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A very exciting opportunity, but I am terrified…

NCAthlete

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I have some very exciting news to share. I wasn’t going to say anything about it for a while, but I really need to hear different perspectives on this.

Veterans Expeditions (VetEx) is an organization that offers adventure opportunities to veterans at little to no cost, and much more. They do everything from: mountain biking in Moab, climbing 14ers, caving, ice climbing, AND hiking Mt. Denali in Alaska.

Speaking of Mt. Denali… This peak (formerly known as Mt. McKinley which Trump is actually trying to change it back…ugh) is the highest point in North America. It is located in Alaska and sores to 20,320′. To put that into perspective, Mt. Everest is just over 29,000′. I have never had the desire to climb Mt. Everest because of all of the risk involved, not to mention the cost. It’s just not something I need/want to do.

What does this have to do with my news? Well, after submitting my fitness resume to VetEx…

I am a candidate to be on an all women, 10-person, veterans team to be the first ever to climb Mt. Denali, self-supported.

Image result for Mt. Denali

I was incredibly STOKED when I found out that I was invited to train for this. No only would this trip be completely paid for (by gracious donors), gear and all, but it was also going to documented on film. I love the idea of being involved in something like this, especially considering the impact strong women are having in today’s society; just another way to create change and to inspire. I consider myself a strong woman (mind and body) so I would love to possibly inspire other women to think that way about themselves.

However, I was looking at this mountain the way that I look at 14ers. I’m able to do those pretty easily and have never had issues with the altitude, other than huffing and puffing. I immediately went to Google to start doing my research on what I had gotten myself in to. HOLY SHIT. This thing is basically a mini-Everest. I basically disrespected this mountain out of the gate and that is something that should NEVER be done.

Here are some of the things I have to consider, and some scare the SHIT out of me:

  • I could be out there for a month. A MONTH. You have to slowly acclimate and must camp on the side of the mountain (see camps in above pic); sometimes you get held up because of snow storms and can be inside a tent for days.
    • I will also need to take off of work for a month, and hope that my work will allow me to do so.
  • I could react badly to the altitude, and could possibly die. I have been to 14K’, many times now, but that is different than 20K’. I have also never stayed at 14K’ for more than 15 minutes. Earlier this year, a group of three, from Nepal, climbed Denali; one of them collapsed and died coming back down after successfully summitting… He was an ultra-runner. Read the story here
  • I could get frostbite. I like all of my body parts and would like to keep them.
  • Not only do you have to climb 20K’, but you have to carry all of your gear with you. You pull it on a sled to 14K’, then only have a pack from there. I worry about my back.
  • I could die. There are these things called crevasses which are cracks in the glacial ice that often get covered up by snow, making you unable to see them. We will all be roped to each other in hopes that if someone falls through, they won’t fall too far. WTF? 

I do have a pretty healthy endurance background, and do feel like I am qualified to do this.

  • I’ve ran 50, 40, and 38 mile races; two 50Ks and three marathons.
  • I’ve climbed twelve 14ers and a few 13ers.

Luckily, this climb would not happen until June 2019 so they are giving us A LOT of time to prepare. They are also conducting some training sessions next year and some of them are:

  1. Tomorrow (the 18th), we are having a team conference call to ‘meet’ each other and to ask questions. They are also meeting up in Moab to mountain bike, Veteran’s Day weekend, but I will be back home in NC visiting family.
  2. Mid-January: We are meeting in Leadville for a weekend of training; maybe doing a 14er? I’ve never done a 14er in the winter so that’ll be new and exciting.
  3. Late-March: Same as above. I’m sure we will be doing crevasse rescue training, ice climbing, and just getting use to the cold.
  4. June: Climbing Mt. Logan in the Yukon! THIS I would love to do! This one is still 19K’ but seems much ‘easier’ than Mt. Denali, based on blogs and others things I’ve read so far. You don’t even need ropes for this one.

My plan currently: Just do the training and see how it goes. Ask lots of questions. LOTS of questions. Research, research, research! I do have to actually get selected for the team, so it’s not even definite just yet. If I make it past Mt. Logan, I should know how I will do at that altitude.

I’ve been reading lots of blogs which has really been freaking me out. I get that each experience is different, but it’s just some scary stuff! This will be the biggest mental challenge of my entire life. That being said…

  • Have any of you ever climbed Denali or something similar?
  • Have you ever had a long-term outdoor winter exposure?
  • Any advice for me?

Please tell me all that you can. I would really appreciate it!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Chris

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This is so exciting! I haven't done anything like this before but I've just recently listened to this audio book: Paths of Glory from Jeffrey Archer. This is a book about the adventures of George Mallory scaling Mount Everest. It was riveting and I think it really depicts what tremendous preparation goes into these kinds of expeditions.

Wow, this sounds like so much fun!

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I have no experience in this areas since I live in Florida. However, I do have advice: Go after it with all of your heart and have a dang fun time doing it!!! Can't wait to hear all about it!!

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GO FOR IT! Can't hurt to start the training and just think how fit you'd get doing it!

