Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Last Climb

In July of 2003, I climbed my last mountain (although I didn't realize it at the time). My target then was Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in Nevada at 13084 feet. It is located in east-central Nevada along the Utah border and is inside Great Basin National Park. This is a very isolated park; I took Interstate 15 east out of Las Vegas about 30 miles until I exited off onto Highway 93 north. From there, it was about 200 very lonely miles to Wheeler Peak.

Here is a view of Wheeler Peak from my "campsite," which was the back of my 4Runner at roughly 5800 feet. I didn't attempt to climb that steep face on the left; instead, I took the more gentle slope up the right side. The total distance from the trailhead at about 8000 feet was a little over 16 miles roundtrip.

Even though I climbed in summer, there were still some snowy patches on the summit route, as the photo below shows. I was lucky they were few and not troublesome, as I did not bring along my ice ax and crampons.

And here is me on the summit! I had the mountain all to myself that morning except for another climber, a guy I estimated to be in his late twenties, who had never climbed over 12000 feet before. We took turns passing each other along the route, and I was the first to reach the summit. I enjoyed greeting him with "Welcome to 13000 feet!" as he reached the summit. The sign at my left is the summit marker, and my "Ahab the Arab" headgear protected me from the blistering sun at such elevations. We took summit photos for each other, and I started my descent after about five minutes. He lingered, apparently reveling in the view of the world from 13000 feet. It was no big deal to me; I had been to that elevation before, and I expected to be back that high in the future. Little did I know. . . . .

Why would anyone in their right mind climb a mountain? Because you get views like this one from the top:

When we moved to Texas, I told myself I would finally get the chance to climb in Colorado and New Mexico as well as pick up some interesting mountains in west Texas like El Capitan. And when I went into the hospital for my first operation on August 1, 2006, I told myself I would climb a mountain on August 1, 2007 to celebrate. But it wasn't to be, and I now accept that my mountain climbing days are forever behind me.

But at least I climbed them when I could and have a lot of great memories and photos of my climbs. I'll be posting more of my climbs in the weeks and months ahead.