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Mountain Fever and Holding Myself Accountable When Training

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View from the top of Townsend with Rainier in the background.

I have had a whirlwind of a year and I learned that I not only love being around mountains, but I also LOVE to be on them and go up. It is a feeling like no other. I love taking on the challenges that are presented, and I especially love conquering them. My love is simplistic, and it’s not necessarily about a summit. Don’t get me wrong, I love that feeling of being at the top, but I think I can honestly say that a summit doesn’t complete my experience, it just enhances it. It’s the isolation, it’s the beauty and the pain, it’s the straight-forwardness of what you have to do every day, what you have to do to survive.

Since moving out to Washington, I have been fortunate to see lots of mountains and be on them quite frequently. I will continue to explore Washington and check things off of my hiking list. So far I have done The Duckabush Trail, Copper Creek, Big Creek Loop plus the Ellinor connector trail, Big Si, and Townsend. I haven’t been disappointed by a trail yet, the scenery is always amazing. My friend and I have plans to go to Rainier next week and hit the trails. I AM STOKED.

So, the point of this blog is to advertise that I have these goals I’m working towards and to hold myself accountable and stay on track. It was suggested to me by a friend to keep a log of my workouts. I think the best way to go about it and to not clog up my blog with multiple posts about this topic is to update one blog every month with my activity and to maybe summarize how I’m feeling and what improvements I’m noticing…?

Just to give you a little background, since last year around this time, I have lost about 45 lbs. That amount is the weight I’m needing to carry while trekking in Patagonia in November, and when I loaded my pack up with this weight it felt super heavy. It’s amazing that I use to carry that amount on my body all the time, every single day. It puts things in perspective and makes me feel really good that I have been able to take that weight off and keep it off even though I’m not to my goal weight yet.

My diet has changed drastically. I rarely eat junk…I don’t want to waste money on something that only temporarily makes me happy and causes me trouble. I no longer eat a lot of meat, veggies are king, carbs don’t exist in my world very often, dairy is few and far between, and sugar outside of fruit has almost disappeared. I drink a ton of water. I indulge myself every now and then, but for the most part I stick to things that are good for me. After taking out so many items from my diet, the things that I do put in my body taste so much better. Avacado oil is amazing. Hummus is my BFF. I love the days I have my breakfast smoothie (green tea, spinach, flax seed, banana, pineapple, raw cocoa). I’ve gotten beyond the cravings and have noticed my stomach has shrunk. It’s been a great lifestyle change.

So, I’d like to continue to lose weight, build muscle, and tone. I don’t weigh myself often, but rather go off of how I feel and how I feel in my clothing. I’m down four pant sizes and wearing articles of my wardrobe I haven’t worn in years. My other long-term goals include being ready to go back to Aconcagua and reach the summit while carrying all of my stuff, to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, and to reach the summit of Rainier.  I think Rainier takes the cake because it would allow me to learn technical skills and experience similar situations that one would have on the big girl mountains. Rainier is also in my backyard, so it’s right there waiting for me. Beyond that, I’m not really sure…or maybe it’s that I don’t want to/I’m not ready to say those goals out loud yet.

Anyway, I don’t know when my next opportunity will be to attempt any of these, but I’m kind of hoping to tackle Rainier next summer. I think that’s a realistic goal as long as I keep up with the training. So, if this kind of thing interests you, I will be posting every month with my daily activity, maybe some stats, maybe some photos, and a summary of where I feel I’m at. If this doesn’t interest you, well, sorry. Any words of encouragement are appreciated. Suggestions for training are also welcomed.

And in case you were wondering I got 3 hours in today! It’s a good start!

When You’re a Woman and You Need to Pee, Poop, or Menstruate Outdoors

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So, I’m a female and recently I have been a female in what seems to be a predominantly male world. This world has included trekking in Nepal and Argentina. As a female, I have a few obstacles to figure out that a man doesn’t even have to consider and doesn’t even want to talk about. I’m not trying to bash men, but as a woman it happens all too frequently that I have to censor myself to avoid making a man feel uncomfortable, awkward, or grossed out. Yes, I am talking about peeing, pooping, and periods in the outdoors.

While trekking in Nepal, I never had to figure this out in the way I had to while in Argentina. Being an individual that sweats A LOT, I never had to pee while on the trail. I lost my fluids via my sweat and via my face! I was always able to make it to the lodges we stayed at to use the facilities. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always the most glamorous of setups, but there was always a spot designated for business time and that was always appreciated. Even if that had not been the case, I knew I’d be comfortable enough to take care of things outside after having experience with doing just that in years prior. There were also plenty of opportune places when trekking in Nepal, and everyone was respectful when someone had to go.

I was recently in Argentina with the goal of trekking to the top of Aconcagua, the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas. It was myself, and two male friends, and one tent for most of the time moving up the mountain (totally weather dependent). I went into it knowing I would have to use a pee funnel, a bag for all of my pooping, and figure out how to navigate my period while on a mountain, all while enduring some pretty cold and windy weather.  I had googled these things to see if any other women had written about their experiences in similar situations, but I didn’t find much on these topics. There were a few about the FUDs (female urination devices) and how to use them, but I wasn’t really finding first hand accounts from women on what to expect, troubleshooting, or simply what it was like for them being a woman and dealing with these things out in the wilderness far from modern conveniences.

So I’m taking it upon myself to write about these things. I want to make it less of a taboo, open up conversation that might get more women outdoors and being awesome! I’m hoping this will be helpful for at least one other female out there. I am relatively new to trekking, and maybe it’s common knowledge in the female community of trekkers, mountaineers, etc.? And maybe it’s not. This could at least be for the newbies of hiking and trekking to make it feel less intimidating and do-able.

Right off the bat, you need to get over your own inhibitions. You need to know that it is okay to do what you have to do to take care of those primal needs. Don’t feel embarrassed that you have to fart, or poop, or squat to pee, or pee completely out in the open. Don’t make yourself uncomfortable trying to wait for a perfect situation because it most likely won’t happen and you will be so uncomfortable with a full bladder that is ready to burst. The benefits of being outdoors far outweigh the drawbacks, but there are always uncomfortable moments especially while at elevation. I realized it took way too much energy to try and pretend I was the woman who didn’t pee, poop, or menstruate. I just didn’t have the energy to give to keep up that lie. And don’t forget, it was often very cold and windy. Getting my boots on, climbing over one of my friends, unzipping and zipping the tent door, walking away from the tent, pulling my pants down, squatting while keeping my balance, and keeping my pants away from my female bits and pee stream was soooooooo exhausting.

Even more energy was lost when I couldn’t remember which pocket I stuffed wipes, hand sanitizer, or my waste bag into. It definitely helped to have a  kit, and after a few days I started carrying a gallon ziplock bag with hand sanitizer, baby wipes (get more than you think you will need), and the GoGirl with extension. Looking back I wish I also had another ziplock for the used wipes. I ended up wasting precious baby wipes on wrapping the used ones in a new one.

Peeing was the easiest for me. I practiced with the GoGirl before leaving, but never with the extension. I bought the extension for when I would have to use it in the tent with the guys because of stormy weather. Unfortunately, I continued to have problems with it and never felt very confident using it. I tried a few times in base camp, but ended up peeing on myself and at that point clean clothing was hard to find. I couldn’t  have my thermals or hiking pants that I wore many times over the course of two weeks smelling of urine. Three sweaty, stinky people did not need the added odor of peepee mixed into the equation. That was the point where I stopped caring. I got out of the tent, found cover if possible, pulled my pants down, squated, and gave myself relief without feeling an ounce of guilt or shame. I was over doing that to myself because I’m a woman and my anatomy prevents me from peeing standing up while being inconspicuous.

