CAMH

Denali – First Portuguese Women to Summit (Part 2)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Day 10

We climb from our 14,000 feet camp up to 17,000 feet.

I can’t lie… it was hard. The fixed lines were surprisingly the easiest to do, but there were high stretches and really thin walking sections along the ridges.

Luckily I felt Jesus had me through this climb. My lead guide had a rope closer to me and brought it in closer on more exposed sections to help me out. Bless him. Made all the difference in the world with my anxiety.

I will have to go back down though, a fact that has not escaped me.

Once we reach the 17,000 feet camp, or camp 4, it’s like a scene from a movie in the wild snowy dessert. There are ice walls everywhere and very few tents.

It’s cold (colder) up here.

There is no kitchen tent here. Ryan and Jason bring us hot water in thermoses to make our food-hydrated meals, noodles and oatmeal.

I have been peeing in my pee bottle and going out to empty it or using the big green bucket.

Summit morning we get up, get ready and are on our way at about 8:30 A.M. The sky is blue with not a cloud in sight.

I am wearing my puffy pants, but I have my parka in my backpack, along with snacks, my thermos of hot water, my inReach, my cell phone in the pocket of my light weight puffy jacket, and of course mittens, goggles, and sunscreen to re-apply constantly.

We set out towards the Autobahn and no, it is not the German highway – it is a steep climb on the side of a mountain, which is slow going. So slow it took us about 2 hours, and my lead guide, Jason was not too happy about it.

I found this section hard. The ingrained steps on the snow, set from the hundreds of climbers throughout the season, were big “risers” in certain sections for my short legs. When I took a higher, longer step, I felt out of breath. I felt we were moving fast, which did not allow me to breath properly during my rest steps. The harder I breathed, the harder it became to climb and thus I became slower.

“Well, let’s continue and re-evaluate at top of Zebra rocks, and we can go from there. We evaluate at every point.” Jason says.

I say nothing and just move. I self talk to myself to pick up my pace, as I do not want to come back here. The huge expense is one thing, but I know mentally I cannot repeat this challenge.

I concentrate on my deep breathing, and keep focus. I beg Jesus to stay with me and push me up, with each step.

When we reach Zebra rocks, Jason announces, “Great push guys. We made great time. Ema, great work. We are back on track.”

I respond with “Ok.”

I know I am the client and I can push back if I wanted to, but I don’t. I hired them to help me and guide me. I am more determined than ever to reach the Summit.

We continue to the next stage, then the next, until we are at the Summit Ridge. Its tall, well obviously – but it is also thin and exposed.

Jason reassures me that Ryan has my rope closer to him and if I feel unsure to let him know and Ryan will guide me. I am not going to sugar coat it – I am anxious. Ryan is a wonderful guide and he constantly reassures me that I am ok and that I am not going to fall. I finally start believing him.

I take a deep breath. I feel as if I am having an out of body experience.

As we are on the summit ridge a couple of other groups are coming down. One is a large group from Alpine Ascents and the other is an RMI group. We stop, and let them pass us on the left hand side. Ryan tries to talk to me about trivial things to distract me as the other climbers pass us.

One of the groups has a female guide among them and she looks at me as she passes, with annoyance and superiority. I don’t care. I am a few feet away from the Summit of Denali and she is inconsequential.

When we reach the summit, the area itself is larger than I anticipated. I take my cell phone out of my pocket to tell the world that I am at the summit. I am so excited and I want it documented. My InReach message is sent with a GPS recorded location. I just became the first Portuguese woman to have summited Denali. I am also the first Portuguese-Canadian woman to have done so.

We have time to take group pictures, individual pictures and with my 6 flags. We are allowed to attempt to call from the satellite phone 3 times, as the call keeps dropping.

Kaylee does a short run and jumps over the summit marker. It’s fun at the Summit!

There is no wind. It’s sunny and so clear you can see all the smaller mountains below you. I was elated. It’s time to descend, as we need to make our way back down.

Jason explains that I am going to be in front, with the 3 of them behind me. His rational and assurance is that if I were to fall, I would have 3 guides holding me and I would not go anywhere. I understand his reasoning and begin to descend.

Ryan is directly behind me and talks to me, “Slowly Ema. Take your time. You got this!” I walk slowly, but somehow confident. I stop when Ryan tells me, so he can secure his share of the rope to the fixed anchors. Then as he shouts back, “Climbing”, we continue.

Before I know it, we are out of the ridge and are making our way down. Amazingly we are going at a pretty good pace. So good in fact, that even with our generous standard breaks, we reach high camp at about 7:00 P.M. This signifies we took about 10.5 hours to summit and back.

I overhear Jason’s delight in his voice, “10.5 hours puts us on the top 30% of top ascents. This is nuts!”

Kaylee giggles, but in a humble voice, says,” Well yeah, but these are abnormal conditions. Usually the weather isn’t this great!”

I think to myself, “Yeah, so?” We did it, regardless of the weather.

The next morning, we start our decent back to basecamp.

We leave early morning to get to 14,000 feet before it’s too hot. We take a long rest at 14,000 feet until the temperature cools down, making easier to walk on the snow.

At camp 2 or 11,000 feet, we put our snowshoes back on replacing our crampons. The descent from here on is not easy. It is about 11:00 P.M. or just passed it.

The snow in some areas is mushy still, even though it’s in the middle of the night. I trip several times. Jason is leading; I am in second position, with Kaylee behind me and Ryan in the back. He has the hardest job, trying to keep all our slides inline.

I keep stumbling, and take a few falls, especially when Jason’s sled pulls me forward. Each stumble I shout. “Stop.” Everyone does. And each time as gracefully as possible, I get up again and we all continue.

Ski Hill is especially hard, as the snow feels slippery. During one of our brief breaks, I ask what time it is, and when Jason says, “It’s 1:30 A.M.” I say to Kaylee, “ It’s your birthday already – Happy Birthday!” The 3 of us make a small attempt to sing Happy Birthday to Kaylee. The sun is rising again behind us, even though it had only set a couple of hours before.

When we finally reach camp one there are several tents set-up, another set of Mountain Trip guides are escorting a group of several Russian climbers.

Jason says, “We are going to take a longer break here, once they retrieved the cache that we had left on the way up.” Ryan asks “Why?” and Jason replies with, “Let’s take our time. We are an hour ahead of schedule.”

I am silently happy we are moving fast, and think that falling so many times is not embarrassing. I actually take it as symbolism of why I am even climbing– you can fall, but you just need to get back up on your feet and keep moving. Is that not what we deal everyday with mental health?

And so we do. The walk out from camp 1 towards basecamp seems endless.
I tried to recall in my memory of walking up 12 days ago, and can’t remember. I know I made it, but with all the snow, I don’t remember the route.

I am careful to keep following Jason’s footsteps, as we walk around crevasses. I pull my trekking poles up, careful not to stab the snow where Jason has just walked over a crevasse wall and move as quickly as a can past it, until the next one.

I kept thinking of Richard Parks, when he was doing a 737 Challenge, and was on Denali in 2011, about the same time of year, when he punched through a crevasse and fell really deep. He had to use his ice axe on the lip of the crevasse to get himself out. So, stabbing the snow was out of the question.

We were back at basecamp at about 5:30 A.M on June 30, hoping to get on a plane to fly out back to Talkheeta, 12 days after we had arrived.

We did it.

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Denali – First Portuguese Women to Summit (Part 1)

Monday, June 17 2019

Day 1 

I arrived in Anchorage in the evening and checked into the hotel. 

I arrived with a very heavy heart. My mother in law, Bonnie, has been diagnosed as ‘failure to thrive’ and moved to a hospice room for the family to say goodbye. I’m not there. I need to be. I want to be.

She passed away Monday June 17th, my day two of this trip; Day 1 of this climb. Heavy sigh.

I feel so conflicted, because I know Steve is dealing with it by himself and I know he is stressed. I pray for him.

In the morning, I met my 3 guides and did my gear check. 

I was feeling a little sick – I ate some vegetarian tacos at the hotel’s restaurant and they did not agree with me at all.  In the middle of the night I managed to throw up, and then start hydrating myself. I can’t be sick for my first day – this is Denali and I feel enough pressure as it is.

 

Tuesday, June 18 2019

Day 2

We fly to basecamp.  This was after an approximately 2 or 3 hour drive from Anchorage to Talkheeta.  Then we take an Air Taxi. It was a short flight, just 20 minutes., with amazing scenery.

Once we arrive, we take all our gear off the runway and set up our first ‘camp’. 

Kaylee gives me my first lesson, with Jason giving his stamp of approval and further suggestions, on how to set-up our tent in our first ‘camp”.   

As we enjoy dinner, sitting on the snow, I marvel on how much snow there is – and take a few deep breaths and silently pray to God that He guide me and ask Him to have my back, because I am scared about what is ahead of me. Every so often you hear avalanches in the distance.  I have butterflies in my stomach, as stories and previous videos I watched in YouTube about climbing Denali weigh heavy in my mind. Not to mentioned the anxiety I am feeling about wanting and needing to Summit, so I can become the first Portuguese/Canadian woman to Summit Denali.

I remind myself – this is Denali. I am on the ‘big leagues’ mountain. I never imagined in my wildest dream I would here. But I am. I am here.

After our tents are made, we take some supplies out to sleep, since we are going to move during the night when the snow is more cold and compact… It’s mushy right now… packing snow.

Then it started snowing.

Hmmmmm……what does that mean …..

 

Wednesday, June 19 2019

Day 3

 We woke up early, 2 am and got ready to start hiking. Kaylee was like a tornado! Within seconds, she had her sleeping bag in its pack and she was ready to head out. All the while I was trying to stuff my mammoth sleeping bag in the compression bag. I step out and she has her harness on.

Yes, she is a supposed to be a guide in training, climbing to make my climb easier, but I am surprised and very impressed. That was fast!

I was thrown off a little by how fast things were moving. I felt agitated. I needed the bathroom and there was someone in the green bucket. I waited.

When we finally got going, pulling the sled was not that challenging, but stepping over a crack (crevasse) that would be wider when we return, was a little unsettling.

We made it to camp one in 4 hours and 30 minutes. Jason our lead guide said it was good time. I am glad.  It was 8:30am local time. 

After tents are up, there was nothing else to do, but lay down and try to sleep or just rest. These forced rests are the not so easy part of climbing. I texted Steve and the kids and felt better.

Steve is making funeral arrangements and it’s hard. 

Part of me wishes I was there to help, but I know I would not be able to in terms of arrangements. Seems they have it covered, even though Steve says everyone seems angry and upset at the moment. I know that’s normal in these difficult circumstances.

Suddenly, the sun came out and we got a great view of Denali.  Wow! It’s a very impressive and majestic mountain. In fact, it’s a giant! 

Then a cloud goes over the sun; the temperature drops considerably. 

As we climb, there is nothing much to do other than count numbers in your head and think. Here life seems surreal, easy. But in the back of my mind is a mild, gnawing tension about what my family is going through without me.

