Everest 2003: Unfinished Business
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I summited Everest on May 21, 2011 and have climbed it three other times (all from Nepal) - 2002, 2003 and 2008 each time reaching just below the Balcony at about 27,500' (8400 meters) before health, weather or my own judgment caused me to turn back. I attempted Lhotse twice - 2015 and 2016. When not climbing, I cover the Everest season from my home in Colorado as I did for the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and the 2016 season. This page is an introspective look at my return in 2003 after not summiting in 2002.

A long kiss without the peck. A long look without a wink. A great golf swing without the follow through. Unfinished business. Incomplete. More to do. This is what it is all about. I felt great up until the end. Was it my inherent weakness? Was I simply not good enough? Or was it something else? I need to know.

It was about two weeks after I had returned from Everest, June 2002.. I had been out of town for a couple of days on a business trip, my first one since being back. I came home to my usual routine of looking at the mail that had come in and saw the letter. Sitting at the kitchen counter while Cathy cooked dinner, I opened it. I immediately saw that the pages were filled - front and back - in handwriting. Nice touch, I thought to myself. It is great that some people still take the time to write and write legibly!

I glanced at the pages breathing deeply. I didn't feel good. I was tired. I was hurting. It seemed that every other thought was about that night. I should have been smarter. I could have gone farther. I would have made it if only I.... Stopping myself, I smiled at Cathy and admitted my thoughts. She had been a dream in supporting me and this time was no different. Collecting my thoughts enough to focus on the letter, I picked it back up.

The first page had a few details about his recent trip. Kind words for my effort and then I turned the page. The next section was in a different style - written at a different time according to the words he wrote. I read, read again and read a third time the next paragraph as my eyes became blurred with tears. With each reading the tears flowed faster. I finally stopped.

"You won't believe what he has written" I said to Cathy and then read it to her.

Later that night as we lay in bed, my thoughts returned to the night. And then I thought about what he had written to me. All of a sudden, I gave myself permission to do what I had denied since that night - fall completely apart. I clenched my fists. I saw imaginary ropes. I felt like I was climbing again. I coughed like I had since that night. I thought about the crevasse. I sighed heavily. I held my wife tight as she held me.

"So many people believed in me. All their hopes. All their support. All their dreams for me. And he is still proud to call me his friend." The weight of the love was tearing me apart. Why couldn't I have lived up to their measures? How could I have let them down? Could I go on being his friend?

"I should have tried harder. But I didn't want to die. I did my best, but... I don't know where I got the bug. I was all alone on the mountain, they passed me by. I wanted to keep going. I should have kept going. I could see the headlamps above me. It was a perfect night. I was doing so well. Maybe I'm not good enough..."

Two hours later, I fell asleep exhausted, spent, nothing left to say or do. I needed time to mend, time to heal, time to regain perspective. A week passed then a month. After two months, my health returned. After three months, I began thinking about that night, his letter and going back.

The words he wrote that triggered my collapse are not important. Often it is not the words but the feeling behind the words. I felt what he felt. I felt the love. I will never forget the feeling. It helped me move on from a great experience and onto the next one. There is a book entitled "Don't sweat the small stuff". I think they have it wrong. It is the small stuff that makes life worthwhile. A smile. A handwritten letter. A vote of confidence. A lifelong friend.

And I need to bring closure to this chapter in my life. As the stars align again, I am able to embark on this trip. I know I will repeat the following many times; my goal is to try to climb Mt. Everest. To do my best. To come home complete and alive. The first trip was incredible. I learned so much about myself and the mountain. We had perfect weather, ideal conditions. I can only hope for a repeat of these conditions.

Please be with me and Cathy. It was so important in 2002 and will be more so in 2003.