Welcome to Jordan

Every seat on the flight from Kathmandu to Amman is full. I stand up to go to the bathroom, look around and realize that I am the only woman on the plane, aside from the stewardess. The thought puts me at unease, bringing a heightened awareness to our next location, the Middle East. Modesty is necessary in Nepal as a cultural respect, but women are treated equally. It is evident that we are entering into another world and what would that world look like? How would we be received as Americans? Do we even admit we are Americans?

Echoing as loudly as the cries from the mosque, we repeatedly hear “Welcome to Jordan.” The generosity of the Arabic culture is unexpected, refreshing, restoring faith in humanity of connecting for the sake of relation and not finance. The men at the souq shove pieces of exotic fruits and roasted nuts in our hands. Try it; do you like this? Try this one. Try, try.20160523-_mg_5206

Touring Amman

20160523-_mg_5175Amman, Jordan’s capital city, is rich in history with a modern vibe. The walking tour weaves us through the town, in and out of the fresh produce market (the souq), by the Al-Husseiny Mosque where men in long robes stream in for midday worship past the Theater and Odeon amphitheater up to the thousands-of-years old Citadel. In our travels, this is our first brush with ancient history. The remains of the Temple of Hercules reach skyward in an impressive display of ingenuity and art of the 2nd Century. The museum displays artifacts dating from the Bronze age as well as Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods: jewelry, statues, coins and pottery.

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Touring the ancient gives us an appetite for the modern. We feast on platters of hummus, falafel, pita and vegetables at the Turkish-run Hashem Restaurant and continue our gluttony at Habibah famous for kunafa, fried cheese topped with shredded wheat and honey. The switch from rice and vegetables to calorie dense, nutrient rich food bombs our stomach with satiation that we have been craving for months.

Petra

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On to the next is the theme in Jordan. With only 16 days left on our round-the-world trip, it is time to pack as much as possible in. The bus for Petra leaves at 6 AM sharp. Scrambling out the door of the hotel, we need a taxi NOW. A car pulls over asks where we are going. We negotiate 4 dinar to the bus station. Once inside the car we both realize: we just paid someone to kidnap us. Are we that naive? comfortable? stupid? It is actually a culminating moment in our travels. We ride the waves. Sharks may be in the water but the risk is worth taking.

The ride to Petra is uneventful until we arrive at our hotel. We have no reservation; I accidentally booked the previous night and we were a no show. I had lost track of dates and days of the week. Fortunately the manager is kind and allows us to stay at no extra cost; the only thing hurt is my pride as the trip logistics coordinator.

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Petra is unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced, duly earning its place as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It is like entering into Indiana Jones’ Last Crusade. Pictures can’t capture the hues of colors in the sandstone, the delicate carvings and the connection to civilizations of times past. The majestic awakens the imagination, spirals you to a time come and gone. Petra is a living museum of Neolithic villages, Nabatean trade routes, Roman conquest and ongoing Bedouin life. At the High Place of Sacrifice, a local Bedouin points out two fascinating facts: the tomb on the distant mountain is Aaron’s tomb and over 40 Bedouin families still live in the caves of Petra. 20160524-_mg_5603Jordan continues to illuminate the connection between ancient and current. History is part of their lives, their story, reminding us of the cultural differences in the concept of time and cycles of life.

Wadi Rum

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Asia has taught us to live in the present. Our plan: get to Wadi Rum and figure out the climbing situation after we arrive. We take the local bus and get dropped off in the slums. The small desert village looks completely abandoned and the one place suggested to check in about climbing knows nothing about climbing. Frustration rises. The planner side of me cringes. What were we thinking? What are we supposed to do? What a mess! We take a walk to simmer down/check things out. There is one “travel agency” open who knows someone who knows someone else. We return to the rest house where we dropped our bags, resigned to eat lunch and wait to see what happens. We have no option. No plans. No guidebook. No information.

Word travels fast. The friend’s friend of a friend, brother to a “famous climber” finds us. We are dubious at first but have no other leads. We follow Muhammed to his brother Muhammed’s house (maybe same father, different wife? we don’t inquire). Next thing we know, we are sitting in the living room floor, sipping Turkish tea and discussing an agreement to be dropped off in the  middle of the desert at a climbing area. The problem, we still don’ t have a guidebook. “Don’t worry, I know the area.” We get into the well worn white SUV and bounce our way through sand dunes into Burrough Canyon. Muhammed points, “Climbing there, over there too.” Nothing more specific. “I pick you up in 4 days?” he asks. “No!” I exclaim. “Only 2 climbs here. Need guidebook. Come back tomorrow with guidebook. Don’t leave us here for four days!” His guidebook is off somewhere with an Israeli group; we expect it is not too challenging for him to retrieve it.

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Burrough Canyon

At 2 pm, it is scorching. We set up our tent in the shade of the rock next to a pile of camel bones sticking through the sand. With only time on our hands we wait for evening to check out one of the vaguely referenced chimneys to climb. After closer inspection, we cannot differentiate one line from the next. It all looks possible but we can’t risk being on an undeveloped climb without anchors or way off the top, especially this late in the day. Our exploration leads us across sand dunes back to camp where we settle for a one pitch route next to our tent.

20160526-img_2936As the night air cools we start cooking dinner from provisions that haphazardly bought from a tiny shop next to Muhammed’s house: canned fave beans, rice, pita and hummus. The flavors satisfy and comfort us. Finally we are alone in the wilderness, home with each other and our tent. We rise with the sun to ascend Merlin’s Wand, a stunning 5-pitch route. Adrenaline revs our engines, reminding us that it has been a few months since we have climbed.

Back to the tent, we take a midday break and wait for Muhammed. I realize that my communication may not have been clear. Is he going to come back today? Should we pack up or wait? By 5 pm there is no sign, but we have nothing else to do but pack up our life. Like a true Bedouin, it is time to move camp. Just at the moment we were losing hope, the rattling of Muhammed’s “camel” rings through the desert. He came back.

Muhammed is drenched in sweat. He rubs his head, asks for medicine and pulls out a new guidebook. “I drove 2 hours to Aqaba for this.” Conflicted to be excited for his nobility or to be scared for how much we are now indebted to Muhammed, I attempt to express balanced gratitude. We are baffled. Grateful, but uncertain. Jordan hands him another 50 and we hope to settle up later, although our cash has all but disappeared at this point. We hop in his car and search the book for the next location to camp and climb: Jebel al m’Zaygeh.

Jebel Al m’Zaygeh

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Life has become an amusement park. Jump on the ride and laugh or throw up. Tonight the mood is calm. Guidebook in hand, tent reset and sunset views lull us into a peaceful evening. The morning brings more stunning climbing, a 4-pitch climb called Runner Up, a 2-pitch climb called A Pale Moon Rising and a few sport routes on the face in between the dihedrals.

The camels grunt and groan in the distance, sounding like ewoks invading from space. 20160525-_mg_5858

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On cue, Muhammed returns. He is impressed with our morning session. On the way back, he asks where we are going, do we need a place to stay. Unsure if this is a welcoming invitation or a financial transaction we openly say, we have very little money left. We would love to stay at your place if we are not in your way. Also, would you be interested in accepting our rope in exchange for the transportation and lodging? Grumpily he does the side to side head shake that we loosely translate to okay, maybe.