But I’m here to climb the highest mountain in the northern hemisphere.  I need to concentrate. The plan is to move to camp 2 tomorrow, same time – leave around 2 am.

 

Thursday, June 20 2019 

Day 4 

We did not move to camp 2 as we woke up as planned at 2 am, and Kaylee tells us she had been feeling sick all night and had thrown up a couple of times.

I knew it was our dinner from last night – it had been the pre-made salad we had bought at our last grocery/supply stop we made before arriving in Talkheeta – it had mayonnaise -I had passed on mine.

She says we will have to go slowly and well … slow to me is good! She tells her colleagues and the decision was made to stay put and let her sleep and feel better. Reaching a higher camp not feeling well, will drain her and limit her ability to acclimatize and be strong enough to summit. And we may need to turn around.

I hate just waiting around and doing nothing, but there is nothing we can do. I trust Jesus has a reason for it. 

I advise the kids and Steve, even though he has his hands full. Today is his Mom’s viewing and I know it’s taking a toll on him. Tomorrow is the funeral and I wish I could be there to support him.

Again, I make myself concentrate on the mountain. When the sun is out, it’s hot. Sun and snow is like sand and sun. I had to understand how to use the solar panel, since it has a built in battery. it cannot take a lot of heat.

Sebastian and his client, Aparna, the Indian lady that is trying to climb Denali for the 3rd time, arrived in camp.  She has done all the mountains, including Everest and she did the North side. I’m in awe!

 

Friday, June 21 2019

Day 5

This is my official day 5. Seems longer – the climb portion.

I don’t know why. It was a long day. It started with getting up at 1:00am… actually I was up a little earlier. Days and nights are stretched and shortened. It’s difficult …

We packed everything and backpacks and with sleds loaded, about two hours later, we started climbing towards camp 2.

Some teams take caches to about 11,000 feet and then go back to camp one, then the following day go up to camp two with a lesser load. We climbed with our complete loads and honestly I am glad, I was not looking forward to going up and down the steep hill, when it really was unnecessary.

We are doing this tomorrow – moving to the next camp, We plan to take a cache, leave it and then the following day, move up to camp 3 , at 14,000 feet. Then the following day come down to where we cached and pick up the rest of our supplies. Apparently it’s good for acclimatization.

But It’s hard work!

Overall, today was a hard day. It was also Mrs. Beattie’s funeral and I am really sad that I was not there for Steve. I miss him.

Camp 2 is set in a small plateau and we are not allowed to walk very far, because there is a huge crevasse (Crack as they call it). 

It is colder here, even with the sun shining full blast. 

It is very pretty! We are surrounded by smaller peaks with Denali imposing itself in one corner. It’s a breathtaking sight.

The white of the snow and blue skies make it extra magical.

 

Saturday, June 22 2019

Day 6

Ryan, our assistant guide and Kaylee went up to camp 14, which is how everyone refers to it, but really it’s camp 3. They took a cache, which should be called stash instead. It holds some of our supplies and keeps them ‘stashed ‘ so that we don’t have to carry them all at once. I thought I was supposed to go, but then only Kaylee and Ryan went. I stay behind to go over some skills with Jason my lead guide.

After breakfast, I put my crampons on and harness, got my ice axe, and we went through a couple of basics: foot work on crampons, proper ice arrest, how to hold the ice axe, and we were done. The repetition of basic but necessary skills calms me.

So many people here are attempting it for the 2nd and 3rd time.  I really hope I can do this!

I have been silently praying to Jesus, but I need to pray out loud and beg him for his hand holding and good weather!

 

Tuesday, June 25 2019

Day 9

We are at the 14,000 ft. camp and the weather has been ok, but colder.

We had moved Sunday up here and when the inReach froze, I had a panic attack because I could no longer communicate with the kids and Steve. It was hard.

It was a tough push up motorcycle hill, then squirrel hill and on windy corner, we had to put our helmets on, I think this time it did not go sideways. My helmet tends to sit on me sideways. Thank you Lord!

If you are asking yourself what do all these names of the hills mean or who gave the names, I don’t have the answer. I asked a few people and no one really seemed to know. Its not like there are motorcycles or squirrels up here!

Anyways, on windy corner (which this name I can understand), Jason said we could not stop at all, as it is always windy. Hummm, there is a small ledge on the snow to walk on, but I barely thought about it. There was no wind. None. And that was unusual.  Why? My theory is of course that Jesus is next to me holding my hand; is guiding me and taking care of the weather? He Rocks! 

When we finally got to camp 2, or as they call it, 14,000… it was cloudy and the clouds kept rolling by me. To be high in the sky with clouds rolling past you is an experience that is indescribable. You are in the heavens – above the clouds…To my great surprise I meet the Thai lady here that I saw in Vinson. She was climbing with another Mountain Trip team. It was only her and a German male climber. It is a small world.

I am happy I am doing a private trip, since they are sharing a tent. The group that started when we did, Kristen’s, also share a tent with male/female combination. I don’t know if I agree with it. I certainly know I would not feel ok sharing a tent with a stranger of the opposite sex. 

Once the battery from the inReach died, I was able to restart it and charge it. I had BEGGED Jesus during my hike for a couple of hours. I think I got on His nerves and He just gave in.

Yesterday we went to get the cache back after windy corner and came back to camp. Today it was a rest day.  It was nice spending the morning relaxing, since I had time to change clothes and just relax. I learned that relaxing is part of acclimatization, an important mountaineering life lesson. ☺

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Aconcagua, reaching the Summit and more

It’s February 15th, the day after Valentine’s day.

I remember yesterday that the Canuck Matt had a large selection of Toblerone chocolate bars, which I found ironic, since a) they are quite heavy to carry, each bar weighs 360g, and b) the logo is a mountain. Maybe that is why he had them. Anyhow, on Valentine’s Day morning, he went to Sequioa’s tent and said “Happy Valentine’s day” and gave her a large chocolate bar. That was nice I thought

Today we moved to Camp 2, Nido de Condores, which stands at 5560 metres. There are mountains all around us, yet it seems we are above them all.

Unfortunately we are down one team member – Sequoia, reported a bad headache on the way down yesterday after our carry to Nido, and once we reached Plaza Canada again to sleep low again, since her headache was not better, Carole, one of our guides, accompanied her back to basecamp.

But today, our porters once again set-up our tents, and my personal porter brought my stuff up. I thought I had been over my weight but I was not – all my stuff was less then 12 kilos. My allotment is 20kg. I was very proud of myself. I am learning weight management.

When we arrived at camp, with Vern guiding us alone at this point, there was a group coming down with a person on a stretcher. I did not take any pictures; it simply seemed bad taste. The person was clearly in distress and very sick. Shortly after the yellow park helicopter hovered over us, landed and took the individual away. He looked gravely ill.

We learned after that the person had fallen ill the day before at 7:00pm…. And was only rescued today…. About 3:00pm. He had to be brought up from higher than high camp. I guess attempting to Summit. My heart went out to him.

Feb 16th
Today we woke up to cold, frigid cold, until the sun hit the mountain. I regretted that I had not brought my other sleeping bag with me. The plan for today was to do a group carry to the 3rd and final camp, Camp Colera. It was high. We reached an altitude of 19,580 feet and we are planning to move there tomorrow.

I got really cold in the early hours of the morning. So I put my red Canada Goose jacket on. I also used the #coldavenger mask over my face to be able to be breathe more easily. The air is so dry here – feels like a desert, but a cold desert.

Feb 17th
We made the move to Camp Colera, or camp 3. It was a long way up. One of our teammates had diarrhoea and was really slow and tired.

Camp Colera was given the name by the guides because people vomit so much and ‘poop’ so much. An ugly fact, but true.

The camp is on an enclave of a huge rock, with a view of the Aconcagua Summit. Usually people just stay here no more than a couple of nights, but it seems we will spend 3 in total, as we will have a rest day tomorrow and then attempt the Summit on Tuesday the 19th.

Today I had a really hard time sleeping for the first time in the mountain. It’s very high to sleep here; we are at 5851 meters in altitude.

It was not just the cold. Around 1:45am I woke-up as I could not breathe. I was gasping for air. I peed in my pee bottle, drank some hot drink from my Thermos to try and sort myself out. I lay down again and I still could not breathe. My nose was stuffy and I could not catch my breath. I began pressure breathing, and it helped, but I still could not get enough breath. Then I put on my #coldavenger mask and I took another quarter of my Diamox pill. After a little bit, I was finally able to feel some relief.
It was the scariest experience I have had thus far. I did not understand what was going on. I really thought I might suffocate.

Later in the morning I was surprised to receive a text message from Emmanuel, that simply read: “How did you sleep?”. Tears filled my eyes as I responded. “Ok, but I woke up feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I mean really couldn’t breathe. I took more Diamox”.

Emmanuel reassured me when he said, “It’s normal. You are up high. It’s sleep apnea. Try sleeping more upright; put all your clothes’ under your sleeping pad to sleep more upright.”
“Ok.” I typed back. But I felt emotional and scared from remembering I had been gasping for air the night before. I felt so alone.

“It’s the altitude.” “You are doing great!” “And you will be ok,” he responded. He is a man of few words, but surprised me that he knew how I may be feeling – I guess having been there himself several times helped. Thank you Emmanuel; I needed to hear that!

Then, I also decided to lay in my parka inside my sleeping bag – huge difference in warmth!

Feb 18th
We did have the day as a rest day. It is cold. Early this morning we heard another group get up for their summit bid. They were a little noisy. A couple of hours later, I heard a guide bring back one of their clients. I guess she had turned around. I could only imagine her disappointment.

Feb 19th
We start our Summit bid at 6:00am. It is freezing. But we are ready. Lynn, one of our teammates whom is 70 – which is a perfect example that age is only relative of how you feel, is ready and we start our summit bid, when all I hear is something about sunglasses and then he is no longer going up with us. I was confused but just kept moving.

We go up slowly, and it takes us about 9 and a half hours to reach the Summit. The last 30 minutes are hard. Every step I take it seams harder to breathe.
I am puffing my cheeks out (like a chipmunk, live Vern had taught us) and exhaling. I am also straightening my body in combination with my rest step, to allow more air to fill my lungs. But I still struggle.

Vern climbs in front of me and says: “You can do this Ema. We are almost there”. I simply reply. “These rocks are hard; there are so many rocks”. To which Vern says in a very Vern like tone of voice: “No shit, you are climbing a mountain!” It made me laugh.

I had read that to reach the Summit, we had to go through the ‘La Canaleta’ which is a scramble up some rocks. I think that would be more true if we could truly scramble up rock, but since there was enough snow to wear crampons on certain sections, I am not sure if this qualifies as a scramble.

To the base of the so-called “La Canaleta”, there is a rocky, concave-base wall somewhat in the shape of a cave, “La Cueva”. Here we are at 6650m.

We Summited at 3:40pm local time.
It is windy up at the summit, and in my first couple of pictures, my flag is upside down. Then I correct it, but the wind makes it hard. Vern offers to hold the flag on one of the corners. It works – kinda.

