What I Learned on the Mountain: Tales from UT

Dusk on the Mountain

Dusk on the Mountain

It’s taken me a full 10 days to recover and reflect about my experience of doing an ultra-endurance hike in Utah before I could intelligently share my experience with all of you.

As most of you know,  I signed up for an event in Snowbasin, Utah called 29029. It is the number of feet it takes to trek to the top of Mt Everest. I talk through the beginning of the journey in this post. But the short version is I took at a great class with Jesse Itzler called “Build your Life Resume”. We needed a 90-day goal. Climb a mountain. Boom!

My friend, Linda Diack was in the class with me. She already signed up. So basically, I signed up to hike 2.3 miles up the side of a mountain as many times as we can in 36 hours because my friend thought it would be "fun." It’s that simple. 

Let me just say, I trained for this. I did high intensity training at my favorite studio in Atlanta at least 2 days a week and I hiked. A lot. At least 3 days a week I climbed Stone Mountain or did a 10-mile walk in town. For comparison, twice up Stone Mountain would equal once up the mountain in Utah. While I knew it would be a challenge, I thought I was prepared.  

Linda and I arrived in Utah and when I actually saw the mountain, I was speechless. It made Stone Mountain look like someone’s driveway! Most of the training I did was on FLAT ground! Here there were points on the mountain with an incline of 47%! But we were there and there was no turning back. It was too late. Besides, there was great swag in our luxurious tents and I didn’t want to give it back!

Climb #1 - DONE!

Climb #1 - DONE!

We got up at the crack of dawn and the group of 135 people started hiking. Climb #1 was a challenge, but I kept reminding myself that this was the reason I had come. To push myself beyond my limits, to see what came up when things got tough. It took only 90 minutes going straight up and I felt pretty good. We took a quick break to high-five, take a breath, refuel and hydrate. Then back down the gondola we went to hike up again. 

I was about half way up climb #2 when I started to feel weird. I was suddenly nauseous and a bit dizzy. I kept hiking, going a little slower, one foot in front of the other. I insisted that Linda keep her pace and I would catch up. This time it took me 3 hours (!!) to get to the top, since I stopped every 50 steps to vomit and sweat.

The aid crew must have seen my distress because when I took the gondola down, the paramedics were there waiting for me. By this time, my whole body was cramping and they diagnosed me with severe altitude sickness and suggested that I stop. I was crushed. I promised to go lie down until I felt better, which I did. I took a good 4 hours, which put me way behind the others, by the way! I wasn’t feeling a 100%, but I figured, “This is why, I’m here! To push myself beyond my limits. Let’s go!”

I assured the paramedic team I was good to go. I was about half way up the mountain for climb #3 when it all started again. By the time I was a mile in, I knew there was no way I would make it. Magically a 4-wheeler appeared and I was taken back to the friendly aid station.  I can’t even tell you the defeat I felt and how I felt I should have been able to get past the altitude problem. My friends were at least on their third summit and I had an A1 pity party for myself. It was glorious! I retreated to my tent to sulk and sleep, praying I would recover even though the paramedics advised against it. Altitude sickness is no joke. It can turn into full on lung issues and even blood clots!

I allowed my pity party to continue for a few hours and then gave myself a real talking to in the mirror in the portable shower stall. This was it. THIS was the challenge! How am I going to handle things when they go awry and not the way I expect? How was I going to handle failure? This was the lesson. My thoughts started to turn around. I started to think about the bravery it took just to sign up for this crazy shit. About the hours of training that I put in and how strong I felt because of it. I also thought about my amazing buddy in this journey. Linda was a constant supporter and we encouraged each other on the days we didn’t want to get out there and put the time in. The journey. This is what I preach all the time, but I was finally trying to listen to my own voice. IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY.

I slept. A deep eight hours. Most others hiked through the night. When I woke up the next morning. There was a shift. I really did feel better. I dressed slowly, walked to breakfast and still felt good. I chatted with the paramedics and they checked my vitals. I really felt I could continue, so after the ER signed off, I insisted the crew drive me back to the stop where I left off, so I could complete round three of my journey. I made it to the summit without issue and knew the altitude problem was behind me. I actually would have been okay stopping right there, but I new there were a few hours left and I could get one more climb in. 

By the way, all 135 at this event plus the entire crew were absolutely amazing! I have never felt so supported and cared for. For climb #4, there was a group of 4 friends who had already reached nine summits (the height of Denali in Alaska) and they hiked the entire last climb with me. I truly felt victorious even though I didn’t reach my initial goal of 9 summits - I did 4 and Linda did 7! I learned that I can prevail even in the toughest moments and I’m resiliant.

And don’t be fooled. I’ll be back to finish what I started. Who wants to join me?

A celebratory cocktail with Linda to toast an amazing experience!

A celebratory cocktail with Linda to toast an amazing experience!