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Dave Hahn – Back to “Normal” Life
Posted on June 15, 2009

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June 15, 2009
Arroyo Seco, New Mexico…… 7,500 ft.

By Dave Hahn

On the way home from Everest, I agreed to write about “reentry into normal life” before I remembered that the life I was returning to isn’t especially “normal.”

Mountain climbing is my normal life… so it isn’t like with the end of one big and successful trip, I’ve managed to put it all behind me and get on with “normal” pursuits. Some people do, indeed, manage that trick, but I don’t. Mount Everest tends to make me forget such details … apart from contributing heavily to the underlying abnormality. Two and a half months spent living with such a narrowly defined set of goals – stay safe, get up, get down… have fun – can make the rest of the world, and one’s place in it, recede into fuzzy irrelevance. Coming home brings it all back rushing in… or, in theory, should.

Over the course of a couple of June 2nds, I shared the flight back across the Pacific with five other First Ascent Everest team members. The flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles might as well have been labeled “The Himalayan Special” since it was chock-full of mountaineers and support teams. There were enough climbers from neighboring expeditions and mountains on the flight that it felt like something of a reunion, in the security lines and waiting rooms, with everybody comparing notes on weather and route conditions. In LAX, the customs and immigration people didn’t ask what my business was or what I’d purchased in 10 weeks overseas. Simply “Did you summit?,” making me feel both conspicuous with my big duffel bags and weird tan, and run-of-the-mill and common at the same time. It then felt awkward and inadequate saying goodbye to good friends and teammates in the jumble of baggage—and lost baggage—carousels and curbs in the busy L.A. night.

I got home to New Mexico on a domestic flight packed full of huge Americans the following morning … reveling in the easy availability of strong coffee and good newspapers. I kept fighting the urge to pay with rupees (nice trick if you can manage it) and the tendency to say “Namaste” to strangers. I drove up along the Rio Grande for two and a half hours to reach Taos and was endlessly fascinated to see leaves on trees.

I tried in vain to remember whether it had been snowing when I’d made the drive south in March … but the world seemed so different in so many ways that I could no longer remember having made such a drive. All I know for sure is that I would have been late for the flight and likely pushing the speed limit with a car full of overstuffed, last-minute luggage. That is always the way it is for me in March… too much to get done before Everest … rush … rush … rush. Such a good feeling then to be driving back in June with none of that same urgency. Not that things don’t need to be done “post-Everest” but I, for one, could not remember any of those things after crossing 13 time zones in 36 hours.

I hit the Taos supermarkets before driving home, partly because I’d need a little sustenance but also because it is such a thrill after Everest—even on a trip such as ours with excellent logistics and sumptuous cooking—to wander the aisles and be overwhelmed with choices and abundance. I began to bump into friends and acquaintances who’d been following our Everest climb on the web and in the local paper, and who were happy to welcome me home and congratulate me. I was not shy at all about accepting the congrats… and maximizing my own role in any success our team enjoyed (sorry Seth, Peter, Ed, Melissa, Erica, LamBabu, Jake, Tendi, John, Tom, Cheri, Gerry, Kent, Linden … it is all about me here … when you come to Taos, warn me and I could maybe be persuaded to share credit for our success), but I was also anxious to get home. So long being tied—literally and figuratively—to partners and teammates was making me crave a little time by myself.

I got that in the following days: napping at weird hours if I chose to, eating whatever and whenever and unpacking my bags ever-so-slowly while watching TV, listening to music, and browsing the web … all at once. This is where the lack of normalcy creeps in, since this down-time at home isn’t just “reentry” but inevitably “prep,” since within a few days I’ll be packing the same bags again and road-tripping up to the Northwest in order to guide Mount Rainier and Denali for the summer. It is more like coming down from an acclimatization rotation and getting a good rest in basecamp before venturing out and up again.

I’m starting to play at exercise once again. Everest conditioning is an odd fitness to achieve … all about legs and the muscles that make breathing possible, so riding my bike up the road to Taos Ski Valley at 9,400 feet is now fun and easy. Push-ups and pull-ups are pretty much out of the question though, since Everest sculpting in the arm department has a lot in common with whittled sticks and sharpened pencils. I find myself pulling Everest books off the shelves in order to understand better why the early expeditions chose to put the climbing route where they put it. I’m curious now as to how often monster storms and avalanches have occurred in the fifty-eight years of known Nepal Everest history. I’m anxious to review what the first men to reach the South Summit thought about when they looked across at the as-yet unclimbed and unnamed Hillary Step and the summit.

In short, despite having completed my 15th Everest expedition last week, I’m not quite finished with Mount Everest. I think most people would agree that such an admission skews reentry into “normal” life. But then … I’m also prone to walking around the yard happily smelling flowers, pulling weeds, and watching birds and cats play. I’m watching sunrises over the Rocky Mountains and spectacular sunsets off across the desert. What could be more normal than that?

Author: - Monday, June 15th, 2009
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  1. Michael

    Dave thanks for continuing your writing. It’s great to have your thoughts come full circle now that you are back in your ‘normal’ life.

  2. liquidsky

    Dave, it would be (really, really) great if you could do the Sept 13 Expe Muir at RMI. It would be a good rest for you and a (fabulous) chance to meet one or two of your fans (us) and additionally possibly very amusing as you watch them learn. What an opportunity !!!

  3. T-Dawg

    Welcome back Dave!
    Really cool that you shared some personal info. about your experience and about the “after climb” cool down. Offer still stands if you ever swing by SD, swing into R-400 and will do a team hike up Harney Peak, (highest peak east of the Rockies). It would be just a stroll for you, but it is fun. Be careful going up McKinley. Not a good year for climbers.

  4. GB

    Oh boy, a cat – nice composition.

    I began reading your dispatches in 1999 when George Malloy’s body was found. Your writing eventually compelled this hiker to take up mountain climbing. I love it; climbing has changed my life.

    Reentry into day to day life after a climb is an interesting sensation. Everything seems so alive, music sounds clearer, and for a short while life unfolds like a great piece of literature. And of course, a lot of sleep is involved, along with the penchant to be outdoors, walking. Your written words are powerful Dave.

    With deep respect,

    Namaste


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