Then it is time to come down – just like that. All that effort and strain and it’s over in a few minutes. But I did it. I did it.

It was a long way down. It took us maybe close to 5 hours. I was so tired, that I kept slipping and falling on my behind. There is a ridge right after Independencia Refuge… which is the world’s tallest refuge. One must make it across this ridge to make it to the La Canaleta section and then back.

The wind is generally very high here, since it’s exposed. A slip here could mean you fall thousands of meters down the face of the mountain. It is here that many expeditions turn around on the way to the Summit and do not proceed to the summit when the weather is bad. We were told it is usually very windy and on previous days Carole had even showed us how we should climb and brace ourselves when we came to this point on Summit day. However, we had great weather. Hardly any wind in this section. Unusual. I know Jesus had me.

About an hour left in our descent I started seeing what I thought was a fly, or a flying spider on the right hand side of my eye. Because I was wearing my goggles, I thought there were bugs outside, since the sun was also starting to set. But the site of this ‘bug’ was actually something I was only seeing on my right eye. I continued to see the ‘bug’ until the day after we left the mountain. I know now according to my daughter Nicole, an RN, that they are “floaters”, and I am fortunate that they have since disappeared.

Feb 20th
We make our descent from camp 3 all the way to basecamp. It was a long day.
When we reached basecamp we are treated to hamburgers. I had a veggie burger. The team shared a bottle of champagne, courtesy of Alpine Ascents, and our generous guides Vern, Carole and Diego. It was a much needed celebration!

A couple of our teammates, including our Canuck friend has a few beers. I no longer have of an interest in drinking at high altitude and it still amazes me how some can. But I am me and everyone is different.

Feb 21st
We take the long journey trek from basecamp, to exit the park.
This in itself was a wonderful experience – because how often can one say they trekked on a riverbed?

After we exit the Park, we pick up our stuff we had left in storage, and then proceed to continue by bus to Mendoza.

That evening I took my “first” shower in 3 weeks. I had never been so dirty in my 51 years of my life! Kudos to the Hyatt staff that checked me in and never showed in their expression how dirty my face was – which shocked me when I looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom. No, I had not looked at my face in the mirror while in the mountain! ☺

Back to hygiene. Back to cleanliness. I’m going home!
Only two (well 3) more to go… 7 (8) Summits for Mental Health.

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Climbing Aconcagua in Argentina

Climbing Aconcagua in Argentina

(Part 1 of 2 – Part 2)

After the Air Canada fiasco, and those of you that follow me on Instagram know about the ordeal and the inconvenience caused by Air Canada when they only decided to turn around a flight after 3 and a half hours into the flight, all the way back to Toronto – when we were already over the Bahamas. REALLY?!? Getting myself to Penitentes , Argentina, after more than 24 hours delay was not easy, especially when you have a 10 hour flight and then a connecting flight which I had missed. The next connecting flight would have delayed me yet another day. Such a frustrating start. On February 5th I was finally able to get to Argentina, after driving from Santiago, Chile and crossing the border by car. I felt somewhat flustered, as I had missed gear check scheduled the day before in Mendonza, and of course, I had missed valuable information on the expected climb, schedules, etc.

The Alyen hotel in Penitentes, had a room which was pretty dismal, but maybe it was intentional to get us used to the tent and dirt in Aconcagua. It worked! The green carpet in the room was worn and underneath the radiator, it was down to its last fibres. The bed was only a mattress against the wall on a cheap metal frame. Thin sheets.  In short, it was one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in.

Penitentes is an old ski resort town, that now is only open for the short season that the Aconcagua National Park is open, and welcomes climbers, or the occasional person that is passing through and needs a room. It doesn’t even have WIFI and from the reviews on Expedia, it has not had WIFI for a long time – even though every guest is simply told that the antenna is broken, as if it just happened.

But the next day, thankfully, on Wednesday, Feb 6th, we make our way to the entrance of the Aconcagua National Park, to climb the normal route of the mountain. We stop at the park ranger’s office and our guides pick up our park permits that cost each of us $610.00US. Was that $61.00US? No, it was $610.00US. Whoa! Then we are required to show our passports as ID, before gaining entrance.

The trek from the beginning of the trail to the Confluência Camp was about 3 hours. Our group gear was being carried by mules, who on this particular day were very slow. I know. I know. Mules are supposed to be slow. But these ones were sedated slow. We only got our duffle bags around 9 pm!

While we waited, we had dinner. Some of us went for a short walk to the top of the hill to see the whole camp, from “above”, and Vern and Carole our guides, taught us how to build a tent “Aconcagua” style. So that our tents would have the best chance to resist the high winds and not blow away. This training would come in very handy!

CONFLÊNCIA CAMP- is at 3,421 metres

The camp has a medical office, staffed with a doctor employed by the park and whom we all have to go see the following day on Thursday, Feb 7th, to get the ‘green light’ to move up the mountain to basecamp the following day, Friday, February 8th. This would be one of two visits with the park’s doctor. The park authorities want to ensure climbers are not experiencing altitude related illness, which cuts down on emergency rescues.

Our tents for this expedition are a 3 person tent, but really only 2 people fit, and in very close quarters. My tent mate is Jenny, a young lady from Chicago in her mid 20’s.

There are only 3 women on the team, and I had been asked the previous day before we left for the trail, whom I preferred to share a tent with. Two male teammates were given to me as my choices; I said no to both. I was utterly surprised this was an option – pair teammates with teammates of the opposite sex!? When I expressed my displeasure, I was assured they would find a solution. They did. Yesterday during our tent building lesson, the guides asked one of the other females if she would mind sharing a tent with one of the other males. She said no. And so the situation was resolved. I still find this presumption uncomfortable and somewhat surprising.

Thursday the 7th, we went for a 7 hour acclimatization hike towards Camp Francia, for a view of the south face of the mountain. The colours of all the rock faces on our way there were spectacular!

First it was hot, and then got very windy and much colder when we reach about 14,000 feet, which is about 4,000 metres.

Friday, Feb 8th, we made our way to Plaza de Las Mulas, Basecamp for the Normal Route. It took us “8 hours plus 1”, as Vern said. For a long period of time we hiked on flat terrain and then slowly we gained altitude. The mules carried our group gear. Slowly …

What can I say about Plaza de Las Mulas? It’s a tent city on a plateau of the mountains. We had to select our campsite and build our tent and that’s ALL that was interesting. 

Alpine Ascents local contractors are Aconcagua Mountain Guides, which is actually a subsidiary of Alpine Ascents. Inca, another outfitter at the camp, is clearly the prominent provider here. Their tents and facilities are at the entrance of the camp. I couldn’t help but notice they are shinier and seem new.

Our campsite was on the opposite end of basecamp, and it had its benefits.  It was closer to the trail to go up the mountain, and after all, that was the goal – to go up the mountain. Plus it was quieter.

It was a long day.  I don’t get cell service even though many people seem to – but I was able to buy WIFI for the days we are here, so I can talk to my husband Steve, my daughters Nicole and Patricia and of course, my grandchildren Ethan and Julia. My family. My lifeline.

Feb 9th, we tried our crampons on, and went for a short exercise wearing them on some dirty snow. Afterwards, we went for a short 90 minute hike, over lots of rock, to ice sticking out of the mountain like icicles, which are called penitents.  It was pretty cool.  But also, I never realized that so much dirt can be on top of an actual glacier – the primary reason why it’s so dusty and a little disgusting here.

This outing was followed by a group meeting, to discuss the game plan for the next few days.  Acclimatization is an important part of climbing, especially at this height, to have the best chance of success. The following day it was decided we would do a carry up to Camp Canada, and the next day it  would be the repeat of the same.

A ‘carry’ is done to carry a small amount of supplies to a higher camp, and leave them there to be used once we move up to that camp. This exercise serves to acclimatize and also to lessen the weight of carrying the supplies we need, in our backpacks. 

Porters are now available on the mountain and I have taken advantage of them. So I will not do a ‘carry’ of group gear or supplies, but only take my daypack and simply enjoy the acclimatization climb. The porters will carry my portion of the group gear and my own personal supplies, on ‘move’ day. The plan is to do the same the next day and then move up the following day. The theory is to climb high, sleep low.

On the second carry day the winds are extremely high and we get hit with a snowstorm.  The snow is small round ice pellets, not beautiful snowflakes. This is jarring and difficult.

We were offered a free shower because the mules had been late when we came into Confluencia, the previous camp and we all take advantage of it here at basecamp. But the word ‘shower’ is used loosely. The water only served to rinse the dust off and it was cold! Unfortunately no one shared a vital piece of information – I only had to move the lever a very short space to get warm water!

Camp Canada is at 4947 metres but surprisingly, my Sunto watch showed 5001 metres as a measurement. Feb 12th was a rest day. We did nothing, just ate and stayed in our tents actually. Pretty boring. One of the other female teammates went for a swim in one of the lakes nearby, apparently skinny dipping. I passed.

Feb 13th, we moved up to Camp Canada. The camp sits on a hill, and if you take a wrong step, you might just fall off, but the view is amazing. “Ahhhhhh” had two meanings!

The porter assigned to me moved everything, I just kept my emergency gear in my back pack and also a bottle of water and my personal documents like passport, insurance and money. That was very nice.

At camp Canada the group had all opted to use the services of the porters to set-up our tents. It was so much easier to reach camp and have a place to get comfortable in, sheltered from the cold and wind.

Once again, my tent mate and I, have a tent that has something wrong with it. Ugh.

The tents are NorthFace and spacious, but they are beaten up or they just don’t hold up. This time we are stuck with a vestibule zipper that is broken, so we literally crawl in and out of our tent.

Feb 14th, we do a carry to what will be our second camp, Nido de Condores. It was a 3 hour hike up and then we left some personal gear there.  It is a huge camp and the 360 degree views are just amazing! Mountainous peaks and vast sky as far as the eye can see. Spectacular. There is also a rangers’ station here and a helipad.

Coming down it took us only an hour.

One of our teammates, Sequoia reported a headache and Diego, one of the guides raced down the mountain with her. The rest of us followed.  My feet were sweating with the socks I had chosen and I got two blisters. Not much to complain about in the grand scheme.

When we got back to camp Canada, there was hardly walking space between tents. There are tents everywhere around us. Seems everyone at basecamp is moving up. There are climbers galore.

Sequoia is not feeling well. She is the 3rd female of our team. She is still reporting headaches and Carole accompanies her down to Basecamp to see the doctor.

Tomorrow we move up.

(Read Part 2)

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Reaching the Summit of Vinson Massif and back

It’s Wednesday morning – Summit day – and the sun is out! I have gotten used to it being daylight 24 hours a day, but somehow the sun shining over high camp is particularly special.

Getting ready to go to the Summit, was the same as with all other climbs: our guides wake us up early – well, in Vinson its 8:30am and bright daylight – so no need for a headlamp! We get ready, have breakfast and start moving.

Tre-C suggested we put hand warmers inside our mittens, accessible in our backpacks, ready to be used as it gets cold on the Summit Ridge. I do as she suggested.

