Sermon: Life Lessons from Mt. Everest

snow covered mountains, the veiw from pumori at sunrise

On Saturday October 4, I was privileged to have an opportunity to give a sermon at Orangevale Seventh Day Adventist Church. My topic was “Life Lessons from Mt. Everest.” This past April I was there when the avalanche occurred. Sixteen Sherpa were killed and in that aftermath my goal to summit became insignificant as you will see. I didn’t grow up thinking one day I would summit Everest. But I grew up with a desire to climb mountains, I just didn’t know it back then. So…this is not a story of me climbing Mt. Everest, but rather a story of a journey we are all on. Mine just happens to lead to Everest.

Life Without A Rudder?

The rudder guides a boat, just as we need guidance and direction in our lives

It has been nearly four months since my return from Everest and I still find myself in the space of uncertainty. I want to embrace the uncomfortableness, but I rarely do. It is a totally unfamiliar place for me. I never climbed Everest before, so “What do I do after Everest?” That is my unanswered question.

I have immersed myself in my life coaching business and begun studying to become a personal trainer and will be certified by the end of this year, but the question of what is my next big mountain keeps coming up and I don’t have a good answer. Nothing big has shown up like it always did in the past. Can I do “this one” was the draw for me and where I got my motivation. The challenge of the “unknown” hooked me and kept me going. Right now I don’t have that and I may never have it again. [Read more…]

The Best Father’s Day Present Ever

Jim at the summit of Lassen Peak with his two daughters, Shelly and Deanna on July 14, 2014

Lassen Peak July, 14 2014Sometimes life delivers a very unexpected surprise at just the right time. The surprise part makes the experience so sweet. This happened to me on Father’s Day weekend. I had my whole family with me, my two daughters and their families, 10 of us. We were missing my two oldest grandsons, Wayne and Drew, who were off doing life elsewhere.

I had rented a cabin near Lassen Volcanic National Park for the weekend and we decided to all climb Lassen Peak (10,463 ft. and 5 miles rt.) on Saturday with the exception of my granddaughter-in-law Taylor and her two young children, Aiden and Adalynn. Now you need to understand that none of my family is into climbing like I am. So I’m thinking I will need to encourage everyone to go as far as they can and that will still be a success. I’m telling everyone that there is no shame in not getting to the top as long as you have given it your best shot. I don’t know the author, but the quote I’m reminded of is:

Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. If you try then there is no shame of losing, but if you don’t even try because you are afraid of failure then that is dishonorable because you did not take the chance.

Both of my daughters, Shelly and Deanna, made it to the top of Lassen Peak!! I had totally underestimated their ability. It didn’t matter at all that they had never climbed anything before. They just put one foot in front of the other all the way to the top. You just never know. What a big lesson for me. My two younger grandsons, Allen and Thomas, and my son-in-law Ron also made it.

I was so very proud of my daughters. It was the first time we had ever climbed together. I’m finding it hard to describe the feeling of how happy I was. It was one of the most special days of my life. And for my daughter Shelly it was a very emotional experience. Her summit was the culmination of a lot of hard work to overcome the debilitating effect of a stroke she suffered several years ago following an operation. She definitely inherited the determination gene. She has been so inspired by what I have done that she is now setting her sites on Mt. Shasta next year. I believe she can do this. And who knows what then. I am also hoping that Deanna will want to join us too. Regardless, I am so proud to be their dad. What a special gift they have both given me, as has my whole family. I love you all!!

Shelly and her family at the summit of Lassen Peak on July 14, 2014

Everest 2014 Summit Update

South Side

Wang Jing

Wang Jing, a 41 year old Chinese mountaineer, reached the summit of Everest from the Nepal (south) side on Friday, May 23, 2014. On May 10 she and her team flew by helicopter to camp 2 to avoid the dangers in the icefall. The flight was authorized by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. However, it’s not known if the ministry will recognize her climb as an official summit.She was one of two climbers and a handful of Sherpa climbing the south side.

Cleonice Weidlich

The other climber, Cleonice Weidlich, 50, from Brazil but now an American citizen was there to climb Lhotse, but abandoned her attempt after reaching Camp 3.

