Monday, December 15, 2014

Making a Personal Seven Summits List


Honestly, I don’t like writing blogs like this much. Why? Because more often than not they become a history of “things I wish I would have done”. I’ve made these at the beginning of seasons before - and almost always I fall short of what I’ve intended to climb. That’s bad. I feel like I’m not achieving my goals. But this blog has been sitting in my “Google Drive” for a few months now. Guess I either better finish it and publish it, or delete it and forget it forever. I’ve also been not very inspired lately - either to climb or write. Maybe it would be better to complete the thought of this, although it feels a little like taking a blog “from the vault”. So, I guess I’ll finish it….

Last fall, I was lucky enough to do a guest spot on the short-lived podcast “In Ice Axe We Trust” discussing the Casaval Ridge route on Mt Shasta. The guys - The Last Adventurer (Chris) and The Peakseeker (Matt) - were really cool and we started rambling a little bit off-topic at one point, at which time the subject of the Seven Summits came up. Many climbers aspire to climb the “Seven Summits” and by that I mean the highest point on each of the seven continents. Of course, there begins the debate about what is a continent (Australia or Oceania?) and also about where the dividing lines between such continents exist (Mt. Blanc in the Alps or Mt. Elbrus in the Caucasus?). So the list itself includes anywhere from 7 to 9 mountains depending on who you want to listen to.

My thing was though, these are not my Seven Summits. Climbing is a very personal endeavor for me, and I’ve never been one to let others pre-determine what my goal should be. Full disclosure: I’ve climbed Mt. Elbrus and Kilimanjaro. I did both of these early on in my climbing “career” and I’m proud to have summited. They were both excellent objectives and once (well twice) in a lifetime trips. I wouldn’t trade doing them for the world. It was all about the process of learning to climb and learning what I liked about climbing. Learning what challenged me to climb more and what made me want to climb and keep climbing.

But climbing someone else’s list is not my thing. If that goal works for you, that’s great for you. There are many thousands of people who take up the challenge and I only support and admire their determination, passion and courage in undertaking such a grand adventure. But I knew early on that it was not for me. For one, my wife is one of those people who is pursuing (as of this writing has 7 of 8) this dream, and had I tried to concurrently pursue it myself the financial implications for our family would have been quite severe. But there is more to it than that. If it were something I really wanted to do - like really wanted - I bet we could have found some way to make it all work.

Here’s the deal. I don’t think that the standard “Seven Summits List” is right for every climber. I also think too many climbers decide too early on in their climbing odyssey’s what their ultimate goals are. Aside from the financial burden, which is huge, some of these mountains may just not be that interesting to every individual climber. They may also not be within every climber’s abilities. Too often people set their sights on the Seven Summits, yet their fitness and devotion to climbing may never propel them to a level where climbing say Mt. Everest is even possible - or evem really a good idea for their health.

I realize that climbing the tallest mountain on the planet will always be a draw for some people. It isn’t for me though. It never has been really. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted from climbing. When I was talking to Matt and Chris I referenced the fact that I had just climbed The Grand Teton, and that it was part of MY Seven Summits. (Which it is, more on that later) But yet at the time I really hadn’t fully boiled down and defined for myself what my Seven Summits really are. Even though I said it at the time, and completely meant it, I didn’t even fully realize what my goal was to be at the time I said it. I knew the pieces were there, but I just needed to decipher them. The time has come now to do that.

Perhaps someone can learn from my example that it isn’t necessary to climb a Seven Summits list that someone else made for them. I hope people can recognize my point, that every climber needs to find their own set of goals. For some, this will still be the standard Seven (or 8 or 9) Summits that everybody knows. But this blog is about My Seven Summits. And as this list came together for me, I think 7 is just the right number. Maybe for someone else it could be the Four Summits, or for somebody else it might be the Fifteen Summits. But Seven will work fine for me.  It should be for every individual to decide what goals they want to set for themselves. In life, I never let anyone else choose what things I should accomplish. In my opinion, climbing is no different. Here’s how I ended up with my list.

