Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Last Pass

The Last 4000+ Meter Pass on My 2014 Nepal Experience
This is the last pass we crossed. The view was tremendous. Only half an hour later we were on dirt and in the fog, never to cross the snow and ice again on this trip. It was over.

It was bittersweet. Happy to be returning safe and sound to home and family, but a big disappointment to not even take a step above base camp. This picture, for me, really sums up the experience. On the right you have the relationships formed and memories made. In the middle you have the steep rocky and snowy mountains that I came to play in and on. On the left you have the valley, the path toward home and all of the loved ones that don't go to places like this. I realize to most people, it's a just a picture of a far away place with more scenery, that all looks the same. For me, being there and taking the picture, everything this moment represented was a symbol to remember.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Economics is So Cool!

I heard on the Wisconin radio station I listen to that the number of students on free and reduced lunches at public schools increased. Additionally, I'm halfway through reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the book all the economics wonks are talking about. I will add, I carted that book over to Nepal, but didn't have the downtime to finish it there.

Economics never interested me until a few years ago. I didn't understand it or appreciate it. Ever since my unemployment it has colored my view on many things. For example, some government programs are based on anecdotal (short term, snapshot, small scale...) evidence rather than long term widespread evidence. In my opinon, that means not the most effective use of our limited tax dollars. As I work my way through Capital, I know what his conclusion is, and I can't come up with any decent disagreement. Also, the book focuses in large part on just part of economics, money and inequality, rather than many of the microeconomic issues that may be more applicable to our daily lives.

While we wring our hands and fear the world devolving into dystopia, there are solutions out there. Planet Money created a "presidential candidate" in 2012. A party with a platform that would never get elected, at least in the next 20 years. Another example, the idea and evidence of a basic income is interesting to say the least. Maybe this is all theory, and there are certainly flaws, and economists still argue about the evidence, but as we gather more data the opportunity exists to make the systems better.

I've always had the view, if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. Wether it is a high school classmate getting into MIT or doing a medical internship at the Mayo clinic or a family member getting engaged, we are succeeding. One lesson we can all take away from economics is the vast wealth we have now versus our ancestors. The price of lighting a house has become nearly insignificant in the western world (skip to table 1.4). Maybe my interest is economics is one way that I can emperically see how blessed I am.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

One Day at a Time

I am a mess. I still haven't really put my expedition equipment away, or washed my down clothing from Nepal. I have bills to pay. I have a trip to book. I feel like the last month much of my world has been blown to the wind like the pieces of a puzzle. I don't know what to do. I don't know what is my next step. I know that I enjoy my engineering work and I am healthy and enjoying running and bicycling. For a person so good at long term planning and goal setting, I can really struggle with unexpected short term issues.

Running races and hiking in the mountains I have learned that when you trip, keep going. When you drop the baton in a relay, pick it up and keep going. So when 16 people die in an avalanche, the Sherpas go on strike, and you are left broke, you have to just keep going, even if it is one day at a time.
Me in Front of Baruntse and Makalu (Partly Hidden by Clouds)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My 10 Year High School Class Reunion

Sabetha High Class of 2004 10 Year Reunion
Wow! This was great! I was nervous before getting back to Sabetha because I call these people my friends, some of them I consider rather good friends, yet I hardly talk to them and haven’t seen many in ten years. I quickly learned, or was reminded, you have to live where you are, you can’t dwell in the past. There were several times I asked around about people only to find out, no one really knew what that person was up to. There were several people that no one at the reunion had talked to in several years. Hey! Next time we do this, please come everyone! We want to know what is going on in your life. None of us keep up with each other as much as we would ideally like, that's life. 

This weekend was like a shot of motivation to my heart. (Yes, Pulp Fiction reference.) When I talked to my classmates, their spouses and significant others I was stunned at how well everyone was doing. Taken one classmate at a time it all seems to make sense. I will try to keep this pretty vague because we are a small enough class I don’t want to single anyone out. Time and again it was like: this person, who was and is awesome, is married to that person, who is also awesome, and they have a well behaved kid, plus stable jobs. 

What impressed me the most was the relationship side of things. We took a class picture of most of the people that were there, although a couple showed up later. I looked at my classmates and I thought, ‘wow, what a group of beautiful people!’ The part that you will not see in the picture, was the group of spouses and significant others, that again all seemed to have their lives together. There were only a few of us, maybe three of about 25, that didn’t bring a spouse or significant other. I suppose we are 28 now, but I still didn’t expect that. 

Everyone seemed to be gainfully employed, or was a stay at home parent. We even have a couple of doctors in our class. It really seemed like everyone was doing fairly well in their careers. No job is perfect, but people seemed to be doing quite well. Again, taken one person at a time each individual success did not seem like such a big deal, but put together we have done really well. 

