Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon New Year’s Resolutions

See here for our recent newsletter article on hiking to Mount Everest and running to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The top photo here is of Kala Pattar, a peak near the popular trekking trail that climbs towards the base of Mount Everest.

Resolution Thought #1: Set your goal. Make it realistic and make it yours.

In 2022, I went to Nepal to trek to the base of Mount Everest. I didn’t go to actually climb Mount Everest: I don’t have the physical abilities to climb a mountain, and while I’d love to think that I have the mental toughness, I’m pretty much a cry-baby these days. But what could I do? I could do something realistic but challenging.

Over the course of a 10-day trek, I got near Base Camp and then hiked to the top of nearby Kala Pattar, topping out at 18,500 feet.

About a thousand people a year do a version of this trek, so there’s nothing super unique in the activity. Indeed, I met a 76-year-old from Ireland doing the trek with a bunch of her friends. Still, though, it was my goal and my achievement. Just because others might do something similar (or even “better,” like actually climbing the mountain), my goal isn’t diminished.

Truth telling: Not everyone who starts the trek is able to finish it (some turn back from altitude sickness and others from, perhaps, too much yak cheese). I won’t lie: it makes me feel good to do something that causes others to turn back, even if 76-year-old Irish grandmothers can do the same thing.

Resolution Thought #2: One step at a time.

As you look at that photo here of Mt Everest looming in the background, the only way to get up the trail is to go from rock to rock, step by step, toe-fall to toe-fall. At 18,000 feet, it gets hard to breathe — at times all I’d do was look down, make sure one foot was in a

safe and useful position, then drive my knee, push off my big toe, and look for the next stepping spot, then do it again.

Step by step.

On some trails I found it best to step on the edge of the trail, where the height of the step verged with the mountainside so that my step wasn’t too big.

Step by step.

On other portions of the trail, I found it best to leave the path entirely and make my way alongside the worn trail, so that my footing was easier, nobody was in my way, and I could be more efficient.

I had prepared for Mount Everest by running the trails in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains here in Tucson. Every small running step I took in training prepared me to go rock by rock, step by step, up the Himalayas.

Truth telling: When I say running, you should probably substitute synonyms such as hobbling, walking, and barely-jogging.)

Resolution Thought #3: Do things with people.

You’ve seen our emails recommending that runners join a club or a coached group. That’s because while many runners like to be alone, it’s super hard to accomplish difficult things without other people.

Our advice: find people you like, then do things together.

Alternatively, just do things with people and you’ll get to like them.

The person who got me to go to Nepal in the first place has been a colleague at the UArizona, Mike Miles. Mike invited me to join a group of his friends who came from around the world to meet in Nepal.

They all knew each other from an international graduate program in fancy-pants Paris, and I was the outsider. At first I felt solitary and alone, but as time went on and the steps added up, we shared laughter, we shared difficulty, and we learned from one another.

Mike is a tech guy and he loved counting off distances from his smart watch: 2.27386 miles to go, or something like that. As for me, when we climbed I would look down and study my next step, with occasional glances at the ridgeline: when I saw sky through the trees I knew we were getting close to the end of the day’s incline. But both techniques were useful: some folks in the group wanted to know how many meters to go, while others shared my passion for reading the land and estimating what was left to do.

Truth telling: There’s no way I would have done this without others. First, Mike invited me, Tia said to go, and Mike’s friend David organized everything. And it was Dev, Mark, Josie, Janno, Abhijeet, Arun, Mirtha, and everyone else in the group who encouraged me, competed with me to get up the hill fast, shared water with me, and motivated me to keep going step by step up to 18,500 feet then back down.

Resolution Thought #4: Do dumb things. This photo is from a summer afternoon on the South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon, with the North Rim in the distance, the muddy Colorado River below.

Earlier, I wrote that I trained for the Everest trek on the trails near Tucson, but I also thought that if I could go down the Grand Canyon and back up, I could go up to Mount Everest and then back down. Many runners like to do a capstone workout, and this Grand Canyon journey would be my Everest capstone.

So one Friday morning I drove up to Tusayan, checked into the Red Feather lodge, took a nap, then headed over to the Kaibab Trail. That day it was over 110 degrees in the Canyon — they had actually closed the trailheads earlier in the day, but by the time I got there the temps were cooling a bit.

Late afternoon, I started running down Kaibab, hoping to get to the Colorado River before dark. I wore a camelback with water, snacks, and a headlamp. figuring I’d come up before it got too dark.

I had actually never done a nighttime run in the Canyon, which is why I titled this takeaway, “Do dumb things.”

It was late. It was hot. I was alone. I was not in great shape.

Truth telling: Instead of saying do dumb things, it’s probably better to say, Stretch and see what you can reach. There’s no need to set a goal that leads to self-harm or putting others in danger. Stretching our abilities is useful; being stupid is not.

Indeed, I didn’t run fast enough and couldn’t get to river before dark. As the sun began to set, I stopped somewhere below Tip Off and Skeleton Point, turned around and headed back up.

On the way up, I came across the fellow who said he was a music student from Ukraine living in Philadelphia, doing a day hike.

As we began to hike step-by-step up the Canyon in the dark, I could tell he wasn’t in shape.

I thought that I would have to take care of him on the way up.

As it turned out, though, I was the one not in shape. I cramped about 10,023 times over the last two miles of climb, but he would wait patiently for me in the darkness under the stars, then we would climb step by step again.

We finally got to the top, smiled, took a photo, and went our separate ways.

In Paradise Lost, Milton refers to Satan saying, “who aspires must down as low as high he soar’d.” I like to bastardize the quote and flip it around: though we may be down, we can still soar high.

Dig deep into the canyon of fatigue and see what you have inside you as you climb back up.

Whether your journey is to a deep canyon or a mountain top, take some time to try dumb things.

Thanks for reading. Tia and I wish you all the best as you embark on the New Year! Perhaps you can find a fun challenge in our 2024 calendare of events.

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