Jebel Rum East Face

By 5 pm it is cool enough to consider climbing again. Hiking past the ruins of Lawrence of Arabia’s spring, we go to Jebel Rum East Face to sample the first pitch of Inferno. The day closes around us in purple hues as we return to our makeshift room on Muhammed Hussein’s living room floor.

Jebel um Ejil

Steep bedouin steps lead us into the narrows of the canyon, twisting and turning into the depths of the maze. Traversing slabs and down-climbing gullies we finally find our way into the heart of the Rakabat Canyon, to our climb, Beauty. This is one of the most superb lines we have eyed in the desert. Clean cracks and liebacks to the final unprotected off width pitch. Jordan basically free solos the pitch, finally finding a #1 placement 30 feet after leaving the ledge. On top of the climb, the sounds of the repetitive prayers, warmth of the sun and beauty of the place validates why we spend so much time climbing rocks. There is depth that cannot be described in words, only experienced to understand the beckoning call.

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20160528-img_2978Beauty is our last climb on our rock climbing trip around the world. It is a summation of what we have experienced: new cultures, overcoming challenges, adventures, rewards, insight, renewed spirits, connectedness, laughter, increased trust and reliance on our faith for strength and ability to push through uncomfortable situations to find the beauty within.

 

Somewhere along the past few days we must have struck friendship with Muhammed. For the first time he invites his wife to join us for Turkish coffee. We sit awkwardly and stare at each other until Muhammed breaks the silence with funny climbing stories from his past. He accepts our rope with actual excitement in contrast to the stoic expressions we normally receive and we donate Jordan’s dented helmet and a couple pairs of well loved climbing shoes. In the end we are friends.

Aqaba and the Red Sea

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The Red Sea connects Israel, Jordan and Egypt. All three countries are visible from the shore. We travel south to stay at Bedouin Village near the Japanese Coral gardens. The hotel that we randomly pick from Agoda happens to have a scuba and snorkel shop. Jordan goes to check out the rates for snorkeling while I settle into the room. He returns in a few minutes and asks, “Do you want to go scuba diving instead? We have to decide now.” After a series of yes, no, yes responses, I realize there is no legitimate reason to not go. I wasn’t sure what to expect.20160529-img_3006

Our “surfer dude” guides give us the full run down. The suit of armor feels better in the water. “Practice breathing through your tube,” the guide says. Cool, no problem. That was while I was standing with the ability to lift my head above water. The next test was to go down 3 feet and practice breathing. Jordan and his guide took off while I struggled with the simple philosophy of breathing underwater. After a couple times of coming up for air, I disappointedly realized that I might not be able to do this. Fears flood my mind, fears of water flooding my lungs. The theme is not encouraging. I mentally fight a losing battle of negotiating with myself underwater to trust the tube. I am faking it good enough to go deeper. That’s when panic sets in. My exhales increase so rapidly that I can’t calm my breathing. And what is worse is that I am stuck 20 feet below the surface of the water. We can’t go directly up, we have to pause three times before I can plunge my head above the water and gasp for air. I have never felt this way before. It is like all the fear of the last ten months is being released. It is irrational: choking, the tank not working,  sharks. The rational is yelling at the irrational while emotionally I’m in tears with the battle. My guide patiently takes my hand and says, “You very strong woman. You can do this, I know.” “Yoga breathing.” So we lamaze and zen out until I can fake looking calm again. I don’t want to miss out on seeing the wonders of the coral, diversity of sea life and the ship wreck. I forcefully talk myself into calm breathing, yoga mindset, slow, fighting the demons while remaining present enough to engage in the world around me.

We travel under the surface, far enough to see the coral but close enough to escape quickly. Fifteen minutes of handholding, I want to go into the depths of the water and see the floor of the ocean face to face. Comfortability sets in and I would smile but then the mouthpiece would come out and I would choke and drown. On with the story, comfortability sets in. My eyes are opened to another layer of life, of color and freedom. I rip through the barrier of fear to discovery. Curiosity and desire are powerful tools in helping defeat fear.

When we emerge from the water, Jordan is oblivious to my struggles. He had jumped right in and set off, unknowing to my panic attacks and battles. Some fears can only be faced alone, well kind of alone. My guide did hold my hand 95% of the time. 🙂 Out of all the things that we have done on our trip, this is one of the most memorable and that I will cherish. It isn’t about always doing the easy or the comfortable. When we push beyond, we discover more about ourselves and grow into a more secure person.

The lasting memories of Jordan finish with an ocean adventure swim with a merman. He beckons us toward him “Please come. Fire coral. Stone Fish. Danger!” We swim over to our new friend. He pulls us toward him in an awkward triangular hug. From the pocket of his swim trunks he pulls out pita–fish food. Swarmed by thousands of fish, the ocean comes to life. Come with me, he says. Mesmerized, we follow. He wipes our hands on slimy coral that nourishes our skin. Then he disappears for a few minutes to re-emerge holding a sea urchin in the palm of his hand. We wade through the swarm of purple stingless jellyfish. “I show you the dangerous things now.” We swim to fire coral, then he teases a stone fish from its camouflage. Come, rest. He pulls us in for another awkward triangular hug. “Water, good for your eyes. Take off your masks and clean them!” So, we obediently do as he instructs. It is refreshing; no burning or stinging. My body shivers uncontrollably but the adventure is such a precious gift that we continue. He disappears again, pulling up a sea cucumber, snake skin and live coral. What seems like hours later we bid farewell to our Merman and to the incredible journey throughout Jordan.

Travel Tips

  1. Buy the Jordan Pass in advance to arriving in the country. The pass covers the tourist visa and free entry to any national park and historic site, including the very expensive Petra. The pass would have saved us a couple hundred dollars, but we didn’t find out about it until after arriving.
  2. Go to Jordan, it’s awesome.

Twist of Fate

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The last month has been the most adventurous of our travels. When we returned from our arduous trek in the mountains, we see a message from our friend Dave Saugen, the Director of Tall Timber, asking for urgent prayer. The program director put in a 3 week notice, leaving at the start of staff training. We, more than anyone, know the repercussion of such shocking news. It affected us whole-heartedly in unexpected ways.

Jordan and I were led to Tall Timber following a five-month honeymoon trek of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009. The long distance trail was a separation from the lives we formerly knew, allowing us to grow into different people and opened our lives to be led wherever God was calling. The trail was the physical manifestation of turning from our lives and societal conformity. We stepped into an unknown realm and were delivered the words “wilderness ministry.” Does that even exist, we wondered. Coming from the South, wilderness and ministry are incongruent words. The church and environmentalists, incompatible terms. However, we opened our ears, eyes and hearts to something new and discovered a culture of camping ministry when we passed by a youth camp in Oregon. We could barely believe that this really exists: teaching youth through discovering God’s goodness in His creation, natural divinity.

The next and last month of the trail entered into the heart of Washington state through the Cascade mountain range. Climbing into the Goat Rock Wilderness area, we were immediately in love. In one vista, we see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker. The mountains lifted toward the heavens, bringing the map to life. The desire to live and explore the Cascades saturated us.

When we finish the hike, I am anxious for the next step. I google “wilderness, ministry, Washington.” God maximizes the SEO for Tall Timber—it is the first link that pops us. Immediately I felt that we would be going there. There is a summer job opening specifically for wilderness ministry, called Caravans. We would be climbing, mountaineering, biking and paddling while sharing our faith. Also, it is a discipleship oriented camp, teaching kids on the journey of faith, not a Bible thumping fear-based, turn or burn, mentality. The position was so aligned with the thoughts we had received while hiking that we have no questions in applying.

