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Monday, September 12, 2011

I Was Right About Skiing

When I was about 11, my dad took me skiing for the first (and last) time. It was the most humiliating day of my life. I couldn’t stop on those darn skis even snowplowing like I’d been taught. Down I went. Down I went. Down I went. Just trying to get across an almost level area to the other side was fraught with peril. I started sliding, was able to grab onto a low sign before my feet when out from under me, and I was left hanging from the sign with an entire crowd of people laughing their heads off. I was never going skiing again! And I didn’t.

After a long and fairly accident-prone life, and being in the health management field, I have become convinced that as we age, by pushing ourselves, we will continue to function physically and mentally at a higher level longer than if we don’t. After last week, I’m thinking under certain circumstances, it can also get us killed.

Case in point: we belong to two different chapters of our University of Michigan alumni association: Denver and St. Louis. The Denver group has some frantically active members who do all kinds of things, including climbing mountains.

We found out they were climbing a numbered peak of 13,760 ft to apply for the right to name it: Wolverine Peak, naturally. Two weeks before that, they were climbing another “thirteener” so we decided it would make a good training hike. Now we have climbed 30 peaks over 14,000 ft, and two peaks of 19,000+ feet, including Kilimanjaro; okay, a few years ago.

So we showed up for the training hike to find 24 people there, all in their 20s and 30s, and us on the dark side of 60. The girls were all six feet tall with legs up to my armpits. They took off and we brought up the rear—and came pretty darn close to the top before we pooped out.

Now comes the big Name-the-Peak day. Knowing we are a bit slower than this pack, we start out 90 minutes ahead so we won’t get shown up too badly. This hike made the other one look like a walk in the park. We took the recommended route, which included an almost vertical scramble up a scree field of loose gravel with multiple snow fields. We could see the top beyond a field of huge boulders. It looked like we could shorten it a bit by crossing a very steep snow field. I led the way gamely, tramping across to about the middle, at which point my feet shot out from under me and I fou7nd myself body skiing down the mountainside over snow and rocks toward a precipice, with nothing to stop my descent. My poor husband had to stand there and watch, not knowing if he would be taking me home in a body bag.

My life and several others flashed in front of my eyes as I headed for the edge. Finally, guardian angel working overtime, I came to a stop on the edge of rocks. Frozen, soaked, scratched, and sore all over, I had more than 250 feet to climb up to regain my starting level.

The thing about near-death experiences is the adrenalin rush, followed by the rubbery legs. I think we both experienced that. We met up with the climbers near the top: five 20-something guys—and handed off the sign, so someone could take it back up and plant it. Limping home, I realized I had been right about one thing: Stay away from skiing. # # #