Don’t let me give you the impression it has been all roses. Of the 72 of us, at least two are dead and at least three have been divorced. There have been kids born outside of marriage. Multiple people had lived in four (and maybe more) places after leaving college. My guess is that I was not alone in struggling to find a job that payed in the wake of the Great Recession. As a side note, my van was definitely the worst vehicle in the parking lot. Quite a few people had moved in with their parents after college at least for a little while. I will even dare to say that most of our class spent time living with our parents as an adult. I felt so alone and failed moving in with my parents and being unemployed in 2010, but I think that quite a few of my classmates had similar experiences. Many people have also returned to the area of northeast Kansas because the economy is good and being closer to family is a bonus.

I think that as I talked to my classmates and heard of their stable jobs and marriages and kids maybe it seemed like everyone was so successful because we had been through struggles in the last ten years. Several people had gone to school for one thing, and either changed direction to a less daunting occupation or totally dropped the degree to pursue something else. Student loans came up a few times, and while I am in debt quite a bit, some others are certainly in even more debt. Only one person directly mentioned money being a difficult but important topic in relationships and I think she spoke for most of the class when she bluntly talked about some of the hard times in the last ten years with careers, marriage, and having a kid. 

Land prices came up a few times as people think about getting into farming. The reality is land prices have gone up so much that if you aren’t inheriting land (because you have siblings or your parents still farm) it is awfully hard to get into it. I never really appreciated farming when I was younger, yet the hundreds of hours I spent on my friends farms helped shape me into who I am today. Even to me the concept of having a “hobby farm” sounds like a great experience. 

Getting back to the positives, there were a couple people that I knew did not have the easiest life back in high school and shortly after. Seeing those people, married, with kids, and well behaved kids too, welled my eyes up with tears. If a measure of a parent is the kids, well done classmates! I was astounded, for the number of kids we had there they were all, without exception, well behaved. Plus, my classmates and their spouses seemed like pros when it came to parenting. They could hold a conversation and watch the kid run around, no problem. I look forward to the time in my life when I have kids, but I’ve never changed a diaper. Every time a kid would fall or hit a head or cough I could cringe a little because I don’t know what to do about it, yet my classmates and their spouses reacted like it was no problem and were back in the conversation a minute later.

I had the opportunity to apologize to a couple people for mean things I had done in the past. I have memories that come up every once in awhile and make me feel bad for things I have done. I also thanked a number of people for helping me become who I am. The person we become is in large part based on the people we are surrounded by, and I was surrounded by amazing people growing up. I feel like our class holds itself to a high standard. That means different things to different people, everything from solid parenting to becoming a doctor. 

On Sunday I waited around town until the early afternoon to go to a retirement party for a teacher and coach that had motivated me when I was in middle school. I also happened to see and thank a couple other teachers and coaches at the party. Every time I see my track and cross country coaches, I am so thankful. It took some time, and I didn’t always get the point, but I feel the overall extremely positive experience I had running growing up is why I got back into running less than a year after I quit, and haven’t stopped running in the nine years since. It also taught me about long term progress, which helped get me to Nepal this year. I also saw one of my math teachers, and he gave me an experience I will never forget. My freshman year of high school in geometry class, there were maybe a couple freshman, but mostly sophomores and juniors in the class. One day when he was going to be out for the day, he gave me the lesson and had me teach the class. It went quite well, but going into it I was terrified explaining to these older girls and big football players the volume of water in the tank! It was a leap for me, and an experience I treasure. I had amazing educators growing up!

Over the weekend I had two two-hour conversations with people who were ironically not in my class. Some people, that I would have liked to talk to more, I only said “hi” to. Other people after a few minutes of talking we would get interrupted by someone else and never return to our conversation. I could have easily spent two hours talking with every single person in my class. That being said, I spent a lot of time just listening. I live my life, I already know what I’m doing, I don’t want to hear myself talk about it. I want to know what my classmates are up to. By the way, only two of the six cross country runners in our class showed up. Next time, you all better be there! Even listening to a few other people have conversations, I kept thinking, ‘well done, you guys all have your lives together.’ I feel marriage is probably only second to God when it comes to big life decisions and events, and it seems like most of my class just nailed it. The people they married are fantastic. Seriously, well done friends. 

Other news about Sabetha, Kansas itself, since my family hasn’t lived there in 9.5 years, it seems to be doing really well. Nemaha County was apparently listed as one of the top 10 counties to get a job a few years ago. There are two new manufacturing and engineering companies in town that employ around 200 people. For a town of 2500 people, that’s a big development. South of town quite a few houses have been built and there is at least one new "suburb". It is a little funny how developments there seem to go by one family or occupation. There is a new gym at the high school and a new baseball field. Otherwise most things are the same. The town has a little trouble keeping restaurants and they actually have a bit of a rental apartment shortage. Business is good enough that a friend said to me, “if you can weld in Sabetha and you don’t have a job, it’s because you smoke too much crack.” 

