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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Don’t Fear Heights— or Hemophilia

This is an impressive family with hemophilia, who did an impressive thing. I'm so inspired I want to go climb this mountain myself! We published this in the August issue PEN, but in case you missed it... here it is! Read and be inspired.

by Elizaveta Temidis

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.  —Sir Edmund Hillary

My son John and I are avid hikers, and we love a good dose of adventure. John is 15, a sophomore at Wallkill High School, New York, and has severe hemophilia A. He keeps busy on the school’s Nordic ski team, playing piano and French horn, and reading.
            But last summer, John literally rose to new heights: he summited Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US. Mt. Whitney is 14,509 feet above sea level, in the Sierra Nevada Range in California. A one-day permit means completing the 11-mile ascent and return hike—with an elevation gain and loss of 6,145 feet—in 24 hours.
            Driving to the West Coast from New York in the family car was an adventure in itself! We departed July 30, a beautiful summer morning, with Ramen noodles, factor, and audiobooks.
            The American West is beautiful and fascinating. Dust devils wander aimlessly on the Utah and Nevada plains. In Nebraska, a gigantic gate on Rt. 80 welcomes everybody to the Wild West! Carbon County in Wyoming proudly holds a Cow Plop annual event. Mustangs still roam free in Utah. Warnings about rattlesnakes are mundanely posted on garbage cans at rest stops. American pronghorn antelopes are the second fastest land animals after cheetahs. Our car can outrun a Nevada sandstorm.
            After a four-day drive through 11 states, we arrived in California on August 3 and pitched our tent at a campground 8,000 feet above sea level, to get acclimated to the altitude and explore before the big hike. We protected ourselves against black bears that roam the campground at night, gawked at the amazing beauty of magnificent mountain ranges, and chopped enough firewood for evening campfires.
            On August 7, we packed up and moved to Whitney Portal campground. We set up our tent, gathered our supplies, replenished our drinking water, and went to bed around 6:00 pm. We awoke four hours later, John infused his factor, and we set off on our grand new adventure at 11:45 pm.
            Faraway flashlights moving on the side of the dark mountain assured us we were not alone. We stopped every hour for a snack and every 15 minutes for a gulp of water, watching for signs of altitude sickness. The last two hours before sunrise were the darkest and made us yearn for the sun like never before!
            We greeted the sunrise at six miles, or halfway up the mountain, before going on to the infamous section of 99 switchbacks. The switchbacks were helpful and refreshing, and we named them after family members as we hiked. Freezing temperatures faded, and the views were astonishing! Reaching Trail Crest, we gasped at the amazing view of the Sequoia Kings Canyon Wilderness all the way to the Pacific Ocean. We were happy to see patches of fresh snow in mid-August, and even threw a few snowballs.
            We reached the summit at 10:30 am—tired, but relieved, grateful, and at peace. The absolute quietness of this incredible place was interrupted only by unobtrusive shouts of joy from arriving hikers. We took a photo of us holding a hand-drawn birthday card for my mom, whose birthday is August 8; and of a toy squirrel monkey that we’d promised Alex, John’s younger brother, to take to the top with us. Before heading back down, we celebrated with two little bottles of Coke, and spent the next hour in a relaxed, contemplative mood, taking our time, looking at the endless mountain ranges all around, while shivering in the cold, unrelenting wind.
            The hike down to Whitney Portal seemed harder than our hike up. We were extremely tired and had one desire: to lie down in our tent and sleep. Yet the wondrous scenery of mountains and cliffs, which we hadn’t seen during our ascent in the dark, made us stop in awe, taking photos and marveling at the beauty and ruggedness of this corner of the world.
            The last two miles were the hardest. We needed to finish before dark. We sang every Russian and American song we knew, and recited every Russian poem we could remember. We got some curious looks, yet our method worked so well that we barely noticed the miles pass.
            During the hike, John had no traumas or joint problems. He’s been on prophylaxis since age one, and since he began training on the Nordic ski team two years ago, he’s had fewer joint bleeds.
            After a 22-mile round trip, a total of 19 hours and 15 minutes on the trail, and a 6,145-foot elevation gain and drop, we returned to our tent happy and exhausted. We texted our family that we were victorious, overjoyed, nauseous, and tired. Then we went to sleep.
            We arrived home five days later, hungry and happy, full of news and impressions, eager to hug our family and grateful for everybody’s support. It’s possible that John, at age 14, might be the youngest person with severe hemophilia ever to climb Mt. Whitney! This climb proved to us that whatever challenges might stand in the way—hemophilia, fear of heights, or pain—our children with hemophilia need to pursue their dreams and live life to the fullest.

Elizaveta Temidis, 40, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and came to the US to study business in college at age 19. She is a high school mathematics and Russian language teacher with New Paltz High School and online Virtual High School. She helps run the Nyack Russian School and a Russian summer camp in the Catskill Mountains. She lives in Wallkill, New York, with her husband George and sons John, 15, who has severe hemophilia A, and Alex, 12.

 Great Book I Just Read

Denali's Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America's  Wildest Peak
Andy Hall [Kindle]

Andy Hall was just a child when his father, employed with the National Park Service as park superintendent, was present when Joe Wilcox and his 12-member team made a daring ascent in 1967 of Mt. McKinley, which President Obama has now called Denali, its native name. Only 5 of these ambitious and brave young men survived, and Hall, an accomplished journalist, recreates their journey and respectfully and accurately dissects the personality, the team problems, leadership conflicts, and the unforgiving Perfect Storm that hit Denali that fateful climb. Fantastic writing and a gripping story make this a page turner. Four/five stars.

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