That was in October of 2009. In April we loaded up our truck and trailer and drove 3,000 miles across the country with excitement of spending the summer leading Caravans and volunteering through the winter so we could ski. The summer was incredible, every day a new adventure. The camp families welcomed us into their community and we spent every moment of free time exploring the trails, mountains and rocks in the area. Leading the Caravan program challenged us to grow as leaders, taking care of youth. At the end of the summer, the Program Director put in her resignation. Could this be for us, we wondered? From December 2010 to August 2015 I served as the Program Director in this unique outdoors-focused, relational ministry while we established life in the valley.

Five years later, we said goodbye to working at Tall Timber, in dire need of restoration through sabbath. We diligently stayed through several major staff transitions, the last being the passing of 35 years of directorship from Stan Fishburn to Dave Saugen. We had received a prophetic word when we traveled to Chile in 2012 from someone who had previously served as a Pastor. We hadn’t even shared our struggles, but the Spirit spoke through him “Stay longer than you think you need to.” He had no idea that we were wrestling with thoughts of leaving, of questioning the next step. But his words stayed with us through each challenging corner of discerning our timing for departure. At each moment our minds said, “Go,” we were met with “Stay” until we experienced the peace of blessing.

In October 2015, we set off. It was a strange feeling to wrap up life to start anew, entering into unchartered waters with a ticket booked to Australia to start a round-the-world trip. Nine months into our traveling, after visiting Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal, we get the urgent cry for help from a place that has been integral in our lives. Our hearts respond with a preposterous thought…..would we return for the summer, could we actually do that? We verbalized it and laughed at the absurdity of the thought. We prayed with Dave, hoping that the right person would fill the gap. Then God did what God does. He turns our worlds upside down. He planted desire for us to Go. As Jesus says, Follow Me, to his disciples, we unmistakingly feel that there is no question. We would come. We laugh again at these thoughts. It seems absolutely crazy, but not crazier than summer camp without a Program Director. We pray over the idea for several days and have affirmation when the idea of not going back is more disappointing than moving forward. What would we miss—more mountain adventures, Eastern Europe? The need of Tall Timber felt greater, more purposeful. We tend to be really selfish people, honestly; we can only attribute the change in our hearts as continued transformation from our faith. To Dave’s astonishment, we called and said, “We’d like to come back, if you want us.”

After a three week stopover in Jordan and Israel (posts to come), here we are, back at Tall Timber for the summer. IMG_3108It is surreal. It is still laughable. We are perplexed as ever at the crazy turn of events. Greeted with open arms, it is a special homecoming and a chance for us to unpack—both our bags and our minds—from the ongoing inertia of traveling. Stopping to catch our breath is a good thing, as we will continue traveling again in the Fall.

Time has taken a different dimension. Living in the moment, being present, is a gift that we are cherishing in this stage of life.


Irreconcilable Differences

On April 24, 2015, disaster struck Nepal. Lives destroyed, buildings shattered into a dusty rubble. Reconciling the odds between my world and here. Comfortable, clean air, beauty, running water, abundance of food, prosperity and freedom. The dirty air sits low polluting the lungs. Hacking coughs, asthmatic breathing in the third most polluted city in the world. Filth. Destruction. Buildings shattered, lives crumbled. Children selling themselves on the street. Despair is unwelcoming to a tourist. Extreme tension is easiest to avoid, but when awareness starts, velocity builds. Reconciling the odds is not possible. I see poverty. I don’t know what to do. I see destruction. I look the other way. My life is easy. I am rich. I cannot hate myself for the discrepancy. I cannot live in peace. The tension painfully exacerbated by the harrowed eyes, desperate. My world is shattered, like theirs. The tension deepens as I am looked at as a financial transaction. First and foremost, I am your sister, your Didi, your Baini*. I am a person who cares. The palms of the hungry are upturned. I pass by sorrowfully. Why you? Why not me? Helpless, just like they are. Helpless to help them.

*Nepali terms: Didi-Big Sister, Baini-Little Sister


The Great Himalayan Adventure Part 2: Makalu to Everest

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The wilderness offers discovery, pushing limits, engaging with surroundings and experiencing growth. Very few places are open for that type of discovery in the Himalayas, forced into the throng of people herded in the same direction. Seeking the path less traveled and eager for an adventure, the triple col route catches our attention. The route requires full mountaineering gear, mountain navigation and crossing three of the highest passes in Nepal: Sherpani, West and Amphu Labsta. Better yet, it remains legal for independent climbers to access without the circus of guides, porters and porters for your porters. The prepping begins for our expedition by meticulously weighing all of our gear, making a spreadsheet, purchasing a few more pieces of gear (down pants, stove fuel and snow pickets) and finding a grocery (harder than you think) to supply for 5 days in the backcountry.

Day 1: Kathmandu to Khadbari
20160424-_MG_3597Flying is the most terrifying piece to the puzzle. Small prop planes, steep valleys, third world regulations. Terrified and exhilarated, we catch our first views of Mt. Everest in the most iconic mountain range in the world. The quick flight takes us to the village of Tumlingtar. The first orders of business are to figure out how to get to Num, our launching point for the trail, and finding a porter. With 100+ pounds of gear, clothing and food we are depending on assistance to Makalu base camp where we will start our journey into the wilderness. We arrive in a dusty haze, swarmed by independent jeeps insisting they will take us for only $150. No thanks. We stumble around town. Jordan heads into the streets; I bury myself in WIFI, coming across a recent blog about the journey to Makalu BC at our moment of greatest need. This is or first reminder that we are not alone; God is here, tangibly present assisting us through the most difficult parts Apparently there is a public means to get there. We just need to get to the next town, Khadbari, and catch a 6 AM jeep the next morning.

Day 2: Khadbari to Seduwa
The morning begins by piling 14 people into a normal size jeep to start the 4-hour bumpy ride. 20160426-IMG_2810Twenty minutes and the back tire goes flat. I’m thankful for a breath of fresh air, stepping out and praying for relief of my stomach cramps from yet another food born illness. You would think that our stomachs would be adapted. Although we have a theoretical porter listed on our spreadsheet weight division, we do not have said porter. Getting more accustomed to flying by our pants, we get to Num with high hopes that sink in the next hour. No sign of porters in this town. A drunken Nepali with broken English stumbles into the picture. He has the perfect guy so he says. An hour later he returns with the next best guy (“perfect guy I could not find”). He’s wearing boots. Good sign. He doesn’t know how to mount our bag. Bad sign. He and I walked equally slow. My breaking fever and nauseation slowing me down; his first time carrying weight and alcoholic sweat dripping down his brow.

Day 3: Seduwa to Tashagoan
20160429-_MG_3788Easy hike, three hours uphill. The porter quits! I have never been so thankful for what should be a bad moment. No porter would be better than this porter, but God brings miracles from disasters. Dhoma, the teahouse owner, translates between us. He speaks zero English and I don’t think the Nepali words that I know—water, eggs, toilet—are helpful in the conversation. More relaxed that he’s gone than staying, we trust in a bigger plan. It’s delivered. Dhoma, of the Nepalese Sherpa culture who live and climb highest in the mountains, phones her nephew. He arrives in minutes, bag packed, brawny by Nepali standards, bright and interesting. We swoon. Lakpa Sherpa is our hero.