Moving onto poo. On Aconcagua, your poop gets carried out with you. No poop is left behind or at least that is what is supposed to happen. You are issued a numbered bag that you must show Rangers and leave at a dumping station upon leaving Base Camp. It was a weird thing to carry around. I tied it to my pack and it swayed at the bottom left side as we trekked up the mountain. It was also weird to hold someones poo bag while they were taking care of something else, but it somehow also felt normal and hardly a big deal after all that we had been through together. It’s funny what you get over. You have to. You don’t have enough energy to waste on thinking about it, worrying about it, being embarrassed about it. Everything you have needs to go to getting up and down the mountain, doing it safely, and keeping yourself healthy and strong. I’m just glad I have two men in my life who are okay with the fact that I pee, poop, and period. I’m also okay with the fact that they poop. We are all okay and we are all still friends. We survived.

So back to the poo bag. It was an orange bag, somewhat see through, and not the strongest or thickest of bags. My orange bag actually flew off of the mountain at C1 because I didn’t secure it well enough. That’s when I had to switch to my trash bag which was white and somewhat see through. That bag left nothing to the imagination…colorwise at least. That was a little embarrassing, I’ll be honest, but I got over it quickly. Next time I will definitely bring a few back ups to place it into in case it breaks or gets lost. I didn’t have any accidents with it, but my friend had a little one, and that’s something you don’t want. No one wants poo to drizzle on other things, especially on a warm, sunny day.

Now, actually pooping in the bag was a weird feeling the first time I did it. I think Americans have a weird relationship with their body and what it can produce. Everyone poops and pees and yet it is such a taboo thing to talk about and acknowledge. I’m glad I was able to confront this situation and be able to overcome my trepidation and fear of having to do this on a mountain that doesn’t offer many places to hide. As I mentioned earlier, I had pooped in the woods once before a few years back, but not into a bag, and I wasn’t carrying it around for a week after. I initially held things in for a a day or two until I felt I was going to burst. I’ve always needed privacy for number two, but I got over that requirement after making myself uncomfortable. Fortunately, my man friends I was with were really supportive and open to talking about it. They actually encouraged me to fart in front of them. It wasn’t a big deal because we were in it together and we all had to do it. So why pretend that we did anything but that?

I sucked it up and was the first of our three person expedition to do the deed in the bag. I won’t lie, it was a little tricky with the wind. I looked for cover, but I ended up having to go with my back to a cliff and the sun while facing our tent, all the while my squatting shadow casting itself onto the tent that my friends were in. I did it there because I had some cover using our tent, I just wasn’t thinking about what the guys were seeing while I was doing it…I can’t help but giggle while I type this.

There was one time I thought I was alone while peeing when I actually wasn’t. It was early in the morning at C2 and I walked to where I was behind enough hills for no one to see me. That’s when I heard the, “crunch, crunch, crunch,” of the snow coming from the direction I didn’t think I had to worry about. I had my pants around my ankles and my ass was in the air. All I could do was laugh. Nothing was said. He looked straight ahead as if nothing happened, which I definitely appreciated. I am also pretty sure it was one of our friends from the other expedition, lol.

Anyway, you figure out what works and what doesn’t. You figure it out quickly. I learned it was helpful to have the wipes pulled out one by one before doing my business, so I wasn’t struggling to get them out and having to have my bottom out in the cold any longer than necessary. Also, designating pockets of my jacket for certain tasks was helpful so I wasn’t searching for something I needed in a hurry. Make sure to keep the baby wipes close to you at all times so they are warm and not frozen or alarmingly cold when wiping sensitive areas. Tricks like that ensure you “pamper” yourself a bit. I may try using a pee rag for my next trek. I hate all the waste created with the wipes. I will still practice with the pee funnel, but I think I just prefer squatting. Less of a hassle and I know I won’t pee on myself as long as I’m paying attention. Another option I’m looking at is getting a hiking skirt. It would allow for modesty, but again, I may just be at the point where I don’t really care that much. That’s just me, you may feel differently and that is totally okay!

As far as menstruation goes, I originally thought, “I’ll deal with it when it comes.” Aunt Flow was definitely visiting during the trek, and unfortunately it looked as though she was scheduled to show herself during the window of our summit push. After talking to my guide and friend about this (he’s European and “they acknowledge biology” lol), I  decided to have my doctor put me on the pill to skip my period completely. I didn’t want the hassle of  having my heaviest day on the summit push or possibly having the effects be amplified by the altitude (I can get really severe cramps). I wanted to set up the best possible situation and give myself the best odds of reaching the top. So, I was on the pill, and everything was going great, until we moved to Camp 2 and I forgot to bring my pills in my pack. I went without them for two days and then my body decided to start the bloody process. I felt like shit. My symptoms felt somewhat amplified, and it was a tough and very bloody day. At that point, all I could do was laugh and roll with it.

I am a big believer in the Diva Cup (there are others, but this is the one I use) and had that as an ally. If you’re not familiar with it, it is a silicon cup that collects the blood. On heavy days, I need to empty it every three or four hours. On regular and light days I can leave it in for 6-12 hours which is so liberating! It reduces waste, which I’m a huge fan of, and also saves me money and paying female taxes that I would pay when buying tampons. It takes some getting use to when inserting it, and I still have my days where it’s a little difficult, but I love using it along with my Thinx period panties. Think panties are quality made panties that are anti-microbial, absorbent, and leak-resistant. They’re a bit expensive, but in my opinion, worth it. The combination of the two things pretty much guarantees that I won’t be walking around with blood stains on my pants.

Having my period on the mountain was the messiest and maybe most vulnerable of the situations for me. I ended up dumping my Diva Cup 3 times, as I resumed the birth control and it tapered off. Taking it out, dumping it, rinsing it or wiping it down, and then inserting it again takes time. I was thankful there wasn’t wind when I had to do this. Even more baby wipes were used with this not only for my bits and pieces, but also to wipe down my hands. Of course hand sanitizer was also needed. Having things set out was helpful, or at the very least knowing where things were in my jacket gave me an advantage to getting it taken care of quicker.

So there it is. It’s not always pretty. In fact, in can be really messy. It’s what being a woman is really like. We pee. We poop. We menstruate. Every second human being on earth does these things, so lets stop letting others shame us. Let’s stop shaming ourselves. They are normal everyday things that our bodies have to do.

Wow, I feel so much better now that this is out there floating on the interweb…don’t you???

Feel free to ask my any questions if you have them. I am no expert on any of this stuff, but I know what worked for me, what didn’t, and what I’d like to try next time. I’d also love to know if this helped you in anyway!! Don’t be shy…say “Hi!”

*note: this was post was published previously, but somehow got deleted. I’m thankful the draft didn’t get deleted!

Two Road Trips Across the Country In Two Months

Originally, the plan was to move out to Denver after completing my travel around the world. I visited Denver in the last leg of my trip to look at apartments, but things just weren’t feeling right.

I spent the next few months on the go, in Canada and then in Washington (the state). It hit me like a ton of bricks that this is where I should be moving to. This is where I wanted to be and start a big and brand new chapter of my life!

