Wednesday, May 29, 2013


"Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens." Ralph Waldo Emerson (from 'Circles')
Daniel Mast - 05.21.2013 (Photo I took of Dan in 2005)
Last week was marked by the dramatic succession of a literal/metaphorical mountain and a strictly metaphorical valley:

The mountain: Monday afternoon I received a call from my climbing friend Phil with an offer that I could not refuse: he would cover the cost of climbing Denali, if I could swing the trip in 2014. Already cleared for leave from work and mentally prepped for climbing Denali in 2014, the final, unavoidable hurdle was money. With a career in the not-for-profit world, money is something that I never expect to have in abundance. Of course, I said "yes" to Phil's offer. I won't embarrass Phil here, nor will I exhaust the reader with endless exhortation of Phil's gracious gift - that would be poor form - but I will say this: I am forever indebted to Phil for his friendship and financial support to make this shared dream come true. 

This is one of those life moments - like true love or companionship - where a set of seemingly unrelated variables reveal themselves as truly related and, in fact, are not variables at all. Suddenly, a sense of order and purpose becomes clear and the series of events threatens to substantiate claims of a 'master plan', 'fate' or God. A series of fortunate events. Phil and I came along at this moment in time to meet, enjoy a sense of kinship and fulfill a shared dream: Denali. Giddiness upwells within me at the mere thought!

The valley: Tuesday afternoon, moments after getting off the phone with Phil discussing registration for the Denali trip, Jackie, a friend from photography school called, notifying me that Dan Mast, a friend and classmate of ours from school, died that morning as a result of a fall he took at a construction site. The news was shocking. Inexplicable and awful and tragic and without rationale, I simply cannot imagine the hurt and pain felt by his wife, kids, family and closest friends. Survived by an expecting wife and two little ones, Dan left behind not only an incredible family unit, but a gaping hole in the hearts of all who had the pleasure of knowing him. 

Coming from the perspective of an endurance athlete, what struck me most about Dan was his high pain tolerance and uncanny knack for understatement, which gave one the impression that Dan would, without question, live forever (and I hope now, more than ever, that heaven might be real and that statement is true - heaven exists for people like Dan). Dan was seemingly unflappable in spirit. Often, he carried on his face a mischievous grin alerting his friends of an imminent slap on the back or practical joke. On the other side of the coin, Dan was uncompromisingly gentle in spirit and a firm man of integrity. Dan possessed an unbridled zest for life that I have seen in few others. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Dan's passion made profession: photography. He had the rare gift of capturing a person's true spirit on film by drawing out their subtle personality traits. Half grins, forced smiles and even wrinkles were no match for Dan's charisma. Native American lore and the bastardization of Native American myths regarding photography may have had some merit with Dan: he may have been stealing our souls all along. At minimum, hearts, that much is for certain. Dan stole the hearts of kith and kin and will be sorely missed. 

Here's to Dan and the joy that he conferred upon those who had the pleasure of knowing him. Rest in peace, Dan. Thoughts and prayers go out to Dan's family and friends.

Onward and upward,


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Doing the Right Thing

"Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end." - Edward Whymper, 'Scrambles Amongst the Alps'
Linds and I on top of a wet Mount Sentinel for the 55th 
summit of the mountain in 2013. 
Today, I write from the comfort of my recliner.

The last two week have been dominated by extreme indecision: to climb Mount McKinley in 2014 or not. The question is more nuanced than a single, simple yes or no (hence the indecision).

Yes, I do want to climb Mount McKinley.
Yes, I am willing (and my employer is amenable) to take 3-4 weeks off of work in 2014.
Yes, I understand the risks.
No, I do not have the money!

Truthfully, it is the money that has kept me on the fence and noncommittal. Total cost of the expedition (with guide service, gear and transportation) comes in at around $9,500. At this stage, my registration has been accepted for a 2014 Mount McKinley expedition with RMI, but the very real and wholly impossible to ignore fact remains: I don't have the money!

The reality is, and I went into the mountains to seek clarity this weekend, it simply isn't in the cards in 2014. With a mad desire to marry the woman of my dreams within the next year or so and the wish to do McKinley the right way, I am going to have to postpone at least a year.

The biggest draw of McKinley 2014 was to climb with a Phil Goss, something of a climbing soulmate. I met Phil on Mount Rainier back in September. With a shared childlike wonder and astonishment for all things beautiful, Phil and I found ourselves the first two climbers out-of-doors every morning while on the mountain (around 6AM), writing poems and taking photos, respectively. We became fast friends. On Rainier, we spoke of doing McKinley together in 2014 with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. He is staying steady the course and registered for the climb this last week. I will be there every step of the way rooting him on in spirit!

All is not lost. Phil and are now looking at climbing Granite Peak, Montana's high point, in August. It will be a splendid reunion. Although Mount McKinley isn't in my immediate, it is in Phil's and I couldn't be more happy for him. Mount McKinley 2015? Yes, please. In the meantime, I will be slowly procuring the requisite gear to get up the mountain. First purchase? Made this weekend: a McKinley size, 105 liter expedition pack.

Onward and upward!