TMC Athletes: Peak Bagging with Amy

Peak BaggerHow did you get started?

In 2003, I joined a team of 15, including Dave Mahre and Michael Murphy, both well known mountaineers, to climb Mt. Rainer in Washington. At 14,410ft tall, it is the toughest endurance climb and most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 49 states.  Only 11 of my team made it to base camp, Camp Muir at 10,410ft.  After spending a night and day in “snow school”; only 3 of us were chosen to climb to the summit. At 1am, the three of us and two guides roped together started our ascent to the summit.

On the nose of Disappointment Cleaver, I unexpectedly plummeted 10ft head first into a narrow moat. I was unconscious for one minute until I heard my name being called and realized I was hanging upside down. I was able to twist myself out of the moat, but a guide had to rescue my ice axe and water bottle that had fallen an additional 10ft.  My head was bleeding but due to the adrenalin rush, I couldn’t sense how badly I was hurt and was determined to keep going. The guides hesitated but agreed to let me continue.

At about 11,500ft, on Disappointment Cleaver, I lost my footing on the ice a couple more times. Although I did not fall, the guide finally said to me, “I can’t take it anymore. We are going to ‘bag you.'” It is the worst thing to hear as a climber because it means you are being left behind. I was still determined and eager to keep going but had agreed before leaving Camp Muir that the guides made the decisions.

From 4am until 7am, when help arrived, I attempted to keep warm while my head pounded and bleed and my jaw ached.  During that time, I lay alone feeling the most depressed, disappointed and discouraged I had ever felt in my life as I wanted so badly to climb Mt. Rainer. Truly, I knew my ego was hurt more than my body.

After this disappointing event, I decided I’d never climb a peak again. However, after talking with Dave, Michael and several other mountaineers, I learned that climbing mountains gets in one’s blood and I may not want to climb now but just wait…

It took several years, but they were right. I aquired a strong desire to climb to the tallest point wherever I was. My current goal is to climb all the tallest peaks in the Southwest. And that’s exactly what I’ve been pursuing.

  • In 2006, I hiked Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain completely within Nevada.  In 2007, I ascended Arizona’s tallest peak Mt. Humphrey at 12,633ft.
  • In 2008, I climbed Boundary Peak, the tallest peak in Nevada, at 13,141ft. In 2009, during the night, I conquered Mt. Whitney; at 14,505ft it isthe tallest peak in the lower 49 states. On that same trip we walked to the lowest spot in the lower 49 states Bad Water Basin, which sits at 282ft below sea level.
  • In 2010, I walked to the tallest peak in Texas Guadalupe Peak, at 8,751ft.
  • Later that summer, I concurred Wheeler Peak at 13,161ft and Mt Walter at13,141ft; the two tallest peaks in New Mexico in the same day.
  • In 2011, I strolled up to the highest point in Oklahoma, the summit of Black Mesa at 4973ft.
  • In Black Mesa State Park I trekked up Mt. Wrightson; at 9453ft, it is the tallest peak in Tucson.

This year I plan to climb Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado and second tallest in the lower 49 states.

What lessons did you learn?

I realized that, yes, I can do it. I didn’t let one hiking failure prevent me from doing more. In fact, my goal is to climb as many high mountains as I can.

I also learned that not all high points are created equally. Oklahoma and Texas were easy walks whereas Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak I’ve bagged, was a lot easier than Mt. Rainer as no specialized mountaineering equipment was necessary.

You may not be able to predict exactly the challenge a hike may present and as a result, it’s important to maintain a baseline fitness level and hike year round.

Why peak bagging?

When you reach the top you can see 360 degrees.  It’s a way to earn “bragging rights”.  I’ve always enjoyed hiking and am very destination orientated. Peak bagging has given me a destination goals for my “bucket list”.  To me, it’s a healthy, challenging, and adventurous addiction.

Were there any obstacles that you have overcome?

I had to overcome the feeling that I was a failure when I didn’t complete Mt. Rainer. I also overcame quitting and realized that when I’m exhausted, I must keep going.

I must live near mountains to train to climb higher peaks, and there is a lot of heavy training involved. I add additional hikes carrying rocks and extra water bottles to build my strength and endurance, and I make my regular exercise routine more intense.

It was difficult to have to ask and get time off from work to travel to other states to bag the peaks. To add to the challenge of planning, some of the mountains require permits months in advance.

Lastly, was finding someone crazy enough to join me and keep up – my husband.

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