“Climb every mountain!” implored Julie Andrews in Sound of Music.
Thanks, but no thanks, Julie. I want to climb just one mountain.
Two years ago, I made the decision to celebrate my 40th birthday with a bang. But this wasn’t going to be an ordinary ‘bang’. No lavish meals, extravagant holiday or pampering day at the spa. It had to be a big Bang. I ran down a list of things I had never done before and came upon mountain climbing or what I thought would be walking to the top of a mountain.
I assessed the idea for a few minutes and felt I’d hit the nail on its head. It’d be awesome, right? Challenging, tranquil, fulfilling, far, far away. BANG!
I chose Mt. Rainier immediately. It was an obvious choice to me for several reasons. I wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest in the summer, we’d be able to spend time with friends, I found it familiar from years of watching Grey’s Anatomy, TH mentioned an ex-colleague who had climbed it and I thought if she can, so can I, and lastly, I saw ‘Climb Mt. Rainier’ on one of those list of things to do before you die.
What was not obvious to me at that point was what it really meant. In my head, a summer climb = a trek up. Walking shoes, trekking poles, bag with food and water. Period. Then I did some research and realized my bag would need to weigh about 18kg and it may be summer, but there’d still be snow. I panicked. Big time. Years hunched over a keyboard staring at a computer screen have left my neck and shoulders permanently sore. I can barely carry a shoulder handbag now. And what do I know about snow? It falls when it’s cold, it’s white but can turn brown or black from dirt and it can be slushy or icy.
What do I do? What do I do? I had already declared my ambition in a note on Facebook and friends had commented on it. Yeah, but who’s going to remember a silly FB note? Nobody. I could even delete it and there’d no longer be any evidence of it. The only problem is I would remember. I would know what I did one summer. I had made a commitment to myself and I knew that if I didn’t try, it’d eat away at me. So really, what was I to do? Sign-up with a mountaineering guide service of course – this part was easy. But how do I go from zero fitness to mountain fit? You know back in school when you had to do a yearly physical fitness test? Every year, I either failed or was awarded the bronze cert, and the only way I managed a bronze was when I cheated. This part would require herculean effort, and I could only think of one person who might have a clue.
I hadn’t seen my high school friend, David, since errr…high school. In the 20 years that had passed, I had contacted him only once to get the phone number of my ex-roommate whom he dated for a few years after we left school. How would I find him? And then I finally realized how useful FB can be. Not only would I be able to find a lost acquaintance, I could hide behind a message and not deal directly with the awkwardness of seeking help from a stranger.
As luck would have it, David and his friend were just embarking on a venture – an adventure consultancy that takes clients on incredible journeys (incidentally also the name of the company), and their specialty? Mountaineering! Among their many accomplishments, I learned that David was part of the Singapore Antartica Expedition, and his friend and business partner, Ed Siew, was the first Singaporean to summit Mt. Everest. I found the right help, and I was relieved.
When I met up with them, the magnitude of what I was trying to achieve hit me. This was no Mt. Everest to be sure, but it wasn’t going to be some walk in a national park with a trek up a mountain like I thought.
I was awed and terrified; and this was just the beginning.
(Note: Timelines are off for this series of posts as they were meant to be published in the last quarter of 2013)