We continue our climb roped in our teams of 4, and we gain another 1000m by the time we reached the Summit.

Unlike Elbrus where we dropped our backpacks for the last Summit push, here we keep our backpacks and I am happy we did, as it ensured I had all my flags!

Just before the Summit, for about 15-20 minutes we had to walk on a thin ridge, snow iced and snow covered, with rocks, and a few boulders thrown into the path. This was daunting, but the excitement inside was mounting.

Because we are roped together, each team, the fellow climber that is in front of me keeps pulling me forward, no doubt in his own anxiety. But that increased my anxiety and I am surprised to find the thin ridge, where I find I have to ‘self talk’ myself to, “Keep moving Ema!” “Don’t look down.” I kept thinking that the Summit of Vinson Massif was just in front of mw. Just in front of me.

And then we are there! When we reach the Summit, it is clear. It’s beautiful!

There is a larger area, like a small plateau. It’s wider than I ever imagined and we are allowed to unclip from each other, and take our backpacks off.

I am elated. I feel like I am on top of the world. Wait a sec, I AM on top of the world! Or some will argue the bottom of the World! Its Antartica!

Lakpa Sherpa and his rope team are still there, as they were just ahead of us, and he graciously becomes my photographer for all my flags.

Sebastian mentions to me that this is the first Summit ever for him to have anyone wear such thin gloves, as he gestures to me just wearing my liner gloves. I don’t need my mittens and hand warmers inside my backpack today. Our parkas are also accessible in our backpacks, but there is no need for them at the top of the Summit on this particular day. I can’t believe I am at the Summit of Vinson Massif.

Then it’s time to leave and make our way back, so we can make room for other climbers that are making their way as well to the Summit.

It’s a long way back to high camp and we don’t arrive until 8:30pm. We are tired. I welcome the comfort of my sleeping bag in a way I can’t describe. We are planning to get an early start down the next day as the weather is promising to turn.

The next morning, the plan was to descend from high camp, with a quick stop at low camp, all the way to basecamp – it was going to be a long day.

The next day it was not the hiking on the snow, or the wind that had picked up exactly as our ALE guides had read the weather, that fazed me or scared me, it is was getting on and coming down the fixed lines.

My fear of heights got the best of me, for the first 2 to 3 ropes. I was scared as I saw a chocolate bar fall from David’s’, one of our fellow climber’s pockets or backpack into the abyss as he was getting on the fixed ropes.

The first rope is so tight, with tension that it is hard to clip in.

At the first rope, Emmanuel was going backwards and told me to go backwards, while our guide told me to turn around and face forward. And I listened to Sebastian of course, he was our guide, but turning around in an upright angle, in such a small space of snow only served to increase my anxiety. I know Emmanuel was trying to get me not to see how high we were – but my mind knew!

I have a mini panic attack in the second line, as I need to transfer from one rope to another, and as I see my feet needing to be precise in their positioning, or I fall. I know I am tied in and our guide has the line secure on his prusik, but I also know if I fall it will be a big deal for me mentally to get up again. I panic and it is hard to breathe. I feel my airways suffocating me.

Emmanuel tells me to focus and relax, and breathe and that I can do it and that I am ok and I am not going to fall. It was kind of him to say so. He knew I needed help in that moment.

I relax after a few breaths and we continue down, slowly, line after line.

I know I need to calm myself down and moving forward to other mountains, believe more in myself. I got this. And Jesus has me!

Once at basecamp a celebratory dinner awaits us, with 3 bottles of champagne to celebrate our successful summit the day before. I have a glass, but somehow alcohol does not taste the same in the mountains, its kind of anti-climatic.

We were hoping the next day we could fly to Union Glacier and get on the scheduled flight back to Punta Arenas, so we can fly home as planned on December 10th.

But the weather does not cooperate and we wait. The next day is the same thing, more waiting.

But unlike in Carstensz Pyramide I am not ill, the food is amazing and the pure silence and beauty that surrounds us, relaxes me and fills me with awe.

On December 9th we finally had a break in the weather and we fly back to Union Glacier. As ALE clients we are on the first flight from base camp to Union Glacier.

It is disappointing we missed the Ilyushin, even though it had not flown into Union as scheduled. Its delay was not enough for us to catch it. At this point, we get scheduled to leave Union back to Punta Arenas on the 12th.

 

When we arrive back at Union Glacier, we line up for a shower! Ahhhhh …. clean again. I am reminded of life’s simple blessings.

Afterwards we get a behind the scenes tour of Union Glacier.

We also meet Richard Parks, who was the first person to do a grand slam – complete the 7 summits and ski the North and South Poles – in less than 1 year. Is that humanly possible? Apparently so!

He was trying to beat his solo record from the Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, a distance of 1140 km. He had been trying to do it in 25 days. However, due to illness, his solo attempt ended prematurely, early in the New Year.

We spoke for a bit during the couple of days we were waiting, and in one of our conversations he commented: “Courage is how you act and face your fears and learn from it”.

My fear of heights is still present. I need to learn how to control it more. I am learning.

Not only am I meeting amazing people on these climbs, I am facing things and growing in ways that surprise and delight me. I am becoming a climber!

Four down; three (well hour) to go – after all the 7 Summits are 8!

Aconcagua, next…..

Ema Dantas

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Arriving in Antarctica

Climbing Mount Vinson and going to Antarctica was nerve wracking. I felt there was a lot riding on the success of the expedition, and not just monetarily – the degree of coldness added a whole new level of potential challenges as well as danger.

Climbing Mt Vinson is the most expensive of the 7 Summits, after Everest. The remoteness of Antarctica and the time constraint on being able to access the mountain plays a huge role in the cost. There is a short season to climb Vinson, from late November to mid-January.

We were one of the first groups of the 2018-2019 season. I had researched this very well, and then preceded to convince my friend Emmanuel of my choice and we chose ALE (Antarctic Logistics Expeditions) as our expedition guiding company. Actually, ALE is the only operator with flights to access Vinson. The company has operated continuously in Antarctica since 1987. They were the 1st land-based tour operator using wheeled aircraft on blue-ice runways. They have safely executed hundreds of roundtrip intercontinental flights from Chile to the interior of Antarctica and have supported virtually every private expedition that has skied, flown or driven across Antarctica.

The extra few hundred dollars in cost was worth it in my opinion, and I think you will agree with me, as you follow my journey.

As I sat in Punta Arenas inside the restaurant of the hotel Rey Don Philippe, looking out into the street, it’s sunny, but the wind is blowing. Seems it is always windy here and cold, and this is their summer.

ALE was supposed to come and pick up our duffels in a couple of hours. I felt ok and confident and ready. At this point I had not decided if I wanted to pack my running shoes. I was actually wearing them this morning, since I had started feeling a little of out of place wearing my Valentino blue boots. I had been wearing my boots for the last 4 or 5 days, going out to eat and while site seeing. I still don’t understand the logic behind wearing hiking shoes and activity specific clothing when not doing the activity! Oh well. I decided to give in that morning, since technically our expedition was about to start.

My throat was hurting a little this particular morning. Maybe Steve’s cold finally had caught up to me. I am hoping I am ok in Antarctica because it’s not good being sick while attempting to climb a freezing cold mountain! I have been taking lots of Vitamin C, actually downing it, and decided to take some more.

After our luggage is picked up at 11:00am, we have a group lunch at 12:30pm, where we meet some of the other people that will be climbing with us. I quickly realize that the group is comprised of some incredible people.

Following this, we have an information session at the ALE office at 4:00pm, where we also pick up our boarding passes for the next days’ scheduled flight to Antarctica.  

Robert Anderson, our local ALE representative, gives everyone an overall presentation of what to expect in Antarctica. Those present are those of us climbing Vinson, those guests going to visit the Emperor Penguins, those skiing the last degree, those going on solo expeditions to the South Pole, and even a Dutch couple that would be driving a solar-powered 3D-printed vehicle, made of plastic waste across Antarctica. I am not joking, check out their website: https://www.clean2antarctica.nl/en . This was not your everyday information session attendees!

Robert Madds Anderson is an author, speaker, creative director and mountaineer who has climbed the 7 Summits solo. But above all, I found him to be a man that exemplifies humility. And it awed me. I knew from meeting him, that this trip would be a great learning experience for me and very special.

During the ALE briefing I also met Lakpa Rita Sherpa, who was going to be one of our guides. Lakpa was the first Sherpa to climb the 7 Summits, and of course he has climbed Everest 17 times. Yes, I said 17. I was a little starstruck I have to admit.

The next morning, November 26th, right on schedule, we go to the airport and board the Ilyushin. The Ilyushin Il-76 is a Russian, multi-purpose four-engine plane first planned as a commercial freighter in 1967.  It was designed to deliver heavy machinery to remote, poorly served areas. Military versions of the Il-76 have been widely used in Europe, Asia and Africa.

ALE leases one of these planes for the season. The Ilyushin takes enough fuel for a return trip from Punta Arenas, Chile to Union Glacier, Antarctica. The plane comes with its own Russian crew. It has been modified inside with some seats and since there are no windows, a large screen TV has been installed in front of the plane, so we can watch the plane being guided onto the runway, take off and land. The TV receives the feed from a camera outside the front of the plane and helps us with orientation.

ALE also has its own flight attendant on every flight, to give us earplugs, a beverage or two and a couple of snacks. All of this felt a little surreal to say the least.

When we arrive at Union Glacier, the plane lands on a blue ice runway and even though the IIyushin does not have any trouble stopping, the passengers slip and slide on the ice. It was no surprise that our arrival was met with wind and it’s cold! Very cold.! But nothing can dampen our excitement of arriving. We stop to pose for many pictures in front of the plane before we board the trucks that will take us to Union Glacier, and camp.

The ride from the runway to the camp is about 25 minutes, even though the distance is only about 5-6 km. When we reach Union Glacier, we are given a tour of the camp, the facilities, the do’s and don’t’s And did I mention it was cold?! However the views and the air are so clear and clean, that I have to keep blinking to adjust – both my eyes and my heart! This place is spectacular. The expanse – the brilliant whites and fresh blues are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I needed to keep reminding myself not to take my sunglasses off!

We are assigned a tent, which is a double walled clam shaped tent with carpet on the floor and cots. This is very much my style of ‘camping’. Our bags are delivered by ski doo! Wow! I feel spoiled!

Afterwards, we are invited to the heated communal dinning tent. Here ALE serves not your average cafeteria food. There are vegan and gluten free choices, fresh baked goods and meals made fresh – breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even serve mid-morning and afternoon snacks – freshly baked! Hot water, tea and coffee is always available and during meals white and red wine. This is a giant improvement from other experiences. I am impressed and relieved.

The Union Glacier camp itself and facilities, which get set-up for business in November and taken down for protection of the weather at the end of January, every year, was our first clue that climbing Mt Vinson was not going to be your average Summit attempt.

Ema Dantas

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Mount Elbrus Russia Climb Part 2 -Summit

It is Sunday, July 29th, 2018 and to the ‘Putin on the Ritz’ team, day 9 of our adventure.

