Gasping For Air

By Sunday, June 22, 2014 4 0

Atop Mt. McLoughlin on summer solstice, with Colleen Kaleda (on right). Human accordion on left.

Being out there in wild nature is a prime way to be rich in what matters. And in my view, the longer the daylight, the better, which is why I love summer solstice.

My friend Colleen and I celebrated the solstice yesterday by climbing Mt. McLoughlin, the highest peak in Southern Oregon. This was a lungs-heaving, gasping-for-oxygen experience for me, in contrast to when we climbed Mt. St. Helens in 2012, or South Sister last year.

New life-lesson: your experience can change, even if the external circumstances haven’t changed. The altitude was no higher than in my prior climbs, and the amount I trained was no less. But my body responded dramatically differently to thin air than it did before.

I had to stop again and again to rest and gulp air before climbing some more. Interrupting my breathing for two seconds to drink water or blow my nose made my lungs heave harder than ever. I felt like a crawling accordion that was being played to a breathlessly fast song that I could not hear.

DSCN2201All of that was on the ascent. Half of a  climb, of course, is the descent. On the descent I fortunately dropped my accordion identity and became a normally breathing human being again. Karen and John Poole, the very experienced and gracious people hiking with us, told me that how people respond to altitude can change from day to day, depending on dehydration, stress and other unpredictable factors.

I hadn’t known that. There are hundreds of things about interacting with nature that I have yet to learn. I won’t learn all of them in this lifetime, but continuing to stay connected to nature will keep on making me richer in what matters.

If I emulate the Pooles and help other people at every opportunity, I will become richer still.

photos courtesy of Karen Poole

  • Mike
    June 23, 2014

    I thought of you on Saturday wondering how the hike was going, Alison! I have a love/hate with June 21st because it’s the longest day of the year but it also means now we are on the countdown until it starts getting cold here again in 3 months. I know I should have my cup half full! So glad that you had a great, safe time and LOL to the human accordian :)

    • Alison
      June 24, 2014

      Mike, I can relate. I’m never happy about the days becoming shorter again. The funny thing about the longest day of the year is that it occurs so long before any of the hottest days of the year, at least here in the Northwest. It’s counterintuitive.

      Again, I’m very happy that you and Phoenix beat his cancer. I’ll go over and visit you both now.

  • Colleen
    June 24, 2014

    I know success isn’t marked by reaching the summit, but I sure love the pic of us standing at the top! What a great way to ‘ring in’ the first day of summer, with a little snow beneath our feet and a whole lot of blue sky above our heads. :)

    • Alison
      June 24, 2014

      I agree, Colleen. I actually hadn’t been sure it was the best idea for me to summit, since descents are generally more dangerous than ascents, with the climber already being tired. It might have yielded a better life-lesson to decide not to summit — it’s easy for the ego to get over-involved on these things.

      All that said, I’m eager for our next mountain-climb together. I need to figure out how to train at altitude . . . my nearby Mount Tabor training-ground isn’t cutting it! :)

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