When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The heart of the difference is not ability or even talent, but desire

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Look at where you WANT to go, not where you DON'T."

This is what Sue J had told me in response to my comment of my fear of sheer heights. Sage, wouldn’t you say? There is nothing more Oleg wants than for me to become his climbing partner. Two and half years ago I gave it a shot by going with him to South side of Mt. Hood. Besides that I borrowed my climbing boots from somebody that were small and killed my feet, I wasn’t ready neither mentally nor physically so I stopped 700 feet below the last steep pitch and waited for Oleg to come back. I am not scared to go up – looking to where I want to be – but rather of going down – exactly for the same reason.

This Saturday I had decided to give it another go. While I wanted to repeat what we tried before, Oleg thought of starting me slowly and taking me to the North side, much more technical (thus not to the very top), yet more beautiful, with more solitude and less technicality till those last 2000 feet. We ventured to climb right off Eliot Glacier, lying between Cooper Spur and North Face, to Snow Dome (I think).

4 am wake up call was nothing new to either one of us, but having been sleep deprived for various reason, we drove (changing) with our eyes closed. At 7:30 am we were at the Cloud Cup trailhead. While Oleg dressed up as a serious mountaineer, with full backpack filled with out climbing geer and my boots (I rented this time), I, of course, had my running clothes, camelback and shoes on. The first mile went along the ridge and it felt easy and pretty. I gave Oleg a hike for his money, charging ahead, to the first opening of the majestic views.

We took a breather pausing for the views around and descended to the first snow filed – small at first. I was still OK in my running shoes and still going first. Soon after short rock ridge we were at another snow filed, bigger and steeper than first one , and in the middle of it I finally switched to full gear, boots, crampons, climbing belt and helmet.

There was a huge crevasse filed on the left, one nobody tries to cross even in winter. We continued going up, and after initial uncomfortable feeling of heavy boots, I finally got if not to like them then to use them well. I was still going pretty fast, and Oleg called me a Mountain Goat, natural climber and “Legs” - best compliment in my book I’d take over “Pretty Woman” any day (wait, wasn’t I the one complaining American men don’t say compliments? I am confused now). The field was huge, and the grade was varying from may be 10% to 20%. It was almost fun, with white all around and wherever you look – beautiful peaks far back and huge monster of Mt. Hood itself ahead – it was breathtaking. I was having a blast and thought I might become one of “them” some day. Oregon is amazing, as it’s sits in a valley and then you see snow caps picking here and there – I find it much more striking than just high altitude mountains that are even out. We stopped for a short snack for the first of 2 times.

The route continued up and up. We saw two guys going down, they said the snow is soft and dangerous to climb all the way – nothing that Oleg wasn’t aware of. The grade got steeper yet, and we exchanged leads once – Oleg told me it doesn’t mean I am weak, it means partners are supposed to give each other breaks. I used my ice axe but found I can’t put my weight on the arms and still unable to use much of upper body strength. My legs are my savior.

Soon after we came across my first ever crevasse – not to huge yet, but scary nevertheless. Here is Oleg said we need to rope-up. He got the rope out, and we linked together, while he read me a crash-course on how to climb with “no slack”. He went up first, and after a short time there was our last pitch, 35% at least, short yet petrifying. I was still looking up and doing OK and made it with no fear.

We had our second break here, taking lots and lots of pictures. What amazed me the most was the insane amount of butterflies flying around, huge groups of 100’s, beautiful and fast. What were they doing at 9,000 feet in the snow, aren’t they supposed to be flower insects? It was awesome!

Well, the break was over, and we headed down, roped-up on down-climb, Oleg first, backwards, no slack and all. This is where my fear first reared its head. I tried as I might to look straight in front of my feet, but my legs were shaking. However, it fast over, we made it on rope to the crevasse back and un-roped from there, mostly because Oleg was going down much faster, and I was picking my way and planting my feet carefully. Eventually I got comfortable and started sliding on my feet just as he did what was a much faster way to get down. This is where our adventure had just began…

You know how it’s said the right-handed people veer to the left in the forest? Well, snowfields are just same forests. It is amazing how fast the foottracks get melted in to a snow field. Pretty soon after that picture, sliding more down, I realized I don’t remember this particular steep downgrade ahead of us, and the views forward are from different angle, while the views back are completely different (we couldn’t see the Eliot Glacier anymore, while climbing up it was right in front of the eyes all the time). The question rose whether we should turn back or continue down and hope there will be a cross-field to where we can go. Why did we decide on the latter? We didn't think of conical effect at all - just one ridge over, we thought.

