Words from Wik

Sharing my Experiences

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I just got laid off

So a bit of a different topic today, but one that has an effect on my Everest preparation and climb. The company I have been working with for almost 4 years is trying to sell their Canadian assets, and so is slowly closing the Calgary office, letting people go. I got let go earlier this week, and even though I saw this coming for a while, it was still an emotionally draining day. Anyways, I won’t dwell on it too much, other than to say that I’m taking it all as a positive: I will have more time to prepare for my trip and make sure everything is in place that can be! I’ll re-focus specifically on the fundraising side to get people and hopefully companies involved in raising money for World Vision! Remember, you can donate here.

The other reason I bring this up is to lead into my next post, where I’ll talk about how I got into climbing and what experience I have that is now taking me to Everest. You might be surprised how recently I got into mountaineering, and it was almost all due to the opportunities that I got with my company. I can confidently say that BG (and the people I met along the way) have made me who I am today. Stay tuned!

posted by Wiktor at 4:57  

Friday, February 12, 2010

Go read Into Thin Air

Into Thin AirFor the last little while I have been reading the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, and I suggest you have a read of it. If you want to read about a real-life adventure, or if you want to learn more about climbing in general and high altitude in particular, or some of the history of Mt. Everest, you will find it all there. It’s a good book for everyone, as it assumes you know very little about the world of mountains and climbing them. Many people I have spoken with that have very little interest in mountains and climbing really enjoyed the book; it gives a very good description of what it’s like to climb in these high mountains, things I explain to people when I show them my photos and share my experiences. So if you have a read of this book you will know at least some of what I’m going through when I am on my trip this spring.

I thought it was a very good book, well written and a well told story. It’s not quite as epic as “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson (read that one after if you want, it’s one of my favourite books ever), but good nonetheless. However, read “Into Thin Air” with a grain of salt, as there is some controversy over some of the things in that book, mainly the author’s guesses at people’s motivations for their actions. An entire book was written to tell the tale of that disaster from another point of view and question some of what Jon wrote, so just keep that in mind.

Let me know if you want to borrow my copy of the book. I will share some quotes to get you interested:

But at times I wondered if I had not come a long way only to find that what I really sought was something I had left behind.
– Quote taken from Hornbein, “Everest, The West Ridge”

Everest has always been a magnet for kooks, publicity seekers, hopeless romantics, and others with a shaky hold on reality.

The fact that a climber has paid a large sum of money to join a guided expedition does not, by itself, mean that he or she is unfit to be on the mountain.

People who don’t climb mountains – the great majority of humankind, that is to say – tend to assume that the sport is a reckless, Dionysian pursuit of ever escalating thrills. … At least in the case of Everest … the ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any other mountain I’d been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium, and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace.

“If client cannot climb Everest without big help from guide,” Boukreev told me, “this client should not be on Everest. Otherwise there can be big problems up high.”

Mountaineering tends to draw men and women not easily deflected from their goals. By this late stage in the expedition we had all been subjected to levels of misery and peril that would have sent more balanced individuals packing for home long ago. To get this far one had to have an uncommonly obdurate personality.
Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregards signs of grave and imminent danger as well.

Bottled oxygen does not make the top of Everest feel like sea level. … 29,000 feet with gas felt like approximately 26,000 feet without gas.

Not only during the ascent but also during the descent my willpower is dulled. The longer I climb the less important the goal seems to me, the more indifferent I become to myself. My attention has diminished, my memory is weakened. My mental fatigue is now greater than the bodily. It is so pleasant to sit doing nothing – and therefore so dangerous. Death through exhaustion is – like death through freezing – a pleasant one.
– Quote taken from Reinhold Messner, “The Crystal Horizon”

posted by Wiktor at 4:27  

Thursday, February 4, 2010

50 Days to Everest

In 50 days I will be on a flight leaving Calgary in what you can call the official start of my trip up Everest. I have just a few loose ends to tie up but most things are starting to fall into place. I have sent in my final payment for the trip; if you check the summitclimb.com website you will see that the cost of climbing Everest from Nepal is $27,750 USD (and prices are going up next year). I have also paid for 5 oxygen bottles valued at $510 each (they are cheaper if you buy them in Kathmandu, but that $510 includes transport by Yak then porters then Sherpas up the mountain to the high camps where we’ll actually need the stuff). I’ll leave you guys to add that all up.