I went back to Michigan for a time, trained for a few months, and then went to Argentina to trek up Aconcagua for about 3 weeks. Once I arrived back home I had a few adult-ish things to do and in about 3-4 weeks, all of my things from storage were loaded into a 16 foot Budget Rental Truck that I had to drive across country by myself. I am now very accustomed to doing things on my own with little anxiety, but this was a bit more nerve-wracking than usual because of the big truck aspect. I wasn’t able to back up in the thing because of the ginormous blind spots and no one to tell me if I was going to hit anything or anyone. It was also very prone to being affected by the wind, and with a looser steering wheel, it was easy to over-correct. Most times it wasn’t too terrifying, but when I was going through the major cities in construction zones, it was really scary.

Other than that, I got very used to driving a big truck in a few short days. I love taking road trips and watching America pass me by for 10 days made me extremely happy! I made stops along the way, sang at the top of my lungs to songs I heard over and over again on the radio, and danced in my seat when I thought no one was looking.

I took a southern route to avoid hazardous weather which took me to places I had never been. It is amazing how beautiful this country is. I was on a tighter schedule because of the rental truck, so every day was 9-12 hr. driving days.

Once I arrived to Washington, I spent a few weeks there before flying back to Michigan to get my van. Another amazing road trip commenced and this time I had a more northernly route. I also had more freedom to make stops without having to worry about dealing with a big moving truck. I also got to spend a week in Utah, something I’ve been wanting to do since 2009.

They were both exciting trips, and the last one also gave me my first experience of #vanlife! I had makeshift curtains rigged up and made a squished little bed in the back seat. I’m tempted to build a platform and take the seats out for a real taste of #vanlife in August, September, and October, maybe head into Canada??? Jury is still out on that decision.

Anyway, photos from my time on the road are below!

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Leaving Grand Rapids, MI before the sun is up!
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St. Louis, MS and ‘fun’ construction zones.
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Texas sky is huge!
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Somewhere in New Mexico along I-40.
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Outside of Las Vegas.
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My first time in Death Valley and just catching the sun rise!
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Badwater Basin.
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Lowest point in North America at 282 ft. below sea level.

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Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

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Experienced a little rain in Death Valley.

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My first cross country experience had a deadline, so there wasn’t much time to stop and relax. After Death Valley, I busted back to Olympia by the next evening.

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In Iowa watching the severe weather threat die on my second journey across the country.

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Spotted Wolf View Area in Utah
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Eagle Canyon in Utah.

 

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Bonneville Salt Flats.

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Stop along I-80 heading back into Salt Lake City, UT.
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This was my first experience with #vanlife. After getting over the initial fear, it was fine. Just gotta keep your wits about you and have a plan if you need to leave in a hurry.

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Utah State Route 95.

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Hite, UT. This area is super cool and hardly anyone was around!
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Cainville Badlands.
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Factory Butte.

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Admiring the plant life in Arches National Park.

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After Arches, I made my way to both sections of Canyonlands as all national parks were free that weekend.
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Canyonlands…amazing views and not a single person disturbed me.

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Good morning from Canyonlands!

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Driving into Zion before 7am to try and get a camping spot. P.s.-I got one!

 

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My first time and first hike (The Watchman Trail) in Zion! It was amazing!

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 Angel’s Landing!

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Observation Point. Looking down on where I had hiked the day before on Angel’s Landing.

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The Mojave Desert outside of Baker, CA.

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Just made it to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes as the sun was rising and before anyone was there to ruin the sand with footprints and disturb the patterns created by strong winds.

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The wind was intense and I left with it in places it should never be.

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What an amazing close encounter with this lady running along the road! I saw my first road runner on this trip, too…I definitely kept my eyes out for falling anvils and exploding rockets!
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Looks as though she had some pups recently.
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Just outside Bakersfield, CA, I was able to get a glimpse of the end of the Super Bloom!

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Gah!!!! What an adventure! There are so many places I wasn’t able to get to. The US is an amazing, and at times, wild place with so much protected land. Make sure to get out there and enjoy it, as well as take care of it, and leave it as you found it!!

 

 

 

A Female Perspective From the Tallest Peak Outside of the Himalayas: Part II

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Below is a quick video of Base Camp.

After spending a few days at Base Camp (13,943 ft.), we were finally ready to go back up. We loaded our packs and did the darn thing. It felt a little better this time and I kept the negativity at bay. It was crazy to think this was our second time doing this, but that’s how you trek up a mountain. You go up. You go down. You go back up. Once to C1 or Plaza Canadá (16,076 ft.) we loaded our gear into the tents and made food. From this point on, our meals were Mountain House’s vacuumed packed ProPacks. They were actually pretty decent tasting, but became harder to eat as we got higher. Food just doesn’t sound good as you get closer to 22,841 ft. There was the routine of getting snow and melting it for water, hot cocoa, and to rehydrate our meals. Karl was the chef extraordinaire, and after recounting all of this, I feel lazy in comparison to all the work he did, but it was good training for Everest…I think…stupid American clients who aren’t able to convert meters into feet, lol!

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

We hung out for a while in our tent, as there was a storm that had moved in with wind, snow, thunder, and lightning! It was the craziest thing to experience, and there we were, perched on the side of a mountain with no where else to go. Although a bit concerning, I really enjoyed it. It was so exciting and exhilarating. I guess I am a little crazy. Josh retreated to his tent, and Karl and I stayed in ours, and we got ready for bed. We all had a sleeping pad, a sleeping mattress, and a super warm sleeping bag. We were without pillows, but could fashion something out of clothes and gear. I wasn’t great at making a pillow that would last, so I definitely need to work on those skills so I sleep better next time. We went to bed and in the middle of the night I woke to the sound of the wind and Karl rustling around in the tent. The weather had cleared and he decided to do some nighttime photography. I was insanely jealous because I decided against taking my gear with me due to it adding A LOT of extra weight and Karl probably would have been the one carrying it at some point. He was already carrying a lot of my stuff already. Basically, it came down to what was necessary and my camera gear didn’t make the cut. I had to settle for my Canon Powershot s100, which is an upscale point-and-shoot. It shoots RAW, so at least there was that. He was gone for 30 minutes or so, and the photos I saw were amazing. This is the reason I still continue to train even though I’m not sure what it’s for at the moment. I always want to be prepared and to be able to carry my things from this point on. I can’t rely on my guide to do it. It has to be me. I’m up to 30-35lbs at the moment and it feels pretty good, but it does slow me down.

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Photo courtesy of Josh LaPlante
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

That morning we woke to a few inches of snow on the ground. That meant I was switching from my hiking boots to my double plastic mountaineering boots. I was nervous about it being my first time using them, making things more difficult and/or giving me blisters. Josh and I were going up with Andy and Mariana’s group while Karl stayed back and took the tent down. We had some nasty weather moving in later that day, so the goal was to reach C2 or Nido de Cóndores (17,716 ft.) before it hit. Mariana started out leading that morning and I decided to get right behind her. She set a really great pace (we were about the same height), so it felt good to find my rhythm really quickly and focus on one step at a time. The trail had disappeared in the snow though some steeper areas were just the hard ground as the winds had blown the snow elsewhere. These sections were a bit terrifying as there was no flat surface under my feet and the plastic boots felt like they had no grip. I kept imagining myself slipping and then sliding off of the mountain. I definitely moved quickly and precisely when confronted with those sections. It was a challenging day. We had a few short breaks, but staying still too long could mean trouble. It was bitterly cold, but I was sweating, and once stopped the shivers started. I was constantly moving my toes and fingers whether we were moving or not. I didn’t want frostnip, and I definitely didn’t want frostbite. When we were in Penitentes, one of the trekkers returning from Aconcagua had frostbite. His summit push had taken way too long, something like 16+ hours, and his fingers were a dark grey, as if he had been playing with soot from a fireplace. That was a very sobering sight to see.

