I just returned from one of my most memorable and meaningful experiences in my backyard, Wind River Country. As I write this, I am basking in the memories of an overnight backpacking trip with my 18-year-old niece and Goddaughter from the Dallas, TX region. (Daylia is the oldest child of my younger sister, Amber.)
The adventure started early on July 14 when I fetched my Daylia from my parents’ house at 5:30am. Our destination: Island Lake in Upper Silas Canyon.
This would be a trip of so many firsts for Daylia. It would be her first time backpacking. It would be her first time to sleep in a tent. It would be her first time to start a campfire. It would be her first time to climb a mountain. And as for me, it would be my first time to take my Goddaughter on an epic adventure. This was a big deal that we had talked about a lot in the past, and finally the dream was coming true.
Daylia, who is very fit, had mentioned a few days before the trip that she expected to carry her share of our load, and for her backpack to feel legit. It did. It weighed about 32 pounds.
As someone who hikes about 1,000 miles a year in Wind River Country, and who leads a number and variety of epic adventures, I did not take lightly this opportunity to provide my Goddaughter with her first wilderness experience. I hoped to provide an unforgettable experience for my Goddaughter, and maybe – just maybe – this experience would convert this city girl into someone who might want to do more of this in the future. (Maybe the title of this blog post could be The Making of a Backpacker.)
After listening to part of a Ted Radio Hour podcast episode called, Champions, featuring the story of Amy Purdy, and her triumphant comeback from the brink of death to making history as a Paralympic snowboarder, we jammed out to Let the Rhythm Just, by The Polish Ambassador, and arrived at the trailhead pumped and ready to go.
It was a beautiful morning with the sun just up. The trees reflected perfectly in Fiddlers Lake as we started down the trail and into our adventure.
Fiddlers Lake reflections.
Daylia is extra special to me because she is my Goddaughter. I remember flying to Texas when she was about 6-8 months old, and snuggling and playing with her almost constantly. From the beginning, she had a charming personality and an inquisitive way about her. I have this vivid memory of her being contained in the middle of the queen sized bed in the guest room I was staying in, and her being propped up against a big pillow and using her hands as she talked (cooed) to me in an adorable language I couldn’t understand. The one thing that I did understand during that moment was that time with her inspired me to really want to be a mother.
Now look at her. 18 and all grown up. She starts college at the end of August, and will begin her studies and work to become a Physician’s Assistant.
As we headed down the trail, at first we were quiet. I didn’t start in with the conversation right away. I like to provide space and a bit of solitude for whomever I’m leading as they settle into the cadence of moving through the forest and over the rocky trails with everything they need to sustain them on their backs and under their own power. The birds chirped and sang, and the day’s new sun lit our way. Just another blissful morning in Wind River Country, I thought to myself.
At the signed junction with the Christina Lake Trail, we removed our packs, and drank some water before continuing toward Upper Silas Lake. As we hiked through the woods, and up and down hills, I asked Daylia how the making of a backpacker was going. “I can feel it in my butt,” she said. “But at least after this, I will have Buns of Steel.” We both laughed, and I agreed. Then, Daylia asked me how I first got into hiking. I waited until I wasn’t on an uphill, and then shared the story about losing my Division I basketball scholarship in Year 3 of college, explaining how I found myself “without a map” after that happened. I started spending time alone, healing, reading books – and very importantly, hiking. I appreciated her asking the question because it allowed me to share a point that I have come to feel so strongly about, and around which so much of my leadership work, coaching and guiding is centered.
I explained how losing my scholarship turned out to be one of my most important and spectacular failures. I shared that I don’t think life would be what it is – as wonderful as it is – and certainly we wouldn’t be here sharing this adventure right now, if not for that “failure.” As we hiked, I asked her about some of her failures. She shared about a failure involving running the 800 meters in track a few years back, and about another involving a violin solo that didn’t go as planned. I encouraged her to look at the positives that came out of those, and to consider those events not as failures, but as events that will somehow inform her life going forward. I added, however, that it took me almost 20 years to look back at my aforementioned “failure,” and to realize that it wasn’t a failure after all but rather one of my greatest gifts.
Daylia, at Upper Silas Lake.
At Upper Silas Lake, we took our packs off and enjoyed a 15-minute snack break on the shore. Daylia ate a healthy, yummy-looking BLT, and I ate my first Snickers bar of the trip. It was a beautiful morning. Upper Silas Lake has a big granite mountain at its upper end, and its water was as smooth and as clear as glass. Every now and then a fish jumped through its surface, and I did as I always do when this happens, briefly regretted that I didn’t pack my fly rod.
Refueled, we continued up the trail to Island Lake, which we reached in good time. We found a wonderful campsite, the same one Jerry and I and our sons have camped at before. Perfect, I thought to myself. I taught her how to set up our tent and we worked together to get our accommodations in place. I also shared with Daylia that we’d Leave No Trace, and explained what that important ethic means.
After establishing our camp, we ate some lunch, drank more water, and then set out, with our lighter packs, for Thumb Lake. As far as Daylia knew, we were going to establish camp at Island Lake, and then take a quick day hike to Thumb Lake, and that would be our itinerary for the first of our two days in the wilderness.That was correct, except I also had in store some additional options…
The night before our adventure, I became curious if there’d be a mountain we could climb on our route. (I love to have people climb mountains because climbing mountains is such a great metaphor for personal development, and for being in pursuit of something in life or work.) Jerry looked at a topo map, and suggested we might be able to get up Roaring Fork Mountain from the area above Thumb Lake. We studied the maps and could see there were possibilities.