I was so nervous going into this. I haven’t kept up well with my friends. I don’t have a significant other to bring. I have changed. They have changed. We have gone our separate ways and I wasn’t sure what all that would mean. Well, I’m still smiling, sitting here two days later. It was great! I mean, I know we’ve had some tough times, but overall, well done friends! If possible I will make it to all the organized reunions that we have in the future, and I will certainly be going to my college reunions as well. In a class of only 72 graduates, you get to know people. It will never be what it once was. We have all matured. Fewer crude jokes. No putting other people down. There was a lot of positivity, and parenting. These aren't the same people I went to school with, they are better. I will be commenting on Facebook posts in the future, instead of just “liking” them and I look forward to the next time we do this. As an open invitation, if anyone from the Sabetha High class of 2004 is in Dubuque, Iowa in the future and I’m still here let me know, dinner is on me. 

Seventh Grade Basketball! (I'm #4)

Monday, May 26, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 153

I was super excited to get through this week. I mean, I'm still recovering from Everest, adjusting to work, getting back into running, plus I went to my 10 year high school class reunion and I was totally nervous about it. It was a good week. I am so blessed.

Work is great! I mean, we are figuring things out and making the product better. While we see all of the issues and imperfections, problems are being fixed and the reliability is going up. I am quite a bit more positive about where we are now than I was a few months ago. The upside of all the hard work I did before I left and coming back early is that my workload is actually light. That being said, after working 6-7 days a week for two months putting in evenings as well as early morning, not doing that extra work feels so much easier. One semester I took seven classes at college, something like 20 credits, plus being on the track team. After that, just taking 5-6 classes a semester seemed so much easier. It's the same at work, after putting in overtime and weekends, not putting in overtime and weekends feels so easy.

Running was great, with 49.8 miles for the week! All slower recovery pace, my average for the week like like 8:17 per mile. Still, it's close to double my mileage from last week and it includes a 2, 3 and 4 mile day.

We went rock climbing Sunday and somehow or other I managed to get up at least one 5.10. So I guess I'm in better shape than I thought. I would like to take a climbing trip later this year. A weekend at Red River Gorge for sure. I would like like to get out west to either the Tetons or Moab. Both places I have been before and have not gotten to the top of anything in either place. We'll see how my climbing partners are doing, because Moab, you need to have 5.9 crack trad climbing dialed to do anything interesting, and the Tetons you need to be fit enough to hike for hours at altitude then do 5.6 in pants and a jacket. Neither place is easy, that's why I haven't gotten to the top of anything.

I had a big article in the Telegraph Herald Monday. Sorry, it's the mobile site. I knew, before going to Everest that in the event of a big tragedy there would be a lot of media attention, but it's still strange to me, and quite sad really, how people only talk about Everest when it involves tragedy. Into Thin Air was such a successful book because so many people died. Life is good.

Saturday I woke up at 4:30 and drove to Sabetha, Kansas for my 10 year high school reunion. Oh, I'm definitely writing up a summary of the weekend...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Upbeat on Everest 2014 Failure

People have been surprised at how upbeat I am despite the very dissapointing Everest 2014 season events. I won't lie, it's depressing. I've gone through almost a half gallon of ice cream in the last week. Yet, overall, I've had worse. This too shall pass. Here are a few reasons for me to feel upbeat about a "huge failure".

  • I'm alive! If the avalanche had happened April 19th, it could be me still missing in the ice fall. It's one thing to say that, it another to really know that it could have happened to me. Compared to dying, most other outcomes are rather positive. I have the luxury of time to consider my next steps.
  • This barely compares to my unemployment in 2010. I took a huge financial hit without the reward of a climb, but compared to applying for hundreds of jobs and getting hudreds of rejections, and having no money or known future income, I will financially recover. Plus, I never let this affect my direct retirement savings.
  • They offered me a great deal to return. I'm still not sure if I will, or if I might try a different route, but they did give me a huge discount. Plus, the mountain isn't going anywhere. 
  • I tried. I did everything to show up at the mountain skilled, fit and healthy and it worked. I was there and ready to go. I think all the preperation, saving money, learning mountaineering skills, staying healthy at 17,000 feet, and being fit enough to try it are probably 80-90% of the challenge. Mentally, I've already climbed the route. 
  • Mera Peak, the Gorak Shep Mile, the Kalla Pattar speed record, the Ampulapcha Pass, the hike to Phaplu, and all of the unique people I met made this experience unique and worth more than an Everes base camp trek. Each one of those is a little consolation prize. 
Yes, it's still a dissapointment. Yes, I'm still quite upset about the whole thing. However, the ability to feel that dissapointment is a luxury. I will be okay. Mentally and emotionally unemployment was way more difficult than this experience. Physically, most races I run are more difficult. 

Many of the best, or most of the entire population of, ultra marathoners are older people who have been through life's ups and downs and are prepared for the swings that 24 hour races will throw at them. I understand that. I've had lower lows, and I didn't get 10% of the media attention then I am now. Life will go on. I've already got a couple interested things planned for this summer... 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Five Early Lessons from Everest 2014

On a weekday night in February 2009 I started this blog. With relatively little thought I came up with the title: Learing to DO. It emphasied learning which I am a huge life long fan of, and doing, with a capital o because you can learn everything but if you don't apply it to do anything, what is the point? I'm very much in the comtemplative phase of my Everest expedition trying to figure out what it all means. There are a few things I learned that are obvious to me, but I know there must be more to it. So I figure trying to fill out a list of five things will give me a chance to really see what I learned. I'm calling this an early list, because I feel that in the months to come I will have more revelations with deeper meanings and this is certainly not an exhaustive list.