I mentioned I used to live in Colorado. One of the toughest adventures I did there was with a guy who was on a "Winter Traverse" kick. We started in Frisco the day after Thanksgiving - already plenty of snow on the mountains. The Ten Mile Range there stretches to Breckenridge and the tops are in the 12-13,000' range. We hiked from town up to the top of Peak 1, across a knife edge ridge to Peaks 2 and 3. This was really difficult and slow going through knee deep snow. Snowshoes sort of helped, but sometimes it was too steep for that. It took us about 12 hours with full backpacks on in overcast skies. We camped at the first possible location between Peaks 3 and 4, probably just under 12,000 feet. I had never been so exhausted, could barely eat and slept through a windy night causing the tent to make all kinds of noise.

The next morning it was beautiful blue sky and sunny. The terrain from there was much flatter and the snow was so wind blown and packed you could walk on top of it like a sidewalk. We made it to Peak 8 and hopped on a ski lift to go back down to Breckenridge. Then we pigged out at the Breckenridge Brewery before heading home.

I did a lot of other backpacking trips while there. I attempted to go from Loveland Pass to Hoosier Pass by myself once (summer), but bailed after a night in a hail storm that caused minor rock and mud slides around me all night long.

I would think you'd want to try some winter camping. The biggest key is a warm sleeping bag, rated for -20 degrees or better. My Winter Traverse friend told me that the rating means you'll stay alive at that temperature, so to be comfortable you want a rating for colder than it will be.

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Wow - this sounds like something you would really kick yourself for if you didn't go for it. 

You're a smart woman and you have a good head on your shoulders - check out the first few meetings. I think after that, your gut will know which direction to point you in.  :)

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I think the biggest question you can ask yourself throughout these beginning stages is "If I don't get picked for the final team, will I be relieved or disappointed?" If it's relief at any point, then you know it's time to gracefully bow out. <-- No one will judge you for this. 

It sounds like an amazing opportunity & experience, though! I have faith that you can do this - and faith that you will have the right training to be successful. Keep us updated as you go through the stages! 

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52 minutes ago, mattw said:

GO FOR IT! Can't hurt to start the training and just think how fit you'd get doing it!

I mentioned I used to live in Colorado. One of the toughest adventures I did there was with a guy who was on a "Winter Traverse" kick. We started in Frisco the day after Thanksgiving - already plenty of snow on the mountains. The Ten Mile Range there stretches to Breckenridge and the tops are in the 12-13,000' range. We hiked from town up to the top of Peak 1, across a knife edge ridge to Peaks 2 and 3. This was really difficult and slow going through knee deep snow. Snowshoes sort of helped, but sometimes it was too steep for that. It took us about 12 hours with full backpacks on in overcast skies. We camped at the first possible location between Peaks 3 and 4, probably just under 12,000 feet. I had never been so exhausted, could barely eat and slept through a windy night causing the tent to make all kinds of noise.

The next morning it was beautiful blue sky and sunny. The terrain from there was much flatter and the snow was so wind blown and packed you could walk on top of it like a sidewalk. We made it to Peak 8 and hopped on a ski lift to go back down to Breckenridge. Then we pigged out at the Breckenridge Brewery before heading home.

I did a lot of other backpacking trips while there. I attempted to go from Loveland Pass to Hoosier Pass by myself once (summer), but bailed after a night in a hail storm that caused minor rock and mud slides around me all night long.

I would think you'd want to try some winter camping. The biggest key is a warm sleeping bag, rated for -20 degrees or better. My Winter Traverse friend told me that the rating means you'll stay alive at that temperature, so to be comfortable you want a rating for colder than it will be.

Matt! Thank you for that! I've wanted to do the Ten Mile Range...DH and I have talked about it since we moved here! Thank you for all the details! That is definitely on my list of training for this. I plan to do a lot on my own because I certainly won't just be doing the trainings they hold. THANKS AGAIN!!!!

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I've worked outside for months and years on end and gotten frostbite on all 10 fingers two different years.  I'm very impressed by the adventure that you may be going on but it's definitely not something I'd ever do.  Mostly because the circulation in my hands is now ruined and anything below 50F has me needing gloves on.  My fingers are cold typing this and it's 70F in my hotel room.  Be careful.... you get to live the rest of your life with the good, the bad, and the ugly that could come from your adventure.  I hope it's all GOOD STUFF though!

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that is really exciting - you should absolutely totally make every effort to do this thing.. The training sessions look sensible to me, good prep. As you say on Mt Logan you'll find out if you have altitude problems, on an easier mountain, which is a very sensible thing to do..

I was in Alaska for two weeks once and never saw Denali, only the clouds around him ;-)
Done some winter camping and lower mountains but never attempted ice climbing. Best thing I ever found for cold camping is Smartwool or Icebreaker wool undergarments, stay warm and non-smelly way longer than the synthetics. Built my own sled for hauling gear, using a backpack waist belt and some pvc tubing for the harness - it's surprisingly easy to haul big heavy loads over snow, I wouldn't worry about that part. Train on the 14ers with a loaded pack for the other part..

As TreeGirl says too, this stuff can be consequential - my wife did a hut ski-in trip to one of the Tenth Mountain Huts one year with rented gear, boots were too tight, and she has had frostbite/numbness problems in her feet ever since. But this organization seems to be well prepared so that should minimize the risk.

Edited by doug in co
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I added a comment on FB so I won't repeat other than - yep I'd be excited & definitely look into it...but do your homework, especially on the group organizing your training/trip. Get lot's of experienced advice from different sources.

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An amazing opportunity, but not to be taken lightly. It sounds like the organization will prepare you well and give you the chance to make the correct decision 

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