happen. The dues had not been paid yet, and we had read numerous accounts, Krakauer’s book for example, of the dangerous results of when mountain inexperience combines with the highest mountain in the world. No, Gina would not be one of those. Climbing the other 7 (there are actually 8 mountains in the Seven Summits, but I’ll cover that in a later blog) mountains, particularly Aconcagua in South America and Denali in North America, seemed a proven and reliable training ground to get done while on the way to an Everest attempt.

Another factor in the equation came about by reading how others had come to finance their expeditions to the planet’s highest point. Gina had a great advantage working in her favor it was revealed to us. If you are the first person in your country in pursuit of this particular achievement, you are supposed to be in a much better position to gain sponsorship, etc in order to make it happen. While we have since learned this is not as easy as it would seem, it was a big enough encouragement to us to give us hope that we were not just wishing upon a star that this lofty goal may someday become a reality. No person from Costa Rica, man or woman, has ever climbed Mt. Everest. Indeed, we found only a small handful of people from Costa Rica were even climbers of any note. Through our research we learned even that no Central American (not included in definition of Central America, generally, is Mexico) woman had ever climbed the Seven Summits or Mt Everest. Another first she could be. The only Central American to reach this, Jamie Viñals, a Guatemalan climber, had notoriously been rescued from certain death on the North side of Everest in the 2001 documentary “Found on Everest” – at the time the 2nd highest rescue ever. So the quest was begun with much optimism for its chances at success.

The story of Jamie Viñals is worthy of note. Viñals would today be nothing but another frozen monument high up on Everest were it not for the super-heroic efforts of 3 American guides. Yet the guy seems completely oblivious to the fashion or style with which he climbed Everest, and has moved on to capitalize mightily on his fame in Central America. He gets numerous speaking and motivational engagements where he earns upwards of $3,000 a pop. Heck, I remember being in the small town of Miramar, Costa Rica, a few years ago and seeing Jamie Viñals climbing sneakers for sale. Not bad for a guy who was so slow getting to the top that he risked the lives of his Russell Bryce employed guide plus the 3 rescuing guides, and miraculously survived a bivouac at 28,500’. They never mention that part when they interview him on Central American media though. Every time Gina does an interview there, his name invariably comes up, because of course he was first. For him, I guess the fashion in which he climbed is not important, only the end result. For my wife, this way of climbing would not do. Gina is a climber who will climb things the right way – the proper way.

It hasn’t always been easy watching her go on these expeditions. That first trip to Russia was one of the hardest. We really hadn’t expected communication from a “developed” country like Russia could be so problematic. We missed each other terribly, and the result of the expedition – the expedition failed to reach the summit of Mt Elbrus due to inclement weather – made the disappointment taste even worse. We also had the misfortune of choosing for a guide service a company we now know to be substandard, and she was basically on her own for most of the trip. As the husband, hearing about my love’s troubles over a sketchy bad connection halfway around the globe, it was really hard to hear stories of her and the hard times she was having. If I was there, of course I reasoned, things would have gone different. Yet in the end, I had no more experience than she did, and I probably would have been in the same boat. We might have been able to be there together, but we would have twice the misery when the trip was over and it was time to pay the bills. When she went to Everest last year, that was like the first trip to Elbrus times 10. Make that times 20.

There have been good times too. The “challenge” I gave to Gina to ensure she summitted Mt. McKinley, which I’ll go into more detail in a future blog. The guiding company was excellent for that trip (Mountain Trips) and I was able to follow along over the internet with their every move up the mountain. When Gina called me to tell me that she summitted, I spoiled her moment slightly when I told her that I already knew. Oh yeah, she got mad at me because I had already made arrangements to change her plane ticket to get her home sooner! I may be patient waiting for her to come off the mountain, but I’m always anxious to get her back home.

We’ve been fortunate enough that for a couple of expeditions, I have been able to accompany her. When she returned to Russia in 2005, this time I went with her and was able to share the joy of summitting with her. A few months later, in January 2006, we shared a great adventure traveling to Tanzania and climbing Kilimanjaro together. We broke the bank, having 2 “once in a lifetime” trips within 6 months of each other, but they are voyages we will never forget being able to spend together. Our Colorado 14’ers project, to climb all of Colorado’s 14,000’ mountains, is a project we enjoy together as well. I’m not always the one left behind. We might have a project coming up in 2009 together as well, we shall see. Sometimes, although my climbing is on the backburner, the burner can still get turned up a little.

It doesn’t bother me. When Gina finally completes the 7 summits, we will have the rest of our lives to climb together. It has never been a dream of mine to personally climb some of the mountains my wife must climb. Is that weird? Not to me it isn’t. Seeing her climb what she wants and succeeding through her is good enough for me. The questions will always come, and I will always answer the same. This is what makes me happy.

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