  1. Inexperience is rampant on Mt. Everest. I have a much longer article drafted and waiting for sufficient time to pass before I publish on this topic. A simple example is the number of people who had slept above 7000, or even been above 7000 meters. Of the 15 clients on our expedition, I believe only seven, including myself, had been or slept above 7000 meters. Three of those had only slept above 7000 meters on Everest, in previous seasons. In short, while people may generally gradually build up their climbing skills and altitude experience slowly, when it comes to Everest, people will make a big jump in altitude, and even technical skills to get there. 
  2. The cultural and political situation in Nepal, specifically in the Kumbu valley or Solokumbu region is not nearly as stable as we thought. I would still consider it safe. Even after I first heard about the threats I hiked by myself multiple times to Gorak Shep, the 3G rock, and Kalla Pattar. 
  3. The world loves tragedy. Maybe this is the media, maybe this plays to our fears, maybe we just like to feel safe. I announced I was going well in advance, I offered to do interviews while I had a good Internet connection, but no one really cared. After the tragedy, CBS, BBC London, Al Jeezera America, among others filled my inbox with interview requests. This is not what I want to get attention for. 
  4. Hundreds of people were really worried about me. I spend so much time alone, running, sitting in my apartment, typing at the coffee shop, working at work, that frequently I feel lonely. Sometimes I feel like I could dissappear and no one would notice. Well, I seemingly almost dissappeared on the other side of the world and I had scores of people tracking me, making sure I was safe every night. I guess it's not a surprise, I care about my family and friends and they returned the favor, I guess I was just not expecting it. I should really write some thank yous (blog post idea...).
  5. Describing my risk tolerance is really hard! I don't ever plan to go bungee jumping. I will never attempt Annapurna or Nanga Parbat, two very deadly mountains. I always wear my seatbelt. On the other hand, I do on occasion like to free solo routes that are not truly "easy". I am scared of heights somewhat, yet I've still been at a hanging belay 1500 feet up a cliff with just air below me. I've almost died three times in the mountains, yet I keep going. I rarely speed in my van, although the thing can't really speed on the interstate. Yes, I've been skydiving, solo of course. I've tipped over my fair share of sailboats. My Eskimo role is terrible, so I just don't kayak. I quit playing baseball when I was young because I was scared of the pitching machine, and I still am a little. I have a motorcycle, but it's a 125 cc 1966 Yamaha and once I went 62 miles per hour downhill. I've gone 52 miles per hour downhill on my road bicycle, which is more dangerous? I think the things that scare me and the things that scare most people are so different it's hard just trying to communicate the differences. I feel this is challenging when I am trying to build personal relationships. I am willing to do things with a statistical percentage chance of death, but I make sure when people ride in my van with me to always wear their seatbelts. 
There we have five things I have learned so far. The two most dramatic ones for me are the inexperience of Everest climbers and the surprise of how many people were worried about me. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cameras on the Kumbu Ice Fall?

After telling the 30th person about my adventures, I had the idea, what if we had cameras monitoring the ice fall? Even just one camera would probably be able to give us quite a lot of information. I took the picture below on April 16th about 45 hours before the avalanche happened. 
45 Hours pre-serac falling, April 16th, taken from Pumori C1. The serac that avalanched is on the lower left 1/3 of the height up from the bottom and 1/3 of the width from the left to the right. It is angling down from left to right. It looks overhanging to me.
My suggestion, in the future to prevent this tragedy, is to have a camera, roughly the same location this picture was taken, monitor the glaciers in this area and when you get a picture like this, don't climb for a couple days until it falls.

The difficult part is that on the right side of the picture is the Nuptse ridge, and you can see hanging glaciers on that wall as well. The standard south col route passes between the two ridges and you don't want to get very close to either ridge. 

Another suggestion, at base camp, was could we use explosives  to make the route more safe. While it's a good idea and used frequently in North America, it's expensive and requires skills and bringing those skills to Everest, at 20,000 feet on the wall you are looking at would require significant effort, and still no true guarantee that the serac you toppled is the one that will fall next. Here is a more detailed analysis of the glacier before and after it fell

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Speaking Engagements

For the record, if any group is looking for someone to give a speaking engagement I offer myself up, and for free. I have had a couple requests since Everest and I will accommodate them.
The theme would be the persistence and long term effort required to go from no experience to attempting the highest mountain in the world. The ending thus far is not so great, but it's an interesting story. How to simply save the money for an Everest expedition is worthy of a whole story. Plus, I will of course tailor it to the group that might have me speak.
Mera Peak base camp tea house.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 152

I'm back! I flew into Chicago Monday morning, drove back to Dubuque Tuesday afternoon, and went back to work Wednesday. I almost feel lazy or boring getting back into my routine. So much of what I will talk about over the next few months is of course Everest. I'm working on editing the Mera Peak video as I write. However, it's back to running advice, a few life observations, and the occasional engineering details for much of the foreseeable future.