We pushed on and Andy was now leading. Andy is a tall man, and his gait was quite a bit longer than mine. The snow got deeper and deeper because of snow drifts and trying to keep up was a battle. I was now cold, tired, and starting to feel like the mountain was winning. With the deeper snow came areas where my legs or poles would just sink in all the way. I had no resistance and having to wriggle out of those deep snow drifts with a pack on consumed a lot of energy. It was mentally taxing, too, thinking of how much farther we had to go and how long I had to battle these conditions. Could I do it? Did I have a choice?

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

Andy led us to a more protected part of the mountain, which was counterintuitive because we weren’t going up anymore. It saved us from being so exposed and having to be hit by the bitter cold winds. As we got closer to the top, I fell behind a few people. My little legs were cashed. I was ready to be done especially now that the storm had really moved in. The end was in sight, and we finally made it as the winds blasted us with cold and snow. I took refuge in an Inka dome to try and keep as warm as possible. I knew the cessation of movement would create a potentially dangerous situation for myself since I was so sweaty. I kept moving around, wiggling my fingers and toes, but after what seemed like 30 minutes, I was really starting to shake. The other guys were putting up their tents and how they did it is beyond me. The wind was insane and it took a handful of them to do each tent. I felt awful that I wasn’t helping, but I had no doubt that leaving the protection of the dome would put my health and possibly my life at risk if I endured more exposure to the elements. Josh and I were unable to put our tent up as Karl had not caught up yet and he had the tent. I kept my eyes out for him the entire time, but people looked like little colorful dots in a sea of snow up there. I couldn’t ever tell if it was him or not. All I knew is that I had never been so cold in my life and it reached the point to where I couldn’t wait anymore. I had Josh block the door and stripped off my sweat soaked clothing and put on as much dry clothing as I could. That helped, but I was still so cold and almost to the point of tears. And then Karl arrived! I was so happy to see him, not only because it meant we could set up camp and get warm, but I was glad to see he was okay. I’m unsure of the order of events at this point, but I think Karl boiled water and we had lunch. I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and started to feel a bit better. The boys then spent a long time setting up the tent (the three of us were now sharing one tent as the weather was too crazy to try and set up another). They battled the constant wind, and the powerful gusts for what seemed like 30-45 minutes. Josh ended up lying down in the tent to keep it stationary as Karl secured it. When they came back into the dome, I started to make trips to the tent with our gear and setting up our pads, mattresses, and sleeping bags. We then piled in and settled into bed for the night. Our tent continued to take a serious beating until the next afternoon. At times it was concerning, but again, what a thrill! To see mother nature in this way, in a tent, on a mountain, in the snow and wind…an adventure I never thought I would experience.

This video shows a constant, but much weakened wind.

I unknowingly suffered a bit of photokeratitis aka snow blindness that day. I thought snow blindness was completely losing vision for a few days, but after doing a bit of reading I found out its effects have differing degrees. I was having some trouble with my sunglasses fogging up, and I ended up taking them off to see. That ended up being an uncomfortable and somewhat painful mistake. Hours later after resting in our tent, my eyes became very sensitive to light and they burned and teared heavily when they were open. I covered my eyes until the sun went away and by the next morning I felt fine. I knew better, there is a reason I purchased level 4 sunglasses…just one of those examples of being foolish.

The next day was spent hydrating, eating, talking, and listening to music. The sun eventually came out and Andy delivered some pizza he made to our tent. We were able to get out and stretch our legs for a while as well as admire the incredible view. I got to meet the famous mountain climbing guide dog and take a few photos. I was so thankful for the rest, the warmth, the sustenance, the warm water, and for the company.

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

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Liam was one of the two Inka clients that made it to the top of Aconcagua.
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Our Aussie friend Jimmy, the other Inka client who made it to the top of Aconcagua, brushing his teeth at C2.

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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler
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Photo courtesy of Karl Nesseler

Up until this point, a good night’s rest was hard to come by. Some nights I was too exhausted to fight sleep, but most nights I couldn’t get comfortable or my anxiety kept me up. Leading up to Aconcagua, I had nerves. I think that’s perfectly normal, and it’s good to be fearful of such a situation. It means you have respect for the mountain and are aware of the seriousness of what you’re undertaking. However, my nerves turned into full blown panic attacks, something I’ve never experienced before. It actually manifested itself into physical pain which led me to worry even more and increase the  symptoms. It was actually really scary. Fortunately, I was able to understand what was happening and took steps to quiet my worries. I meditated, I changed my diet, and I worked on letting go of some of my fear. I saw much improvement after the physical symptoms started to subside. While in base camp, I woke to the winds whipping against my tent and started to have a panic attack. It partially had to do with breathing at altitude, which can disturb sleep and cause you to wake up gasping for air, but after waking up I continued to have trouble catching my breath. I eventually calmed myself and was able to fall back to sleep. The intensity of that night only happened one other time during the trek, but the lack of sleep definitely took its toll on my body.

The following morning, we packed everything up and left for C3 or Plaza Cólera (19,685 ft.) We were a bit behind getting everything ready and starting our day. Andy and Mariana’s group had already left and we were trying to get all of our gear loaded onto our packs or stashed. We started out with our double plastic boots on once again. I didn’t have too much trouble with them up to C2, but I think that was partially due to walking on lots of snow and not just frozen ground. Today was different. I think we may have only been 15-20 minutes into the trek, and my right shin was in a lot of pain. With every step the tongue of the boot was digging into my shin. I tried side stepping and putting more of my weight onto my poles, but nothing I did was giving me relief. I mentioned this to Karl and we stopped to figure out a solution. We loosened the laces, pulled my sock up, tied it differently, but no success. He then took his rented mattress pad and a knife out and started cutting it up. He then stuck the piece onto my shin and tied my boot up. We started walking again, but it was still very painful. I was so angry that this is what could take me out of the game. Equipment. Not an injury, fatigue, or illness, but equipment. It was completely frustrating.

We stopped again, and then Karl decided to give me his boots. I can’t remember if it was at this point that Josh switched his boots with Karl (so, Josh had my boots, Karl had Josh’s boots, and I had Karl’s boots), but that happened at some point. Karl’s boots were much heavier, but felt soooooooo much better. This is why I love these guys. The things they did to help me out will never be forgotten. Karl is a stellar guide that goes all in for his clients. He goes above and beyond with everything. He is so good at what he does. Josh is officially my adventure buddy. When I get back to Aconcagua, I know he will be right there with me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way! I want to see nothing but amazing things in their future. After all the encouragement and all they have done for me, they deserve that at the very least.

