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Archive for December 21, 2006

Dec. 21, 2006 — Thrillseeking

Last night, I saw Jen for the first time in a while — not the marathon runner who got engaged recently at the starting line in Memphis, but a different Jen who does triathlons and other extreme physical activities.

Her latest passion is mountain climbing, and is looking to scale The Seven Summits, the highest point in each continent. Her latest conquest was Tanzania’s Mount Kilamanjaro, Africa’s highest point. It’s a modest 19,340 feet compared to Mount Everest (29,028), Aconagua (22,841), and McKinley (20,320).

She told me that she and a friend and their guides had a somewhat pleasant journey through the first few thousand feet. The effort, she said, was like running several marathons during the six days’ worth of climbing. “It was 40 degrees, but we were burning so much energy that we were steaming.” She lost appetite not only from the effort, but from the thin air. The climbers literally had to force themselves to eat.

But somewhere close to the finishing point of their journey, Jen lost vision in one of her eyes. A burst blood vessel, she said, but it went away after coming down from the summit.

The story left me a little stunned. I would have been greatly upset if I were in her hiking boots at the time, and more than a little concerned. What if my particular genetics made it impossible for me to remain in rarified air? Would other blood vessels expand and fracture? What about the disorientation that is often the foreshadowing of doom in climbing?

I was glad to see Jen on terra firma last night, and told her, “I’d rather see you free dive than lose your way on one of those mountains.”

She said with a twinkle in her eye, “That might be next.”