Standing on top of the world: Denali climb worrisome, but quite an accomplishment

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2007

Even though June isn’t over, it has been an extraordinary month.

Actually, it started May 28. That’s the day my husband, Mark, left to climb Denali.

I had what you might call separation anxiety long before that day, though. I think it started the day he told me he planned to climb Mount McKinley — about a year and a half ago. That would pretty much make me a seasoned veteran of worry by the time he left.

Mark called me the day after he left to say the air taxi was backed up in getting climbers to base camp, a mere 7,200 feet higher than Kenai. No problem, I thought. I know he’s on the ground, and that’s a good thing.

Hours later he called again, this time to say they were on their way up in 10 minutes. My heart took a journey of its own — to my throat. But not to worry, he called me again an hour later to say the weather on the mountain turned them around and he was back in Talkeetna.

Gee, I thought I was on an emotional roller coaster! Mark was beginning to wonder if his journey would ever get started.

But it did. The next day at noon he called to say he was in the last group to go up, and they were leaving in 15 minutes.

“If you don’t hear from me in an hour, we’re on the mountain,” he said.

My heart was racing, but unexpectedly this time with excitement for him. I found myself eager for his trip to get under way so he could put all that training to use and go after his goal. In that moment I found myself being the cheerleader instead of the worrier.

I didn’t hear from him for three days. It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. There he was 9,800 feet up and talking to me on a satellite phone. He sounded so excited, so strong. I was caught up in the moment with him — only mildly worried now.

Unfortunately, the member of their team with the phone decided to return to level ground, and Mark told me not to expect to hear from him again.

That didn’t keep me from carrying my cell phone everywhere I went, though. I kept busy by going to dog agility competitions on the weekends, running my behind off directing Mark’s dog Cayenne through obstacle courses. I was doing pretty good, too, but it was tough to keep Mark out of my head on June 9, our 11th anniversary.

Little did I know that when I set my phone down to run Cayenne, Mark had begged a man on the mountain to use his cell phone.

I missed the call.

I think I would have been OK, except for the words he left at the end of his message: “I really wanted to hear your voice.”

Needless to say, it was difficult to do much of anything after that.

Four days later I got the message that the group was planning to summit. Luckily there was a link between the wives. Whenever one got a message, the phone chain began.

On Wednesday, June 13, at 5:59 p.m., Mark climbed to the top of North America, took some photos and headed down. One of those photos is of him holding my photo. Lord knows that’s the only way I’m ever getting up there.

On the morning of June 16, I finally heard Mark’s voice. He was in Talkeetna and — after scouring down a feast of burgers and some well-deserved brews — the boys were coming home.

I was giddy.

When I saw him, I jumped into his arms. It’s true: absence does make the heart grow fonder — especially when there’s no satellite phone.

After a few days of clinging to Mark, I think I’ve finally stopped worrying. Everyone who knows me has made it painfully clear to him that I struggled through his adventure. Most have told him he shouldn’t make any plans to do such a feat again without either a satellite phone of his own or a really good sedative for me.

It didn’t take him long to start talking about his next adventure, though: He’s narrowed it down to South America or China.

I only have a year to start worrying again, but after this trip I feel like I’ve earned the status of pro.

Honestly, I never worried about Mark. Him I trusted, it was Mother Nature who had me on edge. But despite all my jitters, Mark accomplished exactly what he set out to do: He climbed 20,320 feet into the air and then back to Earth.

I don’t know many people who are brave enough to do that. But I’m sure proud to say one of them is my husband.

Congratulations, Mark.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the managing editor at the Clarion. She can be reached at dorilynn.anderson@peninsulaclarion.com.



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