When Daylia and I reached Thumb Lake, we removed our packs and hunkered down to enjoy the views, and drink some more water and eat some dried mangoes. Daylia enjoyed her Snickers bar here, too. Wildflowers of every color were everywhere, and we both remarked at the beauty of Thumb Lake and the surrounding granite mountains with snowfields.
“I have a couple of things I’d like to propose if you’re interested,” I offered. Daylia, being the trooper that she is, asked me what those things were. Pointing up beyond Thumb Lake, I said we could either “go explore that lake that you can tell exists up there in that cirque, and-or we could try getting up that mountain. I pointed to the notch (what some people call Devil’s Bite, or the Cookie Bite) on Roaring Fork Mountain’s high ridge. Daylia has seen this bite from Roaring Fork Lake, and from our cabin, and she was impressed that it was just right there, so close to where we were. And yet not very close. In fact, from where we sat, I couldn’t see a route to the notch that I would be comfortable leading my Goddaughter on, especially on her very first wilderness trip. Briefly, as I sized up our options, I was a little disappointed, but then I discovered some possible routes we could take from a second cirque up higher that, if we were lucky, might allow us to gain the ridgeline, and ultimately, the top of Roaring Fork Mountain.
This is the lake at the head of the canyon. It was a sight to see, and the flowers were pretty awesome, too…
“Let’s first go see the upper lakes,” I suggested, and we returned to our feet and headed up. We skirted the first upper lake (which is situated in the cirque below the notch of Roaring Fork) and then crossed a huge boulder field to a spring where we refilled our water bottles, before continuing up over some snow and more boulders to the most beautiful cirque and lake we’d see up close on this adventure. There was still a huge slab of ice. The shades of green and blue around the ice were breathtakingly beautiful. Some really thin sheets of ice were sloughing off at the head of the steep cirque, which included tall and massive granite mountains that were dressed with snowfields. (Earlier in the day, I had shared with Daylia how I like to look for heart rocks and other hearts. I noticed that one of the snowfields directly above the lake’s surface resembled a heart. “I spy a heart,” I said. “Do you see it?” And she did.)
I shared some skills about mountain climbing and hiking up steep, often loose, terrain with Daylia, and we started venturing up a route I predicted would get us to the top of the mountain top’s ridge.
Daylia, climbing her first mountain.
Daylia was a champion! We moved together, deliberately, as I was more motherly than I probably needed to be. But she was “precious cargo!” I suddenly felt the enormous responsibility of keeping this beautiful young woman who is so special to me, and to so many, safe and in good health and spirits. We developed a system where we’d take about 20 steep uphill lunges, and then lean into the mountain, rocks and tundra to take mini breaks. During these mini breaks, I encouraged Daylia to look up, catch our breath, get our bearings and to take in the views below.
Altitude often causes people to get light-headed, and the experience of climbing a mountain can be dizzying and disorienting. Climbing a steep mountain, on a route that featured huge dropoffs into a still-ice-covered mountain lake in a steep cirque with no shore, or chance of rescue, was high stakes. I had explained to Daylia at the start of our adventure about the high stakes out here. I said what I often say to people I’m leading up the trail. “I don’t mean to be dramatic, and yet I do. The stakes are high out here. If you turn an ankle or hurt yourself out here, we’re hours, if not days, from help. As a result, it’s critical that we are more deliberate about where we place our feet, and what we choose to do or not do.” This right here is a case in point, I thought to myself as we climbed up this steep mountain, little section by little section, and with such focused attention and great care.
I think we’re going to make it!
“Look how far we’ve come already,” remarked Daylia, as we were about halfway up the mountain. I acknowledged that fact. In fact, in my humble opinion, that is one of the greatest values of climbing a mountain – taking time to look back and down and acknowledging your progress so far. It can be inspiring, and provide inspiration for continuing.
Soon, we saw the end of our climb. “It’s right there,” said Daylia. “We have to make it now.” And make it we did. As we gained the ridge, we were speechless. Before us was a panoramic view filled with a range of tall granite mountains, including Wind River Peak, and Lizard Head in the distance. Below us were the main lakes of the Stough Creek Basin. While accessing the mountaintop this way was a first not only for Daylia, but also for me, the top of the mountain was as I remembered it from the time Jerry and I had accessed it from Roaring Fork saddle a few years ago – rolling, littered with a googolplex of rocks.
Once on top of the mountain, we were rewarded with panoramic views.
Selfie of us, invigorated from our mountain climb.
We quickly bundled up with our warmest layers and puffy coats, hats and mittens. We hugged and gave each other high 5’s and each snapped photos from different vantages, as well as some selfies of the two of us, “victorious” on top of Daylia’s first mountain, and on top of our first mountain climbed together. I watched as Daylia soon hunkered down behind a boulder that was the size of an SUV’s bucket seat to get out of the chill of the high winds.
We stayed about 20 minutes before deciding we wanted to start down if for no other reason to get out of the cold and the wind. We took about 20 steps below the summit on our descent, and it was suddenly hot and still again. We de-layered and returned to our summer attire, and talked excitedly about what we had just accomplished and seen. We were both giddy about – and proud of – our accomplishment. “I don’t want to steal our thunder, but, as a world-class climber (Phil Powers, Wyoming’s only man to climb K2 without oxygen) once told me, the summit is only the halfway point. Most injuries happen while descending, so even though we’re excited and we summited, we need to pay even more attention going down.” Daylia, now a backpacker, and ‘Epic certified,’ understood and agreed.