The slide down gotten too steep to even think about going, and we took it to the right to cross a boulder-rock filed. After first 2 minutes I asked Oleg to change from my climbing boots into running shoes – I felt like a cow on ice in those heavy huge things on the loose rocks, not knowing where to put my feet down. Even in shoes, I was frantically grabbing ever rock I could spot – and almost none of them were stable!
There were pretty big, and released they caused a rockfall right on your legs. I fell once and not only hit my leg pretty hard, I also hit that leg into my chest under the breast and it bruised. My inside demons were rising their heads minute by minute.

Next was pretty big snow field, where Oleg lead by making “steps” with his boots – I was still in running shoes. Making across is more difficult than going up or down, so in the middle of it I slipped and started my slide down – terrified! “Self-arrest” rang in my head as I tried to stick my ice axe into the snow. First time it grabbed but pulled up, 10 more feet down I tried with all I had and it stuck – and I hung on it with my right side twisted and my chest hurt like hell from after the surgery. No upper body exercise - I can't even close a trunk of my car or pull the door open. It hurts – I screamed – I can’t hold anymore! Oleg made his way down to me and carefully put me on my feet, helping come back up again. My right side was scratched from snow and stinging – silly runners, climbers wear long pants for a reason!

I set down at another rock field, breathing deeply and assessing the damage. My ring finger on my left seemed to have been pulled as it swelled up and didn’t move. Right side red and scratchy. Right rib muscles hurt. Well, how many more snow fields and rock fields do we have to go? Oleg explained to me how to make a complete self arrest – I was supposed to turn towards the snow and lean onto the axe, not hang from it, not to mention crampons (I took off) would have helped too. While he talked doing it, he hit himself with the other side of the ice axe into the chest and poked a hole. More injuries?

Short rock filed, short snow filed, and then – oh, my – grade 5 rocks down with loose boulders and sliding volcano sand. I stood there for a minute, but there was nothing else we could do, so I inhaled deeply – it is short, please let it be last! At times Oleg had to physically take my leg (he climbed under me) and put it on safe spot, but it was over, and I was still OK.

Another snow, and here we are – loose rocks, two kinds: either very tiny as sand or between golf ball and football size – but ALL loose! Every single one of them! And we need to cross it to the last downclimb. In the middle of this crap I finally had it – my fear simply overwhelmed me. No matter how you try, if you shake big rock, the whole sand starts sliding with you, if you hit sand – the big rocks slide onto you. I clanged to a spot and broke into tears. Oleg dropped his backpack, came back and tried to talk me into helping, but my mind was gone all at once. I don’t want to die, I’ve got two kids at home, I am scared shitless and not moving. It took him 2 min to make me let go of the thing I was holding to and carefully make it last 10 meters. And that was not it – last down on loose grade 4. Enough already!!! I set down and sobbed loudly more, screaming about how terrified I am. I kind of knew there was nothing else to do but get through it, but it was downright horrible to think about and I totally lost it. Oleg had to snap me out by yelling, then he made a rope and talked me into getting down by using it.

It was all of the adrenaline I had in me. Next 2 snowfileds were easy (one, though, went over frozen river we could hear below) as well as a small rock part, and we could finally see the trail we started from. Behind me in a picture (if you click on it) you can make out the sliding field of crap we went over and then left lower class 4 rope climb. I wasn’t scared anymore but utterly shaken by the experience, ashamed of myself, with broken ego and self-confidence. I am never going to be a mountain climber, and he will never have a partner in me. I am a wuss who can’t control his fears. I can only do things that depend directly of me and not on nature, technology or chance. And now I am going to be even more worried when Oleg goes climbing, no matter how amazingly strong and confident he showed himself this day. Petty me.

We made the trail part quietly, thinking each of what was. But once changed, looked at each other with a smile. Oleg said – it’s OK, it takes practice. I said – it’s OK, I am going to try again. And we drove to an awesome Pub with views at Eliot Glacier and drowned all the negative thoughts in beer while trying to make out the route we screwed up so badly. When I saw it and realized what I had just made through – it was so many feelings, from panic to pride. Yes, I am an ultra runner and sucked today at mountain climbing gig. Yet I made it with a HUGE help of my husband and I am not giving up on the idea of overcoming my fears by going again. After all, I hadn’t started running by doing a 100M race, right?

