Monday, December 17, 2012

The Everest Question

I am going to Mt. Everest to climb it without bottled oxygen. Fact. I am going within ten years of 2004. Am I going in 2013 or 2014? That is the question. 

It comes down mostly to money. Everest will cost around $38,000 for me as a minimum. It could be $45,000 if I want a second personal high altitude Sherpa to accompany me on summit day. That is a lot of money. There are costs that vary, like the amount of satellite communications I bring, my flights, souvenirs. I do not feel like one consuming to excess discussing spending that kind of money because altruistically, 90+% of that money will get blown in a country that could use it far more than I. In a strange way, I feel like an expedition to an 8000 meter peak involves a significant amount of charity.

Now for the backstory. In 2009 when I went to Pakistan for seven weeks to attempt Broad Peak the total cost to me was around $14,000. That includes everything from the new equipment I had to buy to the plane tickets. While I paid for most of that out of pocket, about $6,000 I charged up on a 0% interest introductory rate credit card, that went up to only 6.24% after the first year. Having charged that up and then being unemployed starting in late December 2009, any debt was not a good thing. After my unemployment experience I do not want to repeat that. Charging up a bunch of debt to go on the trip of a lifetime and then being unemployed is not cool. If I were to employ a similar strategy I could easily go in 2013. 
Broad Peak Basecamp July 2009 with K2 in the Background
Unfortunately, the corporate world is not set up to smile upon people who take nine weeks off. I realize that most people don’t have goals such as climbing Mt. Everest without bottled oxygen, and I am not sure how that would really play out. In other words, do corporations want people who challenge themselves and set high goals and actually put in the eight years of work to get to that level? Or do corporations want people who will sit behind a desk for 40 years for 50 hours a week and do what they are told? Is something like this only done by risk taking people that are corporate liabilities? I don't know. 

Let’s talk financials and job security more. My 401(k) company matching is excellent! They really contribute to my retirement. I am so blessed. However, it takes three years for their contributions to vest. Three years feels like an eternity. Obviously the best financial move would be to wait three years until my 401(k) is vested and then go so that if the company decides they don’t want me back, I have that money. Unfortunately, that would be April and May of 2015, which is past the deadline I set for myself. I can not sacrifice something I have been nurturing and developing for eight and a half years for the sake of a few thousand dollars. 

Additionally this trip will likely set back my possible retirement 2-3 years. Since I do not plan to stop contributing for my entire life, I am not worried about that. I feel guilty enough for how well I have it compared to most of the rest of the world that retirement just seems so foreign to me.

On the job security front, everything can change once I am out of the office. A couple bad economic months could mean they don’t want me back. Perhaps I will say or do something while in Nepal that offends and disturbs my employer so that they don’t want me back. Let’s face it, by the standard midwest United States definition of normal, I am crazy. This adventure would only probably cement that image amongst my coworkers. I know how people look at me when I talk about Pakistan or Indonesia or running 20 miles or a 40 foot rock climbing fall. 

What other factors are there? The 2016 Olympic marathon trials qualifying window opens August 1st, 2013. Missing April and May of 2014 would probably prohibit me from running a spring marathon and could set me back for a fall marathon. On the other hand, I might be able to get in two marathons between August 2013 and March 2014 and a two month break would be nice before I get in two or three more. Another factor is that we are approaching a part of the project that I have been working on for 20 months in April and May 2013 that I do not want to miss. That being said one of the more critical people in the project is having a baby that time of year and will thus miss most of it. Plus, it will be far more important that I am around in July, August and September for a later aspect of the project. 

I planned a few years ago to go to Everest in 2012, but that fell though with a year of unemployment. I have been planning and talking to people about going in 2013, it’s just hard to pull the trigger. I have never regretted traveling or any of these adventures. While I did take on debt to go to Pakistan, I had an amazing eye opening experience that was worth every penny. I am sure Everest and Nepal will be the same. These adventures continually trim away the superfluousness of my life and refine my commitment to the people and endeavors that matter in my life.

There is also all that other stuff like probably buying a new car in the next two years and probably buying a house in that kind of timeframe too. Also, Everest is the kind of thing that you can’t just do. The decision has to be made months in advance so that I can buy things like another pair of boots, a down suit, plane tickets, and get some satellite communications. Three months is about the minimum for plopping down a substantial payment. 

Then there is the even farther away stuff. I hope to have a family some day. Every year I get older and how do I put a significant other through something like me plodding weakly past dead bodies on the summit ridge gasping for breath as my body slowly dies? This video will make you puke, but it is a reality of a place I plan to go. I would like to go back to school and get a Ph.D. I plan to go back sometime before I am 30. How does all of that fit into this?

On a separate note, why Everest? Well, as a cocky 18 year old I went after the biggest most ego boosting mountain out there. I can’t deny that. To say that ego isn’t part of it is lying. K2 is a more beautiful mountain, much cheaper, and more difficult (which is to say more fun), but second tallest. I want to pant and gasp at 29,000 feet and I want to walk there, not walk into a barometric chamber. Truth be told, maybe I can't climb to the top of Mt. Everest without oxygen. Maybe I am not strong enough. I could die up there. Also, chances are I will have some post-traumatic stress when I get back. It will change me. 

All of that being said, I want to know what is possible. 

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