Volume 1, Issue 4 - Proving yourself to yourself is a process

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Friday September 14, 2018.

When I got home from my attempt at climbing Denali in 2016, I was positive that my days of mountaineering on that level were over. I was disappointed, tired, angry, and had a severely bruised ego. In my own head, I was done. I knew I wanted to continue to do some leisurely climbing, backpacking, hiking and all of that, but gearing up and getting serious was probably in the past. I had even told people, including my climbing team on Denali, that hitting that summit would mark the end of my mountaineering career.

The Headwall

A view of the headwall and fixed lines up to Denali’s West Buttress from camp at 14,000 feetAs I sat at the top of the fixed lines on the West Buttress just a few days after I had celebrated my 41st birthday with no-bake cheesecake prepared by one of the best people I’ve met through the mountains, Katrina Bloemsma, knowing that I was heading back down unable to continue, I was crying. I was crushed to the point that I was able to get myself down, poorly, but was cramping and completely depleted mentally. I told the guide who brought me back to 14 Camp, J.M. Gorum, that I was pretty sad to be done, but I was done. Done done. He looked at me and laughed and said, “Oh, dude, you’ll be back.” Then he went back up the hill alone. I watched his ascent on the fixed lines from camp and it made me realize how ill-prepared I was for that climb.

For six months or so I struggled. I wasn’t able to stay in decent shape with my running and swimming. I more or less didn’t even show up to swim any more, and I only ran about half the amount I had the previous three years in that same time span. It was like I was depressed or in some sort of post-traumatic mental state. I couldn’t get motivated. As the winter hit and the snow came, looking at the mountains became interesting again. There’s something I love about a snowy mountain and the idea of climbing it. It’s way more interesting to me than doing the same without the snow. This was the catalyst to me getting back on the horse with regards to training.

By the summer of 2017, I was thinking that I’d give it another shot, but only after I did things to and for myself that had to be the litmus test. I had to lose a significant amount of weight. I had to pass training benchmarks that would show how much better shape I was in than when I went in 2016. And I had to let time pass to make sure I was still intent on achieving this thing. I set a goal for 2020.

For Christmas 2017, I got “Training for the New Alpinism“ as a gift, and began reading it. The book is as much about theory as it is about what to do to get yourself ready to climb seriously. I began putting a few of the techniques for training into place, and I began seeing results. The results were impressive enough to me that I suddenly felt like I had the tools to get back into this. So, that 2020 goal started to take shape. I was motivated, getting stronger and lighter, and improving my overall fitness. I credit this book with much of the improvement that enabled me to go out and PR and win a triathlon.

Now, we’re getting closer. One of the milestones I told myself I had to hit was to climb many more high mountains in the process of preparing. So, with the 2019 climbing season on the horizon, and dates emerging for guided climbs up Mount Rainier, I decided I’d pick a trip to train and practice on. This week, I signed up to do an expedition seminar climbing the Kautz Glacier. It’s another longer than normal Rainier climb, but different than the Paradise Glacier seminar I did in 2015 due to the more difficult terrain. I believe this will much closer mimic the difficulties of Denali, and give me a better frame of reference for when things get really tough in Alaska. It will also help me determine if I really am cut out for up to three weeks in the mountains with only difficult days ahead. That’s something I wasn’t ready for before.

So, this week, I renewed my dedication to the training necessary to get up these mountains with relative ease. It’ll likely be a big focus for me, and might be an overwhelming (for anyone having to listen) topic of conversation. This is by no means the end game. It’s the next step in a process that I hope works out, but am prepared to admit it might not.

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Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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