Day 4: Tashagoan to Khongma Danda
Night and day. The lightness of the situation transfers to our steps and we spend the day at ease, climbing up to 3,000m to Kongma Danda. The owners, Pemba and Shiva, are Lakpa’s uncle and auntie—amazing. While we feasted on fiddlehead ferns at Dohma’s, Shiva withdrew wild mushrooms, a variety of Chanterelles, to accompany our dahl baht (lentils and rice). For the first time while hiking in Nepal, it feels like a genuine experience. We are invited into their space, treated with local cuisine and are content to just sit and wait for the long hours to pass, sharing time together.

Day 5: Khongma Danda to Dhobate
Dhabote is a temporary hut that Pemba occasionally opens. Conveniently he hands Lakpa the keys. The weather yet again dictates our travel. Afternoon rains consistently force us to stop around 2:00 p.m. We are anxious, eager to keep moving, nervous about the objective ahead. Even though the day has been on tougher ground, up and over a couple passes through some icy snow, the day feels so young.

Day 6: Dhobate to Yangle Kharke

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The trail parallels the river, slowing us down over landslide areas entering into a lush valley where yak and goats graze surrounded by a mountain cathedral. The afternoon is spent with rest, chasing baby goats and scoping out the granitic walls, awaiting to be ascended for the first time.

Day 7: Yangle Kharke to Makalu Base Camp
20160501-_MG_4053Giant granite domes, a glacial carved valley, shepherds and livestock. The magnitude of the beauty is overwhelming as the scenery shifts dramatically to dry glacial moraine at the foot of Mt. Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world. Walking the last hour through wind and snow, we finally reach the much anticipated Makalu BC.

Day 8: Makalu BC, Swiss BC, Makalu BC *Gear Drop
Lakpa has completed his task; now it is up to us to finish our expedition on our own. Our “rest” day is a four hour gear drop where we take the mountaineering bag to Swiss BC. The trail increasingly becomes more difficult, walking over unstable talus. We tuck our bag beneath a boulder, not that anyone else was passing through. Back at camp, I declare bath day. The bath is a water basin of hot water used inside the outdoor toilet that is missing its roof. My wash was lovely; however, Jordan’s became cooler by the minute highlighted by the howling wind by the time I was dressed.

The second night at Makalu BC was incredibly special. It was just Jordan and I, plus the owners Pemba and Pisang. (Note: Sherpa people are often named after the day of the week they are born. Pemba is Saturday.) We discover that Pemba did not start climbing until he was 35 and has since summited Everest 9 times in the last fifteen years. His sister is currently on an expedition attempting the southern route from Tibet. Pisang, shyer with less English, opens up. She shares Chang, the local fermented beer as we look at pictures of their beautiful children who are in private school in Kathmandu. Language ceases to be such a barrier.

Day 9: Makalu BC to Sherpani Col BC
As we were leaving, Pemba goes to the back room, extracts two juice cans and blows off the dust from the top. “Good for the mountain,” he says as he gifts them to us. The gift touches the deepest sense of generosity that we can imagine. We are not the only tourists coming through; despite that, he chose to pour love into us, wishing us luck and blessing in the mountains. He energizes us as we retrace our steps to Swiss BC. The full load is hardly bearable. 20160502-_MG_4187My pack weighs around 40 pounds, Jordan is at least 55. Braking our hiking speed, we finally reach our base camp after a 10-hour day of wandering across talus, hunting for the glacial snout where we must camp in order to make two of the passes the following day. We are whipped. Darkness falls by the time we setup our tent and crawl inside to cook dinner. The first order of business is to make hot water. In a matter of seconds our quiet vestibule has turned into a bonfire as the fuel canister bursts into flames. Jordan kicks it out, managing to unscrew the fuel before we lose all of our gas. In shock, I stare mouth open at what could have been the biggest disaster we’ve ever had. Singed but not scarred, Jordan regains composure and we continue with making dinner.

Day 10: Sherpani Col BC to West Col Bivvy
What I am about to describe to you is the most physically challenging, and borderline epic, day of our lives. First, we never heard the alarm and woke up an hour late at 4 AM. By the time we were walking, the fatigue of our heavy packs and the altitude gain starting taken immeasurable tolls on our body and minds. It took hours to reach the base of the first pass then even more to crawl our way up through rotten snow and loose rock and rappel back over the icy side. The rappel spits you onto the Barun glacier, the most isolated area of our expedition. To boot, it is a total white out with eight inches of fresh snow. Disoriented from the fog but needing to move, we traverse the glacier as best as possible, pointing ourselves in the direction we think we should go. An hour of zombie mode hiking is interrupted by an adrenaline boost as Jordan’s leg shoots into a crevasse. Fortunately it was small or he is big (or both) and we remember we are traveling a freshly snow covered glacier. The fog lifted for a brief moment. Mostly on course, we readjusted to align our position to the West Ridge. After another hour of hiking we are standing at the notch, dog tired. We are faced with the choice to attempt the 200m rappel to the other side and possibly have to continue hiking for a couple hours to camp or to bivvy right here at 6100m. We had become physically lethargic and mentally dull from the fatigue and couldn’t trust our ability to descend safely, so we started making camp: digging out the ice to make a platform for our tent and melting enough water for the night. After an hour of exhausting chores, we plummet inside our sleeping bags, take diamox to help prevent AMS by increasing the oxygen in our bodies and prayed that no rocks would fall on our heads.

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Day 11: West Col Bivvy to Somewhere Past Buruntse BC
Still breathing, we wake to a beautiful sunny day. Since we are only 5m or less from the notch, we take the morning slowly. During second tea, we have another fire explosion in the tent’s vestibule. This one’s even worse. I cross threaded the fuel attachment to the canister the previous day. Worse than the fire (that we again survived), our fuel had leaked all night. We still have 2-3 days out. Fuel is our source of food and warmth (hot drinks, nightly hot water bottle for the sleeping bag). There was one hope, to make it to Buruntse BC where extra fuel might be laying around. Before thinking about that, we need to get down. The altitude has affected us more than we realize and each passing minute we feel worse. What follows is a harrowing 200 m rappel on a fixed nylon rope with three attachment points: the anchor and two additional ropes tied to the first. The rope seems to be from this year. Our motto is to back it up for Jordan; if he makes it, surely it will hold me? Not sure how sound that philosophy is, but so far so good. Once on the other side, we are thankful for the decision we made to stay under the col. The glacier offers no immediate respite. We follow existing footprints through the heavily crevassed glacier.

Now to find fuel, Buruntse BC. The map shows it in the vicinity of our location, but we see nothing. Determined to get there, we trek on until we are stuck in a dry valley. No base camp and now no water. Today was supposed to be a short day, but the only thing we can do is to hike another hour downhill to find water. The advantage—we are 1000 m lower than the previous night and should sleep and feel better. I’m mentally trashed. I think I was on my third crying breakdown of the day. I hate being cold. I hate being scared and vulnerable. The past two nights I have dreamed about sauce burgers, steaks and hot baths. I’m over the mountaineering. In my journal write, “I just want to be a normal wife. Jordan needs more climbing friends so I don’t get dragged into this.” I had resigned that we weren’t going further; we were bailing via the lower trail and escaping to Lukla. I waited until the next day to divulge my plan.

