As soon as we turned around I was relieved to be heading back downhill, even though the descent was almost as challenging as going uphill. I kept repeating to myself, “Safety first.” At the base of the glacier we could finally sit and eat properly before continuing the onward trek, stronger but exhausted nonetheless. It took us a total of nearly 14 hours to get up and back down to base camp.
Even though the climb had its moments of exhilaration, I have to admit it was not a pleasant experience. Several of my toes were frostbitten, my left foot was still half-numb a week later, and years on I continue to suffer from fingers and toes that turn white and numb when I get cold.
We had put ourselves through a colossal, uncomfortable struggle for — in Hector’s view — nothing. He felt like we were huge failures. I, however, have chosen to see the experience in terms of what we did achieve instead of what we didn’t. We got to an elevation of around 5,500 meters, the highest point either one of us has ever been in our entire lives outside of an airplane. We used equipment and techniques we’d never used before. We saw Mexico’s other tallest mountains below us. And we got in great shape to do it.
Was it the altitude? The shaky legs? The steepness of the slope or the slippery terrain that led me to turn around before reaching our goal? At first I told myself that it was prudent to turn around when we did. Upon later reflection, I realized it was my fear and lack of self-confidence — and the belief that “this is good enough” — that left us a few hundred meters short of our goal. Fear and self-doubt are things I still need to learn to overcome. Even so, had we not turned around and experienced a perilous fall — which happens every year on the mountain — you might not be reading this tale now.
The most important lesson of all
An even bigger lesson Orizaba imparted was that I married the best man in the world. Hector is not by nature a mountain climber and never wanted to be. He’s not a high-energy, risk-taking adventure seeker. Never in his wildest imagination did he think he would climb his country’s highest peak. Nor did he ever have the desire to do so until I came along. But he embraced my goal and made it his own. He pushed himself for me, and then he agreed to give up the goal because that’s what I wanted. How many men do that without one syllable of complaint? Orizaba left me with a new admiration for the enthusiasm, determination and physical capacity that my mild-mannered husband has inside him. And even though he was disappointed, he didn’t blame me for our lack of success. He did, however, say that Orizaba was the end of his alpine career.
That’s what he thinks! I can hear the word “Kilimanjaro” whispering in my ear…