My alarm is set for 2:00am for breakfast, but I, like several of my teammates, was already up. Vern turns on the electrical kettle for hot water, to warm our first batch of water bottles, and we are ready to go.

Our plan was to be ready and mobile at 3:00am and be by the ‘cats’ to put our crampons on at 3:30am. Plan accomplished. Yes! Off to a good start.
We have a large group and need two ‘snow cats’ and awkwardly get on board, with all our equipment. We sit excitedly, knowing what’s to come and hold on tight as it brings us up to just past the Provesky Rocks on Mount Elbrus. We all jump off. The moment has come. At last, we are about to attempt to summit Mount Elbrus. For me, mountain number three!

We remove our down jackets, because we always ‘start cold’; our bodies start heating up fast. Snow googles on next, with our face buffs securely underneath its strap, so we don’t have any of our face exposed. My buff has a Canadian flag print. Yes, I am proud to be Canadian!

It’s windy and cold as we start out. And we all knew that as we gained altitude, the temperature would decrease and the winds would increase. The clear blue skies we had been seeing the previous days as we glanced up the mountain from base camp were merely a rouse. Clearly, this is NOT going to be easy.

The previous day, when we were informed by Vern that we would attempt our Summit today, it was with the expectation that the weather would be similar to the previous day. The report brought back from the climbers that had reached the Summit, was that they had to literally ‘crawl’ to the Peak. I had visualized the ‘crawling’ action myself and yet only believed Vern 50%. I thought he was simply exaggerating. In a few short hours, I learned first hand, that ‘crawling’ was the right adjective. A daunting exercise; but the only way…

However, with our backpacks securely buckled on our backs, our headlamps turned on, we get to business. We ensure our ice axe is deployable and both our trekking poles are at the appropriate climbing length. These two skills we learned and reviewed with Carole and Vern until we were proficient.

In a single file, one step at a time, practicing both our rest-step and pressure breathing, we start to climb. I concentrate on both, and at the same time, ensure each of my steps are careful ones, so as to not get my crampons tangled on each other. I try to only concentrate on my rhythm and nothing else. ‘One, two, whooof…. one, two, whooof…’

I know to others looking at us from below or even from behind, we look like fireflies, slowly moving up the mountain, as only the light from our headlamps is visible. Fireflies in a string, moving upward in the extreme cold and wind.

Daylight is breaking and we reach our first stop. Vern directs us, “Keep warm people.” “Ten minute break.” “Remember to pee, drink and eat – in that order.” “You do not want to be caught with your pants down when we are ready to go!” His sense of humor lifts our spirits. We need to smile.

This first rest stop is by a broke -down, red, snow caterpillar. It is now a fixture on its ridge, and I doubt it will ever be removed. Just another piece of ‘garbage’ on Elbrus. I wonder how long it will remain here.

Modesty in the mountain does not exist. Men and women simply accept our basic nature needs, and simply that. And all are respectful. We ‘go’ when told, like in grade school.

“Two minutes people!” Vern commands and we know its time to rap it up and get going. We all respond as quickly as possible.

We continue our ascent as the sun slowly slides past the fluffy white clouds, painting a a golden hallow around them, as it rises to set its place against the blue sky. For a brief moment, both sun and moon share the same space. It’s magical what God has created. And from this vantage point, even more so.

Anatoli, the ‘official’ mountain photographer is going around from group to group, capturing special moments, which he will sell to us in a couple of days. Vern tells us at one point to simply pull our buffs down for a brief smile into the camera as we pass him at a certain point and time. We do. It records our red, frost faces that are hiding under our buffs. And also relieves us. There are some civilized moments up here! Plus we are not alone. We are having this adventure together.

Our second break is on the vertical face of the mountain, just off the narrow trekking path. As we follow our break routine I try not to think of the height which we are at, and also the fact that one slip, would have any one of us demonstrating our ice axe arrest techniques. Better not to think of that possibility. None of us wants to practice that. I try not to look back because of my fear of heights and simply tell myself I am on solid footing. It helps.

As we continue in single file, we come upon another group, which after a few moments, our guides and theirs, negotiate our passing ahead of them. All of our group secretly feels good about this maneuver. We seem to be moving at a decent pace!

I can see that we are entering ‘the saddle’. The saddle is termed as such because it’s a ‘dip’ between both mountain peaks, resembling an actual saddle.

While we enter the saddle, the wind is not prevalent and I foolishly think that Vern was exaggerating about the wind speed we were to expect. Never doubt Vern!

As I look ahead I can see snow blowing and creating dust clouds against and around other fellow climbers, already at the base of the saddle and also making their way up the other side towards the Summit. The brief stillness we feel was very much like the proverbial ‘calm before the storm’. Brace yourself Ema.

As we reach the saddle base, the wind is demonstrating its superiority. It pushes us like a bully, demanding we push back and fight to keep ourselves vertical.

Vern commands and guides us efficiently to get our down jackets on. We need to pee, drink and eat like on any other break, plus we need to put our harnesses on. We are securing all our backpacks and trekking poles in a pile and leaving them behind here. This is both to facilitate our final push up to the Summit, but also to save space – there is not much room up there!

Our guides help us with getting our harnesses on, without taking our crampons off. As Irina and ‘Jason’ (nicknamed by us, because of his white mask) help us, I make a mental note that I need to get a better harness for when I repeat this task in a future climb. It’s just not smooth enough for crucial times like this.

And we are off, for the final leg.
Again, we are soon feeling the wind’s defiant tease to ‘take him on’ with only our ice axe in hand as if to threaten the wind to ‘back off’. Just as we clip on the static line, the wind retreats teasingly, giving us a false sense of hope. Then it comes gusting against us with speeds of about 50km an hour. At moments, it takes a deep breath and then when it exhales, it spits out ice pellets that hit our faces and bodies, with demanding threats against us. I have never experienced wind like this. Truly, if we break our attention from it, it will and can toss us into the abyss. I briefly wonder if this is what Denali or Vinson will feel like, but I don’t have much time to ponder this thought, as all my energy is spent concentrating on each step, bracing myself with my ice axe and also guiding my leach on the fixed rope.

And suddenly it dawns on me, we ARE ‘crawling’ up to the Peak. The roar of the wind, the stinging of the ice, and the concentration required, are all very real. We are indeed crawling to the top.

Then as we leave the fixed rope section, we continue slowly, hunched down, up the glacier ridge towards the summit point. It’s in sight and that encourages us. But we move very slowly and carefully, because even though wind has given up throwing snow dust at us, it continues to push us defiantly.

And then suddenly – we are there! We are at the top of Mount Elbrus! We did it!

The Summit space is maybe a 10×12 foot small, cramped space. Our group alone fills it, as others also compete to share it.

At the same time, I realize and feel like, the wind is going to blow me away. This is not a good feeling; despite the relief at being successful, I still need to concentrate. I hunch down and secure my axe ice on its floor. I start to pull out my first flag, the Portuguese and Canada flags. I have sewn them together and realize the wind is blowing it like an out of control boat sail. Another climber sees me struggle and helps me hold an end, while Andrey, takes a picture. I know that it will not be possible to take pics of all my flags: the Language Marketplace flag, the Peaks for Change flag, CAMH, and why I climb. I will also not be able to take a pic of #JesusRocks flag and my heart tugs in sadness. However, I quickly stuff the flag into my jacket and try to hold up my ‘Julia and Ethan’ flag, for my beloved grandchildren. Unfortunately, the wind crumples it in response as Andrey snaps a quick picture for me.

Then I join the rest of the group for a group summit photo and just like that, it’s over.
It reminds me of a wedding – it takes so much time and preparation and you look forward to it with great anticipation, then it’s over so quickly. And today, there is no time to savor the moment.
It’s time to move on. Others are waiting to take our place and want us to move along.

However, I do have time to take a deep breath and look around in a 360 degree motion and memorize the true beauty that scourged us below. Peaks adoring the horizon around us, like a crown, as we stand on the top of Europe. Thank you God for allowing me to see this; to have this moment. Your mountain tops are truly awesome and You brought me here safely.

As we start our decent from the peak I feel disappointed I was not able to take more pictures and fly all my flags in celebration. But the goal of my trip was realized. I summited Mount Elbrus. Another successful climb and a resounding exclamation to the world that the stigma of mental health must change. That brings a smile. Now comes a well needed rest with my family before starting to prepare for Antarctica.

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Create a World in which everyone believes life is worth living.

Create a World in which everyone believes life is worth living.

These powerful words where part of the last sentence Mr Chown, the Director of Events for CAMH wrote in a thank you letter addressed to Peaks for Change in reference to our fundraising gala event we had on April 27 2018.

As I prepare to leave to Russia to climb Mt Elbrus, these words are hitting hard at home : ‘ A world in which everyone believes life is worth living.’ As I think of my Mom, Susan’s son Reid, and all those that just recently did not believe their life was worth living.

Yesterday, I had been speaking to my insurance advisor for our company benefits at Language Marketplace, and she mentioned that insurance companies have seen a rise in claims for anti-depression medications.

Are we as a society becoming more hopeless as we isolate ourselves more and more behind our social media profiles?

How can we tell if our friend, family member or neighbor is debating if ‘life is worth living’?

Openness. Understanding . Speaking out. Listening. Seeking help. That is what we all have to do when we feel or someone else is feeling that life is not worth living.

And this is the aspiration I will take with me as I try to summit Mt Elbrus in a few days. One step at a time. Together, we can ‘create a World in which everyone believes life is worth living’.

Ema Dantas

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 5 –The Waiting Game!

(Click here to read previous Part 4) (Click here to read Part 1)

The following morning after our summit of Carstensz Pyramid, it was reported to Raymond that the weather in Timika was bad and there would be no helicopter that day.

I had woken with my face noticeably swollen and my left side, in my kidney area, painful to the slightest touch. I was desperate to leave the mountain.

But I accepted that tomorrow we would hopefully be leaving. I could manage for another day I told myself.

I texted Steve to let him know, as well as my family. However, when he responded that he read that a group took 6 days to get off the mountain, I silently started to panic. I was worried about my health and started to feel trapped. “What if I had to wait for a week?” “What if I started to get very ill?” I felt powerless and I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing I could do but wait.

Meanwhile, we had decided to move from our basecamp to the other basecamp (Yellow Valley), so we would a) be with Philippe, our other teammate and b) we would be on site when the helicopter came. Also, it would be less challenging for the pilot to only have to make one stop.  The pilot was new, as the 3-month switch over had just occurred. Raymond wanted to spare us his worries, but we later found out first hand how inexperienced the new pilot was.

The following day, the weather in Timika was reportedly good, however, we waited for 3 hours for the clouds to clear in Carstensz. They did not. All helicopter rides were cancelled at 9:30 am and I was crushed. We had summited two days ago and we were still waiting. I turned on my InReach GSP and sent a quick text to Steve and my family: “Weather bad. No helicopter. I am OK. Turning GSP off.  Little battery. Love you.” I turn the InReach off because we couldn’t recharge our devices since we hadn’t had enough sun to charge them.  I felt stranded.