With all that money spent I thought I would take some time to reflect on my trip in the context of ‘commercial expeditions up Everest’. There are other expeditions that charge $65,000 or more for a similar experience, where does that difference come from? Well one big difference is that our trip with summitclimb is not considered a “guided” trip; there is a team leader but there are no guides that will be walking with us up the mountain. We are expected to know enough about mountaineering to make our own way up and down the mountain. That cost to pay IFMGA Certified guides a western salary and all their expenses adds up. Also, we have to carry a bit more of our own things. Some companies will place sleeping bags in the high camp tents, so people can arrive and have everything ready for sleeping; I will have to carry my own (surprisingly heavy) sleeping bag. Little things like that requires people employed to carry things up and down the mountain, which adds up quickly. There are other minor things too that add up.

I must say that from my experience it’s better to go on a non-guided trip such as this. It means the quality of people signing up is higher, and you’re expected to do more on your own, giving a better feeling of satisfaction at the end. Of course, there is a fine line before the support the group gives is not enough. Other companies charge even less, but give you even less. It may go unnoticed if everything goes according to plan, but if something goes wrong these groups seek help from the ones more prepared (because they are more financed). I think summitclimb finds a nice balance right where it should be in terms of support.

I guess the whole concept of the commercialization of Everest is a debatable one, but I would like to think that companies offering non-guided support are the ones doing it right, as long as they screen their applicants enough to make sure people are qualified to be on the mountain. Companies that rely on their guides to help people up the mountain are introducing people into circumstances where they cannot help themselves, and that’s where trouble can begin, for them and for everyone else on the mountain stuck because of a traffic jam or asked to help someone who should not be there.

Here’s to hoping that our group goes up and down the mountain with little fanfare or media attention, as that always follows people that get into trouble.

posted by Wiktor at 12:52  

Monday, February 1, 2010

I hate to complain but…

So my last post was just one big complaint. I realized that as I was writing it, and hesitated about 5 times before actually hitting ‘publish’. I hate complaining. I rarely complain. I always look for the silver lining on the cloud, for how I can make the best of any situation. And I think it takes a bit of that to be able to climb high altitudes, to be able to enjoy the fresh air and the beautiful views and the relaxed people, rather than focus on the shortness of breath and the monochromatic rock-snow landscape and the lack of luxuries. However, in the interest of sharing as much as I can about what I go through as I prepare for and attempt Everest, I feel it’s best to share those bad moments and bad thoughts as much as the good. It would be a little too easy just to publish the good.

To those ladies that I have explained what high altitude mountaineering is about, several have drawn similarities between it and childbirth: you go through a lot of pain and during that pain you swear you will never do it again, but once you’re done and you look back at the result of all that pain, you barely remember the pain, in fact you start planning the next one. So it’s easy for me to just wait a few days after I go through some tough moments and forget about them, but in my attempt to share what it’s like to prepare for and attempt Everest I will try and capture all those negatives as well as positives. So please, when I complain, now or in the future, take it all with a grain of salt, appreciate it for what it is, and know I’ll get over it.

Concerning my last post, I have already decided that I’m going to focus less on the weight lifting side, start doing more body weight exercises to keep the muscle I’ve built; also I’ll start walking with weight on my back to get the muscles I’ve built used to working the way I’ll need to use them on the mountain. So I already have a bit of a solution in mind.

Hopefully I’ll post some more updates soon on my other preparation activities. All the best!

posted by Wiktor at 5:37  

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