After switching boots, I felt really good. I felt strong. I took the lead and got a ways past Josh and Karl at one point. It was a hard day with close to 2,000 ft. of gain. in what seemed to be a considerably shorter distance. Our last little hurdle was at the end before stepping foot onto C3 soil. It was a steep and slippery little section where there was a chain railing to help get to top. I, of course, slipped and landed on my left side and elbow. It didn’t feel good, but I was mainly terrified of slipping off of the mountain. Karl and Josh both sprang into action helping me up and grabbing my poles. I was now a bit of a muddy mess, but a little snow rub down helped in getting some of it off. A few more steps and I had arrived at C3 or Plaza Cólera (19,690 ft.) With all the set backs that day, we got into camp later than we wanted. I was exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally. The thought of starting a very long summit day early the next morning was anxiety inducing. We got the tent set up, made food, and then went to bed. I was having major issues calming myself down, and started having a panic attack. I couldn’t catch my breath. Josh had passed out, but Karl woke up and helped me to calm down by inhaling and exhaling very slowly with me. It felt like it took a while, but I eventually fell asleep. I blinked and it was time to get up. It was 3 am, if I’m remembering correctly. That morning is still pretty foggy, so I apologize for the possible lack of information to come.

We had breakfast, which was really difficult to choke down. I was spent, and wasn’t feeling great that morning. Just getting dressed and getting my gear on felt like it took energy I didn’t have. Today we wore our summit jackets (think Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but a turquoise version). We stuffed our water bottles into the inside pockets to keep us warm, but surprisingly, it wasn’t extremely cold. Again, we were late to the party, but started making our way up and adding to the line of headlamps that dotted the mountain. It was a pretty miserable day for me, but there were a few moments that were perhaps my most favorite of the entire trip. As we started towards the trail, I looked up and saw the heavens. The clarity in which I could see the stars, the Milky Way, was breath-taking, and if I had the energy to cry, I would have. We started making our way up and being in the dark was messing with me. I felt so out of it. I was having trouble focusing and I was feeling more clumsy than usual. I was also having trouble finding my pace and breathing. I was moving extremely slow and kept having to stop. The altitude was really having an effect one me. We continued in the dark and watched the sun come up. The other memorable moment of the day came with the sun. The mountain’s shadow, a perfect triangle, pushed all the way to the horizon. A sight I had dreamed of seeing was now a reality for me. I have no idea how many hours we were into our summit push, but I came to the realization that this was not my time. We still had to get to the top, which included some difficult sections and using crampons for the first time, and then there was the whole task of getting back down. I didn’t have it that day and had to call it. For my safety, for my team’s safety, I had to call it. It was heartbreaking and I felt awful because it meant Josh and Karl would have to go down with me.

There were also continuing boot issues with both of the guys feet being very cold. Some pretty nasty weather moved in later that day, after the three of us had made it back to camp. It got so bad that the Rangers closed the summit down, so even if we had continued, we never would have made it to the top. In a way that made me feel better, but I was still disappointed we didn’t get to the summit. I am, however, proud of myself for being able to make a tough decision, go with my gut feeling, and not be swayed by anything. I still believe it was the best thing to go down and do it while I could without assistance. No mountain is worth jeopardizing my health, my life, or other’s lives. It will always be there for me to try again.

We were in our tent through the storm, waiting for the rest of our friends to arrive safely back at camp. At the end of the day, everyone was safe and two Inka clients, Liam and Jimmy, and their guides, Andy and Mariana, successfully summited Aconcagua at 22, 838 ft. It was a rough go, but they did it and I was so happy for them, as well as proud. Our teams became a family, and our little three person expedition expanded to 10 people (Liz ended her bid at Base Camp after a few days, and Peru turned around at C2). These people gave me another reason why a summit would not make or break my expedition. The friendships I gained were some of the things I treasure the most.

The next day, we went all the way back to Base camp (down 5,350 ft). It was another exhausting day that gave me 4 blisters, very jell-o like legs, and another nerve-wracking taste of descending down a mountain. I weathered it a bit better, and with more confidence, but it was still scary at times. I did get to try out my crampons for the first time, which was fun and natural feeling. No ripped pants for me!

At Base Camp, we all hung out in our dining dome, then had dinner, and celebrated our adventure with some bubbly! There was music, some singing, and lots of laughter. We were not the party animals that the rest of Base Camp had been after successful summits with parties lasting well into the night, but I think our exhaustion made us all okay with that. I think we all slept pretty well for a change!

Our last morning at Base Camp had arrived, and after breakfast we were all loading our things up for the 16.5 mile trek back to the trail head. It wasn’t difficult, but it was painful. By the time we reached Confluencia, I had 6 blisters and one of them had burst open. I looked like Quasimodo hobbling along the trail. After a while, I started going as fast as possible so I could just be done. I was the 2nd one to reach the trail head and my legs were soooooo done. Moving after that was awkward and sore, but I had made it.

A little blood. Lots and lots of sweat. Some tears. I gave the mountain all of me. I pushed through all the impossibilities. I pushed when I thought I had nothing left. I didn’t stop until I felt I had to. Although I’m disappointed I didn’t make it all the way to the top, I am proud of myself for not only making it as far as I did, but for also being able to make a really difficult decision and put my safety and health before everything else. The mountain is definitely calling to me, and one day (hopefully not too far away) I will go back and finish what I started.

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Top (left to right): Peru, Andy, Liam, Jimmy, Josh, and Karl                   Bottom (left to right): Larry, Me, Mariana

After a few weeks of roughing it, we had a week in Mendoza to rest, enjoy some great meals, drink LOTS of wine, and have a bit of fun!

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Our favorite place to try wine in Mendoza. We were here four nights out of the week!

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Larry, Josh, and I with the owners, Fernanda and Marina.
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How things started to look after all the wine, lol!

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There was a wine festival going on all week. And with that, i think I’ll say Adios!! Photo courtesy Josh LaPlante.

 

A Female Perspective From the Tallest Peak Outside of the Himalayas: Part I

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I couldn’t possibly.

There’s no way.

I can’t do this.

All these thoughts went through my head multiple times a day from the moment I decided I wanted to attempt to trek up the tallest peak outside of the Himalayas. I would stare in the mirror as if my face, my eyes, had the answers to questions I wasn’t really sure I was asking. Is there something wrong with me? Am I really behaving in a crazy, reckless manor? Or was I simply doing things that so many others want to do, but for whatever reason, are deciding that they can’t? The few bits of negativity that I received from people about my travels were always the loudest things in my head, but I refused to let it stop me from doing something I was so passionate about.

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I only had a few months to train for Aconcagua, but it became my religion. I was dedicated and driven to prove to the doubters, which included myself, that I was physically and mentally capable of doing this expedition style trek and getting as high as fate would allow. I really wanted to get all the way to 22,841 feet, but that wouldn’t make or break the trip. Nothing was guaranteed, and it was very possible that I wouldn’t get to the top, but I knew it wouldn’t be because I didn’t give it everything I had. Almost every single day I trained for 2-3 hours with low impact exercise (typically a hike) making sure to keep my pulse around 110 to 120 bpm. I didn’t need to kill myself in a workout, but rather work on my stamina and getting my body used to exerting itself for long periods of time using as little energy as possible. I was also carrying a loaded pack so I could get used to at least 20 lbs. worth of gear, water, and snacks being on my back. At this point I was still in Michigan, so I got some good cold weather training. Michigan gave me everything it had with a good stretch of temperatures in the negative degrees fahrenheit and some good amount of snow. I was at least going to be in my element with the cold on Aconcagua. I was pretty sure of that.

In addition to training, I also needed to talk with my PCP about my trip to make sure I was up-to-date on my shots and to get an rx for Cipro and Diamox. I also went to see a cardiologist to undergo a stress echo (treadmill test) to make sure I was at an acceptable level of fitness and my heart was in good health. I was nervous about being able to get an appointment on such short notice and having favorable results, but in the end I was told I was good to go with all the tests showing my heart was healthy! It was such a relief to know more trekking and mountaineering was in my future.