Day 12: Somewhere Past Buruntse BC to Amphu Labsta BC
So much for my plan. Looking further at the map, we can either proceed and be in civilization the next day or have another week of hiking just to get to Lukla where we would be three days further behind on the continued trek to Everest Base Camp. Rest reset my bitterness, but I was still dubious and a little chafed that I didn’t get my hot water baby the night before due to fuel conservation. The hike to Amphu Labsta BC is a breeze. We reach the upper lake in just a few hours where I notice a tattered piece of blue tarp in the distance. I sit down my pack to go investigate, stating “another man’s trash could be our treasure.” Turns out there is nothing but trash by the blue tarp, but I keep exploring. Adjacent to that site, I find a stone circle with four fuel canisters sitting there. Before my heart leaps, I shake each one, newest to oldest. The last one that could sell for a trail antique is full!20160506-_MG_4448

I had promised myself no tears today, but God’s faithfulness and goodness overtake me. How could I forget that He is our guide, with us each step and again, turning disasters into miracles. My confidence is restored. Firing up the stove eager to make endless hot drinks, I am startled by a thick German accent “Hallo, Ver is da tea-haus?.” I laughed, then realized he wasn’t joking. Thankfully they were fully supported with food, but had heard rumor that there was a teahouse at the basecamp. Many times I get irritated with other people ruining my wilderness experience. I am grateful, relieved, exorbitantly thankful to share company especially as we make our last (and most dangerous) pass the following morning.

Day 13: Amphu Labsta BC to Chukhung

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The pass is a stark difference from the others. As a group of four, we maintain a steady pace navigating to the massive ice blocks. One technical pitch, 10 m of mixed snow and rock slows us down, but after that we cruise past the chunk of ice and relish in the views. The rappel down is facilitated with the extra rope from Roland and Flo. Although more technical overall, the last col is much easier. I am thankful that we did not reroute an extra nine days to avoid the best crossing. Once on the other side, we have a four hour push to make it to civilization. We make our way, Nepali style, resting on every other rock. Exhausted yet rewarded, we’ve made it to the other side.

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Day 14: Chukhung to Dingboche
One hour of hiking today, to a teahouse with a bakery! We were recommended this teahouse by a fellow hiker we met on the Makalu. He mentioned the owner is a trustworthy climber who could help us find a porter to take our bag south to the town of Namche while we traveled north to see Everest Base Camp and to travel over two other passes. No longer needing our ropes and mountain equipment, we need to shed the weight so we can travel faster further. The owner mysteriously disappears after we check in. A familiar problem, no porter. At dinner we were chatting with a Nepalese guide leading a group tour. He had impeccable English, so we figure why not ask him how to go about finding someone in the town. He says, “I’ll talk to you later.” Hmmm. After dinner he says, “My porter isn’t carrying much. He’ll take it.” Come to find out, this porter has hiked the entire Great Himalayan Trail—120 days of mountain travel—on the expedition that fueled the writing for the guidebook that helped us cross our passes! We are stoked to be in the company of this guy and are honored to pay him to carry our gear. Before we leave, we exchange info with the guide. His name, Lakpa Sherpa. God, the great comedian.

Day 15: Dingboche to Labuche
I’m not sure what happened to the philosophy of travel light and fast. Another round of bad food doesn’t help the pace. Neither does walking 30 minutes in the wrong direction downhill.

Day 16: Labuche to Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp

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Everest Base Camp is in full glory, an array of colorful tents, choppers every fifteen minutes and climbers sprawled in masses. The weather pushes the summit date to May 19, so there is an air of restlessness in the camp. We are mesmerized, imagining the life of these climbers, the huge production that it is to climb the mountain. While it is quite the circus, it is enjoyable to be in the presence of greatness.

 

Day 17: Gorak Shep to Dzongla
Jordan begins the day with hiking up Kala Patthar to watch the sunrise over Everest. I begin the day with an extra three hours of sleep then French Toast. The pictures are great 🙂

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Day 18: Dzongla to Gokyo
My energy finally returns after a few days of struggling. We easily cross the Cho La Pass then descend down to the town of Dragnag, decide to keep going over the glacier to reach Gokyo—the best place on the Everest Circuit. We stay at Namaste Lodge where we are treated like family, offered hot drinks upon arrival and chased down by the owner Pisang to bid us farewell with biscuits (cookies) for the road.

Day 19: Gokyo to Lumde
Too anxious to sit and wait another day, we cross the Renjo La Pass on a cloudy day. This is supposed to be THE view of the Sagamartha himal but we cannot summons the patience to wait. We pause at the pass for an hour, break out the stove and make tea, praying for the clouds to dissipate. Everest briefly comes to view enshrouded in the highest of clouds. What a mountain!

Day 20: Lumde to Namche
I have to keep reminding myself that there is no vehicular access in the mountains–Namche is large by any standards, built into the hillside tucked next to the Sagamartha national park. Apple pie, bread, brownies and yak steaks greet us in the mountain village.

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Day 21: Namche to Lukla
We stood for 2 hours at the end of town debating whether we wanted to go north for a second mountaineering objective or if it is truly time to leave. At last we determine our hearts are not into another 10 day push. We can be proud of our accomplishments without needing more. Unfortunately the stall puts us way behind; Lukla is a hard 6+ hour hike, especially with the reunion of the beloved mountaineering gear.

Day 22: Lukla to Kathmandu

With no flights in 5 days from bad weather, the airport is absolute chaos. We thrust ourselves at the airline attendant displaying our tickets. The way it is supposed to work–you have priority on the date of your ticket, otherwise it is the waiting list. I believe we were quite lucky, only delayed and bumped for an hour and a half. I also think we were the last flight of the day; the pilots nervously navigates through thick clouds but delivers us safely to Kathmandu. Truly the scariest part of the journey. The flight records are not so good.

20160521-_MG_5045Nepal has captured our hearts. The mountains have refilled us with adventure excitement joy and a reminder of how present that God is with us. Spending the last few days with our friends who run Bethel Fellowship Trust ministry in Kathmandu, we have been offered a bigger perspective on God’s kingdom here in Nepal. We had the opportunity to share a message with bible students as well as the congregation yesterday. In essence, we shared 4 cycles of journey (from Quadratos). 1. Stepping into the unknown 2. Experiencing suffering 3. Receiving joy 4. Applying what we learn through the journey. And the cycle continues. Our journey in Nepal has taught us to be willing to listen to what God has put on our hearts and be willing to go. Yesterday I ended the message with: serve God with open hearts and open hands. An open heart to receive his love and open hands to share it with others.

 

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Annapurna Circuit Via Tilicho Tal

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Kathmandu. Over the years, this name sounds in my head with a reverential whisper: Kathmandu, gateway to the Himalayas. We arrive with expectations of embarking on a great expedition like many climbers before us, planning to check off a couple 6,000 meter peaks. Two major problems encounter us immediately. One, our bag of mountaineering gear sent from New Zealand has not arrived. Two, the government no longer allows independent
climbing of most peaks above 5,000 meters. A permit, guide and certified climbing company must be involved at a price that we are unwilling to pay.

Our plans are shattered. Beyond discovering the gaping hole in our climbing plans, our gear is somewhere in the Nepalese standard post—no insurance, no tracking number. Clever us trying to save a dollar. Google “shipping to Nepal” and you will find stories of stamps stolen from postcards and packages never found.

Best laid plans. We are reminded to unclinch our fist and to hold our palms to God, asking for direction amidst confusion. We are powerless, but we attempt to rest in His control—knowing that our faith isn’t causal and that bag or no bag, there is a plan for us and we are willing to follow. Without our gear, we start looking at the Annapurna Circuit as an alternative option. With a three month visa, we have plenty of time to cover both the Annapurna and the Everest region.

