Do you remember the childhood game Red Light Green Light? Most kids are introduced to this game when they are learning how to follow directions. To play, one person stands on one side of the room with their back to the others playing and commands either “red light” or “green light”. As I’m sure you’ve worked out, red means stop and green means go. If caught moving forward after they say “red light”, that player is out of the game. To find success in this game one must listen, be patient, and be ready to move at the drop of hat. After ten of the longest days of my life sitting at Everest Basecamp I finally heard “green light”. Giddy with nerves, this was the moment I had been waiting twenty-three years for. Mt. Everest was opening her window and granting me the opportunity to find my happy and dance on her summit.
“It was never a question of IF we were going to the summit, the question was simply WHEN.”
After our final acclimating rotation when I was battling bronchitis, we descended back down to basecamp to rest up and wait for that golden weather window. As the days passed and the caged lion in me was becoming increasingly restless, I began giving myself daily reminders about what I can and cannot control. It was never a question of if we were going to the summit, the question was simply when. Weather is uncontrollable as we all know and can be especially frustrating when it dictates your every move. Patience. We had our eyes on a few dates and we were told to be somewhat packed and ready but the daily weather reports weren’t leaving us feeling very optimistic. I had begun to make nice neat piles of the clothes I might wear, the items I might carry to the top, charging batteries and going through my snacks, but not because I thought I was leaving; only out of pure boredom. One afternoon I was walking around outside my tent in a haze trying to distract my cabin fever. Paul, my neighbor and teammate, happen to wander out of his tent around the same time. Looking at each other, bored, Paul invited me to sit on a rock and drink some of our very favorite Signature Whiskey. We discussed the summit, what life might be like when we go home, and placed bets on what was for dinner. In the midst of our deep conversation, our two basecamp managers came down looking for our guides. All we knew was they were neither napping or in the big yellow tent (the bathroom). They seemed antsy. Something was up and I could feel it in my bones. Feeling hungry per usual, I walked up to the dining tent to snack on some Pringles. Again, there were shouts from the basecamp headquarters looking for different guides and the urgency in their voices made me uneasy. I went back to eating more Pringles. Once all guides had been located they met up in the comms tent while I sat anxiously in the dining tent. Time seemed to slow down as I continued to stress eat Jelly Beans and then I heard voices coming down from the comms tent. Justin walked in and his face said it all. Green light.
Sh*t! I gotta pack! All that free time and all I had accomplished was the organized shuffling of things in my tent. Jumping up from the pistachio mess I had made, I ran down to find my brother. Barging into his tent I couldn’t help but nervously laugh. “Dude. Pack your sh$t. We leave at 4am.” Pure joy was plastered across both of our faces. I hopped out of his tent and dashed to mine to frantically pack. While going through my checklist and shoving things in my backpack, fear sank in. What are you afraid of? I wasn’t scared of the climbing part or whether or not I could make it, I was simply scared of this moment, as I had been waiting so long for it. It was in the next six days that I would have to prove to myself that I’m capable of summiting the tallest mountain in the world. It was time to follow through. Following through is one of my biggest fears in life because you either succeed or fail. You can’t fail if you never follow through right? It’s one thing to say you are going to do something. It’s another to show up but to actually be committed to the summit…it’s unnerving. Fear mixed with a tremendous amount of excitement, I got ready to go to the top of the world.
The vibe at dinner was burning with distraction and anxious concentration. Aside from reviewing our departure times, gear list and schedule, there was very little being said. Finishing the “last supper” quickly, we all journeyed back to our individual tents for the final prep and sleep. The idea of sleeping was laughable. My body was zinging with adrenaline as if I had just slammed a dozen Redbulls and was about to throw my body out of a plane. Sleep was something I didn’t foresee myself getting. Doing my best to stay focused and avoid procrastinating further, I meticulously went through every item that I would lug up to 29,034ft, as every ounce counts. I’m pretty sure I put things in and took things out over the course of four hours before I had had enough. I hope I didn’t forget anything.
Our departure was meant to be somewhat of a secret which is a nice way of saying don’t put anything about it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social media outlet. Tipping off other teams to our plan only means more traffic which in turn produces more potential problems. A call home was in order so I crawled out of my tent to find cell service. Steven and I decided to divide and conquer the call home. He would call his wife who happened to be with our mother drinking white wine and I would call Dad who was at home. By some miracle my father actually answered the phone. Anyone who knows my father knows he doesn’t answer the phone. Ever. Especially the landline. Before I could spit anything out he said, “You must be calling to tell me you’re heading to the summit?” I explained to him our timeline and the potential dates of our summit and instructed him to keep a secret. “This is what we’ve been waiting for Dad,” I said with confidence. “Be safe, have fun, and don’t lose your brother. Love you both, talk to you when you’re back down safe,” he said in a soothing fatherly tone. I hoped with all my heart the next time I heard his voice it would be to share my summit success.
“Three out of the four voices in my head begged for sleep. The other smiled with excitement for what tomorrow will bring.”
Looking at my clock it was already midnight. Snuggled up in my sleeping bag I did my best to turn my brain off but like the Energizer bunny, it was useless. Three out of the four voices in my head begged for sleep while the other smiled with excitement. I wanted to share with the world our plans to depart in a few short hours, and to ask for prayers and good juju, and I needed to hear encouraging words from home…but that was impossible, as this was a secret I needed to keep for a little bit longer. Through all of the wants I couldn’t satisfy, I pulled my iPad out and turned on the documentary Meru. Closing my eyes I listened to the labored breathing over the crunch of the snow and ice as three men set out to climb what had previously been impossible. Suffering is part of mountaineering and it was inspiring and reassuring to watch these iconic climbers triumph through the pain. My alarm went off. It was 3am. Recalling the rules of my childhood game: Listen. Red light. Patience. Green light. The hat has dropped, it’s time to rock n’ roll.