I feel like my Everest experience was a do nothing failure. The reality is I was a part of history. Everest will never be quite the same because of the April 18th avalanche. 

Life this past week went really slowly. That's a good thing. The hours just seemed to tick by slower than usual. My view is, time going slowly is my mind's way of appreciating my life that much more than usual. I've been a little mesmerized by grass this past week. After spending six weeks in a dry vegetation-poor place, grass is such a luxury, and we keep it so well cut!

I've been keeping my presence back fairly quiet. (As quiet as someone in the newspapers with a blog and Twitter account ever does.) So many people want to talk, and I want to talk with them, but it's tiring. I have to pace myself, like a marathon. It is very strange for me because after every other one of dozens of climbs, there was no media, no attention. A couple times in college I would solo Mt. Washington in winter and not a single person would ask me about it, most probably never knew. On the other hand, go to Mt. Everest, drink hot chocolate while 16 people died two miles away, and everyone wants to know about it. I guess they are very different, but to me a climb on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire has many of the same risks and rewards as Mt. Everest. I suppose this experience is a little amusing to me because everyone's reaction is so different than every other time. Two years ago three of us from Dubuque were in a thunderstorm on top of Devils tower in Wyoming. One of the three didn't even tell his parents. 

I'm back. If anyone wants to go running, I'm averaging slower than 8 minute miles now, and my mileage is lower than normal. Same for bicycle riding and rock climbing. Or I suppose, if anyone has questions about some castings or my other engineering projects I'm in the office. 

Even though I feel my blog posts reek of pessimism, I am really happy to be back. I have a smile on my face. I'm alive, I have my fingers and toes, and I have time to ponder everything that happened and figure out what is next. I am really fortunate to have the family, friends and opportunities I have. If it seems like I space off and day dream at all this summer, or more than normal, it is because I am appreciating my life, my health, my wealth and all the little things I get complacent with and take for granted, like freshly cut grass. I have the best life in the world. I hope you think the same about your life (but mine's better).

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Everest 2014 Messes with My Plans

Sure, it’s selfish, but I’m a planner and this season’s circus messed with my plans. Mountaineering related, I have a dream project, I was hoping to do it in 2016. Now I clearly don’t have the experience to attempt it. In between in the next two years I was planning to focus again on running, to take a stab at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials standard of course. Financially, I was planning to pay down a lot of my debt that I’ve put off paying off the last few years because I prioritized Everest over zero debt. 

I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I do know, I’m back at work. I have a great job. I am going to run, a lot, as much as I can. I am focusing on mileage for the first time since 2011. I’m going to pay off a loan in June. Not sure which one yet.

One of the tensions for me, from my view, when the Sherpas went on strike, it’s different for them, it’s a job, it (the mountain or their job) will be there next year. I look at the money I put into this, and I don’t know if that will be there next year. I need to upgrade my vehicle at some point. I was going to do that this summer. I know at least two climbers this year do not plan on coming back to Everest at all. They have taken the loss and moved on. Maybe I should do that too?

I don’t know. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what other life opportunities will come up. Maybe I will find a nice lady friend who will end up saying, “no 8000 meter peaks or Gasherbrum IV”. I do know, I will keep going into the mountains. They have taught me so much good stuff that I’m addicted.

It’s all related, mountaineering, my career, marathoning, I plan them around each other. I don’t live in a vacuum or on an island. I was hoping to do the Boston Marathon in 2015. Well if I went back to Everest in 2015 that obviously wouldn’t happen. This incident is similar to being unemployed in 2010, extremely unpleasant, a delay of everything in my life, yet ultimately an incredibly powerful lesson. The lesson part remains to be seen. I could buy a lot of lessons with $30,000. 

I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I was there, I know what happened, but couldn’t we have had this protest last fall, before I paid all this money and before anyone was killed? I am terrible at timing. Examples of my poor timing: Investing skills: below average. Racing tactics: too impatient. Women: forget it. Everest: wrong year and wrong side. Graduating from college: definitely wrong year. What am I doing?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Time to Rest

I have dozens of topics to write about from my Everest experience. I even have half a dozen drafts already written up on my computer. However, now that I'm back home I spend more time working and exercising than I do with my computer connected to the Internet. Plus, mentally I'm a little tired of it. I spend four hours a day, every day, minimum, talking or thinking about the last six weeks. Writing about it on top of all that, not to mention putting together some videos is more than I care to do. Don't worry, I'll keep writing about my Everest 2014 experience until you get sick of it, it just may take some time.

I need some rest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Living to Be 90

I know this is going to come up in the days and weeks ahead, so I'm getting out in front of it, I don't have a death wish. I plan on living into my 90s. The reality is that death is all around us, car accidents, cancer, home accidents, work accidents, carbon monoxide poisoning, getting hit by a car running, walking or bicycling, drowning, not to mention any sort of violent event.

