The Great Migration: Where I've been

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Understanding Inner Altitude, or, Just Another Stupid Mountain Climbing Story

My body is incredible. Really, it's a knockout. I'm not talking size 4 and washboard stomach. Please. Whoever defined THAT as incredible? I'm talking about what it can do. I'm talking about my oversized, slightly deformed feet (thanks for that, Dad) wearing down the soles of my discounted REI hiking boots through sand dunes and flooded jungle paths. I'm talking about my powerful calves that refuse to show definition no matter how many times I climb the ridiculously steep hill to my hostal in Quito where I've been living the past six weeks. I'm talking about my gorgeous, lumpy thighs and my buns-of-steel-in-training that allow me to climb statues in city parks and walk dogs and chase after buses. My overwide hips and squishy love-handles that protect me from the daily abuses of a crowded city. (If someone says childbearing hips, they are going to have a slap waiting for them when I get home...Sheena. Mama Hayley does not want to hear it.) My scarred fingers from cooking knives and dog bites and all number of burns that keep writing and typing and expressing. My core that holds me together day after day, though a bit softer than is doctor recommended due to a certain Ecuadorian tendency to dump gallons of oil on everything in place of flavoring and my own deathly addiction to ice cream. I'm talking about this amazingly complex, over used, under cared for body of Hayley Currier. What an incredible thing, the human body. MY human body. Thank you muscles, bones, skin, digestion, lungs, heart. Thank you for working for me every day.

And its latest feat? Cotopaxi, the tallest active volcano in the world. 5,897 meters. Twice. Well, I've got to be honest--I didn't actually make it. And I'm a little steamed. The first time, I didn't want to pay for my own guide, so I had to go down with some other guy that got sick, even though I was feeling fine. Driving away from the mountain last weekend, I felt like she was mocking me. Like, ¨What's wrong with you Hayley? I'm right here, just waiting for you. Get that badass body up here.¨ I'm not good at turning down challenges, even from giant silent piles of rock and snow, so I splurged on a second trip. I started two hours earlier than everyone else, because I'm a slow walker. I was so mentally preped last week, I was just so sure, I was practically at the summit before I started. Unfortunately, mountain climbing doesn't just come down to will power and physical prowess. So fuck you, ridiculously high mountain--I pooped out at 5,600 meters, or 16,800 feet. After six and a half hours of being harnessed to my guide, trudging up a glacier, sometimes falling through knee-high snow, and once stepping through some thin ice and sliding down a particularly steep incline head-first, tangled in my ice axe, I was feeling it. I tried ignoring the now familiar signs of a body succumbing to altitude, but I finally was having serious difficulty standing up and was expecting blood to squirt out my ears at any second. For the second week in a row I had to listen to all the guides saying, ¨Sofia? Que paso?¨ (I go by Sofia here...I got tired of being Helen, or Heidi, or nameless gringa. For those who don't know, Sophie is my middle name, so it wasn't that much of a stretch.)

So why am I bothering to send you yet another mountain climbing blog post, and a failed mountain climb at that? First, I like keeping you updated on my mental and physical well-being--I won't be able to update you on an entire year of my life when I get back. Why do I have this stupid thing anyway, right? Second, it was not a fail. I'm not just saying that to make myself feel better. I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand a few weeks ago, and I haven't had a book hit me like that in a long time. Among some bull capitalist propaganda, her main point stuck its finger in my nose and said "Pay attention! I am relevant to your life!" Ayn Rand says live for yourself. In 700 pages, she basically just says stop caring what other people think and do your own thing. Know what you want, know who you are, and GO. So OK, Ayn Rand. I wanted to climb a freaking mountain. And I did. So the summit alluded me. So I was literally the slowest climber, two weekends in a row. Me and my fantastic body had an awesome time anyway. I didn't strap on crampons and pick up an ice axe to impress you, dear reader, with summit pictures. I did it because it was something I wanted to do, a personal challenge I wanted to take on. Perhaps I was a little ambitious, but I, and all of my wonderful muscles, can still say, mission accomplished.

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi en la madrugada (early morning).

My amazing body in all its badass glory.

The beast herself.

Attacking some awesome glacial stuff on the flipside (aka, the descent).

Where I finally had to stop due to feelings of death by altitude.

Having to tow our original car through the national park with climbing rope due to car trouble.

View across the valley at another amazing Ecuador mountain, Cayambe.


Ryan said...

i love all your blogs, hayley, but this one was particularly awesome. i'll read that ayn rand book soon! i've been thinking lately about failure. tammy and i were talking about the idea of eliminating the word from our vocabulary...i've been taking strides!

be well, amiga :-)

E. Rose said...

You rock my socks. That's all I have to say to you. I loved this because it was so self...self-assured and you rock at that.

Debbi said...

Don't you just wished you had your snowboard with you?