Category Archives: Mountain Climbing

Who Needs Wifi When There’s Lions?

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Ten years ago, when John and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time, we decided that someday we’d bring his kids. Last week, we returned from that family trip to Tanzania. It was a trip of a lifetime.

Evelyn, Kim, Andrew and John at Stella Point on the crater rim

Evelyn, Kim, Andrew and John at Stella Point on the crater rim

Climbing Kilimanjaro is no easy feat. At 19,341 feet, Kili is the tallest mountain on the African continent. We took the Machame Route, also known as the Whiskey Route because it’s hard, and spent six nights and seven days on the mountain. The climb is really more of a trek at altitude. The entire route is on a trail. Most days the trail is steep, but the views are stunning.

Sunrise just steps below the crater rim

Sunrise just steps below the crater rim

When we first envisioned it a decade ago, John’s daughter, Evelyn, was three years old. Instagram wasn’t even invented yet. But today in the summer of 2015 both Evelyn, and to a lesser degree her older brother Andrew, suck in wifi bandwidth like we used to draw breath.

Andrew sucking up every last breath at sunrise near the summit.

Andrew sucking it up at sunrise.

Before we left, my concern for the kids focused more on fitness level and blister-proofing their new hiking boots than on how often they’d need to update their social media sites. Between dance classes and end-of-school-year sleepovers Evelyn couldn’t find the time to break in her new hiking boots. Even while I imagined blisters and bloody toes, I had to admit that her new boots didn’t even seem that difficult to break in. Andrew, on the other hand, is a college ski racer. Toughness runs in his blood, and I knew that his biggest challenge would be waiting for the rest of us to catch up with him.

The toilet at 16,000 foot high camp

The toilet at 16,000 foot high camp

What I didn’t think much of before we left was what happens to kids without a constant Internet connection. Do they shrivel and die, like a raisin in the sun? Or would they revel in the beauty of mountains, humming the Sound of Music soundtrack to themselves while sipping tea in their tents?

Another long day on the trail

Another long day on the trail

The climb was a challenge. It was also beautiful and amazing and inspiring. Evelyn told me the day before the summit that if she didn’t make it to the top, she’d be disappointed at herself. When we were just steps from the top, and she wanted to turn back, I reminded her of her promise to herself. She continued on. Andrew made it to the crater rim while his lung were filling with fluid. The guides turned him around at Stella Point, but he’d done the hard part. He didn’t let on to any of us the depth of his struggle, and it turned out to be the most herculean physical effort I’ve ever witnessed. I will forever be in awe of him, even while I wish he would have turned around earlier for his own sake.

Feeling revelatory at the summit

Feeling revelatory at the summit (who put those Crystal and Big Sky stickers up?)

Climbing a mountain is simple. You just put one foot in front of the other until there’s no where further to go. When John, Evelyn and I stepped onto Uhuru Peak, the highest peak on Kilimanjaro together, I felt something new. The air is so thin, it feels like floating a inside a helium balloon. But attached to your feet are lead weights. There’s a strange disconnect between your head and your heavy boots, and it cracked open something inside me.

All of the challenges of the past few years came streaming out of that crack. The worries, the anxiety, the loss and pain just leaked out.

Where there be lions

Where there be lions

A few days later we camped in Serengeti National Park. We stayed in luxurious wall tents complete with running water (real toilets!) and big beds. At night we could hear lions. They exhale in a low rumble, then call out to the other cats in a long hooooooo sound. It’s strange and eery and totally amazing to listen to amidst the myriad of other African sounds.

"If you can't climb it, drink it!"

“If you can’t climb it, drink it!”

Evelyn isn’t the kind of kid that’s going to raise her hands and proclaim the “hills are alive.” She’s subtler and a whole lot wiser than that. The first morning after sleeping with the lions, she said something even better. She claimed this as the best trip she’d ever been on. “And you know what?” She went on. “Lions are better than wifi.”

Coming from a 13-year-old that’s about as high of praise as you can get. Trip of a lifetime indeed.

Off The Grid

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The open path before me

The open path before me, photo courtesy of Sue Ershler

Walt Whitman put it best when he said, “Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me. The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose. Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune. Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.”

Tomorrow I leave for Sikkim, a state in India wedged between Bhutan and Nepal. I will be officially off the grid. Incommunicado. Out of the loop. Trekking through the Himalayas. Skirting Kanchenjunga. Completely unplugged.

But just in case you want to follow our progress, one member of our group will be posting satellite dispatches to his website markursino.com.

Satellite dispatches. Don’t you like the way that sounds? Feel free to follow along. Or not.

I have two radio shows “in the can,” as they say. So enjoy Tracy Moseley and Lynne Cox in the next two weeks. After that, we’ll see what happens. I’m up for anything.

A Life in the Mountains

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“The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too,” stated early Yosemite climber Hervey Voge. Climbing mountains requires patience, strength and incredible judgment. Mountains are not

Brent Okita

Brent Okita

climbed in a single day, and some expeditions take months to complete. Deprivation and a comfort in high places makes mountain climbing a singular experience. But the rewards often outweigh the risks. Brent Okita climbs mountains for a living. He knows, more than anyone, the dichotomy between scarcity and abundance found only on the side of one of the largest peaks in the world. Because only when we strip ourselves of material conveniences can we truly enjoy the gifts that wild places can offer. Mountain guides like Okita have learned to dwell among the permanence of these high places.

Brent Okita spends his life almost entirely in the mountains. Okita has been up and down Washington’s, Mt. Rainier over 450 times. He’s summited Denali 21 times, and been to Everest twice, with a summit in 1991. Brent’s resume includes 14 expeditions to the Alps, and one to Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. But Brent doesn’t do this for fun. This is his job. Brent is a guide at Rainier Mountaineering Inc. in Ashford, WA at the base of Mt. Rainier. In the summer he might summit this Kircher-show-descriptionmassive volcano twice a week. In the winter he is Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol’s Assistant Director.

Join me on The Edge as I talk to Brent Okita about mountain guiding, ski patrolling and living life in the world’s highest places. Have a question for Brent? Leave a comment here and I’ll ask him on the show. Or call in live Wednesday at 888-346-9144.