I know that some of the things I do are dangerous. Yes, I know that had the serac fallen April 19th, I could be under it. In many ways, it's good that we all go home from Everest this year and spend time thinking about what happened, what could have happened, and how things can be different in the future. Ultimately though, this isn't going to stop most people on Everest this year from quitting mountaineering. Some people will quit climbing after a tragedy like this, others will never return to Everest or any 8000 meter peak. For many though, we can't let tragedy stop us.

Much of life involves risk assessment. Some people don't go out driving on the roads on Friday and Saturday nights because they are afraid of drunk drivers. Some people don't fly in airplanes because they are afraid of a crash. Some people eat organic food because they are afraid of pesticides and herbicides giving them cancer. Most people don't climb 8000 meter peaks because death rates are given in percentages. There are risks all around us. I just can't let every risk keep me from living my life. (Obviously a question I have to answer for myself over the coming months or years is, is the south col route on Everest too dangerous for me because of the Kumbu icefall? I used to say it was an acceptable risk, but I need to think on that more.)

I will keep doing "crazy" things, like mountaineering. Yet I really do plan to live to my 90s. I've even wondering about making it to 100. Maybe I won't. Whatever age I end at, I plan to live a very full life the whole way.
Me Hiking from Namche Bazaar (11,000 ft.) Up to Tengboche (12,600 ft.) April 10th

Monday, May 12, 2014

I'm Home. I'm Safe. What's Next?

So that everyone knows, I made it back safe and sound to the good old USA. All of my stuff arrived with me, customs went the best it ever has, and now I'm sitting in my parents living room with my family.

I think overall, I'm in a pretty good place mentally. Yes, I'm sad that so many people died and very aware that had it happened 24 hours later it would be me under that ice. Yes, I'm upset and angry about essentially losing so much money. I'm also happy I am unharmed and I had the chance to meet some nice people and do some physical stunts. I had many good times and laughs on this trip.

So, what's next? Engineering, running, bicycling and finishing some interviews for starters. I've got a lot to think about and a lot of conversations to have. I have a wonderfully supportive group of people around me and I would like to get back in my routine and spend some time with those people.
A Goat Coop?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Getting Sick (From the Food) While Traveling

I've gotten sick, diarrhea, multiple times while traveling. A lot of people get sick traveling in Asia and Africa. A lot of people, even former locals of these countries, eventually get sick of the food. It's funny, dal bhat apparently is even not liked by some Nepalese who live in the western world and return here to visit family, yet I could eat the stuff every day. Dal bhat is generally vegan, and reminds me a lot of the vegan meals I ate last year. Plus, they keep giving you seconds and thirds. Most meals, especially the western ones, are pretty limited, but rice and dal they just keep giving and after nine hours of backpacking that's pretty nice.

I'm pretty stunned that I didn't get sick this time. I was really expecting to get some sort of sickness. I did have some loose bowel movements on the trek in, but one Imodium cleared that up. Gut bacteria is the new genome, the cure for every ailment is supposedly linked to gut bacteria now. I'm pretty sure that on my 11th country now, and after spending over a year of my life living in the mountains, I've got some pretty awesome bacteria. It's no surprise that after time our bodies get hardened to the environments we subject them. Other people were sick, some multiple times, and I had no real problems.

The standard tips are to drink only bottled water, or boiled water drinks like tea, and wash you hands often. It's pretty simple, carry a bottle of hand sanitizer and use it after going to the bathroom and before meals. I didn't worry about clean water as much on this trip as I have in the past. I mean to say, I drank a whole lot of tea, and you never really know if they boil the water or just heat it up. Also, the way they bottle water locally everywhere, after paying 25 cents for a one liter bottle I have to wonder how pure it really is.

Nepali food and I got along quite well. Indonesian food was really spicy and the fish with all the scales still on and bones still in was intimidating. Pakistani food was a shock at the time, but in hind sight only the goat was really not an enjoyable experience. Rwandan food was basically the same as the three above with more sweet potatoes and chicken instead of goat or fish. Costa Rica is the same rice and beans three times a day. The challenge in these places, as it is in the USA too, is of course their cleanliness standards for washing things, but also they use different oils and I think that the shock of changing the type of oils used makes things slide through a little differently. Also to my benefit, I can be pretty good at boring monotonous tasks, like running over an hour a day or eating the same meal every day and that helps me cope in places where, because of the money, they eat the same meal every day and sometimes multiple times per day. It might also be worth noting that as far as my engineering career is concerned, I've never had a sick day. I've taken personal days for hospice and a funeral, but not for being sick. Huh, I didn't realize that until just now.

By the way, I hate porridge. It's gross. I'll take oatmeal 100% of the time over porridge.

Well, I leave Nepal in like six hours. The next time you hear from me I will probably be blogging from my parents basement. It's been an interesting trip to say the least.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

No Big Deal

Alex Honnold is a climber that has done some pretty amazing stuff. His trademark is the saying, "no big deal." He says that about so much of the stuff he does. I relate to that pretty well. There are quite a few things I have done and for me, it really is no big deal. This expedition, as far as what I actually did over the last five weeks, it is insignificant. Woohoo, the Kalla Pattar speed record. Yet people are emailing me and telling me I'm an inspiration. I feel a lot of life is a reflection of our perspective.