A lot of preparation was going on and I had a lot of packages coming from REI. I was able to find some things at local outfitters, but most was ordered online. I had a lot of the gear I needed from my trek to Everest Base Camp, but there were things that I still needed to buy, and a few things I decided to rent from an outfitter once down in Argentina. Loving to adventure in the outdoors doesn’t come cheap if you want your gear to be reliable and last, but once you’re past the initial purchase, it will be with you for a very long time as long as you take care of it. The gear I was renting were things I wasn’t ready to sink $500-$1000 each into (expedition parka, mountaineering boots, sleeping bag). I can’t wait to get my dividend back for next year from REI…it should be a good amount!

The last issue that needed to be taken care of before I left was the issue of my emergency passport (if you’re in the dark about what I’m talking about, see my blog on Poland to catch up). It needed to be exchanged for a regular one, but it also needed to be done quickly. I sucked it up and paid a service to expedite it in a 12-14 day time frame. I was less than thrilled with the service I received, lots of differing answers from multiple people increased my anxiety of receiving it on time. The service wasn’t cheap, so to be paying a good chunk of money and then receiving poor service was fairly frustrating. In the end, I got it in time and that finally meant there was nothing stopping me from going to  Argentina to trek up a mountain!

For most of the two months leading up to the trip, it was just going to be my guide, Karl, and I. Yes! Karl from Anywhere+ is back! A week before leaving, our friend, Josh (he was on the Everest Base Camp Trek I did last year), messaged me to see if he could join in on our epic adventure. I was worried about only having a week to make arrangements, but Karl assured me adding one person wouldn’t make much difference. Josh was able to get everything figured out  and it was now a three person expedition!

Less than a week before leaving, I was out with my loaded pack hiking through snow and had a great 3 hours in the outdoors by myself. I was loading up my gear into my van after I had finished and and as I bent over to take my rain pants off, I was struck with sharp lower back pain that almost knocked me off my feet. I gasped and muffled my scream into my arm and wasn’t sure what I should do. I slowly stood up and moved very cautiously, managing to kick my rain pants off and slide into my van. I sat there for a bit letting my body adjust, and then drove home. I knew instantly that it was a pinched nerve as my bag had been rubbing and compressing the spot where the pain originated from recently. I was terrified that I wouldn’t recover fast enough, and had to take a few days of rest, lots of fluids, bananas, ginger pills, alternate a heating pad with a cold compress, and continue with low impact exercise (minus the pack) to keep the blood flowing. Within a few days I was feeling like my old self, but it was always in the back of my head that the wrong movement could take me out of the trekking game very easily. I later figured out it was the pack I was using and the weight I was carrying in it that caused the compression issue. From then on, I stuck to using my 50L pack and loading that up. I haven’t had any issues with my back since all the while increasing the weight.

The night before I left, I got to go out with one of my dearest friends and her family (the lady side). We had some good food, wine, and lots of laughs. Over the years that we’ve known each other, her family became mine especially after my parents passed away. Her mother was especially important to me, so supportive and always reminding me my parents would be proud of me. It was a great send off and a night I won’t forget. The next day I triple checked my bags to make sure I had everything and then it was off to the airport! I dressed comfortably and had a change of clothes and some toiletries to freshen up the next day. I had 26 hours worth of travel: Grand Rapids, MI to Houston, TX. Houston, TX to Santiago, Chile. Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina. It was a long day with very little sleep on the plane (mostly watched movies), but somehow I made it to Mendoza (2,493 ft.) without any problems or delays!

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I arrived, went through customs pretty quickly since I was in the front row of the plane, and then collected my bags. I rolled through the doors to find Karlos waiting for me with a smile and a personalized bottle of Malbec Reserva. After three months I had another date with the mountains and it couldn’t have come at a better time!

We arrived to the 5-star Diplomatic Hotel, which was insanely swankified with its marble walls and floors, large chandeliers that hung in the entrance way, mahogany furniture, and decadent decor. I knew to savor this day in luxury because it would soon be a distant memory. I had time to rest a bit, and Karlos ran some errands. We then got a bite to eat and had some Karlos and Cella talk time. Once we arrived back to the hotel, we went through gear and the things I brought for him, and before we knew it, it was time to pick Josh up. I continued to organize and repack my things. I overpack so this is always a necessary step.

The boys arrived to the hotel and we then made our way to the gear shop to rent what we still needed. Trying on mountaineering gear in the summertime isn’t my idea of fun. There was a lot of sweat and of course, Karlos wanted to make Instagram stories. I tried to hide as much as possible, lol.

It was so great to be in the company of these guys again! It blew my mind that it had been a little over three months since our trek to Everest Base Camp, and now here we were in Argentina! Karlos took us to dinner at Azafran where I got butternut squash, goat cheese, and bacon risotto. It was a beautiful medley of flavors complimented with a wine I picked out from Azafran’s cellar called DiamAndes’ de Uco Malbec. Argentina’s Malbec is world famous. Mendoza has a perfect combination of conditions to make a seriously amazing wine. It was a very successful night where three people’s tummies were very happy. I think we all became wine snobs that night, too.

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After living in luxury for a day, we set out (after a very lovely and dessert driven continental breakfast) to get our permits and make the drive to Penitentes (8,853 ft.). We would have a one night stay there before making the short drive to the trail head the next day. Before arriving to Penitentes, we stopped for lunch where we had steaks larger than my face that were also a few inches thick! They are all about the meat down in Argentina and it basically came with every meal. Once we arrived to Penitentes, we got our day packs and duffles ready, and left the luggage we didn’t need in storage. Our night ended early after a bit of a nap, dinner, and dessert. We had an early morning again, and I also wanted to make sure I had enough time with my shower and to say goodbye to my bathroom amenities. The rest of our “needs” would be taken outside, in a make shift portable baño, or in a bag. Yes. A bag. This was the real deal. You carry out what you carry in, and that includes your poo.

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The boys couldn’t help but sleep while I couldn’t stop looking at the scenery going by.
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Totally for show, this man never gets full especially when cake is involved!

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As the title states, my perspective comes from being a woman in a world of men. I’m not going to lie, it’s intimidating. In general, men are intimidating anyway, even more so when I come up with the commentary that goes on in their head about me and yes, it’s always negative. It’s usually about my looks, or my weight, but in this setting it was all about my weight and my perceived fitness level. I didn’t look as though I should be there. I didn’t look as though I was ready for the sufferfest that was about to commence. I’m a curvy woman. I am not the skinny blonde athlete that so many brands portray as the type of woman that is adventurous and active. I have never been that and will never be that. Even as an up-and-coming elite gymnast in my childhood, my body was thick and muscular. I’m overweight, but I love being outside and active. I’m stubborn and don’t often let things I start go unfinished. I love a challenge. Attempting to summit one of the Seven Summits was so outside of the realm of what I could ever imagine doing, and there I was. Doing it. Deep down, I unconsciously knew I could do it OR I was so completely naive to what it took to do something like that even though my guide explained it in detail many times. Whatever the reason, it got me all the way to Argentina and on the trail.