My wife and I climbed Mt Elbrus in 2005 and Kilimanjaro in 2006. As I said, they were great and I had fun, but I didn’t ever feel like telling people “I’m climbing the Seven Summits” because I knew that I wasn’t going on these climbs for that reason. I was climbing with my wife and having great vacations. For me, I wasn’t checking anything off a list.

I went through a few years after we climbed Kilimanjaro not really knowing what I wanted out of climbing. We went to Colorado on vacation in 2007, and I found that I really liked climbing Colorado 14ers. They were fun! That’s a very important element, right there. For my 40th birthday in 2009, we went on a climbing trip to Bolivia, which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. I hated Bolivia. It was not fun! I almost quit climbing altogether, but then we returned to Colorado later that summer (as we had every year since ‘07) and climbed some more 14ers. Having fun again! Through all of this, slowly, a more clear picture out of what I want to achieve in climbing began to take shape.

Sometime during these years I discovered the website peakbagger.com . What I like about Peakbagger is that it’s not a social site like Summitpost or 14ers or any of those. It’s really just a site where you sort of keep a personal diary or journal of the mountains you climb. But another of the little cool things it does, after you’ve entered a few of your conquests, is that it will start to suggest lists you might be climbing based on them. If you’re a climber and you don’t know about peakbagger, you really should check it out, particularly all the little tools it has on your personal “home” page. I find a really good way to take stock of what you have done, and what you might do.

Since I made that comment on the iiawt podcast, I started to concern myself with another little section on my peakbagger page - The “Life List” it’s called. Defined on the site the Life List is; A master "bucket list" of peaks, a combination of proudest past ascents and most-desired future ascents. After all, isn’t that what a Seven Summits list is or should be? So I went about trying to fill it up. I thought to myself seven would be a good enough number as any, and it satisfied my desire to have this list be a personal Seven Summits list.

The Grand Teton

The first one was easy. The Grand Teton has always been a mountain I wanted to climb, ever since I was a child. I wrote about climbing it last year - The Great Grand Teton. Adventure of 2013. So coming up with #1 was easy - but what then? Do I put in one of the actual 7 Summits that I’ve climbed? Elbrus or Kilimanjaro? Were they really climbs of my life? What about other summits from the actual list? What about Aconcagua or Mt. Everest? Are they even actually own my own list?

Denali

My next entry did happen to be one from the traditional list - Denali. The original plan was for me to go with my wife when she went to Denali in 2006. Of course, finances and vacation time realities made themselves known at this point, and this was probably the first time I re-evaluated my own climbing goals. But unlike the rest of the mountains from the traditional lists, the dream of climbing The Great One never fully escaped me, and every time I would see a photo or a video or even if someone just mentions a trip to Alaska - I knew in my heart it was still something I very much want to climb. So now I had 2.

At that point I realized this was MY list - and it had to contain the mountains that I wanted to climb. Again, not goals that somebody else set for themselves - they had to be goals that I would set for myself, just like when I was 8 years old and I wanted to climb the Grand Teton. And for the first time I really had to ask myself the question “What do I really want to climb?”

The Matterhorn

After climbing the Grand Teton last year, one idea definitely came to my mind. Years ago in fact, my father sent us a Christmas gift - a very nice framed picture of a mountain. We’ve hung it in our garage, and it hangs right next to the entry door, so essentially I see it every day multiple times. It’s also a type of climbing a got a little tiny taste of on the Teton - mixed alpine climbing. It’s another mountain that is an icon, not just in the USA but in the world. A bucket list mountain if ever there was one. The 3rd mountain on my list is the one and only Matterhorn.