Descending, and heading back to camp.
Before we knew it, we were back at the spring from which we had refilled our water bottles at hours before, and walking across van-sized boulders toward Thumb Lake. It was a glorious day. Until now the sky had been cloudless and certain, and as blue as my Goddaughter’s eyes. Now, there were some clouds forming in the sky, but they were of the harmless variety – not tall, pure white, spread out, and shaped like misshaped cotton balls. We both agreed that the clouds made the view more interesting.
We were back at camp by 4pm. Daylia wanted to learn how to start a fire, so with a little instruction from me, she did, and it was a good one! Especially because its smoke helped clear our camp of some of the hordes of mosquitos. I made us coffee. By the way, how is it that my Goddaughter is old enough to want to drink coffee with me? Once again, I’m reminded of how fast the time flies, and how, in a seeming blink-of-an-eye a child is a young adult in the prime of her life. This reminds me that I have brought in a couple of gifts for Daylia. I give her a book that is a new favorite of mine, called The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, by Caroline Paul, and also an Epic journal, with a few suggested prompts to help her reflect on her Epic life.
Our home for the night.
Next, I teach Daylia how to set up and start the camp stove, and she helps me make what we decide to call “Epic Island Lake Quesadillas,” which were tortillas fried in lots of butter, and filled with pepper jack cheese, spicy green chiles and Ro*tel tomatoes. Daylia loves them and makes me feel like a world-class chef. I don’t mean to brag, but they were quite delicious, in part because they were so hard-earned.
Daylia, enjoying an Epic quesadilla.
We enjoyed a lot of meaningful conversation, made s’mores that were also – you guessed it – Epic. We each roasted double marshmallows and added them to dark chocolate with almonds and graham crackers. We snarfed two Epic s’mores each, and then spied the Big Dipper and the North Star, before heading into the tent. My Fitbit indicated we had logged 14 miles and almost 400 flights of stairs. I told Daylia how epic she is, and told her the day was epic by anyone’s standards, but especially mine. It would be a day I would never forget.
Reflections of alpenglow in Island Lake.
When we got nestled into the compact, 2-person tent, Daylia remarked, “This is a little cozy compared to what I’m used to.” I had her right where I wanted her…very near to me. When I shared this tent with my oldest son, Wolf, last year on our mother-son rite of passage trip, he had said the same thing, as I made him snuggle into my right arm the way he had so many times over the years beginning when he was an infant. I didn’t make Daylia cuddle with me, but it sure felt wonderful to have my Goddaughter so near to me.
We said good night, and I told my Daylia that I loved her, and that I was so proud of her, and that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere with anyone else right now.
As we turned off our headlamps, I listened, and there was not a single sound. I think it was the most quiet night I’ve ever spent in a tent in the often-windy Wind Rivers.
I rose the next day at around 6am, started a fire to keep the mosquitos at bay. I made coffee for myself while looking at perfect morning reflections of Island Lake. Daylia slept soundly in the tent. For two hours, I sat and reflected on how blessed I am, and thanked God for all of the blessings in my life, while hearing only the songs of birds. I thought of Jerry and the boys, and of my parents, who first inspired me to get outside in Wind River Country. I thought of Wolf, who was in the same wilderness somewhere on Day 4 of his 30-day NOLS course, and wondered if he was up early too.
Morning reflections in Island Lake.
Daylia and I had a great hike out later in the morning, and right as we thought the adventure could not get any better, we spied a bullwinkle moose in the meadow after Upper Silas Lake, browsing on willows. It looked at us to make sure we weren’t a threat, and for some moments, we watched the moose, and he watched us.
A bullwinkle moose we spied on our hike out.
Yeehaw! Daylia is certified Epic. 🙂
Here’s a video I captured after descending our mountain:
On our drive back to Lander after our epic adventure, Daylia suggested we make our Epic Island Lake Quesadillas and show our families a slideshow of our photos and share about our adventure, which we will do tonight. I can’t wait. I will let her tell the story.
Speaking of her version of the story, my helpful, wonderful, beautiful, adventurous, smart, interesting, courageous – and Epic – Goddaughter agreed to answer some questions for me. Those questions, and her responses, follow:
What all “firsts” did this trip include?
It was my first time backpacking, hiking by, and seeing seven lakes that were new for me, climbing a mountain, starting a campfire, setting up and sleeping in a tent, seeing a moose while on foot, and eating epic rotel and green chile quesadillas.
What was the hardest part about this epic adventure?
The motivation to keep going was definitely the most difficult part. Doing all of those steep uphill and deep lunges was hard!
What were some other challenging aspects of this epic adventure for you?
Some really challenging aspects of the trip included the fear that I would disappoint myself and Shelli, or that I wasn’t strong enough physically and mentally to make the further venture of climbing up a mountain. Some other mundane and obvious challenging aspects were sleeping in a forest, going bathroom in the woods, and the shooting pain in my butt (now buns of steel!) and ankles all the way up.
What was the most fun part of the adventure?
Our conversations, and I also gloried in the sights, and in eating the best quesadillas I’ve ever had (thank you again.)
What was the biggest surprise for you of this adventure?