Emmanuel had started monitoring my water intake the day before and had me on antibiotics, but my hands were very swollen, my face was swollen, and my left kidney was screaming in pain. He had borrowed the satellite phone from our local guides and had called a Toronto hospital and asked for additional advice on how to treat me. I felt like a nuisance, alone and sick. I tried not to cry but I did. I am the only female in the entire camp and I am crying – for some reason crying made me feel even worse.

However, my teammates don’t judge me, actually, they were all very attentive and even taught me how to play poker and presidents. We played many card games to pass the time since we were essentially trapped. We also listened to music and were surprised that Philippe had an amazing music collection on his phone!

As I lay in the general tent the second day, inside my sleeping bag, the guys relaxed by taking turns playing various card games. Suddenly, we heard a commotion outside. But it’s nothing of consequence. Fifteen volunteers from Freeport Mine have arrived at basecamp to clean up the garbage. They secured the bags together and afterward the helicopter, from the mine, would do a flyby and pick up the bags. It’s a volunteer group of workers. Heavy sigh.  I silently wished they had come to rescue me.

Emmanuel went outside to talk to them. Unknowingly to me at that point, it seemed that morning I looked really bad – perhaps as bad as I felt, and my teammates were worried. I should have figured it out when Emmanuel called Toronto from the base camp. He also had moved me from my private tent into the main group tent, where he, Adam and JP had slept the previous night. Manu had said it was easier to keep an eye on me there. So, JP took my tent and I took JP’s spot. I was grateful to be monitored.

He spoke with the leader of the volunteer group and explained he had a Canadian client who was very ill. Together they determined that if our helicopter did not come the next day, I would activate my SOS button on my InReach GPS device, which then, in turn, would be picked up in Jakarta, and then sent to Freeport Mine. I would be picked up by mine emergency personnel, taken to the mines medical facility and accessed by their medical team. I would then be transferred to Timika, depending on my situation, either by air or car. Well, I am thank-full for my Canadian passport and also for Manu’s ex-girlfriend! Some name dropping to the pit mine leader helped immensely!

Freeport Mine operates the Grasberg Mine in Papua, near Puncak Jaya, Carstensz Pyramid. Freeport Mine employs 30,000 local Indonesians.  It is the largest gold mine and the second largest copper mine in the world. Thus, their resources for dealing with medical emergencies was well established. For that, I was pleased!

At the end of the day Juan brings us our dinner, but it is very little. Juan apologizes, and we tell him not to worry. Juan sounds and seems sick. When we ask him if he is okay, he smiles and assures us that he his, but one look at him and we all could see he was ill. O dear, not another one…The small amount of food doesn’t bother us; no one feels like eating anyway. We just want to get out of the mountain. Fortunately, we didn’t know, but we had run out of food as well.

That evening, Raymond came into our common tent and said that Denny had messaged him to say the next day’s weather forecast looked good in Timika and hopefully the mountain would be clear as well. Flight time down the mountain is 30 minutes.

Denny had given instructions that the first 3 off the mountain would be me, JP and Philippe. The second team to come off the mountain would be Adam, Manu and Hata. Then followed by Raymond and Juan on another flight.

As Raymond spoke those words, I saw Adams’ heart drop. He was as desperate as I was to get out of basecamp. The only difference between us was that I was puffed up like a balloon! Plus I had signs of severe edema in my lower legs and feet, hands and face.

Manu hesitated and then told Raymond that he might need to change the plan, depending on my condition, as he or Adam would need to go with me to a private hospital.  He was adamant that he would not leave any client behind, so it would have to be Adam. That had been the original plan.

Then it was Philippe’s turn to worry. Adam jokingly commented to Emmanuel, how easy it was to get him off the flight.  Manu answered firmly, “Well, I can’t play favoritism”.

I realized then how hard the past few days had been for him. He is Adam’s good friend and a fellow paramedic but now was his guide. He is my friend and fellow board member, but now my guide and I was his sick client.

Emmanuel asked for Raymond’s reassurance regarding the next day’s weather, and as Raymond got up from his seat, as he was exiting the tent, said, “Well Eman, you better pray to God the weather is good tomorrow, and pray hard!”

I woke up in the middle of the night to use the washroom. Outside the sky above is clear and the stars are bright. I knew this meant nothing, as in the morning clouds could move in quickly. I had been begging Jesus to provide help; to bring the helicopter. And not just begging- crying, pleading, praying, over and over. I simply wanted to close my eyes and hear my husband’s voice. I wanted to be home with him and my family more deeply than I can ever remember. Please, Lord …

As I lay down again, Emmanuel stirs from his sleeping bag and asks me how the weather looked outside. I told him it was clear and he replied, “Good, I had been wanting to check, but I was just too afraid”.

As morning approaches I can’t stop myself from pleading more and begging Jesus in my head. “Please”, “please”, “please” I repeated the word like a mantra.

Then it becomes official that the helicopter will take off from Timika, with 3 passengers from Alpine Accents that had been waiting to come up to base-camp to climb. And myself, JP and Philippe would go back down. Raymond said the helicopter would arrive in 20 minutes. We packed up in 5. The sense of relief was overwhelming. At last, I was going home.

The helicopter arrived at about 6:30 am. We were ready to go, more than ready!  As the helicopter landed, three guys, who dressed and looked like they all belonged in a GQ magazine, came out and immediately turned their gaze up to Carstensz. As soon as I got over the fact that they looked like models, it occurred to me that they were in shorts and t-shirts, and it was at least minus 10 at base-camp! They were in for a rude awakening! I was wearing three layers of clothing and my Gortex jacket over them. I had slept with long johns and two layers of clothing and two hot water bottles. I shook my head.  I noticed an expensive camera around one of the guy’s necks and his gaze transfixed on the beautiful Carstensz Pyramid. Suddenly it occurred to me, yes, it was indeed a beautiful mountain. But now I was desperate to get away from it as quickly as possible.

I was delighted and relieved to finally be sitting in the helicopter. Then I realized that our pilot was very nervous. It was the co-pilot that gave instructions to the pilot on speed, how to turn around, so I assumed he was an instructor.  Philippe had commented that the pilot that brought him and Hata up, was nervous and was constantly asking for oxygen. We had the same pilot. Philippe was right. This new pilot was visibly anxious. For some reason, I didn’t care.  I was going home.

The view during the ride was amazing. We got to see the mountains and the Freeport Mine. The sky was blue and we were surrounded by soft white clouds.

Yes, the Chinese guys, back at the airport 11 days ago had been right. Why trek, when you can fly?! But I must say, the waiting game for the helicopter and dependence on the ever-changing weather, can be more maddening and demoralizing then trekking in deep mud. At least trekking you are doing something, moving and feel somewhat in control!

Sitting in basecamp, cold, hungry, and very ill, after a successful summit can crush you. It crushed me … and my spirit. I felt vacuum empty of hope.

This particular pilot did not like flying… and he couldn’t drive much better. For unknown reasons when we landed in Timika, the pilot decided to chauffeur us to the terminal and made the car driver walk across the tarmac. The pilot was wasting time. So much, that he was only able to do one more trip and drop off 3 more climbers, and pick up Emmanuel, Adam, and Hata.  By the time they returned to Timika, the weather in Carstensz had turned and no more flights were attempted.

Climbers waiting to go up remained in Timika and those waiting to come down, remained in Carstensz, stranded. I worried about Juan and Raymond.

Denny booked a flight for the five of us the same afternoon (1:00 pm) to return to Denpasar, Bali.

We arrived in Bali, on October 15th,2017 around 6:00 pm and checked again into the Ramada, our groups’ hotel and had a celebratory dinner. It all felt surreal.

I left Bali on October 16th, 2017, on KLM, at 8:40 pm local time, headed for home, anxious to see my family and be in my own bed, next to my husband.

As I sat on the plane headed for home, my feet were pounding. I feel the pressure in my legs. I can actually feel the swelling. My hands are no longer swollen or my face, but my legs are. I need to figure this out, and see if this is due to altitude because Kilimanjaro is higher…

But, I will be with Steve, and no matter what happens, he will be with me –  help me figure things out or just be there to hold me in his arms.  And after that, only five more mountains to go!

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Carstensz Pyramid Climb Part 4 – Reaching the Summit!

Part 4 of 4 –  Reaching the Summit!!!
(Click here to read previous Part 3) (Click here to read Part 5)

(Le français suit)

“A summit is a point on a surface that is higher in elevation than all points immediately adjacent to it. “

The night is clear and we take off again from our basecamp and trek to the first rope. My stomach is nervous and my body is fighting back – and like an angry child, it chooses the worst time possible to throw a tantrum. I had to make two stops during the trek to urgently relieve myself. Some things you would rather not do while tied into the rope with a gentleman, at close quarters, on Carstensz’s rock face – but I will skip the details.

The climb is hard, but more than hard, it is long. We climb up aided by our jumars clipped into fixed ropes that have been put in place – There are two sets of ropes on some sections; one its integrity is questionable so a second was added. Each member of our group has a dedicated guide. One member, Adam, is an expert and strong rock climber; he has climbed several several rock faces with a 5.12 grade difficulty. He is assigned to Raymond, our head local guide. Raymond has climbed Carstensz more than forty times. They are the fastest duo and will be in front. Philippe is climbing with Hata, and they had started before us, since they were already at a closer basecamp. However, once Adam and Raymond catch up to them, they went ahead and took the lead as planned.  JP has been partnered with Juan and then Manu, our guide from Terra Ultima took on the challenge of guiding me up. Manu, short for Emmanuel, is my friend and colleague on our Board of Directors for the Peaks for Change Foundation. He was our expedition leader.  In his role, I must say, he was very patient and helped me diligently, as needed.  A couple of times he offered his leg as a prop for me to climb over a rock face – being short has its pitfalls! We are a team today – tied to the same rope and our safety and success requires we work as a team. I listened closely to him, as I know he was not doing this selfishly for himself to summit Carstensz, but to ensure I had the best chance of succeeding myself, as his client. He encourages me several times during our climb, stating how great I am doing and that we were making excellent time. I don’t quite believe him, but I needed to hear this and appreciated his kinds words. So I move on.

I later learned, as he was telling Adam about our climb, that he had doubts that we would summit – because of my fear of heights. Manu had a great poker face on the mountain!

During the hike up using the jumar, he had me reciting – “jumar”, “step up”, “jumar”, “step up”, “jumar”, “step up”.  Oh yeah, and he reminded me several times to breath!

