The fastest 30 days and biggest climbing adventure I've experienced are now part of my memory, thanks to the invitation from my friend Craig. 150+ miles of trekking Nepal's Himalayan Annapurna range on the Annapurna Circuit, a climb over Thorong La Pass at 17,769', a summit attempt* on 21,030' Chulu West topping out at 19,680' - and a bonus climb on Taiwan's Yushan Peak at 12,966' on the way back should keep me satisfied for a while. I've had enough Dal Baht to feed the largest yak, too. 10 flights.
What makes such an adventure fantastic? The people! Through some stroke of luck on our part, our Nepalese Sherpa Dendi Sherpa and buddy Koson had both succeeded on Mt. Everest (and even starred in the movie Everest) and booked years of experience on many Himalayan climbs. I could not have had better guides and trip organizer than Ngima Nuru Sherpa - total confidence putting my life in their hands every step of the way at high elevation. I can't put their support in words - maybe envision rolling out from a frozen tent at -20C around 2 am around 18,000' after another sleepless night on the snow. In pitch black, these awesome Sherpa take their gloves off to get my crampons and harness just right, roping me up and checking on my well-being as I stand there like a high-altitude frozen zombie. Day in, day out, these people support foreigners from around the world. Their porters like Gel Chhiri Cerpa carry our gear up high - these young troopers are only the age of my high school boys. They do it all with pride, experience, honesty, leadership and integrity.
Why didn't we summit Chulu West, so close with the peak over our shoulders? A number of reasons, most notably snow conditions. Normally we climb on ice, where each step is a solid contact with minimal wasted energy. It had been very cold on Chulu and summer monsoon storm snow had not gone through freeze/thaw cycles, so it was soft up high and each step became more difficult than the prior ones. As the Sherpa looked at us and said "you are almost there - let's go up!" around 19,680' we knew we forced ourselves to accept the descent to high camp. I had identified and reached every limit I had that morning at 6 am, both physical and emotional. Toes were frozen, body was not moving effectively, and brain told me to keep my senses about this climb. We were happy to turn back. Next time I'll sleep with mountaineering boots in my sleeping bag, ascend more slowly, and maybe add another acclimatization day.
It turns out the only summits on Chulu West this season were from a group of Czech climbers. The climbing season is now over and resumes in April.
Next, I made my way to Taiwan where I had a bonus round of climbing with buddies (and brothers) Martin Wang, Robert Wang and Jelly Wang on Alishan's Mt. Yushan (Jade Peak). These amazing troopers live at sea level in Taipei, but somehow they pushed themselves on a 17-hr single-day climb up Yushan with their demanding American friend who'd been pitching this trip for years. While we have worked together for years, it's the friendship and trust I enjoy the most. As we stood alone on the warm Mt. Yushan I realized how thankful I was to know them, munching Taiwanese bakery items, sesame bars and guavas. Time goes by no matter what we do with it, so book it with positive memories!
When I received the invitation to go on this trip last May I defaulted into my normal mode, thinking I couldn't go due to this and that, and whatever else I could think of. When I brought it up to the family, they were purely supportive and encouraged me to make it happen. I spent the next five months preparing physically and logistically. Special thanks to Mary Beth, Carson and Nathan (none of them are here on FB). And somehow, my peers at @Parallax Inc. - Robots for Education let me go as well. They even sent me a note telling me I don't need to come back to work this week [how would one take that ?