I climbed a mountain!!!
What was your favorite part of the whole experience?
The best part was realizing that I’m so much stronger than I had thought. By (hesitatingly) saying Yes to the Island Lake adventure, the additional venture to Thumb Lake, and then up the mountain. I feel so self-fulfilled and happy to have accomplished something so much greater than what I thought possible. And I got to do so for my first time with Shelli, whose mountain climb to that particular peak was her first, too!
What was your favorite part about the mountain climb?
Seeing the view from above—all the lakes and mountains—was my favorite, but I also really loved coming down from the peak because it was so cold and windy up there!
Of all the nature and beauty you saw, what was the most beautiful sight you saw?
I actually really liked the Island Lake’s view from our campsite. The glass lake with the tree and
mountain reflections was breathtaking. I also loved seeing all the lakes we’d backpacked past on top of the peak.
What was your favorite part about “camping?”
The campfire was so much fun! It was great roasting marshmallows for s’mores. I felt serene hearing the fire crackle, and watching the flame’s glow.
What insight, or insights will you take from this adventure and epic experience?
If there’s something you so badly want to accomplish or experience but fear begins to overtake you, just say Yes and go for that adventure. You’ll live a much more fulfilling and exciting life, truly living the phrase, “carpe diem” – to seize the day.
Do you think you will be changed in some way as a result of this backpacking experience in the Wind Rivers? If so, how?
I feel stronger physically and emotionally. I never thought I’d be able to carry poles and a 32lb
backpack up a rocky mountain for 1.5-2 hours straight, nor did I emotionally feel up to it, with
exhaustion and the pressure to quit creeping over me.
Any advice for others who have never done anything like this?
Just go with it! You’re definitely stronger than you think you are.
Anything else you’d like to add?
You can do anything through the motivation of a friend and mentor. Without the positive and
encouraging influence of a teacher, I never would have accomplished what I had that day.
I can provide unforgettable and meaningful custom adventures such as mother-son rite or passage trips, and other special occasion adventures similar to the one I provide my Goddaughter with. Email me if you’d like to discuss a wide range of possibilities.
If you’d like to read more about adventures and hikes in my beloved Wind River Mountains, you can check out a list of several headlines and articles HERE.
You have an Epic Life. The question is, are you living it?
We have a golden retriever named Buddy. He is such an awesome dog. He is our constant companion and a vital member of our family.
My Buddy – lying around and waiting...
Do you have a dog? If so, what is he/she doing right now? I know – what an odd question for a blog on this site. But stay with me, I’m getting to the point, and it’s a good one…
I live in Wyoming, in a small mountain town, and we get out a lot. (Our family’s rule is “if our fingernails aren’t dirty, we aren’t having fun.”) This is all to say that Buddy gets out. A. Lot.
But lately I’ve been so busy at my computer and on the phone developing my business and trying to book more clients and work, that days have gone by where Buddy doesn’t get out. When this happens, Buddy’s life is pretty mediocre. Sure, I keep him company. We’re home all day together as I work. I have great intentions… But mostly – and I’m very sad to admit this – Buddy is not paid enough attention when I’m consumed by my work.
So, Buddy moves around from couch to recliner to the floor, just laying there, waiting, and hoping that his master will get her hiking shoes on and motion for him to leave the house to go out and… live.
Seeing Buddy lay there, waiting to be tended to and played with, reminds me of my Epic Life – the times when it’s with me, but I’m not living it. I hope you’re doing better than I am this week! I resolve to do better by Buddy (and my epic life) next week…
Thank you for listening. I would love to hear your thoughts and get some comments and conversation going about this. 🙂
P.S. If you’re interested in life and leadership coaching, a keynote presenter to light a fire for your team or organization, leadership development facilitation, or a guided Epic adventure that’s bundled with life coaching and a training program that will get you in the best shape of your life, please check out this brochure or email me to schedule a call.
“The summit is for the ego and the journey is for the soul.” (origin unknown)
These were the words of our lead guide, Thomas Greene, of Sierra Mountaineering International, as we wrapped up our gear issue in the parking lot of the Dow Villa Motel in Lone Pine, California.
Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the Lower 48 states, and the mountain we had come to climb, loomed in the background.
I loved Thomas’s quote, and vowed to remember it for a future time when it would come in handy, such as in a speaking presentation, or during a future coaching session. At the moment, its relevance eluded me.
Months earlier, I began assembling a group of intrepid men and women to embark on a Mt. Whitney mountaineering trip. It marked the first co-ed epic adventure for Epic Life. Leann, Karla, Chuck, Helen, Craig, Cutter, Grant, Jackie, Jenni and Sonja came from near and far to climb the mountain.
Group photo at the start.
Our backpacks loaded, we convoyed to the Whitney Portal trailhead, and started up the trail. Our plan (Plan A) was to hike to Lower Boy Scout Lake for the first night, then on Day 2, advance to High Camp, from which we’d make our summit bid, and at which we’d spend 2 nights.
The first mile is a nice, well-used trail, and as is typical, and wonderful, the members of the group started conversing and discovering more about each other. At the one-mile mark, we refilled our water bottles from a creek, and received some lessons from the guides about pressure breathing, and the “rest step,” both of which would be useful during our mountaineering adventure.
Enjoying the first – and easy – mile of the adventure.