There are two types of people that get to Everest base camp, those that are only going to base camp and those that plan to go higher. The trekkers who maxed out at base camp often seemed to be struggling and coughing and about ready to pass out. The climbers on the other hand would nimbly pass them walking off the trail with hardly a sound. The expectations of Everest climbers is that getting to base camp is almost insignificant (even though it is not to be taken for granted as we often do). For many trekkers it is the highest altitude they have been to.

Our team at the last rest stop before crossing the Ampulapcha Pass, with the ridge to Ama Dablam in the background April 27th.
It was the same with Mera Peak. Two people, one the day before and one the day we summited, got frostbite. What?! How does that happen on such an easy little peak? That's the difference, my perspective on a walk up 21,000 ft. mountain is totally different than a person who has never been to that altitude with very little experience. Mentally I spent months and years preparing myself for Everest, without bottled oxygen. It takes a long time to really get to the level where a big goal like that is realistic and possible for yourself. But once you build that mental fortress, everything else seems so much smaller.

In the world of running races I say that "fast" is just what I haven't done yet. My fast is different than your fast. For me, the past five weeks, for the most part, has been no big deal. Obviously 16 people dying in a serac collapse and the resulting circus was a pretty big deal. It's very strange, I came here to push myself and see what I could do. Instead this ended up being more of a cultural learning experience. I think the biggest lessons I will learn from this expedition are about people and cultures. Certainly nice things to learn, but not the same sort of challenge I was prepared for.

All of that being said, don't let me trivialize aspects of this experience that you don't understand, or that were simple for me because of my experience and preparation. I only wore gloves two days on this whole trip, the day we crossed the Ampulapcha Pass and Mera Peak summit day, because I ran with snowballs in my hands this winter. A Russian got frostbite on his fingers the day we summited Mera, yet I hiked down from 20,000 feet bare handed. For me no big deal, for this Russian, maybe he will lose part of some fingers.
Nwang unloading his huge backpack at the tea house and camp April 28th, the day before we arrived at Mera Peak base camp.
 (I don't normally use names of people unless I have asked them or they are famous enough to expect random publicity, however I will use the first names of several of the Sherpas I got to know over the last month to show that I really did get to know them a little and to attempt to give them a bit of a voice, because very few of them have the microphone that is something like my blog. Nwang is in his 40s, extremely patient, very strong, very generous, he even set up a rappel for me coming down from Mera BC so that I didn't have to get out my crampons for a 20 ft. icy waterfall section that was maybe 40 degrees steep, then waited maybe 1-2 hours for our whole team to cross. I have video of a teammate crossing it. Even in the picture above you can see he has two ropes and one of the client's boots hanging off his backpack, not to mention he's holding a two pound radio.)

Friday, May 9, 2014

I Saved for Three Years for Mt. Everest

I saved money from every paycheck for three years to pay for Mt. Everest. I thought about it weekly, if not daily. I will probably say this phrase often in the coming months. With so many dead people it feels selfish to talk about money, but it was tens of thousands of dollars and everyone knows the risks.

One of my teammates said with a smile at base camp, "I invested my life savings in a third world country and lost it all." This is like my huge loss on A123 stock. I do have positive things to say about the whole experience, but like I said before, this will take months to write it all down.

The Speeches at EBC April 24th
There seemed to be three kinds of people on Everest. Early career young people, like myself, climbers who I would characterize as "dirt bags" who have lived in their van or in a tent for portions of time. Those that climb independently all the time. For us, it was a huge amount of money. We have the skills and the experience to be here, but the money is a huge huge hurdle. The second type of person was a later career person, with some climbing experience who has money and time. The kind of person who spends $100,000 on a ticket into space for next year. The kind of person who has been on numerous helicopter flights, maybe even pre-acclimating in a tent and helicoptering into base camp. This person has experience because he or she can afford to take expeditions all over the world, and is well read enough to know what is required above 8000 meters. Taking a loss of this size was not such a big deal. The third type of person was generally mid to later career, not so rich, and without the luxury of time that us young climbers recently had to develop climbing skills independently by trial and error. For them it was still a huge investment.

In the Kumbu, people think that all westerners have money. At the Paradise Lodge in Lukla, with any bad weather the manager/owner lady would remind you every hour that maybe you should take a helicopter, "only $550 per person". As if $500 is just something we can toss away. I am happy I trekked out to Phaplu and took a 15 hour jeep ride with five Sherpas over three days for a total cost to me (excluding porters for my two bags) of about $50 (including the two porters carrying my 90 lbs. of stuff for two days I think $110).

Last night in Kathmandu several of us were discussing our experiences and one person said, in the Solokumbu region we are viewed as rich people who will pay lots of money versus in the rest of Nepal the shop owners are just happy we stopped at their shop. The people in the Kumbu won the lottery. Maybe five billion people in the world live on less than $10 per day, but here a Sherpa can make $6000 in two months.

