A Decision of Defeat
I had searing pains in my hip for the 8 mile approach to snow line on our last attempt of a Mount Rainier summit. So sharp at times, I felt like I had a knife sticking in my hip with every step. I had started feeling the pain on our last summit bid. I finished the climb on ibuprofen and wincing at every step. After four days of rest, back on the trail under a 70lb pack, my hip only seemed to be worse. Gasping in pain on our last 1800 feet of vert to camp 1, I started questioning how smart it would be to pop some ibuprofen, grit my teeth and huck for another summit, pain and all. Something I knew I could do, but was deciding whether or not I SHOULD do.
I was sitting just below St. Andrews Lake, listening to the wind break over the evergreen pocked ridge below. The sound harmonized well with the droning waterfall in the snow basin to my right. The two sounds mixed well in a melody one could almost call musical. It allowed me to think, to forget the towering mountain that existed both in my thoughts and just over my shoulder. Rainier stood tall, the only remaining surface in Washington still lit by the fast setting sun. Its cracked glaciers shone pink and orange, seemingly inviting at the moment, even though I knew the dangers they held in the shadows. I felt as if the mountain was challenging me to a dare, so much that I almost felt obligated to summit in a haze of pain just to prove it wrong. Alone with my thoughts, I had to find a way to rationalize my pain, and my anxiety to push forward.
In high school I broke my collar bone three times in the same place by being too active too quickly instead of recovering. Freshman year of college I tore my meniscus at the beginning of the climbing season. I climbed on it for three more months because I was unwilling to forfeit my season to heal. I finally had surgery, and even then I was practicing balance on slacklines with my good leg and using my crutches to keep from falling off. Senior year of college I started to develop minor bicipital tendinitis in both biceps at the beginning of the collegiate climbing series. I trained through the pain and competed for five months on painful arms. The cherry on top was a trip to the Red River Gorge and Horse Pens 40. By the end of the trip the pain was so severe that when I would come off a route I would nearly pass out from pain. I still deal with recurring bicipital tendinitis if I climb too much for too long, I still have recurring knee issues, and I still get shoulder pain from my asymmetrical collar bones. All because I never seem to know when to stop, and listen to the pains in my body.
The sun finally dipped below the horizon. The Puget Sound no longer burned a bright orange reflection of the dying day. And just like the sun, I had concluded my defeat. I realized, maybe through my more adult mind or maybe just from experience, that it just isn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth continued, searing tendinitis to this day just to finish a few meaningless college climbing competitions. It wasn’t worth my recurring knee pain in my continuous mountain pursuits to have a painful climbing season seven years ago. It wasn’t worth uncomfortable shoulders under a heavy pack to attempt to jump back into my soccer season too early. And three years from now, I don’t want to be saying “it wasn’t worth that fourth summit of Rainier to have recurring hip pain in every climb I do now.” I had finally conquered the enemy in myself, allowing my machismo to subside and my logic to prevail. I bowed to the mountain’s dare, promising to return next year and continue the love affair I now have with Rainier.
James proved to be a better partner than I could’ve ever imagined. I broke the news of my decision to him with anxiety towards his reaction. He was compassionate, and understanding of my pain. He affirmed my concerns with a simple sentence that I’ll remember every time I rope up with him from now on. “I respect you more as a mountaineer for knowing when to call it, than to climb on in pain.” Later that night we sat discussing how awesome this short three weeks has been on Rainier. The conversation lead to our future endeavors in the mountains. I told him my ultimate goal was to spend a couple of months climbing 6,000 meter peaks in Peru and Bolivia to prep myself for a future summit of Monte Fitz Roy. He was quiet for a few minutes, and said “well, let’s plan on that. Next July and August we meet in Peru.” We sealed it with a fist bump, like all climbers should. An unspoken word of trust, gratitude, and devotion stronger than a written contract.
Below are some photos taken from our time here on Rainier. Some by me, some by James Roh. Take the time to visit his site and Instagram account. I’ve had the pleasure of climbing with an incredible photographer and he deserves your attention.