At this point, we left the hikers’ trail and started what is commonly referred to as the Mountaineers’ Route. We hiked over a rough trail and through some deep-and-soft snow. At times, a leg would post-hole to the knee or lower thigh. Otherwise, so far so good. The day was a stellar one. Bluebird sky, chirping birds and inspiring scenery.
Next up would be The Ledges. I knew from my experience climbing this mountain last year that The Ledges would be one of the most notable features of Day 1’s backpacking.
Leann, making her way over one of the ledges.
The Ledges represent a section where we use hands and feet to scale our way up over some cliffs. The “ledges” are narrow, but plenty wide. It is the exposure and what if’s that make it exhilarating. Our mind wouldn’t be free while scaling the ledges. We’d need to be focused in order to stay safe. Other than that, The Ledges are a blast to ascend, and I knew that the members of our group would either love them or at the very least, find them memorable.
From The Ledges, we continued up a pretty steep trail. One of our guides, Zach, stopped us to point out a “lenticular” cloud that we could spy over the tall granite mountains ahead of us. He said something to the effect of “That means change is coming.”
Hiking toward Low Camp. Note the lenticular cloud ahead and over the tall granite mountains we were heading for.
We were all aware that the weather forecast for our four days was not ideal. It called for “unsettled” weather, including an 80 percent chance of snow, and high winds for Day 2, and into the morning of Day 3. We weren’t thrilled about this, but we also knew that the weather in the high Sierras is highly variable and that the forecast could be wrong. As we made our way toward Mt. Whitney, I was hoping the forecast would shift in our favor.
By mid afternoon, we arrived at Lower Boy Scout Lake, which would be our home until the next day. We set up our tents, and got ready for a demonstration of a very important skill required on a Mt. Whitney mountaineering adventure – How to Poop in a Bag.
“Wag Bags” are a requirement if you want to climb Mt. Whitney. And, although this is something many cannot fathom doing, can you imagine if it weren’t a rule and people could just go #2 anywhere? The result would be unacceptable and awful for all kinds of reasons that you can surely imagine. So, we dispose of our human waste in a bag…
As I handed off the teaching of this skill to the guides, I emphasized to the group, “Trust me, if you can poop in a bag, you can climb any tall mountain. (And, no, this would not be a live demonstration!)”
Guide Zach demonstrating how to use a wag bag.
I wish I would have captured photos of the looks on some of the members’ faces as they learned how to manage bowel movements in the high country, but I didn’t. Next we enjoyed some soup and hot beverages before snarfing our dinner – epic burritos with extra beans. (Just kidding!)
Our camp site was extraordinary. The evening was cold, but clear and beautiful. And even though I live in the Wind River mountains, which are in many ways similar to the Sierras, including the fact that the weather can change in an instant, I found it hard to believe that our stellar conditions were about to change so dramatically.
Our first evening at camp was a little chilly, but otherwise amazing, complete with great company, a clear sky, extraordinary scenery.
I awoke early the next morning, and walked to the back of our camp to get a look at where we had come from the day earlier. I was greeted by a breathtaking sunrise. Despite the unfavorable forecast for the hours ahead, the sunrise gave me hope.
This is the sunrise I was greeted with on the morning of Day 2.
By breakfast time, it was obvious from the weather that our Plan A was out. By 9am, as Mt. Whitney and the surrounding peaks started to go behind a white curtain, we started battening down the hatches, and our plans to advance to High Camp faded.
When I coach my clients, I often challenge them to consider the question, “What if Plan A doesn’t work out?” I value this question, and use it in my own life on many occasions. The value of doing so lies in the fact that Plan A often does not pan out, and it’s better to have a Plan B than to give up if Plan A doesn’t work. In fact, I’ve had some Plan B’s that turned out better than my Plan A could have possibly turned out.
Nevertheless, as Thomas and the guides explained the dangers of advancing, setting up camp, and living exposed at 12,000′ in gale force winds and a blizzard for the next 24-plus-hours, I silently cursed the Universe for driving home this point about Plan A not always working out, which, for the record, I already was well practiced in.
Mt. Whitney and surrounding peaks became less visible at start of Day 2.
Posing with Grant, and the wine we were not drinking.
Since we couldn't advance to High Camp, we geared up to practice some skills we would need during our summit attempt.
Our new plan (Plan B) was to hope for a break in the weather in the wee hours of the morning of Day 3 so that we could execute a summit attempt from our current location. It wasn’t ideal; it would make for a very long summit day. But we wanted to climb Mt. Whitney, and what other choice did we have?
As the morning wore on, wind blew through our camp and a blizzard dumped snow upon us. We did the only reasonable thing – we hunkered down in our tents. By early afternoon, though, we wanted out of our tents, so the guides taught us skills that would help us on summit day, including how to use an ice axe as a hiking stick on steep snowy terrain, how to self arrest, and how to hike with crampons on. We went for an uphill crampon hike in blowing snow. It felt good to move, and doing so warmed us.
Hiking with crampons on during a blizzard on Day 2.
Cutter, Craig and Sonja, being champs during the blizzard.
Upon returning to camp from our hike, I sensed we were all feeling invigorated. We quaffed soup and hot beverages as Thomas instructed us on what we needed to have ready for our summit climb. We ate dinner and tried to be hopeful. The guides indicated that our best case scenario was for the weather to be clear at 2am, at which point we would be awakened, and we’d start our trek to the summit. He added that if the weather didn’t clear in the wee hours of the morning, then we’d hopefully still have a chance, although not an exceptional one, come 6am. (I considered the 6am start our Plan C)
As leader of this group I wanted my people to be comfortable and warm and rested, and I wanted for them to get a shot at Mt. Whitney’s summit.