In the world of adventure travel most expensive is a space trip, $20-30 million to go to the ISS or $100k+ for a few minutes above 100 km (although none of those companies have actually started running trips yet). Then there are polar expeditions, on the order of $150k+ depending on what you want to do, that is from the coast or just the last degree and what kind of support. There are ocean rowing crossings, around $50k+. Then fourth on the list is Everest, $30k+. You can do K2 or any other 8000 meter peak in the world for $15,000 or less. There is only one highest mountain.

In the west we will likely be branded as murderers because we send high altitude porters into dangerous places. I told a Sherpa friend that in the future I may do no Sherpas (no high altitude porters) for all my climbs, but then he mentioned that there is tension between the Sherpas (2013 Everest fight) and independent western climbers because climbing on our own we are keeping Sherpas from having a job. It's like we owe it to them to hire them, and if we don't hire them, they resent us, despite the fact that maybe 16 of them could die at one time when a serac collapses. It's a double standard. It would be easier to go on an expedition if I hired less people but then I also have a lower chance of summit success.
Asian Trekking Sherpas Eating Dahl Bat in Dingboche
I don't know. I turned 28 today. Just another reminder I need to get busy getting stuff done. Also a strange reminder that I don't know as much for a 28 year old as I feel I should. I feel like the lyrics from Coldplay Square One.

Summiting the EBC Dining Tent April 24th in my Down Suit for Breakfast

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Mountains Teach Us

I have spent 10 of the last 12 days trekking, full days, from base camp, over the Ambulapcha Pass, Mera Peak, into Lukla, then two days to Phaplu with five Sherpas (and only one western person, me), followed yesterday by a 15 hour jeep ride, sitting four across in a Tata Sumo Gold. The only true rest day was in Lukla. I am tired. But my legs are restless from less than a mile of walking in the last 36 hours…

In a way, the long trek out was therapeutic. So much happened in my life in the last month. In one day 16 Sherpas died when a serac collapsed. This is what Everest has become, a place where Western climbers pay for locals to take their stuff through a dangerous area and make it so easy that inexperienced people have legitimate and high chances of summit success. I think it will change in the future, helicopter supplies above the Kumbu ice fall maybe.

There are a lot of emotions I am experiencing right now. I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of things. It will take some time to spill them all out.

In many ways this was very similar to my first backpacking trek in 2001. The mountains teach us about ourselves and about others, our relationships. They expose the weaknesses. They teach us what hard work counts for accomplishing things. They show us that when things go wrong, they can go really wrong. It's not about the mountains, this is true all around us, the mountains are just a microcosm at an accelerated pace.
Porters Carrying Ladders Up to Base Camp on April 20th, 2014
Most Everest refugees are already home. I am one of the last still here. It's depressing to be in Kathmandu May 8th. It's a lot more depressing to look at the list of the 17 dead Sherpas. One of the Sherpas who died, I don't know the name, had six kids, was divorced from his wife, and had custody of the kids. What a mess. 

Well, I don't know when I am getting home, but maybe as soon as Saturday. I will keep you notified. As a substitute, I have an idea for two "little" projects I want to do this year, including going back to the Tetons with some friends. I failed there in 2010, and I would like to try the Grand again. Life goes on. I will say, I have some things to talk through, and my friends and family I will be wanting to do some talking and walking in person this summer. You need to help me figure out what this means. A good question, what does this (Everest 2014) mean for you?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Positive Things to Say

I spent an hour writing this offline, and managed to delete my original words. Story of this trip. There is a saying, "don't say anything if you don't have anything positive to say." I don't have a lot of positivity right now. This is not the experience I came for.

The problem is my experience has been so colored by miscommunication, tragedy, inexperience and nepotism (maybe even corruption, but I'm ready to call it that). In the future I will compare Pakistan and Nepal, and it's just not that great of a comparison. 

There are two questions hanging over my head now.
1. "What was the point or what does this mean?"
2. "Will I come back to try it again?"

Asian Trekking gave us a good deal to come back, but so much more than a price for an expedition makes a difference in the decision to come here. 

I'm off for now, This is our crew in the tea house at Mera base camp.
Mera Base Camp "Tea House"

Saturday, May 3, 2014

In Lukla!

We are in Lukla, home of the world's most dangerous airport. We are staying at the Paradise Hotel, ironically in the Everest room. So much to say...

I'm coming home to the USA, Dubuque, work, basically as quick as I can. There are still a lot of hurdles to getting back, like lots of rain here in Lukla, but unlike an earlier blog post, I'm not going to South America or Europe to prolong this climbing adventure. The purpose of this whole adventure was Everest and since that is not happening I'm returning to my normal life. 

The last week, maybe two weeks, I've experienced the range of emotions, disbelief, anger, resentment, excitement. I've changed my mind so many times on what I am going to do the rest of the month, year, next couple years. This is a big wrench thrown into the transmission and I don't know what it means yet. 

Well, I'm here. I'm safe. I've had some interesting and enlightening experiences. Here is a panorama from the top of Mera Peak. Everest is the tall one left of center (and just left of Lhotse, 4th highest in the world).
Mera Summit View of Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, and Makalu