The day before we leave for Annapurna, we meet our Nepalese connection (whose address we used) to take one last look at the post office together. We were escorted into a back room where lo and behold, amongst random chaotic boxes, our beautiful dingy grey bag sits on the floor. Jordan picks it up, only to hear the postman say “No, no, no” with a subtle grin. The process begins. Four rooms, two fees, many stamps, endless written records and one hour later we emerge with our bag. We are dumbfounded—the bag was lost and now is found. In our hearts we are aware that it is profoundly a blessing. It takes constant reminders to remember that we are always cared for.

Relieved to have our bag, we plow forward with the plan to trek the Annapurna Circuit. Now that we have our mountain clothing, we can add an element of adventure—crossing the remote Tilicho Tal instead of following the herds over Tharang La pass. This will involve camping at 5,000 meters (that’s over 16,000 feet!) at the foot of an icy lake. No guides, no porters and no other people.

Day 1: 7 AM Bus from Kathmandu to Dumre; Local bus to Bhulbule Hike to Ngadi: Hiker’s Lodge
Today we discover the love/hate relationship with buses. The cheap cost gets us where we need to go. As we are on the bus, I realize that I have never seen a teahouse. What do they look like? Will we be able to find one once we get to where we are going?

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Day 2: Ngadi to Chamje: Tibetan Inn
A wrong turn at the beginning of the day leads to an all day road walk. Road defined: bumpy gravel, passing more cows than vehicles. Not bad but not that pleasant either. Combined with our heavy load and the exhausting heat, we question our choice of hiking the Annapurna circuit, the need for a tent when there are thousands of beds and entertain the possibility of catching a Jeep to cut out a few miles along the way. We don’t realize our misery until after lunch when no other vehicles pass. We are stuck in our decision, trudging forward to find a place to rest for the night. Mind you, this is only our second night in teahouses that we can now spot a mile away. At dinner the owner informs us not to be alarmed at anything strange that may happen that night, the family was hosting a spiritual ceremony. The chanting lulled us to sleep despite the noise of slaughtering a chicken. The ceremony became most interesting a few hours later when they burst into our room and throw salt at us. Bemusing is all I can say.

Day 3: Chamje to Quanche: Royal Mountain
20160408-_MG_3362Hardest mental day of the trail. Three days in we are committed to moving forward and let go of the idea of catching a ride. I hadn’t realized that I had placed my happiness in getting a ride. Once I let go of that, I am immediately  more relaxed in my surroundings. For teahouse trekking our packs are ridiculously large, containing all of our sleeping gear, mountain clothes and food for 4+ independent days. The tension between what we are doing and attempting to go against the grain swells.

Day 4: Quanche to Chame: Marshangdi Mandala
The rain forces us inside at midday for the most spectacular display of thunder, rain and lightning. We wake to fresh snow on the mountains.

20160408-_MG_3237Day 5: Chame to Gyaru: Yak Ru
Best day on the trail for miles covered and excitement. We stop midday to eat lunch on top of a private knoll. Across the valley the mountain rumbles before us, whooshing down a cloud of snow in a massive avalanche. The display reminds us of the beauty and force of the mountains. The day concludes in the mountain village of Gyaru, at 3700m, in an old lodge resembling a medieval castle with its timber framing, stone work and giant windows. Our bedroom faces the Annapurna range, a live cinema to display the changing mountain light.

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Day 6: Gyaru to Manang: Tharang La
Manang is a welcomed retreat, bakeries displaying apple pies, chocolate cakes, croissants and pastries. Immediately we say, “Rest Day tomorrow.” We haven’t been hiking many days, but the heavy packs have worked us. Additionally, Jordan has been suffering from severe GI distress for the past four days, so it is time to pump some antibiotics in him.

Day 7: Rest day Manang
Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, dessert, lecture about acute mountain sickness (AMS), watching a private showing of “7 years in Tibet” in one of the world’s highest cinemas and a yak sizzler for dinner. We celebrate 7 years of marriage in style.

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Day 8: Manang to Tilicho Base Camp
The day after a rest day is always slow moving. Lethargy builds, and the fear of our upcoming adventure lurks in my mind. The unknowns of weather, altitude, and navigation create anxiety.

Day 9: Tilicho Base Camp to Tilicho Tal (Lake) North End

20160412-_MG_3472The steep climb to the lake is not as hard as expected, but the wind is fierce at the top. Faced with the decision to spend three hours climbing to Eastern pass or crossing the frozen lake, we opt for the latter to conserve energy. Crossing the lake is terrifying. It is obviously solid, but my imagination runs wild with the what ifs. I literally have to chant, “God have mercy, God have mercy, God have mercy” to avoid having a panic attack. The longest mile of my life delivers us to the north end of the lake where the wind disappears into a sunny afternoon. Home sweet 5,000m home. The cold forces us in the tent at 6:00 p.m. Sleep comes and leaves us around 2 a.m. when our bodies start feeling the cold. I remember reading an article about chocolate bars spiking your body temperature so I insist that we each eat a candy bar. Strangely enough it seems to work; we sleep again until 5. It is always coldest before the sun rises, but we have the promise of a beautiful day.

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Day 10: Tilicho Tal to Jomsom
20160412-_MG_3516We spend the morning in luxurious sunlight, drying out our ice cave (tent), drinking multiple cups of tea and preparing for the big pass. Mandala Pass is an easy ridge walk, but the trail after becomes more confusing in the glacial bowl. The map sucks. The lines don’t match the actual geography and we pick our way over another ridge that delivers us back to the main trail. All of the reports we had read mentioned the need for full mountaineering gear to make this pass. We have a pair of microspikes that are helpful, but nothing more is needed. From Mesokanto La South, we descend forever with a storm approaching our backs. We fly through thorn bushes attempting to make it to the next listed town on our map, Kaisang. Upon arrival, we inquire for a place to stay. 20160331-_MG_2972The guy looks at us, dumbfounded and says, “Kaisang. Military Camp.” We emerge from the trail hours later after series of friendly questioning by two commanders and multiple officers, assuring that we are not spies just weary hikers who want food and a bed. They relent to let us pass, giving us a military escort out of the valley. Ten hours later we are finally in Jomsom eating a hearty dinner of dahl baht, the local cuisine of rice, lentil soup, curried potatoes and pickles.

Day 11: Jomsom to Tatopani: Himalayan Inn
Love hate relationship with the bus. We skip ahead to Tatopani, about three days of hiking from Jomsom. With our objective accomplished, we are interested in heading onward to prepare for the next and decide to skip the dusty road walking.

Day 12: Tatopani to Gharopani: Hungry Eye Hotel
Up and up, climbing 1500m to Gharopani. Our muscles are in grind mode now, and the day is relatively relaxing as we end at Hungry Eye hotel for the night. It is our best stay on the trek. Situated high on the hill, the third floor windows open to the mountains. The food is especially well prepared. We splurge for dinner: tomato salad, potato salad, macaroni and banana fritters with custard for dessert.

Day 13: Gharopani to Birithenti/taxi to Pokhara: Peace Eye Guest House
If your friends are all jumping off the cliff would you do it? Apparently yes. We followed hundreds of trekkers up the sunrise trek to Poon Hill. Unfortunately there was no cliff to jump off, no views either, just people everywhere. The haze was too thick. The early morning kickstarts our six hour descent to finish the trail at Birithenti where we are happy to grab a taxi to celebrate in the laid-back city of Pokhara.