I Want to go back to South America

After we came home from Bolivia, I swore I would never return to South America. But over the years, I think I’ve softened my stance on that a bit. I strongly considered making an attempt at Aconcagua a couple of years ago, but again, finances and time off considerations trumped that decision, and in hindsight luckily so. Aconcagua does not make my final list. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find the Andes a beautiful and intriguing range. I’m just not going back to Bolivia - ever.

So I haven’t really figured this one out yet, but it’s taking a place on the list. How can I do that? Well, I can do that because it’s my list and I make the rules. Seriously though, I want to do something challenging in South America, not just the usual, normal touristy routes. I remember the guides of Bolivia taking all these completely inexperienced people up 6000 meter peaks - it seems like something that any physically fit person who can hire a guide to take them up should really not be on my list. It can be on yours, if that’s what you want. Just doesn’t belong on mine.

Why Limit It To Just Tops of Mountains?

Here I realized something else about my list. Why was I restricting it to summits at all? Some of the things I really want to do are more outdoors things rather than just “climbing” goals per se. If I was truly going to make a personal 7 Summits list, why should I also follow someone else’s rules that all the “Summits” have to be summits? Conformity has never been my thing. My list has to  be uniquely my list and as such I make the rules for my list. My rules are that saying something is a “summit” is just basically saying it is something I want to accomplish, not necessarily the highest point on a mountain - although most of them are just that. I wasn’t going to limit it to mountain tops, though. The only limits a Personal Seven Summits list can have are the ones you yourself impose on it.

Hike The John Muir Trail

The mountains are calling me, and I must go…. and the John Muir Trail is calling me. I know I have to do it. I want to do it so badly. I’ve actually gotten the permits to do this on 3 separate occasions. The thing is, right now I barely have enough vacation to do it, and that’s if those 3 weeks or so on the trail would be the only thing I do for the entire year. That’s really hard to do. I like taking vacations, and it isn’t healthy to blow your entire vacation time all in one trip. You do that, and you’re stuck working for the rest of the year with no shining light of time off beckoning you in the distance. That’s not a good way to go through a year. So the JMT will have to wait for one of these upcoming years after my vacation allotment is increased. But the JMT still calls me. Sometimes I try and figure out how I could do it faster, even though I know that’s folly. But I will cover those 211 miles of California wilderness one day, and that will be a “summit”. The fact that I can probably bag a couple of California 14ers in the process is just a bonus.

Climb All 58 Colorado 14ers

This is one my wife and I have been working on already for years. What started out as a simple vacation to Breckenridge in 2007, has turned into an annual pilgrimmage to the Centennial State and its numerous 4,269+ meter peaks. We’re now just 5 peaks short of our goal of all 58. (While many folks have different lists of the Colorado 14ers, to understand why we chose the 58 list you can go back and read this  blog. ) This coming 2015 we hope to finish up the last of them on our list - Little Bear Peak, Capitol Peak, Pyramid Peak, and North and South Maroon. So I’m certainly hoping that sometime next July or August I will be crossing the 2nd of my 7 summit list off with this completed. It’s been fascinating journeying back to Colorado for what will be 8 years in a row, seeing a state I thought at the  beginning I was somewhat familiar with, and finding out over the course of those 8 years I didn’t really know her at all - it’s a state much better than I even imagined back then.

So that’s my list - My Personal Seven Summits list.

Wait a minute. You might be thinking “1,2,3,4… there’s something that doesn’t quite add up here.” You’re right. There are only 6 goals on my list of 7. I’m leaving one slot open. And the “South America” slot isn’t really taken up. One thing I’ve learned since I started climbing is never stop looking for the next challenge. This list, this is only a temporary list - maybe. There’s no doubt I’ll be updating it as I go along, and discover new goals that I may ultimately want to add in. I also have the freedom to subtract out any ones I deem to extravagant, although their substitute’s must be equal in their ability to test me in order to maintain the list’s integrity. That’s what I like about climbing, it never has to end, I never have to feel like “I’m done”. Once I complete this list, then I guess I’ll just make another.

Get ready 2015 and beyond, I've got some plans for you.

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