Based on my experience that night in the tent with Sonja and Leann, as well as feedback shared by members of our group later, Night 2 was “noteworthy” for its challenges. As the one responsible for bringing everyone to this mountain, I was nervous and excited. I was certain I wouldn’t sleep, and the weather made sure I didn’t.
High winds hammered our tents all night long and carried, and dumped, snow on our camp. Every hour or so we’d shake the snow off of our tents. Even though we vented our tents, the snow worked hard to bury us and the result was condensation and water dripping inside our tents. The harsh conditions outside, combined with the restlessness inside, left us feeling uneasy. For my part, I lay there praying for strength, if not for a break in the weather.
Night 2 was a different kind of challenging for others in the group. I won’t name any names, but three people who were sharing a particular tent reported feelings of claustrophobia and unpleasant fumes. It is important to mention that the telling of this story by the aforementioned tent mates gets more humorous with each telling. And one of the members of the tent went as far as to say he is grateful for having had the challenging and unique experience of that night in their tent, because it is something he’ll never forget and will enjoy telling others about for years to come.
Another tent group had what one described as “something close to a slumber party.” We heard them giggling and making a loud request for wine, which I’m quite certain went unanswered. They shared snacks and applied various skin treatments. “Who knew we had the makings of an entire spa in our tent!” said one of that tent’s members when I asked her to recall Night 2.
But we weren’t having a party in our tent. I knew Leann and Sonja weren’t sleeping either. Have I mentioned it was a challenging night? On the upside, for a lack of other things to do, and because we could, we ate a lot of chocolate during the night. A lot, a lot. (File under #NotOurFault)
As I lay there trying to be strong and hopeful, 2am – and our Plan B – came and went. 3 am, 4am and 5am passed. Snow continued to fall and gusts of wind continued to blow. But then, around 6am, as if by a miracle, the snow had stopped falling, and the wind had stopped blowing. At our wake-up, we were greeted by a snow-covered camp and most importantly, a clear, blue sky above. Could our Plan C be possible? I wondered, with optimism.
The scene at morning of Day 3. We were snow-covered, but it was a clear and stellar day. A summit attempt, although it would be a hardy one, seemed possible.
Huddled with the guides, we learned Plan C was off.
It was a cold but spectacularly beautiful morning. Eager for coffee and tea, we huddled around the stove as it boiled our water. Our guides informed us that they hiked a ways above our camp and snow was deep but not problematic. However, the conditions up high were likely unstable, and high wind gusts were predicted up top. Plan C was out.
Our last remaining option (what I will call Plan D) was to not summit Mt. Whitney, but to take an optional uphill hike to Upper Boy Scout Lake, then return to Low Camp, dismantle camp and hike down the mountain. Most of us did that, and it was an amazing excursion. As we hiked up, we passed two parties coming down. Both had attempted alpine starts for the summit, from higher elevations, and were turned around due to unstable snow and avalanche danger. Not that we needed it, but hearing their reports validated our decision to not go for it.
Enjoying a hike toward Mt. Whitney on the morning of Day 3.
No filter on this sky. I promise it was that blue!
It was fun to get out in some of the snow that dumped on us the day before.
We had a great hike down the mountain under a blue sky before enjoying $5 showers at the Hostel in Lone Pine, some pizzas, beer and wine. We spent our third night camped in the famous, beautiful, and warm, Alabama Hills. We had a huge fire and slept under a star-filled sky. The morning of Day 4 was spent doing some scrambling with fixed lines, followed by a fun rappel – things that were in our original plan.
I was honored to share this adventure with an epic group of people. (Helen: I'm sorry you are not in this picture!)
Since our return on April 28, I have found myself reflecting on our Epic Life Mt. Whitney adventure. While we didn’t stand on Mt. Whitney’s summit, we did go mountain climbing.
I wanted our group to stand on Mt. Whitney’s summit and for our group to not risk our lives. We accomplished the most important of those two objectives. For me, the adventure, which provided lessons in leadership and humility, as well as a lot of fun, will remain an unforgettable and amazing memory.
And as someone who climbed to Whitney’s summit one year ago, I have come to the conclusion that not summiting the mountain was more difficult than summiting it, which is ironic. Not summiting due to things we couldn’t control was not only harder to accept, but harder to do. As a result, this year’s unsuccessful summit effort will likely be more informative in my life and work than the successful summit bid in phenomenal weather last year. I wouldn’t trade either experience.
I often remind clients, and audiences I present to, that an epic life is not an easy life. I tell them that an epic life is full of mountains and hills to climb, including those we put there and those we don’t put there but that nevertheless must be climbed, if we are to become actually what we are potentially.
And then, for the first time since the start of our adventure, I remembered the quote Thomas shared at the outset: “The summit is for the ego, the journey is for the soul.”
A special thank you to Leann, Karla, Chuck, Helen, Craig, Cutter, Grant, Jackie, Jenni and Sonja for signing up. Thank you to our awesome guides, Thomas, Lyra, Lindsay and Zach, and to Kurt Wedberg and Sierra Mountaineering International. Thank you to Sonja’s mom and grandparents for their yummy treats and support pre- and post-adventure. And finally, thank you to Jerry (my best half), and to our three sons for their loving support as I develop this business and frequently find myself away from them camped in faraway mountains.