When we approached the Tyrolean Traverse, I was literally terrified. Walking on a steel cable suspended thousands of feet in the air and only held by two security lines from my harness, each attached to a carabiner, I started to have a panic attack. I had promised to “communicate” this climb since breaking my three ribs during training at Mount Tremblant and climbing all day back in May without saying a word… remember? So I told Emmanuel I was having a panic attack and I could feel my throat tighten. He quickly helped me by responding with a calming tone of voice – sure helps having a Toronto Paramedic for a guide! We stopped for a moment, then he instructed me to slow down my breathing. Once I accomplished that, he gently explained how to walk on the rope and where to focus my attention and emphasized the magic words that I would not fall. He assured me I was secure on the ropes and then finally firmly told me I could do it! I wanted and needed to cross this and summit. With my heart stuck in my throat, I followed his instructions and started self talking to myself- ‘duck feet, duck feet’, and I moved one foot at a time on the steel cable. Suddenly I had completed the whole traverse!  As happy as I was, and even though I heard Emmanuel’s praises on the other end, I realized I would have to repeat it on the way back. Somehow, I cleared my mind enough to focus on the rocks and narrow path ahead.

We did stop at some point in time, I can’t quite remember exactly where, and looked around us – the view was incredible! At 16,000 feet up in the air, the sunrise was amazing and the clean crispness of the various rock faces was breathtaking. It’s amazing what God creates for us. Even through my anxiety, I could see and finally understood why mountaineers climb! It was surreal in it’s beauty…

Walking, secured on the rope, but without the jumar was easier and faster, and we were able to do this in some sections. There are two literal ‘leaps of faith’ that we are required to jump before reaching the summit – meaning you need to jump from one rock point to another with open air below. Yes, you hook a carabiner from your lanyard attached to your harness as a security onto a few fixed ropes, but let’s be honest, the rock is hard and sharp. If you miss the jump, you may not fall to the bottom, but it is going to hurt hitting your body against either rock!  I could imagine my face getting cut – and it’s not like I am not accident-prone! I am the one that broke 3 ribs on a bathtub just before a training day in Canada a few months ago! AND I have short legs and jumps are a greater challenge for me! I really, really didn’t think I could do it.

Again, my anxiety was so high, all I can remember is Emmanuel telling me to breathe. “Calm down Ema!”. He went first. He explained to me what I needed to do, how I had my back-up line, and then he added that he would be there to catch me if I needed it. Even though he was working as our guide, this was his first time in Carstensz as well. I did not want to be responsible for him not reaching the summit because he got assigned to me. This thought motivated me. So, I followed his instructions that he was repeating from the other side, and just when my hand was falling short of reaching the last handhold on the rock, he grabbed my hand, and pulled me up. Phew – he caught me! Ditto for the second gap. Talk about feeling like your life is in someone else’s hands!

Suddenly came music to our ears… our colleagues’ ecstatic screams of happiness at reaching the top of Carstensz Pyramid!  We cheered with them! They were at the summit point. The sky was blue, but clouds were moving fast towards the mountain. This is a daily occurrence and predictable weather pattern; its why we start so early. The summit point still seemed far for us. But a few minutes later, as Adam and Raymond start descending, Adam assures us we are only minutes away! Climbing and descending Carstensz is rope dependant and only one person can pass on a rope at each point, and we were eight in our group, therefore Raymond did not want to waste time hanging around the Summit point.

We continued excitedly and as we see Filipe waiting for the others, just a few feet down from the summit point, we pushed up and reached the Summit ourselves. I cried. Emmanuel screamed in happiness, and laughed – and Hata and Juan still on the summit point, helped us take many pictures. Juan captured our arrival to the summit point on video, which he sent to me. And the reason I am so glad he did is because in all honesty, it was all quite a blur. All I remember is being there. And being elated.  It was real; I had climbed my first mountain.

I fumbled with my InReach GSP device. I had it programmed with an automatic message, that would tell everyone we were on top of Carstensz. I couldn’t find it.  AHHHHHH! Emmanuel told me to breathe, relax and take 5 minutes and look. We had time. But I was shaking and I was only able to share our location, and hoped anyone following us could see we were on top of Carstensz Payramid, the highest point in Oceania. We were at the summit. We were actually at the summit. Then it was time to come down. Same route, same way. JP, guided by Juan and Philippe, guided by Hata were in front of us.

Again I listened to Emmanuel’s instructions on the two leaps of faith, because when I saw JP having difficulty with one of them, I panicked a little, but then Emmanuel said I had it! And with his help I did.

We had about 600 feet of rappels to do. We were using our ACT’s, as we normally do in Canada, even though our Indonesian guides use a figure 8 device even though it may not be so foolproof, for the type of ropes on Carstensz, it was supposedly easier. However, the ropes get so wet and therefore harden, I don’t know if it mattered. Trust me, the descent was hard.

Then it started to snow. Yup!  Snow. After the snow and I guess because we were descending in altitude, it began to rain. And I started thinking about hyperthermia, as just a few days prior to us reaching base-camp, a climber had died. The blue tarp was still in the side of the mountain, where his body had been found. “Try to think positively Ema.”  “It’s okay.” “You’ll be okay.” I try to manage my thoughts.

The rope was hard to insert into our ACT’s. Emmanuel helped me with many of mine. He would secure himself at each transfer point, get the rope on his ACT, then I would secure my line, on the transfer point, and we would secure the same rope on my ACT device. This allowed us to be faster; as soon as he was done with that rope, I would be ready to go. He always double checked our set-up. Safety was a priority.

I was getting cold and wet. We had JP and Philippe in front of us, so at each new rope section I would start to get cold as we stood still, waiting for the line to be free. I felt my body was unreasonably chilly and when I checked why, I realized my Gortex pants were not secured properly. The only thing holding them from falling down my waist was my harness. I had not secured them properly when I had needed a bathroom break earlier on the mountain and I had not realized it. I tried to secure them properly, however, it was too late – I was already wet. Ugh.

After a few rappels, I started to feel short of breath. Each time I leaned back on my harness while on the line, I felt like the air was being sucked out of me. My left side hurt. It was like someone had punched me. After trying to adjust myself on each new rappel to see if the pain would ease and breathing would be better, I finally told Emmanuel, and he immediately requested my backpack. I did not think that was the problem, but I gave it to him and he put it inside his.

Removing my backpack changed nothing. My left side continued to constrict my breathing with each rappel. But I knew I needed to move and to move fast when the rope was free. Waiting for the rope allowed me to breathe, even though I just wanted to move and get down, I suppressed my urge to ask Manu for us to go ahead of Philippe. However, he was ‘our’ guide as a group, and he was instructing and encouraging Philippe at the same time. We were a team after all, and teams work together and are there for each other. Emmanuel’s leadership impressed me. I realized Francois-Xavier had sent Terra Ultima’s best guide, for their first expedition to Carstensz Pyramid.

Finally we were on the very last rope. Emmanuel secured himself, then called out to me to come secure myself on the line next to his as we would repel side by side and get off the mountain at the same time. I was a little puzzled, but he said – “Let’s have some fun!” Then once I was ready on the second line, which we had determined was solid, we started rappelling in parallel on the rock. Wet, tired – we had been on the mountain for more than 12 hours – my friend Emmanuel said, “Ready?” I signaled yes and we did a last jump and landed off the mountain at the same time.

My first summit. I was grateful to our team, and I am indebted to my guide, Manu, as he is known at Terra Ultima.

I have become the first Portuguese woman to climb Carstensz Pyramid and summit! And yes, I did this to try to bring awareness that stigma on mental health needs to end.

I look now at the summit pictures and my face is puffy. I don’t look like myself.

We summited without a lunch break but just sipped water. We ascended and descending the mountain for 12 hours straight.

I know I became dehydrated. We had been expecting a celebratory meal when we reached the tents at Yellow Valley (the base camp close to the first rope on Carstensz), but when we arrived, we only rested briefly and made our way to our base camp. It was another 90-minute trek to my tent. I was exhausted, but was happy to be able to change into dry clothes. It was my last pair of everything. My teammates were looking concerned as they gazed at my swollen face and squinting eyes.  Something was wrong.

But we were leaving the next morning to Timika, as the helicopter was picking us up – that had been the plan.

It was not what happened.

 

« Un sommet est un point sur une surface, plus élevé que tous les points se trouvant dans son voisinage immédiat. »

La nuit est claire lorsque nous quittons encore une fois notre camp de base en direction de la première corde. Je suis stressée et mon organisme se défend, et comme un enfant énervé, c’est au pire moment qu’il pique une colère. Au cours de la marche, j’ai dû m’arrêter deux fois en urgence pour me soulager. Des choses que vous ne préféreriez pas faire encordée avec un homme sur la face rocheuse de Carstensz. Mais je vous épargnerai les détails.

Si l’ascension est difficile, elle est également longue. Nous montons aidés de nos jumars attachés aux cordes fixes qui ont été installées. Certaines portions sont équipées de deux cordes, la fiabilité de l’une étant douteuse. Chacun des membres de notre groupe a son propre guide. Adam est un grimpeur expérimenté en rocher. Il a fait l’ascension de plusieurs faces rocheuses cotées 5.12. Il appuie Raymond, notre guide chef local. Raymond a fait l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz plus de quarante fois. Ce sont les plus rapides, ils seront devant. Philippe grimpe avec Hata. Ils sont partis avant nous, car ils étaient déjà à un camp de base avancé. Cependant, une fois qu’Adam et Raymond les ont rattrapés, ils sont passés devant et ont donné le rythme comme prévu. JP a été associé à Juan. Enfin, Manu, notre guide de Terra Ultima, a relevé le défi de me guider jusqu’au sommet. Manu, diminutif d’Emmanuel, est mon ami et collaborateur au conseil d’administration de la Fondation Peaks for Change. Il a été notre chef d’expédition. Je dois dire qu’il a été très patient et m’a constamment aidée, quand c’était nécessaire. Plusieurs fois, il m’a aidée à l’aide de sa jambe pour franchir un passage rocheux – ne pas être grande a des inconvénients! Aujourd’hui, nous formons une équipe. Encordés ensemble, nous savons que notre sécurité et notre réussite exigent un travail d’équipe. Je l’écoute, car je sais qu’il ne fait pas l’ascension de la pyramide de Carstensz que pour lui, égoïstement, mais pour s’assurer que j’ai toutes les chances de réussir, comme cliente. Au cours de l’ascension, il m’encourage plusieurs fois en me disant que je me débrouille très bien et que nous progressons rapidement. Je ne le crois pas vraiment, mais j’ai besoin d’entendre cela et je suis reconnaissante de ses paroles réconfortantes. Je continue donc à avancer.

Plus tard, alors qu’il discute de notre ascension avec Adam, j’apprends qu’il doutait que nous irions au sommet, en raison de ma peur du vide. En montagne, Manu est vraiment impassible!

Pendant la montée au jumar, il me demande de répéter « jumar », « un pas en avant », « jumar », « un pas en avant », « jumar », « un pas en avant ». Parfaitement, et plusieurs fois, il me rappelle que je dois respirer!