Approximate route starting on the left, going up, then veering right and across to the left over fileds.

Sunday…Sunday is normal. I ran Maple loop in Forest Park in the early hours of morning and had no life threatening experiences. And that is great too, in its own right.

35 comments:

Sarah said...

Way to go on conquering your fears! You did great, whether you think so or not. : ) You should be proud. Beautiful pictures.

Bret said...

Great story! I have a slight fear of heights also. Have numerous friends who have climbed Hood. It looks easy but many people get hurt every year. I am not sure I could have done what you both accomplished. Your fears appeared but you overcame them. Plus you say now you might try it again. That is a great sign.

Rooster said...

Awesome adventure Olga, you should be very proud of yourself as I would still be on the side of that mountain! Take care of your upper body injuries, be careful and don't push it.....you just need your legs for running....mostly :).

Backofpack said...

That was a hair-raising adventure! I have fears of height too and fears of killing myself with an ice-axe. At least you tried AND CONQUERED! No matter what, you did it - you moved off that mountain - who cares if you cried? That's just adrenaline and emotional release. Good job!

Bob Gentile said...

Geesh What a day you guys had, so awesome... I ran 4 hours in FLAT 94 degree HOT HUMIDITY ahhh (boring) I really need to move west.(righting down my 3 year goal-get out of South East-LOL)

Great job and yes like anything going to take some practice and as Oleg, your partner it's OK to Yell at him & cry when you start freaking out--haha don't worry about ego & self confidence when the dang Rocks are moving:-)

Well Done!

rick said...

Okay that was just awesome! Wow what an adventure. That looks impressive in the picture, I can only imagine what it's like in person.

robtherunner said...

Hmmm...I have the same fears. I just watched The Runner and it made me a bit nervous hearing about the section of the PCT that runs through the Sierras. I guess one of these days I will have to get over those fears and gain some mountain climbing experience before attempting that trail. You're a tough and strong woman and we all know it.

kelly said...

Great story! I have never climbed, and I am not sure if I could. I'm also scared to death. I'm impressed with how you did, good job. Practice makes perfect!

davidultra49 said...

Good Job Girl. Way to stick with it. I'm like you I ahve no problem going up. Its the coming down thats a little nail biting at times.

Wes said...

Wow! That's really cool that you can share Oleg's passion. Does he run? ;-) Nice job! I'm glad you got some boots that fit!! and I am not surprised you started out in running shoes!

Journey to a Centum said...

Hey crash! How you doing today? Sounds like you faired fairly well considering the landing zone you fell into. Nothing like taking a dive on a bunch of chunky rock. Other than that it looks like you had a really good time.

Gretchen said...

Olga you amaze me! It sounds like it was a rewarding day, and dealing with some of those challenges like fear and self doubt is part of what makes mountain climbing so alluring. It's similar to ultra running in that way. I'm glad to hear you will go again, you are lucky to have an experienced and willing partner in Oleg. Nice job, and way to step out of your comfort zone!
And yes, as you realized, I will be at the Cool 12 hour. That will be getting out of MY comfort zone to run at night!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on an adventure well lived! The great thing about testing your limits is that it makes other experiences seem tame by comparison. Next time your flying down steep, scary trail, you'll think, At least I'm not on that freakin' snowfield!

~Shelley

Eudemus said...

Very, very cool. I used to rock climb and have always wanted to try mountaineering. For now I will stick to running since it takes less time from my family (and gives them less worry as well :-)). Congrats on the adventure.

Phil said...

Simply breathtaking!!!

Jamie said...

Wow, killer pictures! Nice going! And that beer looks gooooooood.

Team Ragan said...

That's awesome! Not a lot of people who can say they've done that. Good job!

Thomas said...

Awesome adventure, and what fantastic photos! I don't think you're a wuss - they don't run 100 mile races, and they don't climb mountains. It's ok to be scared - you managed to overcome those fears, didn't you?

Kendall K said...