North Side

Bill Burke

Bill Burke, a 72 year old climber from Costa Mesa, California, reached the summit of Mt. Everest from the Tibet (north) side on Saturday, May 24, 2014. He set a new record for the oldest American to climb Everest. He held the previous record for oldest American at age 67 when he summited Everest from the Nepal side in 2009.He is also the only person to climb all seven summits after the age of 60.

Poorna Malavath

The first person to reach the summit was 13 year 11 month old girl Poorna Malavath from Hyderabad, India climbing with Transcend Hyderabad. She became the youngest female to summit.

Reflections From Everest

Lighting 16 butter candles in Nepal in honor of the 16 Sherpa who passed in the 2014 Everest avalanche.

Lighting 16 butter candles in honor of the 16 dead Sherpa.

Since I returned to Sacramento the end of April I have had the opportunity to speak to several groups and a number of 8th grade classes. I have also been interviewed on two radio stations. What a wonderful privilege. All of these opportunities have given me time to reflect on my experiences in the Khumbu as well as my transition here at home. My time is filled now with uncertainty about the future, the “gap” as Beth Ruyak from NPR called it, but it is turning out to be a blessing in disguise. I have time to just be with everything that happened, and is happening. I can work out at the gym now because I want to and not because I “have” to. I can ride my bike and not be consumed with keeping a certain pace. I am having fun. I can go on a walk/hike and leave my 65# pack at home. I like that. I have a few mountains that I want to climb in my future – Lassen in June, Whitney in September, and Fuji next year. But I am approaching them with anticipation and not because they are part of a training regimen. It is such a nice place to be.

I have also been sifting through all the things that happened while on the Everest expedition and have found some things that I can take with me, not just for future climbs, but for living life. I found things connected with my preparation, the Sherpa, my family, and my higher power that may not be profound, but that are definitely lessons that represent an important way to approach experiences in life that leave us with an appreciation for them rather than resentment. I am sure there are still lessons that have yet to be revealed, but here are the ones that have already shown up and engaged me:

1. By failing to prepare you prepare to fail.

This is a quote from Ben Franklin that I first came across in 2008 as I was preparing for Denali. It served me well then and it became extremely important for Everest. I did everything possible to be prepared for Everest. Even though my team had to turn around I came back with no regrets because there was nothing else I could have done to be ready to climb. Of course there would be things I would do differently if there is ever another chance. It is what we call experience.

2. Our Higher Power is in charge not us.

We may think we have control, but we really don’t. I found that the more I would let go of this thing we call control the more peace would come into my life and the more ease I would experience every day. I didn’t have to struggle up the mountain.

3. Loving others is a very high priority.

After God and self (not in an ego way, but a caretaking way) our highest priority is to love others. This means putting others’ needs before our own. They in turn put our needs first. Wouldn’t that be cool. After the avalanche my first thoughts were for the Sherpa, and my family and friends. And in return I felt all of their love coming back to me.

4. Having a goal is good, but don’t go “all in” on it.

I went to Everest with the sole intent of getting to the top to become the oldest American to climb Everest. After the avalanche that goal was insignificant. It was “snuffed” out and the Sherpa and safety became the priority. Had my ego been consumed with the goal of getting to the top I would likely have become “devastated” by the loss of this goal. Not a wise choice since the outcome was totally out of my control. The better choice was to shift my thinking to something more meaningful and relevant to me, my family and friends, and of course the Sherpa.

5. Life requires an incredible amount of patience.

One of the biggest lessons on Everest was this one. We grow up wanting what we want when we want it. If we don’t get it right away we get upset, angry, or frustrated, or a combination of all three. I’m sure you have experienced it. But what was the first lesson from Everest – the universe is in charge not us. And the universe has its own timing and is often out of sync from our timing. Ever notice that? So the big lesson here is to work diligently at developing a lot of patience. Life will become so much easier.

6. Trust in your higher power, not in things and not in yourself.

This has always been a tough one for me because I did life by myself most of the time. I couldn’t, or didn’t, rely on others. I became very independent and adopted a “I can do it myself” attitude. It served me well for a while. You probably know what I mean. But eventually life became a struggle because it wasn’t working for me any longer. So what did I do? I started listening to this inner voice and complying with “instruction.” And life started working, especially on this Everest climb. In the midst of all the every-day “chaos” I followed the internal “instruction” and was able to find peace in trusting that all was well regardless of what I was wanting things to be.