Lorsque nous arrivons au passage que nous devons traverser en tyrolienne, je suis littéralement terrifiée. À l’idée de marcher sur un câble en acier, d’être suspendue à des milliers de pieds dans les airs et seulement retenue par deux longes de sécurité attachées à mon baudrier et reliées à un mousqueton, je commence à faire une crise de panique. J’avais promis de communiquer depuis que je m’étais cassée trois cotes et avais continué de grimper toute la journée en mai sans dire un mot. Tu t’en souviens? Je dis donc à Emmanuel que je fais une crise de panique et que je sens ma gorge se serrer. Il m’aide rapidement en me répondant d’une voix calme. Nous nous arrêtons un moment, puis il me dit de respirer plus lentement. Cela fait, il m’explique tranquillement comment marcher sur la corde, où porter mon attention, et me dit que je dois me répéter que je ne tomberai pas. Il m’assure que les cordes sont sécuritaires puis me dit fermement que je peux le faire! Je veux et dois traverser pour parvenir au sommet. Le cœur battant fort, je suis ses instructions et commence à me parler – « marche en canard », « marche en canard ». Je mets un pied devant l’autre sur le câble en acier. Et puis tout à coup, j’ai fait toute la traversée! Comme je suis heureuse. J’entends même Emmanuel me féliciter de l’autre côté. Je me rends alors compte que je devrai le refaire au retour. Curieusement, je parviens à me concentrer sur les rochers et les passages étroits qui nous attendent.

De temps à autre, nous nous arrêtons – je ne me souviens pas vraiment où – et je regarde autour de nous. La vue est incroyable. À 16 000 pieds dans les airs, le lever de soleil est extraordinaire et la netteté des différentes faces rocheuses est à couper le souffle. Ce que dieu a créé pour nous est extraordinaire. Même si je suis nerveuse, je comprends enfin pourquoi les alpinistes grimpent! Cette beauté est irréelle…

Marcher encordé sans jumar est plus facile et rapide; nous avons pu le faire dans certains passages. Il y a littéralement deux « sauts courageux » à effectuer avant d’atteindre le sommet, ce qui signifie que vous devez sauter d’un rocher à l’autre dans les airs. Oui, vous fixez un mousqueton de votre longe de sécurité attachée à votre baudrier sur quelques cordes présentes, mais soyons honnête, la roche est dure et tranchante. Si vous manquez votre saut, vous ne tomberez pas forcément dans le vide, mais vous vous blesserez en frappant ces rochers! Je n’imagine pas mon visage coupé, et croyez-moi, j’ai eu ma part d’accidents! Je me suis cassée trois cotes dans une baignoire! En plus, je n’ai pas de grandes jambes et sauter représente un grand défi pour moi! Je ne pense vraiment pas, mais vraiment pas pouvoir le faire.

Encore une fois, je suis très nerveuse, et tout ce dont je me souviens est qu’Emmanuel me dit de respirer. « Calme-toi, Ema! ». Il passe le premier. Il m’explique ce que je dois faire et que j’ai ma longe de sécurité, avant d’ajouter qu’il me rattrapera s’il le faut. Même s’il est notre guide, c’est également la première fois qu’il gravit ce sommet. Je ne voulais pas qu’il n’atteigne pas le sommet à cause de moi, parce qu’il était mon guide. Cela m’a motivée. Je suis donc ses instructions qu’il me répétait de l’autre côté. Et juste quand j’ai failli ne pas attraper la dernière prise sur le rocher, il a saisi ma main et m’a arrêtée. Ouf! Il m’a rattrapée! Même chose pour le second saut. C’est cela le sentiment que votre vie est entre les mains de quelqu’un!

Et puis de la musique parvient à nos oreilles. Ce sont les cris de joie de nos compagnons qui viennent d’atteindre le sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz! Nous les applaudissons. Ils sont au sommet. Le ciel est bleu, même si des nuages approchent rapidement de la montagne. Cela se produit tous les jours et est une situation météorologique prévisible; c’est pourquoi nous sommes partis tôt. Le sommet nous semble encore loin. Mais quelques minutes plus tard, alors qu’Adam et Raymond redescendent, Adam nous assure que nous ne sommes qu’à quelques minutes du sommet! Ce n’est qu’à l’aide d’une corde que l’on atteint le sommet et que l’on en redescend. Et seule une personne à la fois peut être sur la corde. Nous formons un groupe de huit. Par conséquent, comme Raymond ne voulait pas perdre de temps au sommet, lui et Adam ont commencé à redescendre.

Nous continuons tout excités et quand nous voyons Filipe attendre les autres, juste à quelques pieds sous le sommet, nous poursuivons jusqu’au sommet. Je pleure et crie. Emmanuel crie de bonheur et rit. Hata et Juan toujours au sommet nous aident à prendre de nombreuses photos. Juan immortalise notre arrivée au sommet sur vidéo qu’il m’a envoyée. Voilà pourquoi je suis si contente qu’il l’ai fait, car en toute honnêteté, c’est passé en un éclair. Tout ce dont je me souviens est d’avoir été là. Et d’avoir été remplie de joie. C’est réel, j’ai gravi mon premier sommet.

Je tiens maladroitement mon appareil InReach GSP. J’avais programmé un message automatique pour annoncer à tout le monde que nous avions atteint le sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz. Je ne le retrouve pas. AHHHHHH! Emmanuel me dit de respirer et de prendre cinq minutes pour chercher. Nous avons le temps. Mais je tremble et partage simplement l’instant. J’espère que ceux qui suivent peuvent voir que nous sommes au sommet de la pyramide de Carstensz, le plus haut sommet de l’Océanie. Nous sommes au sommet. Nous sommes bien au sommet. Puis il est temps de redescendre. Même itinéraire, mêmes mouvements. JP, guidé par Juan, et Philippe, guidé par Hata, sont devant nous.

J’écoute encore une fois les instructions d’Emmanuel au moment d’effectuer les deux sauts, car quand je vois la difficulté qu’éprouve JP lors de l’un d’eux, je panique un peu. Mais Emmanuel me dit que je l’ai fait! Et grâce à lui, j’y arrive.

Nous devons descendre environ 600 pieds en rappel. Nous utilisons nos assureurs ATC, comme cela se fait normalement au Canada, même si nos guides indonésiens utilisent un descendeur 8. Même s’il n’existe pas de méthode infaillible, pour ce type de cordes sur la pyramide de Carstensz, cela est censé être plus simple. Cependant, comme les cordes deviennent si humides et rigides, je ne sais pas si cela importe. Croyez-moi, la descente est difficile.

Puis il commence à neiger. Génial! La neige. À mesure que nous perdons de l’altitude, la neige se transforme en pluie. Je commence à penser à l’hypothermie, car seulement quelques jours avant notre arrivée au camp de base, un grimpeur est mort. La bâche bleue se trouve toujours sur la montagne, là où son corps a été trouvé. « Essaie de penser positif, Ema. C’est bon. Tout va bien se passer. » J’essaie de gérer mes émotions.

Il est difficile d’insérer la corde dans nos ATC. Emmanuel m’aide souvent. Il doit se sécuriser à chaque point de transfert, mettre la corde sur son ATC, puis je m’assure sur le point de transfert, et nous mettons la même corde sur mon ATC. Cela nous permet d’être plus rapides. Dès qu’il en aura fini avec cette corde, je serai prête à partir. Il revérifie toujours notre encordement. Priorité à la sécurité.

J’ai froid et je suis mouillée. JP et Philippe sont devant nous, donc à chaque nouveau passage de corde, j’ai froid, car nous attendons debout que la corde se libère. Je sens que j’ai excessivement froid et lorsqu’à un moment je vérifie pourquoi, je m’aperçois que mon pantalon Gortex est mal mis. La seule chose qui le retient de tomber de ma taille est mon baudrier. Je n’ai pas remarqué que je ne l’avais pas fixé correctement lors de ma pause urgente plus tôt sur la montagne. J’essaie de bien le fixer, mais trop tard, je suis déjà mouillée. Quelle horreur!

Après quelques rappels, je suis essoufflée. Sur la corde, chaque fois que je me penche en arrière dans mon baudrier, c’est comme si l’air de mes poumons est aspiré. Mon côté gauche me fait mal, comme si quelqu’un m’avait donnée un coup. Après avoir essayé de me repositionner à chaque nouveau rappel pour voir si la douleur se calmait et si je respirais mieux, je finis par le signaler à Emmanuel qui me demande immédiatement de lui donner mon sac à dos. Je ne pense pas que c’est le problème, mais je lui donne et il le met dans le sien.

Avoir retiré mon sac à dos ne change rien. Mon côté gauche continue à gêner ma respiration à chaque rappel. Mais je sais que je dois avancer et que nous devons descendre rapidement lorsque la corde est libre. Attendre que la corde se libère me permet de respirer, même si je veux simplement avancer et descendre. Je résiste à l’envie de demander à Manu que nous passions devant Philippe. Toutefois, c’est le guide de notre groupe, et il guide et encourage Philippe en même temps. Nous formons une équipe après tout, et les membres d’une équipe travaillent ensemble et sont là pour les autres. La capacité de guide d’Emmanuel m’impressionne. Je prends conscience que Francois-Xavier a envoyé le meilleur guide de Terra Ultima pour la première expédition sur la pyramide de Carstensz.

Nous atteignons finalement la toute dernière corde. Emmanuel s’assure puis me demande de venir m’assurer sur la corde à côté de la sienne, car nous descendrons en rappel côte à côte pour quitter la montagne en même temps. Je suis un peu déconcertée, mais il me dit : « Amusons-nous un peu! » Alors, dès que je suis prête sur la seconde corde, dont nous avions vérifié la résistance, nous commençons le rappel côte à côte sur le rocher. Mouillé, fatigué – nous sommes sur la montagne depuis plus de 12 heures – mon ami Emmanuel me dit : « Prête? » Je lui fais signe que oui et nous faisons un dernier saut pour quitter la montagne, en même temps.

Mon premier sommet. Je suis reconnaissante envers notre équipe et suis redevable à mon guide, Manu, connu ainsi à Terra Ultima.

Je suis devenue la première portugaise à gravir la pyramide de Carstensz et à avoir atteint le sommet! Oui, je l’ai fait pour essayer de faire prendre conscience qu’il faut arrêter cette stigmatisation de la santé mentale.

En regardant maintenant les images du sommet, je vois que mon visage est bouffi. Ce n’est pas moi.

Nous sommes parvenus au sommet sans pause casse-croûte. Nous avons bu de l’eau. Nous avons réalisé l’ascension et la descente en 12 heures.

Je sais que je me suis déshydratée. Nous nous attendons à un repas de célébration en arrivant aux tentes de Yellow Valley (le camp de base proche de la première corde sur la pyramide de Carstensz), mais une fois aux tentes, nous nous reposons brièvement avant de poursuivre en direction de notre camp de base. Une autre marche de 90 minute pour gagner ma tente. Je suis épuisée, mais contente de pouvoir mettre des habits secs. C’est ma dernière paire de tous mes vêtements. Mes compagnons sont inquiets en observant mon visage gonflé et mes yeux plissés. Quelque chose ne va pas.

Seulement, nous partons le lendemain matin vers Timika, l’hélicoptère vient nous chercher. C’est ce qui est prévu.

Ça ne se passera pas ainsi.

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