So, yes. I am not the kind of woman you imagine trekking 16.5 miles into Base Camp, to then trek up the tallest mountain in the southern and western hemispheres. I have always noticed that there are few women who are featured in a sport/outdoor activity when it’s dominated by men, and even less so when they don’t fit the model that the commercial athletic world has set forth. I’ve seen things start to change in recent times, women being featured more and more, women becoming the best in a field, and companies realizing the weight women carry in the outdoor consumer world. They’re realizing it’s smart to invest in researching and development, creating products for women even if they aren’t pink. It’s a very exciting change in attitude and I am thrilled to see lots of companies I like embracing a new way of thinking. However, there is still room to grow and improve. Featuring women of different ethnicities, religions, and body types/sizes would be another step in the right direction. Again, I am not skinny. I am not blonde. I am not white. I am curvy. I am a brunette. I have brown skin. I was also told that I was in better shape than most my age by my cardiologist. One of my guides said I was the fittest in the group. Of men. That gave me a lot of confidence and made the two months of training 2-3 hours a day worth it. So, moral of the story, things aren’t always as they appear.

Note: I am in no way trying to bash men, skinny athletic women, blonde women, white women. I am merely saying that seeing all kinds of people outdoors, challenging themselves, working hard, overcoming mental hurdles, etc. etc. etc. is an important visual for people to be used to seeing. I am also continuously working on myself. I can be better and healthier, but my goals have nothing to do with how others will see me. It has to do with me being able to answer, “YES!” to these questions:  Do I feel good in my own skin? Do I feel confident? Am I taking care of myself? Am I challenging myself? Am I getting stronger? Am I improving? Am I HAPPY??? My ‘no’s have started turning into yes’s.

Sorry for getting off track a bit, but these are important issues that I have been giving a lot of thought to. I want to be an advocate for people doing things they thought were impossibilities, no matter what they look like or regardless of what their skin color is. For too long I let other’s opinions dictate my life by creating fear within myself. I let the negativity and fear grow and become a part of my daily life and of course I was very unhappy living this way. One day I woke up and decided I was done with that, and I haven’t looked back. BEST DECISION OF MY LIFE.

Anyway, after a night in Penitentes, we loaded our bags into our driver’s truck and he took us to the trail head where we had to go into the Ranger’s station, register, and get our poo bags. That was it. We set out for a 3-4 hour hike and just like that, our Aconcagua expedition was underway! This first day was pretty simple with smaller ups and downs. It was warm, but not too terrible. It of course felt more difficult than my training due to elevation, and the fact that you just have to learn to find your breathing, your rhythm, and your pace initially. The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful at all times. It felt good to get the first day under my belt and sit down to enjoy pear flavored Tang, cookies, cheese, meats, and fruit salad. Our first few nights in Confluencia (11,049 ft) was spent in a dome tent we all shared. It would be our roomiest accommodation while trekking.

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We had a bit of time to rest and listen to some NPR podcasts. Later that night we met the other Inka Expedition group that would be sharing our meal tent/dome. There was Andy and Mariana (Argentinian guides), Jimmy (Aussie), Liam (Irish), Larry (Aussie), Peru (Indian), and Liz (American). Lovely people that liked to laugh, so my kind of people. It was reassuring to have a few other females in the group. I fiercely admired and respected Mariana. I loved seeing her in her element and leading the way. It definitely fanned the flames for wanting to get into mountaineering.

We went on an acclimatizing hike to Plaza Francia (13,779 ft.) the next day. It was a long day. I had a horrible nights rest and felt depleted by the time we were up for breakfast. There were a few spots that felt pretty brutal, but that’s when your mental toughness and your team members come in. We rested and I decided to snack, hoping that would give me the energy I didn’t get with sleep. The landscape was insane and other worldly. It felt as if we were on Mars. The colors were spectacular and mesmerizing. Once again we made good time to Plaza Francia, where we got to admire Aconcagua in a blanket of clouds, giving us a bit of a peep show and teasing us with brief glimpses of the summit. My excitement grew with each glance and my heart raced in anticipation. It all felt so surreal. We didn’t stay long, as I was getting extremely cold. I sweat a lot, and although I brought things to layer up with, I was ready to get going again since my sweat soaked clothing quickly turned cold once we stopped. When we got back to Confluencia, we had to visit with the doctor to get our blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation, and lungs checked. Josh and I both had elevated blood pressure, but that can be attributed to altitude and a salty diet. Eating olives, cheese, soup, crackers, meats…basically all the things that we were being fed can cause that. I got a pass, but Josh’s was high enough where he had to have his rechecked. It kept coming out higher and higher, to the point where he would have been experiencing some major problems if it was actually that high. Karl went to talk to the medical professionals a few times as they insisted that their equipment was working properly. As we set out for base camp the next day, Josh had his BP checked once more before moving on. It had come down a bit, but was still high. He would  continue to be monitored, but it certainly wasn’t taking him out of the game. We later found our that the equipment was malfunctioning as many other trekkers were having to be retested over and over because of high BP readings. Of course we’d never say, “We told you so.”

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The next day’s trek was a long one. It was 11.5 miles to Plaza de Mulas a.k.a. Base Camp (13,943 ft.). It was a warmer day, and surprisingly there wasn’t much wind like usual. The views took my breath away once again. I had music buzzing in my ears for a while, and the combination of the two things brought tears to my eyes. How lucky was I to be doing this??? I was so thankful for being allowed to travel and witness the colors, the isolation, and the beauty. I will never truly be able to describe all that this experience was. It’s impossible to do that with words or photographs. I love that I don’t need to explain it to Josh or Karl. Those two guys are the absolute best. I am so grateful to have them in my life to go on adventures with.

I ended up leading us for a good portion of the trek and setting a nice brisk pace. It was a pretty easy day, in the scheme of things, until the very end. We started to have to go up, but it was mainly this one “hill” in particular that was…there’s no getting around it…a complete and total bitch. Although it was an easy day, we still covered a lot of distance. My training typically took me around seven to ten miles each day. Eleven and a half was a bit more and my body felt tired. Once we got to the hill which was very steep and basically like walking on sand, it became a mental game. Josh and I would switch who was leading over and over again. At that point, Karl was long gone, lol. He was waiting at the top with encouraging words of, “It’s just over that hill, ” or, “Ten more minutes,” or, “We’re almost there.” Josh and I would reply under our breath to each other, “Which hill???” or, “A regular 10 minutes or a Karl 10 minutes?” or simply with a bit of a chuckle. Mr. Everest (Karl’s new nickname because he just summited Everest a month ago-amazing, right?) often has a different interpretation of what degree of difficulty something is and past clients of his often rate treks/hikes with their own rating and then a Karl rating.

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We made good time again and we each ended up having our own tents at base camp. We again shared a dome where we had our snacks and meals. After one day, we stated sharing our friend’s dining dome for the rest of our meals. We had a rest day the next day, and Karl was going up to cash some of our things at Plaza Canada (C1). Josh and I hung out and charged things of ours. This was the day I received some absolutely devastating news. I learned that one of my best friend’s mom had passed away. Her family had become my family over the years. Her mom was my mom, especially after the passing of my own. She was a beautiful and giving soul that made me feel special, loved, and taken care of. I miss her smile, her laugh, and her funny faces. I was broken inside and I couldn’t control the tears. As I mentioned earlier, I got to see her the night before I left for Argentina. I made sure to tell her I loved her because I had this feeling that it was going to be my last opportunity. I don’t know why I felt that way. I’m so glad I listened to my intuition and in a way had a ‘goodbye’ with her.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I try to go home? Should I stay? How do I get up a mountain with a broken heart? Josh and I had lunch together and talked a bit. I was in shock. Guilt started setting in and after going for a walk to the Highest Contemporary Art Gallery in the World. I walked for a bit by myself and stopped at the edge of base camp. I took a few moments to stare at the beauty before me and to talk to her. After taking some time to remember the wonderful mother, grandma, wife, aunt, sister, and friend she was to so many people, I decided to do my best for her. She always had encouraging words for me. She always told me she was proud of me and would always read my blogs and comment supporting words. I needed to stick it out and finish what I started.