There was one last lesson that I want to share. I have heard it before and you may have too, but I really didn’t understand the magnitude of the implications. Here it is: “You can love the mountain, but it doesn’t love you back. It could care less if you are even there.”

One Week Home

Everest Update – May 9, 2014

Yesterday marked one week since I returned from Mt Everest. I’m happy to be home sleeping in my bed, being able to take a shower every day, and experiencing the other comforts that we have here that are just not the same in the Khumbu, if you know what I mean. I am also slowly adjusting back to our time zone. In Nepal it was 12:45 hours ahead of California, so when I got back I wanted to sleep during the day and be awake at night. In a few more days I should be back on a normal schedule.

On a deeper level, I am still dealing with a lot of emotions surrounding the loss of the 16 Sherpa. On April 18 all of my emotions were centered on the tremendous loss of life we all felt in the aftermath of the avalanche. It was so sudden and final that nothing else mattered. Then those emotions soon got mixed with emotions over family and friends, and how do I get back to them safely. Once these raw emotions subsided (I was already on my way home) it became apparent that there was another loss that still had to be dealt with – the reason we all came to Everest in the first place. We came to climb. We came to challenge ourselves. We came to see if we could do it. Now that opportunity is gone. I am disappointed, frustrated, angry. I place no blame, but there is this feeling that I have some “unfinished business” left behind in Nepal. I know some of my team will be going back. I never say never, but right now I am not sure. I have a family that is very supportive, but I know my daughters have already said: “don’t do that to us again Dad.” That is a pretty clear message. Even though it was a privilege to be a part of our expedition I have an unwavering commitment to my daughters and the rest of my family. Just like the Sherpa families, my family doesn’t want to go through this again.

Being home for a week has given me some time to reflect, be sad, be angry, and just be. But it has also given me time to think about “what now?” I’ve spent the last 19 years climbing mountains all over the world, and more recently pursuing the Seven Summits. I have enjoyed it, been passionate about it, climbed with some awesome people, and been to some incredible places. But now what? What does one do after Everest? The past two months may have been my one shot at climbing Everest. And now it is over. Is there another “Everest” in my future? Quite simply, I don’t know. And nothing has shown up that indicates to me that there will be a new goal of that magnitude. And that will be OK with me. I will go about getting ready for whatever shows up. It is what I do. I am back in the gym with my trainer two days a week. I will continue peak hiking on Pyramid, Shasta and Whitney as I always have. And I will be back on my road bike again getting ready for the Tour de Tahoe in September. Not having an “Everest” right now, or ever, is fine because I don’t define myself by my goals. But preparing for a climb or a ride is what I do, and as Ben Franklin said: “Failing to prepare means you prepare to fail.” I just don’t know what I’m preparing for – today. Tomorrow may bring more clarity. But preparation is the key regardless.

Jim Geiger, Sacramento, May 9, 2014

In Bangkok

IMG guide Mike Hamill has done a great job of stating the facts with out embellishment.  This is worth a read – subscription required.  I’ve climbed with him on several high peaks. Great guy, great guide. 

Jim Geiger, Bangkok

Coming Home!

I leave tomorrow, Wednesday April 30, from Kathmandu at 1:30 PM. I fly through Bangkok and then Seoul on my way to Los Angeles. I arrive in Los Angeles at 10:10 AM, Thursday May 01. I leave LA Thursday afternoon and will arrive in Sacramento at 5:50 PM Thursday May 01. Can’t wait to see you all!!!

– Jim Geiger from Kathmandu

Finally arrived in Kathmandu

Finally arrived in Kathmandu this morning (Saturday). Spent the last two days waiting to fly out of Lukla, Flights kept getting cancelled because of high winds. The airport is quite treacherous even without winds, so we were OK with their safety precautions. First thing on my agenda when I got to my hotel was a shower which I hadn’t had in over two weeks. Next was lunch, then a haircut and shave by a barber. He
did a great job. Finished off with a foot massage. I’m planning to leave here on Wednesday or Thursday putting me back in Sacramento on Friday or Saturday. More details when I get my reservations changed.