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One trail behind us, another before us. We regroup in Kathmandu preparing for the next trip, a month long excursion that will require hiking into Makalu Base Camp then up and over three snowy 6,000m passes (Sherpani, West Col and the infamous Amphu Lapcha) to the Everest region. Many challenges confront us, mostly the need to haul our heavy gear up and over each high altitude pass. Mostly, we are invigorated from our last trip and hope for a good journey to come. The rest provided by our gracious hosts, Binod and Leegan, has restored our bodies with energy from the abundance of delicious foods, many hours of sleep and sharing in Christian fellowship of their ministries here in Nepal. Monday we fly to Tumlingtar where Himalayan Adventure Pt II begins.


Good Morning Vietnam

20160330-IMG_2667Visa on Arrival. Who would have known that we need a pre-approved letter confirming our VOA from immigration PRIOR to arrival? Let’s be honest, that’s not a visa on arrival. Cash always carries through. We shell out four times the amount of the typical fee to a shady urgent visa company who withholds our paperwork at the Hanoi Immigration Office until we pay additional fees. Farewell Thailand, land of smiles.

Hanoi is exciting and alive with the hustle and bustle of daily life. Crossing the street is even an adventure, dodging scooters, tuk-tuks, taxis, buses and cars at an incomprehensible flow of chaos.

20160317-_MG_2243In the Old Quarter, each street specializes in its own item where aggressive vendors attempt to sell the exact same product. There is door lock street, underwear street, toy street, party street, shoe street, and so on. The food excites our palettes with new flavors like Cha Ca La Vong (turmeric catfish fried with dill) and Xoi Xeo (turmeric rice topped with mung bean paste, meat and friend shallots). From Hanoi, we launch to Cat Ba Island where we spend the bulk of our time climbing with our gang, the Whites and the Crandalls.

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Cat Ba is relaxed and empty in comparison to the city.

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20160321-DSC05459The dismal weather slows us down, but good climbing is still found in Butterfly Valley, only a scooter ride away. When the weather clears, we take a basket boat to climb at Tiger and Moody Beach. Although Vietnam is known for Deep Water Soloing, the high tide is harder to catch and beside the icy water is home to an abundance of jelly fish. While the climbing isn’t as visually impressive, the quality of the rock is surprisingly good. Jordan even onsights his first 7a+ (5.12a), a sporty dihedral called Buffalo Love.

The Slow Way

20160327-DSC06215To end our time in Vietnam and to celebrate three months of traveling together, we hire a “junk boat” to cruise the Ha Long Bay with the Whites. The tourist industry is a bit lacking in Vietnam; they haven’t quite figured out the whole customer service philosophy. Traveling tip—you get what you pay for and if it seems to good to be true, it is. That said, our time on the boat is fun and enjoyable but a little lacking. For example, they give each couple 1.5 Liters of water for three days. However, the boat allows us to extend our adventures, kayaking to climb a multi pitch route off Tiger Beach and paddling through some crazy caves.

Five months of climbing has given us strength and ability to push harder in the sport, but we are starting to be fatigued and the motivation is low. The lure to trek in Nepal is growing stronger.


Chiang Mai Ele-phun!

Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is an enjoyable stop. The downtown is surrounded by a moat and relics of the once fortified city. The enclosure creates an odd sense of comfort.

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20160305-IMG_2124Markets bustle every day of the week in various corners of town, offering tastes of local cuisine like grilled squid, slow roasted pork, sour pork and grilled sausages stuffed with spices. While we could have spent most days wandering around the streets on food tours, we had to support our appetite with a few activities like playing with elephants at one of the many animal farms in the mountains.

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A highlight of our trip is a three day butt-numbing scooter excursion to the mountain towns of Pai and Sappong where we stay at a stilted jungle inn and explore Cave Lod.

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20160307-_MG_1919Oh, I suppose I should mention the climbing. In between scooter excursions and food touring, there was good climbing to be had. Crazy Horse Buttress is 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai in the Mae On Valley. CMRCA manages the area and have developed it into a popular destination along the SE Asia climbing circuit.

An unexpected treat is a day spent with our friend Derryl that we met in 2012 through the Wycliffe Adventure Races. Now a resident of Chiang Mai, he treats us to a morning at a Thai church and an afternoon of mountain biking through orchards and forests. 20160313-IMG_2389While my spirit was amped for a new activity, the muscles were on fire. One might say that I pushed really hard. 20160313_151654Fortunately spa treatments are cheap in Thailand–six dollars for a body massage. This is not just a massage, it is a full out Thai stretch. Be careful if you ever ask the 80-pound grandmother for a hard massage. What she lacks in strength, she makes up for with bony elbows and heels. I literally came off the mat, biting back the strange mixture of agony and relief.

~After five weeks in Thailand, we are content with our adventures and ready to move on to the next unknown.


31 Going on 13?

 

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Last month I turned 31. That is so strange to see written down—31! Thanks to my fun-loving husband and friends, I got to feel more like 13 on my birthday—screaming, laughing and acting crazy on a deep water soloing trip in Tonsai.

Deep water soloing (DWS) is a style of climbing where you solo (no rope) and fall into deep water, hence the name. The adrenaline is exhilarating, scaling up to sickening heights and plunging into the depths below. It is amazing to push into a different mental zone, committing to challenging moves, knowing that there is only one way down. And it is fast!

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Tonsai Basecamp guided our expedition, hauling us to the cliffs in long tail boats and kayaking us back and forth from the boat to the rock. Midday we stopped for lunch on a private beach then put on our masks and snorkels to spy on the world beneath the water’s surface. The afternoon session of climbing challenged us to new heights as the tide receded. All in all, it was the perfect day to celebrate being alive.

 

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20160218-_MG_1115Maybe I am supposed to be more settled or achieved in a career at this point of my life. Or maybe I am where I am supposed to be, deep water soloing with my husband and best friends in the Andaman Sea.Time will continue to pass and as it does, I realize that my worth is not dictated by the norms, that I do not have to live inside of any boxes. I want more. We were meant for more. I don’t yet know what that is, but I am trying to find it.


3 Weeks of Climbing in Tonsai, Thailand

Time no longer has the same dimension with an open-ended trip.

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We have the luxury to explore areas as we go, booking one flight a time. And if you fall in love with a place, you just stay.

20160217-_MG_0898Three weeks disappeared in Tonsai (on the Pra-Nang Peninsula in Southern Thailand). Thousands of routes adjacent to bungalows, bars and cafes made life too easy. A combination of jungle and ocean, climbing on the Pra-Nang is the perfect mixture for glamorous climbing (glimbing?).

20160215-_MG_0803Most days begin with eating breakfast on the porch of our bungalow, climbing for a few hours, grabbing a fruit shake, midday swim at the pool, climbing more, maybe another dip, then off to sample the nightly dinner specials at Mama’s Chicken: fried rice, stir fries, pad Thais, curries, bbq fish or chicken. Disregard rumble gut and it is truly paradise.

The first week here was intimidating to say the least. The 2005 guidebook talks about three things: hard routes with defective bolts, snakes and evil monkeys. Fear one: bolts popping out of the wall doesn’t inspire confidence. Fear two: five types of Cobras in addition to green vipers. I already have an irrational fear; I do not need more reason to panic. Fear three: monkeys stealing our gear. From the moment the monkey at the zoo nailed me in the head with a rock when I was five, I knew the truth of their evilness.

