Going too far: life and death in the mountains

Hiking Mt Olomana in Hawaii

Sorry I've been so quiet lately and infrequent with  my blog posts.  One reason is that I've been working on our Happy Birthday Tanzania campaign to help the country celebrate their 50 years of independence (please check it out and register to win cool Columbia gear).  But the other reason is that I've been on vacation in Hawaii, visiting family and enjoying some of the world's most beautiful beaches. One evening my father in-law and I were sitting on his front porch watching the sun set behind the Koolau Mountain Range.  He mentioned that a number of hikers have died climbing the nearby 3rd peak of Mt. Olomana.  While the trail to peaks 1 and 2 is relatively safe, peak 3 is much more dangerous.  To get to the 3rd peak you need to scramble up a very narrow ridge only two feet wide, with over a hundred foot drop on either side.  It was unclear if the climbers who died slipped or if the high winds pushed them off.  What was clear is that it was a dangerous climb…and I immediately wanted to explore it. So Saturday morning I got up at sunrise, drove to the trailhead and began my mini-trek.  The trail itself isn't really that long, only about 1.5 miles.  It started by gently climbing through thick rain forest and past massive Banyan  trees with long branches reaching back into the earth.  And then it got vertical.   The trail shot straight up the steep north ridge of the mountain.  I scrambled over Class 3 and 4 sections, gripping the hard lava rock and hoping it would hold as I pulled myself up each section. Eventually, my thighs wobbly from all the high-stepping, I reached the 1st peak and was rewarded with a spectacular view of the eastern side of the island of Oahu.  The cool trade winds blew as I soaked in the lush green rainforest below and the soft blue ocean in the distance.   I scanned the 360 degree view until my eye landed on the nearby trail where the hikers had fallen trying to reach the 3rd peak.  I thought about going on and testing myself (and my luck).  But I  had promised my father in-law that I wouldn't. Contemplating the risks I thought about free-solo climber Alex Honnold and his dangerous sport of climbing sheer faces without any ropes at all.  I sat there taking in the view and wondering how far was too far.   The thing about going too far is you frequently don't know its too far until you get there.  On Kilimanjaro I pushed myself to the point where I could barely stand or speak coherently.   When Alex free-solos Half Dome or I slip out onto a dangerous ridge "too far" can even be fatal.  I enjoy pushing myself and finding my own limits.  But things are different now then they were years ago on Kilimanjaro.  With two small children the risks are higher.  If something were to happen to me they suffer the results to an even greater extent than  I would.  I wanted to slide out on that thin, dangerous trail to visit the 3rd peak.  I used to love free climbing when we lived in California.  But these days I dream more about sharing Tanzania and Kilimanjaro with my two daughters and enjoying the beauty of the outdoors with them. Now I find other ways to push myself, like running the Chicago Marathon, with smaller risks.  I do miss some of the riskier pursuits.  But not nearly as much as I enjoy spending time with my family.
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