On a more serious note, I have been involved in a lot of discussions the last few days about what now that the climbing season on Everest’s south side is over for this year. The only certainty that we have is that no one knows what will happen next year. Are the companies coming back to the south side or are they going to move to the north side? If they move to the north side will China allow them in? We don’t know right now. If companies come back to the south side are they going to avoid the icefall by shuttling climbers by helicopter directly to camp 1? This scenario would probably triple or quadruple the cost of the climb and price many clients out of the game. In addition, if helicopters are used to ferry clients and gear to camp 1 how will that affect the lively hood of the Climbing Sherpa? If the companies move to the north side how does that affect the economy in the Kumbu? As you can see there is a lot at stake here and no one has the answers to any of the questions right now. There is also a lot of speculation and rumors/ I’m not going there. These are all valid questions that the climbing companies will have to deal with during the off season. There are no simple and inexpensive solutions here. Each new strategy will have some major consequences. Stay tuned.

Jim Geiger from Kathmandu

Breaking News

BREAKING EVEREST NEWS:  My expedition was cancelled today, Wednesday, 4/23/2014, by International Mountain Guides (IMG) leadership. Apparently there is a faction of Sherpa that are threatening violence if any company sends Sherpa up Everest. In order to maintain the safety of IMG Sherpa and avoid any confrontation or injury to them the company has decided to cancel the climb for this season.

UNTIL TODAY:  Since last Friday’s disaster, all of us on my team have been dealing with emotions in the aftermath of the avalanche that killed 16 Sherpa. I saw dead bodies being flown off the mountain as they dangled from a 60 foot long line. The accident was a game changer for me. My priorities shifted in an instant. Where once the goal was the top, now the goal for me shifted to family and getting home safely. The risk was there before the accident, and it is still there.  But now there is no way to ignore it. Three dead bodies are still buried at the site of the avalanche. I was almost to the site of the avalanche the day before the accident, but now I look at the western shoulder of Mt Everest and see all the ice poised up there and wonder, is it worth exposing myself six more times to the apparent danger in the icefall to give myself a chance at the summit? If I was 40 years younger with no responsibilities my answer may be yes. Now a 68 year old great-grandfather the answer is probably not. Too many people are counting on me coming home. The one common thing all successful climbers have is a burning desire to get to the top. It is a complete focus, dedication, and commitment that doesn’t waver even when faced with adversity on the mountain. Without that burning desire a climber is exposed to more danger and even more risk because he is not completely “present” in the moment.  That desire will come back for me, I’m just not sure when or where.

I think the avalanche that occurred has set the rest of the ice field “in motion” and it is just a matter of time (I think a short time) before there is another avalanche in the icefall. Of course there is no way to predict that avalanche. But every day we listen to falling ice and rock all around us as other avalanches (up to 12 a day) send debris hurtling down the mountains surrounding our base camp. The big unknown is when the ice on the western shoulder of Everest will let loose causing the next avalanche in the icefall and possibly killing more people?

Before the devastating accident last Friday I was pumped just to be here and to have the opportunity to climb Everest and possibly set a record. Now that 16 Sherpa gave their lives my goal of being the oldest American to climb Everest is trivial and insignificant compared to what these men gave up to give people like me an opportunity to climb Everest. I am totally humbled by their sacrifice and want to respect and honor that sacrifice. The Sherpa have closed the mountain in memory of the 16 that died and also to ensure that their demands for higher compensation are met by the Ministry [Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism]. We all want something positive to come of this disaster and support higher compensation for the Sherpa in the event of a death. We have also discussed other alternatives that would support families that have lost a loved one. My heart is with the Sherpa and their families. It is not with the climb. The climb no longer has a high priority for me. And I don’t know how that will change given all the uncertainty of when the mountain will be open again and the danger that still exists in the icefall.

The story is still unfolding as the Sherpa seek changes within their government and as the climbing community on the mountain deals with the uncertainty of the climbing season. Some companies have already left the mountain and others are contemplating doing the same. In the aftermath of the worst disaster in mountaineering history there is still a huge respect between Sherpa and climbers. And there is a silent hope throughout Everest Base Camp that a real positive change will occur for the Sherpa and their families.

— Jim Geiger, from Everest Base Camp

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