Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Note

December 2013
     Happy Holidays! I hope this note finds you well. I am quite well. In fact, 2013 was such an amazing year, there's no way I can talk about it without sounding like I'm bragging. So, fair warning, I'm going to go ahead and brag about my adventures this year.
     Climbing 20,320-foot Denali, aka Mt. McKinley, in Alaska in June and July was an incredible experience. The first thing you notice is the immense scale, which is unlike anything I've ever experienced; on a clear day, the mountain can be seen from more than a hundred miles away. Our team of 10 (7 clients and 3 guides) spent a total of 20 days on the mountain, the entire time on snow and ice devoid of permanent life (other than the climbers and rangers, the only living things above microscopic size were a few birds scavenging). Much of the time was spent as part of the acclimatization process (having flown in on a bush plane to 7,200 feet elevation) and weather delays. The trip was a study of extremes: From roasting heat in the sun at lower elevations to sub-zero wind chill at the summit; From some of the most relaxing days I've had in ages (designated rest days) to some of the most physically demanding, hauling 100 pounds of gear; From the boredom of a weather day after having exhausted my reading materials to the heart-pounding excitement of walking on a narrow ridge with thousand-foot dropoffs to either side. To great amazement, all 10 of us stood at the highest point in North America on July 5.
     Returning to the real world (after having to wait at the air strip 26 hours for our flight back) was absolutely surreal. First it was the smells: After so much time in a nearly sterile environment, everything smelled quite strongly. Perhaps even more bizarre was that the town of Talkeetna is a tourist destination, popular with cruise-goers; to go from only seeing climbers to seeing mostly tourists was mind-boggling. After weeks without fresh food, I was nearly as eager for a green salad as I was for a juicy steak. It's a good thing Anchorage is a laid-back city, nobody seemed to mind that the only clean clothes I had were shorts and a t-shirt I bought in town (and flip-flops, as I didn't want to put shoes on after killing my big toenails on the descent).
     Denali was by far the biggest, but not my only mountain experience this year. In February I spent a week doing technical training at 10,000 feet on Mt. Rainier. Conditions were harsh, starting with a 24-hour snow storm, and below-freezing temperatures most of the time; at least we had a hut for shelter, even if it wasn't heated or entirely weathertight. In August I climbed the highest peak in Montana (Granite Peak), nearly as physically challenging as Denali, but only for 2 days. Granite Peak was actually the last state highpoint to have a recorded ascent, in 1923. In September I returned to Mt. Rainier, mainly because I had never been to the very highest point (we didn't get anywhere near the summit in February, and while I did get to the summit crater in 2009, I did not continue to Columbia Crest, another 100 feet higher). I was glad to remove that asterisk from my "résumé." It's more of a hill, but in September I went to the highest point in Illinois for state highpoint #39. Later this month I'm going to Portland, OR, hoping to bag Mt. Hood to end the year with a nice even 40.
     In May, I raced in Ironman Texas, my second full-distance triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run), in The Woodlands, just outside of Houston. While the heat did its best to beat me down, I did manage to improve on my time from last year in Louisville, finishing in a little under 15 hours. Not only was it in the 90s that day, but it had been a relatively cool spring until race week, so I wasn't prepared for that kind of temperature. To compound the sun's scorching rays, I didn't take adequate steps to mitigate the heat; I got very overheated on the bike, and it took the first half of the marathon to get under control with ice and drinks (the sun setting helped). Even that was insufficient; after finishing I needed 5 liters of saline at the medical tent.
     This year I also set new personal records in the half and full marathon distances running, and the half Ironman distance in triathlon. As a full-blown racing addict, I did many other events and distances through the year, seemingly every weekend I wasn't climbing a mountain.
     I got a little more serious about stair racing this year, even joining up with a group of fanatics from around the country. I met some of the team at races in Houston, Austin, and Dallas, and many more at the "granddaddy"- the race to the 103rd floor of Chicago's Willis Tower (still commonly known as the Sears Tower). With two second-place finishes (in Austin and Houston), I ended the year ranked 27th in the US by, and 146th in the world on It's almost impossible to say for sure, but I'm claiming to be the first person to climb a 6000-meter peak, finish an Ironman, and be ranked in the top 50 in the US for stair racing in the same year. What that says to me is I'm at least mediocre at several things (and I have free time).
     As much travel as I did for mountain climbing and racing, the only "leisure" travel I did was over Thanksgiving (other than the trip to the Illinois highpoint, that was calm compared to other trips). I flew to Virginia and finally saw the house my parents moved to a year ago; after some time there, we all drove up to New York to where we have been having Thanksgiving dinner regularly for over 20 years. Unfortunately this year was something of a memorial to one of our longtime hosts, artist Jack Beal, who passed away earlier this year.
     I would be remiss if I didn't give credit and thanks to the many people that made such a great year possible. To the many athlete friends who push me in training and in races, and especially my coaches. To the folks who made donations to the charities my racing helps support. To my aunt and uncle for their hospitality while I was in Montana (particularly when I could barely walk after the climb). To the great climbing guides and climbing partners. To the many strangers who helped, especially the scores of race volunteers. To so many Facebook friends for their encouragement, kudos, and 'like's. And of course to my parents, who followed all my adventures with great anticipation, and surely more than a little concern. Thank you all!
     I have no intention of slowing down in 2014. The calendar is filling up quickly with things, including the New Orleans Marathon February 2nd, a climb of Mexico's tallest mountain (Orizaba) 2 weeks later, Galveston half Ironman in April, Ironman Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) in June, and Ironman Wisconsin (Madison) in September.

Season's Greetings,

PS if you're into social media, feel free to follow my blog, Facebook, twitter, and Instagram @mldarm.

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