Olga, taking on Hood is a bit like starting ultra running with a 100 miler. When I was involved with the Everett Mountaineers and leading scrambles, I led a trip with a current student, who was obviously in great shape. He was a 20 something male with deeply ingrained fear of snow travel. He signed up for our trip up Adams, which was mostly a snow trip. His logic was that his would force him to conquer his fear of the snow. he neglected to mention this fear prior to the start of the trip. We ended up skirting the snow whenever possible and scrambling up rock sections. Any snow travel reduced progress to a crawl as he wore himself out kicking each step three or four times. We did reach the summit, but coming down was equally slow. He couldn't bring himself to glissade and ended up down hiking the full distance. I recommended that he try some easier snow trips to build his confidence before tackling the bigger trips. I would make the same suggestion to you. We all know that you are an amazingly tough athlete. Try some easier trips and build your confidence and comfort level with exposure. I find that I am not a comfortable with exposure when I haven't been doing scrambling or climbing for a while and it takes a while to get my "sea-legs" back. Congratulations on toughing out through intimidating situations.
Kendall

Ben, aka BadBen said...

What an adventure! You will never look at Mt Hood the same again.

Steve said...

Ahh, the beautiful pictures and a great adventure bring fond memories of climbing Hood as a kid. Practice your self-arrest technique and your confidence on snow will grow. Learning to Glissade (sliding on your feet or butt) makes the climb down fast and fun. Oleg is a wonderful guide and experienced teacher, he will take good care of you. Keep at it and this will open a new world for the two of you to share.

WynnMan said...

Hey Olga! wow awesome pictures and great post, very informative. Thanks for your thoughts regarding races. Yeah it's definitely an experiment of one and I'm learning. Patience is key. Looking forward to a tough race this coming weekend in Kansas.

Great job at Horn! I'm really excited about that course. Hopefully do what Charlie Hubbard did out there one of these days(:

Yeah Karl definitely has it down to a science. I also think it helps to race as it gives you that much more experience. However you don't want to get into a slump either.

Yeah it's unreal here like always in the midwest. When I've done just one loop on the alps switch backs out at Afton I'm soaked from head to toe. The air is very thick. Great training though. I do look forward to spending summers out west training and racing in the future, who knows maybe even relocate. I have some unfinished business here though. Hope all is going well and good luck to you at your next race. I worked an aid station at Afton this weekend that will be running your race this weekend. He is a good friend of Julie's. His name is Kurt King.

take care
Wynn

psbowe said...

Huh, that's fantastic, way to go. That's some real 'going' on that mtn too. Nice pictures too.

About your comment on the 50K, well I'm dreaming about doing a 50K this fall...first I have to get off my a$$ and doing the training.

Squirrel said...

Very enjoyable story Olga, it's good to read about us ultra runners stepping out of their comfort zone. Congrats!

adam said...

Congratulations on a successful climb and nice pictures. Coming back is always the most important part of any climb. Kendall was right on when he said that it is a great idea to take small steps when learning to climb. Do some easy scrambles without ropes first. Then once you improve your confidence set out on a more challenging climb.

Sue J. said...

You, a wuss??? HAH!! Great post and photos -- by the looks of it, I went up the easy side of Hood! I agree with you about the heavy boots, too -- give me running shoes & a hydration pack any day. :)

Lisa B said...

Wow, Olga! What a great story. BRAVE you are!

Love2Run said...

Amazing pictures and wonderful story. Glad you survived and are still thinking of doing it again. You're amazing!

craig said...

Loved the post. The great thing is you made a memory together you will never forget. I'd say that is a great weekend.

Bruce said...

Well done on a great climb Olga. I can understand your fears. Though I haven't climbed any mountains, I've done a little bit of hiking outside ski area boundaries and when you find yourself on a 30+ degree slope it can be a little scary if you're not used to it.

Gabe said...

awesome!!! I am insanely jealous..

King Arthur said...

I'm soooo green with jealousy and envy right now. That looked like it was pretty fun. My dad climbed Mt. Rainier 3 times.

Julie B said...

Olga, I don't believe for a minute that you won't be his climbing partner. You knew you were scared and you still spent the day climbing with him and you enjoyed it until all the rock fields and scary shit happened. If you want to be his climbing parter you will be. Think back to your first long races, your first 100. Remember? the fear..the fear of failing, the fear of pain, well here you are..feeling it again. If you want to climb you will! Thanks so much for the pictures and the narrative of your day. I enjoyed it immensely. Wow. What an experience. You are a very lucky woman.

~nattie~ said...

such a beautiful scenery! Good job on your climb, olga!

Jean said...

Wow, well done, Olga! What a fantastic story.

It is always astonishing to me that there are places that still have snow in the summer! :) Beautiful pictures, beautiful scenery...that is some amazing country.

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