Twenty years ago today, we boarded a C-130 military transport plane bound for San Francisco from Pinedale, Wyoming. From there – after a requisite night of banquets and speeches – we hopped a much-larger C5a cargo plane (basically a flying warehouse with a 727 parked on top of it) to Maryland. There we picked up a high-altitude helicopter and some other supplies, crossed the country again to land in Anchorage, AK, and then winged out over the Pacific towards Japan. It was a whirlwind tour in two days, and after another two days in Okinawa we finally took off for Beijing, and – from there – ultimately to Tibet and beyond.
Through all of this travel, we were treated to fine dining, private rooms with fully stocked wet-bars, and military escorts to the VOQ.
This isn’t typically how a climbing expedition starts, but we were a bit different. We were Cowboys on Everest, and I was the team’s junior member. Honestly, this means that mostly I was along for the ride until I was told to stand-to, but – boy – what a ride!
Cowboys on Everest can accurately be described as perhaps the last of the old-school, siege-style, big-mountain expeditions. Because of this, we had some impressive sponsors and patrons. For example, technically we were on a White House sponsored mission to China, so the planes and the military lodging were part of the package. This was all courtesy of (then Wyoming governor) Dick Cheney, and another man who is the father of our current president. Apparently, he also had some sort of important job at the time.
(Yes, I’m aware of the irony – and don’t get me started.)
Outside of the occasional slide-show, I don’t talk much about this trip. This doesn’t really mean anything, though. I don’t talk much about many of my experiences. Partially, this is because my outdoor – and for that matter, most of my other – endeavors reside in a part of me that’s personal, and private. The moment of these experiences is far more important to me than the memory.
There’s also a bit of my own modesty at play, as you won’t hear me say: “Well, when I was on Everest…” That guy isn’t me. I just don’t need the cocktail-party conversation-starter.
But I digress.
The thing I wanted to share about today – the today of both now and twenty years ago – is that this was one of those life-changing events that continues to have impact. In life, we get these from time-to-time. Everyone has them really, both for the good and the bad. In either case, when a life turns radically on one event, it’s always seemed to me that this is a good time for reflection, and for thankfulness. While it might not seem this way at the time, the paths we’re pushed down are the ones that we are intended to take.
For this day twenty years ago, today I’m thankful, and still reflecting on what it means.
I may get back to you about the latter, but I doubt it.