OK, I admit it. I'm obsessed. My bookshelves are overflowing with gut-wrenching accounts of epic climbs on Mt. Everest and other 8000-meter peaks. I can't get enough of the stuff! It's odd, I realize, for a non-climbing, middle-aged woman to have such a passionate interest in high altitude mountaineering, but my fascination began when I was only 13. 1963 was the year the first American expedition summited Everest, and after reading about it in National Geographic, I was mesmerized by the images and became an instant "Everest junkie". While other girls daydreamed about boyfriends, I imagined what it must be like to climb the highest mountain in the world.
The fantasy was probably fueled by the fact that, as an asthmatic, I could barely climb a flight of stairs without wheezing. And, as a wimpy Californian who thinks anything under 50º F (10º C) is practically unbearable, I never seriously considered climbing the big peaks myself. But even though I dreamed of seeing the Himalayas and the Sherpa villages I'd read so much about, trekking wasn't even an option at that point.
Medications and inhalers only marginally helped my asthma, but despite my limitations, I hiked and backpacked in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains—my back yard. These were usually solitary excursions because I couldn't keep pace with others. I had to plod along like a tortoise, but I gasped and wheezed and persevered. I'm sure the extra pounds I packed on over the years didn't help any.
In my late forties I took a job as an arborist that, much to my delight, paid me to hike all day. But asthma still limited my abilities, and I often ended up in the hospital emergency room or on steroids whenever I caught a cold. I was at death's door more times than I care to remember, and it became increasingly difficult to do my job. On one memorable visit in 2000, as I was gasping for breath, my doctor wanted to put me on a ventilator, but I refused. It sounded too much like end-of-life measures. In desperation, after I'd tried every medication on the market, he handed me a new inhaler called Advair. The change was immediate and miraculous. I felt like I'd been given a new life! I no longer wheezed, and I no longer had to carry a rescue inhaler every time I stepped out the door. A week later, I bounded into his office and blurted, "I feel like I could go trekking in Nepal!" He looked skeptical, but the die was cast.
Go to End >