I have been attending more funerals these days. I attended the funeral for a friend’s mother last week, and this week I’ll attend the funeral of a former high school classmate.
Whenever I hear of someone’s passing, or attend a funeral, I experience sorrow and compassion. But immediately following these emotions, something happens to me.
If you could do me a favor, think for a moment about the last time you attended a funeral or learned of someone’s passing. After the sorrow, what comes up for you?
For me, I experience this sudden urgency about my own life. I reflect on the people in my life, the work I’m doing, how I’m spending my time, and so on. I start making promises and deals with myself. Examples include: I’m going to be more present in my children’s lives. I’m going to listen more to them and play more with them. I’m going to tell Jerry more often how much I truly love him. I’m going to spend more time with my parents and my other family members. I am going to thank all of those who have made a difference in my life. I am going to be a better friend. I’m going to tell people how much I like, love and appreciate them. I’m not going to take this day for granted. I’m going to do this thing, or that. And so on.
I’m inspired, and the deals are made.
But then soon after, the awareness and urgency wears off.
My mission at Epic Life is to help others live as if they’re dying — to make each day count, and to “take stock” frequently. Because, while it’s a cliche, it’s also a fact: we have just this one life. None of knows for certain we will have tomorrow. This bothers me because I love my life and if I live another 40 years it won’t be enough.
I’m not afraid to die. It’s just that I love living and have a lot of living still to do.
What if we could live more often in the awareness and urgency that I describe above? I think it would be an amazing gift to do so.
I recently read 30 Lessons For Living, by Karl Pillemer, a professor in human development and gerontology at Cornell University — and director of Cornell’s Legacy Project. One of the chapters I refer to often is about how to live a regret-free life. Pillemer’s advice, collected from more than 1,000 people who are over the age of 65, includes: 1) Always be honest; 2) Say Yes to opportunities; 3) Travel more; 4) Choose a mate with extreme care; and 5) Say it now.
I like #5, in particular, because I think it’s common for many of us to procrastinate about the things we really want, and need, to say.
Another inspirational source that I watch once a month is Ric Elias’ 6-minute Ted Talk about when his plane was going down. In the video, Elias shares what he learned when he thought he was about to die. It’s great stuff from someone who fortunately lived through the experience. May his words inspire the rest of us.
What are the promises you want to make, and honor?
I am a life and leadership coach. A person hires me to help her/him do hard stuff, to make difficult change in the interest of living her/his most epic life. I love that this is why people hire me. It’s one of the main reasons I became a life coach — to “dare” people to do things that scare them and that are difficult, but that will cause them to become more.
Angels Landing, a hike that includes 1,500-foot dropoffs during the last half mile, is not for the faint of heart.
Change and growth only happen when we dare to leave our comfort zones.
At Epic Life, I offer clients who are interested, an opportunity to join me on a guided epic outdoor adventure. Check out this Zion women’s hiking adventure trip planned for May 16-19.
In addition, I’m partnering with the National Outdoor Leadership School to provide a 6-day epic backpacking expedition, called “Epic Women,” in my back yard, the Wind Rivers of Wyoming. In addition, I am permitted to guide clients on hikes in Grand Canyon and Zion national parks. (For more about this Epic Women expedition/program, NOLS published this article about the adventure.)
Zion is one of my favorite places in the world. If you’ve been there, I am sure you agree with me. It is a magical place. There are several hikes in Zion that serve as relevant metaphors for clients hiring me to do things outside of their comfort zone.
There are chains on Angels Landing, which are much appreciated.
One such hike is Angels Landing. It’s a short, hard hike — five miles roundtrip, with 1,500′ of elevation gain. What makes it epic are not its distance and ascent, but rather its heights and exposure. With its narrow ridge and 1,500-foot dropoffs on either side of you as you ascend its last half mile, the hike is not for the faint of heart.
Which is why it’s a perfect experience for my clients.
There are chains to hold on to as you ascend and descend Angels Landing. Even if you’re not afraid of heights chances are you’ll have a white knuckle grip on the chains, because the “What ifs” are all too clear (glaring).
What I’ve found is that the same emotions and behaviors that often occur during an epic hike or wilderness expedition are the same ones that occur in the front country — at home or at work. These are the emotions that, when triggered, try to keep us safe and out of harm’s way. They are the emotions that instruct us, “What if…,” or “Hold on tight,” or “No way,” or “I don’t want to,” or “It’s too scary,” or “I can’t,” or “I will make a fool out of myself,” and the list goes on, of very compelling, reasonable reasons we should guard the status quo and stay where we’re at — and to not dare to go beyond it.
Hugging the wall. Or, holding on for dear life.
Practicing doing uncomfortable things and going beyond our normal ways is valuable in our effort to discover, and live, our best life. Experiencing a guided epic hike with me/Epic Life is one way to practice doing this work, while also enjoying an unforgettable adventure and scenery that inspires for a lifetime. But you don’t have to hire me to do this work. I dare you to think of something you want to do, but are afraid to do, and then do it. Start with something small and keep practicing. This type of practice has the potential to lead to huge change.
[NOTE: To those who may respond to this post by saying, “But I don’t want to risk my life!” I would say this: I’m not looking to be reckless. In fact, I’m here to help you reclaim your life, and in some cases, to help you save your life.]
