When Nobody’s Watching


Starting up Green Mountain (8,150’) outside of Boulder, CO, March 1st, 2015. Photo Courtesy of Jim Berryhill.
Starting up Green Mountain (8,150’) outside of Boulder, CO, March 1st, 2015. Photo Courtesy of Jim Berryhill.

My knee has heeled to the point where I can begin climbing, again, in the variable conditions you get when you leave the safe confines of the gym.

When preparing for an expedition, gym work is important as it lets you focus on specific areas of physical improvement within a controlled environment. However, it is also important to experience the multiple variables of the outdoors, and remind your body and psyche how to deal with the unknown and rapidly changing.

Believe me, I’ll still be spending a lot of time in the gym, but after four months of not truly climbing (as I recuperate my knee), I am ready to get outside, again.

So came the weekend of February 28th and March 1st, 2015… Wanting to do an overnight, I was looking at the northern mountain (the central and southern mountains were going to get 3-4 feet of snow). We would need to expect windchills of -20 at camp elevations, wind gusts up to 50 mph, and an additional foot of snow on the back of the several feet of snow that feel in the days before.

Is walking purposefully into a blizzard how I should go about getting back into the high country? Is this the right test for a knee that hasn’t truly been tested since its latest injury? Do I want to be in a position where my ability to carry the right amount of gear isn’t about training, it’s about survival?

As frustrating as it was to admit it, the answer to all three of those questions was, “No.”

Stephen Fry once said, “You are who you are when nobody’s watching.” Sometimes, the right thing to do in getting ready for a big climb is to go out and do the small climb, the one that lacks sex appeal, the one that toy dogs in bedazzled purses and five year old children have all done.

So, me and a few of the Denali Team when to Green Mountain (8,150’) just outside of Boulder.

You throw on a heavy pack, piled high with gear you’ll never need – ice ax, crampons, snow shoes, snow picket – and get passed by the trail runners who gaze at you in bemusement. You do it because it’s the right thing to do. I got to test my knee out with heavy weight, on an unstable surface that is actually pretty steep. I had to deal with going back downhill on that unstable surface (the biggest test for my knee, and hard to simulate in a gym). I got to experience cold, again (it was around zero degrees all day) and try out the new layering systems that allow me to gain access to my knee brace without stripping off all my layers. For that matter, I got to test the knee brace, itself. Mostly, I got to remind my body, soul, and spirit what it is to be outdoors and connected with nature.

General Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” The “failure” of re-injuring my knee requires a patient path back to being ready. The lesson: don’t rush into big weight and big climbs and risk re-injury. The hard work: simply getting up every day and doing the rehabilitation work. The preparation: a plan to gradually increase the workload, the weight, and the difficulty of climbs.

So, Green Mountain, a climb for which you literally cross the street, wasn’t “epic” or exotic. It wasn’t a climb you would tell your friends about. It was what I did when no one was watching and no one but me cared. It was making sure I’m doing this right. It was the next step in my progression towards the big Denali climb.


The view of Boulder from the shoulder of Green Mountain (8,150’), March 1st, 2015.
The view of Boulder from the shoulder of Green Mountain (8,150’), March 1st, 2015.

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