I honestly was so afraid the first day in Tonsai that I felt immobilized. I frantically shook out my shoes before every climb, latched down my pack and could not lead without obsessing about falling. Fortunately this was short lived. What I didn’t realize was that my biggest enemy was actually attacking me internally, helping to attain “Tonsai Tummy.” Climb harder through rapid weight loss. Being decommissioned for a couple days was actually good. I was so anxious to climb afterwards that I forgot about all the so-called hazards. The monkeys keep their distance; the snakes never appear and the newest guidebook indicates updated routes through the Thaitanium project for bolt replacement.

20160214-_MG_0720Guiding is a booming industry for the local Thais. There are a few climbing areas that are best avoided during the hours of 10-4, like Diamond Cave, 1-2-3 Wall and Muay Thai. We learn this the hard way before branching out to new areas.

Stalactite splits, mono pocket pull ups and juggy reaches characterize the climbing. 20160219-_MG_1589There are three main climbing areas: Tonsai, Railay West and Railay East. The climbing on the Tonsai side (where we stay) is broken into morning and afternoon sessions due to the sun’s aspect. In the morning, climbing is at “Tonsai,” the big overhanging roof where the hard men and women send 7s and 8s, Dum’s Kitchen and Tyrollean Wall.

The multi-pitch highlight at Tonsai is a five-pitch route called Humanility that is best described as climbing in 3D through the stalactite crux. The routes at Dum Kitchen and Tonsai are reachy and polished, making everything feel extra hard. The better spot is Tyrollean wall with the classic route Missing Snow, 6b+. The best climbing areas at our grade go into the shade in the afternoon: The Nest/Wild Kingdom, Monkey Wall, and Fire Wall. One of our favorite spots is Eagle Wall, accessed at high tide by a long tail boat. 20160213-_MG_0690

Railay West is a 20-minute walk from Tonsai; even quicker with low tide. The picturesque Thaiwand Wall and Wee’s Present Wall are in this area. Thaiwand is the most striking of all of the walls; we climb a 5-pitch route up the face called Continental Drifter (7a).

The Keep is located on the opposite side of the Peninsula, Railay East. The Keep is a hidden secret of 6c (11b) routes. The routes are high quality; long and facey, exhilerating. Kat and I enjoy our first slew of 6c onsites (though the grades felt a little soft).

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Whether boredom or fatigue, there is always a point of diminishing return where rest days are essential. Here’s the real beauty of Tonsai: there is always something to do. Ten dollar Thai massages are lazy climber’s yoga; it is my dutiful injury prevention to have at least one per week. Hiking trails zigzag across the peninsula, leading to mysterious places like lagoons and caverns.

20160217-_MG_0995 If you are willing to pay some extra baht, then there is the full gamut of guided trips like deep water soloing and snorkel tours. Be forewarned, the snorkel tour is not for independent climbers and may result in frustration of horde mentality. However, we can’t complain too much about the chance to see other islands, bays and rainbows of fish.

One event that we lucked into was Tonsai’s Big Cleaning Day—actually it was two days but the translations don’t always add up. That is what we call “Same Same” (but different). Big Cleaning Day is geared toward climbers to help clean up trash around the peninsula. The tourist culture has unfortunately created a lot of waste from takeaway containers, cigarette butts and thousands of plastic straws and wrappers. Trash pickup happened in the mornings, and bigger celebrations at night. The highlight was the fire show where the local Thais showed off their fire throwing skills.

Tonsai has been a restful stop for us–all of us–after being on the go. Traveling in a group of four, aka “the awesome 4some” (dubbed from NZ ice cream with the flavors: cookies and cream, vanilla, chocolate and goody goody gumdrops) or “framily” as we otherwise call ourselves, gives our experiences a unique dynamic. First off, when does the opportunity ever arise to adventure around the world with your best friends when you are in your 30s?

Aside from the awesomeness of that, it is incredible how four personalities offsets the polarization of two. If one person is in a bad mood (which does still happen even though life is ridiculously good), then there are multiple offsets. If everyone is in a bad mood, we just call it a day and restart later. Just sharing life intimately is a gift. Traveling brings out the best and the worst, and I feel refined by the grace, patience and love that we are all growing into. I hope that I can really cherish this trip for what it is in each fleeting moment.


Door to a New World, Thailand

Thailand is paradise. Beautiful beaches, limestone cliffs, and friendly people greet us in our fourth month of international travel. The Western world is behind us, and the Orient before us. The door opens to new experiences and a broader perspective on the trip.

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Thoughts from Jordan:

Searching, yearning, what is it in us that always is wanting something more? To be doing something different. To be somewhere else? I am in Thailand in perfect weather with my only responsibility for the day to climb some rock, and yet my thoughts drift to home.  Waking up going about my morning routine before heading off to the wood shop for the day.  Enjoying my craft and looking forward to returning to a wonderful meal of Lyndsay’s imagination. I think about the relationships with loved ones in my community and my family.  I suppose you would call it homesick but the problem is that home doesn’t exist anymore.  We quit our jobs and moved out of our house to travel the world. It sounds so romantic.

After spending the past two days vomiting from some sort of food poisoning I am feeling a bit jaded to the magic of world travel.  Life feels somewhat reduced to finding the cheapest but suitable shelter, food that is both edible and enjoyable, and how to climb continuously with out injury (even a small cut can lead to infection here).   Not having any responsibilities is great but it has a flavor of being unproductive that I just can’t get use to.  Why do I feel as if I need to be busy?  I have attached some portion of my self-worth to productivity and can’t discern if the desire is good or bad.  Is climbing productive? That is an even more complicated question.

Despite my stomach slightly cramping every time I eat, life is pretty good.  Spending a significant amount of time dealing with food, water, and shelter has a element of vulnerability, requiring a bit more of living in the moment.  It is impossible or at least maddening to attempt to plan and control every detail of life as a nomad.  I find this positive.  Difficult, but positive. It creates space for me to experience blessing.  Father seems to always know what I need and what’s best.

IMG_1672All that is required of me is to perceive everything happening as what’s best, aka living in the moment. You pick a place on the map that you are drawn to, possibly from a conversation with someone about that location which activates your imagination.  Next you work with what you can control–when to go.  When it comes to transportation you are at the mercy of time tables and price, always price.  Where you are going to sleep is surprisingly difficult to have pre-planned; you just have to show up and assess the options on the fly.  As for food, well in Asia there is Asian food. The point is most everything seems out of my control but somehow it all keeps going perfectly. I call it blessing. I suppose the more I focus on how blessed I am at any given moment the less I yearn for anything different.  Traveling is amazing but there is not a pot of joy to find at the end of the rainbow. (Jordan)


20160208-_MG_0355Joy is contentment and contentment is joy. We may not be there yet, but we are getting closer to discovering the joy in the spectrum of highs and lows. We are falling ever more in love with the rhythm of Thailand: climbing, beach, pool, relaxing, climbing more. Culture shock is apparently worse through the shadowy lens of sickness, but we are now relishing in our jungle bungalow, ocean view playground and daily treats of exotic flavors. Our stomachs still rumble from time to time and we get tired of the downsides of the nomadic lifestyle, but overall, we are living the embodiment of a dream and we are blessed beyond measure.