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By the time I got back from my walk, Karl had returned. He and Josh were super supportive. They told me to not hold my emotions in and to let it out. They let me know they were there for me with hugs, a squeeze of my shoulder, a rub of my back, or just allowing me to crumble and break down in tears when I needed to. I could have never continued on without their support. It meant so much to me.

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Infamous poo bag.
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Trekkers line up to see the doctor with Aconcagua in the background.
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Karl (left) and Josh (right) looking too cool for school!
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The pack that just keeps getting bigger. Contents going up to be cashed at Plaza Canada (C1).

We did an acclimatizing hike to C1 (16,076 ft.) the next day. I had a lot of trouble. My mind was not on the mountain. It was instead with my friend and her family. I so wanted to be there for them in the way they had been there for me when my parents passed away. I wanted to be there with them, and cry and hug, bake something or send dinner to them (’cause that’s how I deal with most things). But I wasn’t there. I couldn’t be there. I was so far away and that guilt will stay with me for the rest of my life. So, I struggled. I struggled to find my rhythm, especially in the beginning when I was slipping and sliding in the mud on a steep section. I was immediately frustrated and that didn’t help things. I had a good cry on one of our breaks and then continued to push past my emotions. We made it to the top as a storm was moving in. It was bitterly cold with the wind and we all moved quickly to set the tents up and place our things inside. We finished just as snow really started to come down and the thunder rumbled.

I hate going down mountains. It terrifies me. It’s really rough on my body. It doesn’t feel good. I think I may actually prefer the suffering of going up than the sometimes uncontrollable feeling of descending. We basically “skied” down the mountain of loose rock and I fell six or seven times. One of those falls scraped and bruised my knee up as well as gave me a decent little gash on my pointer finger. It instilled fear and that would have to be overcome the next time we came down.

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Yes, that is a dog leading trekkers up a mountain, and it’s not his first rodeo!

We had a few more rest days than we thought at Base Camp as I had some tummy issues for a few days and the rest sounded like a good idea. One of those days was a Sunday, a day in which there is always an Argentinian Bar-B-Q! It was delicious! We also made a little hike to what use to be a hotel that was now abandoned. I still had a poor attitude and was frustrated easily when I couldn’t control my breathing. Karl was so patient and reassuring. I don’t know how he puts up with me sometimes, but he’s really good at mediating that kind of attitude and turning the frown upside down. One of the more memorable days was the day I got a warm shower! It was the best thing in the world leaving me feeling like a brand new woman. My only complaint was that the “door” wouldn’t velcro together and if someone really wanted to, they could have seen me in all my glory, but I was at the point where I didn’t care too much. I was just happy to be cleaned by something other than a baby wipe!

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This is the look of a very happy man.

So much more to talk about, so I think I will divide it into a few posts! Stay tuned to learn the rest of the story in too much detail!

How I Love thee, PNW, Let Me Count the Ways

After being home for a few weeks and getting a bit of adulting done, I headed out to Olympia, WA to visit my EBC bestie, Jo. We didn’t have much planned, besides going on a road trip down the coast into California for a week or so. We were just gonna wing it and have fun!

I was so stoked to be back in this area that I had been in love with for so long. My first visit out to the PNW was around 2005. I can’t believe I hadn’t considered it as a place to move to! It was now on the radar and over the next month, I realized it was the right fit. After going back and forth from Michigan to Olympia for a few months, I am officially official in Washington as of today!!! A few epic road trips happened in between, so stay tuned for those photos!

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Around the World in 60+ Days

This was the biggest, scariest, craziest thing I have ever done. It was also the most amazing and most inspiring adventure I have ever been on. Traveling around the world to places I had only dreamed of going and doing it alone seemed like an impossibility a year ago. It’s now almost 7 months since the end of my tour and I still can’t believe I did it. Planned in about 3 weeks, I’m surprised I didn’t run into more problems. Part of that was luck, but I’m also big on planning and researching, so preparation vs. just winging it helped.

I finished my tour in Denver, CO. After a long flight from Auckland to San Francisco, and then to Denver, I was beat. I didn’t get much sleep and was a zombie on the hunt for coffee when I collected my bags.

I was only there for a few days, looking at apartments, and hanging out with my friend, Chris, from my Everest Base Camp trek. He took me out to get coffee and look at places, which was soooooo nice of him. I wasn’t really feeling Denver and instead of going apartment hunting again, we went for a hike! We did the Royal Arch Trail at  Chautauqua Park. It felt great to get back on the trail and sweat again! We followed that up with a delicious lunch and beer!

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After spending a few days in Denver, I was undecided on whether I wanted to make the move there or not. It wasn’t feeling right. I went back to Grand Rapids, MI to figure things out, ending my tour of the globe. It felt very strange to be back home without a home. I have wonderful friends that were willing to put up with me, thank goodness! I was only home for a few weeks before leaving for a long weekend to spend in Canada with my friends Dean and Kelly from the Everest Base Camp trek. It was so wonderful to spend more time with them and meet their amazing kiddos and dog! We went hiking and enjoyed the Awesomeness that is Collingwood! Dean and Kelly raised a lot of money for the building of a school in Bigu Village (in Nepal) with a presentation they gave on our trek to EBC. It’s part of an initiative that Anywhere has started called Elevate. They do great work and invest in the communities that they work in. Kelly and Dean’s efforts helped raise enough funds to finish the library portion of the project. If you’re interested in helping out, follow this link here. Team Canada made sure I had a truly authentic visit with them, so they made sure I had poutine and a beaver tail before I left! I had so much fun with them and hated to leave, but my next adventure was less than two weeks away and I had some things to take care of before leaving, so I had to get home.

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Although my trip has ended, the traveling and adventure continued! This year has gone down as the best in my life! I have met so many different kinds of people, from all corners of the earth, all kinds of backgrounds and I realized how much we all have in common. Flying as much as I have this year, I observed that we all experience the screaming kid on the plane, or those who are incapable of following directions. Some of us are nervous fliers and need a bit of booze to get through. There are those that are sticklers for rules and some that bend and sway to make others happy. These are our experiences no matter who we are or where we come from. We all know these people or have been seated beside them, or maybe we are these people. I’m not trying to say the places in the world aren’t vastly different, they are, but I’m saying the similarities are there, too. The thread of commonality that runs from person to person is there. From culture to culture. From family to family. We aren’t so different that we can’t find a way to love each other, respect each other, and accept each other for our similarities AND our differences. It is possible to come together with a group of strangers and love them by the end of two weeks. I’ve experienced that a few times this year. I know how lucky I am to have had those experiences. Traveling has taught me a lot about the world. It has made it feel smaller and bigger simultaneously. It has also taught me a lot about myself. I have grown into a stronger and more confident woman. I’ve learned that travel and experiencing new places and people are crucial to me being a happy person. I have to make time for the things that I love because a life without those moments of pure bliss is a life unfulfilled. My cup is very full.   It runneth over.

P.S. This is not the end! I will continue writing about my experiences as long as I have something to say about it and photos to share! Thanks for following along, I love knowing that I’m not just writing this for myself, even if it is just one or two others 🙂