During my recovery from my heart transplant surgery back in the winter/spring of 2007, I recall having lunch with my two bosses. I was frail and tiny, still covered in bruises and fresh scars, and only recently allowed to drive. The lunch signaled, however slightly, that a return to normalcy was coming. A return back to the life I loved, an exit from the medical spotlight and back into the behind the scenes work that was my job. Most of the lunch centered around talk of my recent experience, but there was excitement too – my boss, his son and a colleague were planning a trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. He was brimming with plans and logistics a long-suppressed passion for the mountains reignited by an invitation from a friend.
Sometime later that fall, when I was back to work full-time, an idea popped into my head fueled likely by a story of that expedition. What if I were to climb a 14er? Technically, with the new heart it was possible. Being a Colorado native meant I have always been fully acclimated to our mile-high elevation, but prior to my transplant, any trips above 7,000 feet resulted in weakness, dizziness, tiredness and nausea. I had even never been hiking. I shoved the thought of my mind even as I Googled to see if any other heart transplants had found their way into climbing.
But like all seeds, it only grew. In August 2008, my friends and I spontaneously decided to try to climb Mt. Bierstadt one of the easiest and smallest of the 14ers. The trip technically failed in that we did not reach the summit (lack of preparation, knowledge and a freak snow storm all contributed to that), but we succeeded in that I made it to my personal elevation high of 12,500 ft. An attempt on Mt. Elbert later that fall also yielded a similar result.
I decided 14ers were not my thing. Climbing was hard, freaking hard. Without a vegas nerve, my heart would not slow down on its own. It was exhausting to have my heart rate shoot up very high, stop and wait for it to slow and then get back to climbing. My legs burned, a reminder of how out of shape I was from 20 years of heart failure. The weather never was in my favor. I had no idea what I was doing. So no, I would not be climbing a 14er. Ever.
The benefit of writing this post five years later is that I can look back on that time and even still agree with my 2008 assessment. And my 2009 and 2010 assessment too. Three climbing seasons passed and then things changed. So…without further ado…let’s get climbing.