Finally, as if the scenery on my recent Zion trip wasn’t enough, my friends and I got this amazing sight of a California condor. This is a rare and magnificent bird that is gradually making a comeback. The bird’s wing span is almost 10 feet! Enjoy, and thanks for reading/watching.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
I have always loved this quote. I’m blogging about it today because I have been thinking a lot about “scary” and fear. I think if fear is present in our life, it means we’re pushing our boundaries. It means we’re not playing it safe. This is how we grow and become more. This is how we discover and live our best, most epic life — by daring to leave our comfort zone so we may confront our fears.
I have a challenge for anyone who reads this and is game: Today, when you have a decision to make, instead of choosing to take the familiar/logical/easy/certain/”safe” route, I dare you to go off-trail — to choose a new/different/uncertain way.
I would love to hear if you try this, and what you discovered as a result of doing it.
Thank you for reading — and thank you in advance, for sharing.
I’m excited to be providing 9 amazing women with an epic 6-day backpacking expedition, July 19-26, in my stunning back yard, Wyoming’s Wind River Range. This is not a guided tour. It is a custom-built adventure that will help women lean in, improve their leadership, push their limits, and return as more than they were before.
I have 8 spots left, and the program will fill fast…
You will get to experience the epic Cirque of the Towers, and there will be some resting. Not a lot, but some. 😉
The EPIC WOMEN program includes the guided epic backpacking expedition (July 19-26), training tips and/or training program, individual life and leadership coaching, new and lasting friendships, inspiration, clarity, discovery, and the list goes on.
If you’re a woman looking for adventure, new friendships with like-minded women, and interested in discovering and pursuing your most epic life, please email me.
I want to make a clarification. Epic does not simply mean majestic and awesome. An epic life is not a perfect life. It’s not all awesome, all the time.
By epic, I mean something that is beyond scale — something so big you cannot exactly imagine it.
By epic, I mean difficult. So difficult that it will require skills you don’t already have. So difficult that at times it will require a heroic effort. So difficult that it cannot be done alone — you need a team, and or/significant support. So difficult that the outcome is not certain.
And, because of the scale and difficulty, it will be full of discovery and fulfillment.
An epic life is full of peak experiences. Living an epic life is about becoming actually what we are potentially. These peak experiences don’t happen without struggle. An epic life is a hard-earned celebration. It is epic not despite struggle, but because of it.
An epic life is a life that’s lived on purpose. By living on purpose I do not mean maximizing your time. I mean experiencing your time, rather than spending it. An epic life is a full life. (A full life and a busy life are not the same things.)
Why does it matter that we create and live our most epic life? Because we only have this one life. An epic life is your best life –– a life that we love so much we view it as the gift that it is.
To borrow the wonderful words of poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
People ask me what I do. I tell them I’m a life coach. Instead of answering their question, this response often generates a confused look.
The confused then follow up by asking, What’s a life coach?
As a life coach, I encourage, and help, people to climb the mountains in their lives.
By the way, an epic life is not a perfect life. An epic life is a life lived on purpose. Living on purpose is not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.
To live on purpose is to experience struggle, sometimes frequently. It’s hard saying yes; it’s hard saying no; it’s hard letting people in; it’s hard setting boundaries; it’s hard doing the right thing; it’s hard honoring your values 24/7; it’s hard to work less; it’s hard to honor all the relationships that matter to you. The list goes on for all the choices one must make in order to live his or her best (epic) life.
The fact is, living a meaningful life is hard. This is not bad news.
Most of us don’t want to do difficult things. I understand this. I often don’t want to, either, despite my understanding for the point in doing them. But I would argue that it is not despite hardship that we grow. It is often because of it.
In life, there are mountains to climb, some of them seemingly insurmountable.
As a life coach, my mission is to inspire and encourage others to choose to climb these mountains and to support them in the process. I believe that, in most cases, what is on the other side is worth it. I believe this with all of my might. (But, at the very least, the views are better from up high, and you become more skillful and experienced at climbing mountains and enduring struggle. You become more as a result of your climbs.)
So, that’s the best way I can describe what I do. And, it is an honor for me to do this work. Thank you for your support. I am grateful.
(Next up: Tools for discovering your life’s purpose. It is fun and important work to do.)
I have been going on epic wilderness adventures for more than 25 years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: There is no better (not to mention more inspiring) platform from which to practice doing the work that living on purpose — and living your most epic life — requires, than the wilderness.
Like on an epic adventure where a storm comes in, conditions in our lives are not always ideal. Still, we press on.
In the wilderness, you may come to a river. You must cross it to carry out your mission. You may come to a tall mountain, and you will have to climb it to move the expedition forward. It may snow and blow and rain. You have to deal.
Tori Murden McClure, the first woman to row across the Atlantic, and author of A Pearl in the Storm, said it best at a presentation I heard her give last October: “There is no such thing as good weather or bad weather, only inconvenient weather.
The emotions, struggles and behaviors that occur on an epic wilderness expedition are the same systems that occur in our everyday lives, in work, at home, etc. Embarking on an epic wilderness expedition provides relevant, accelerated and inspiring practice.
I’m currently looking for 9 AMAZING WOMEN to fill the roster for Epic Life’s premier EPIC WOMEN program. The dates of the adventure, which I’m partnering with NOLS to provide, are Sept. 10-15. The program comes bundled with an epic adventure, coaching and continued support post-adventure.
Only 9 spots. Contact me if interested. (Only amazing women need apply)