When Dying Feels like Living

I was dying. At least that’s what it felt like. We were moving downhill, but that didn’t matter. It took focus to not stagger or drag my feet. The backpack felt like it weighed 3,000 pounds, not 30. I had no moisture left in my mouth but an ocean streamed from every pore on my body.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about the time my husband and I (his idea) hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River.

We started at 6 am and had intended to arrive at the bottom well before sunset.

We ogled the soaring cliffs. We peered into the dusty crevasses.

Due to the fact that I thought I’d been drinking enough water but it ended up had not been drinking enough water, I became dehydrated and we barely made it to the campsite before sunset.

Cue: earlier description of my zombie-like behavior.  At that point, I did not even have the strength to ogle anything anymore. I just focused on not stopping. Because we did not have $10,000 to helicopter me out of there.

One might be surprised to know, however, that there are cabins and a restaurant at the bottom of the Grand Canyon called Phantom Ranch. (And amazingly, flush toilets, too).

After we set up camp, we attended a hearty stew dinner that we’d signed up for months ahead with a room full of other guests, the majority of whom had ridden down to the bottom on mules.

In the morning, we headed back up, hiking halfway out, and camped. The next morning after that, we hiked the rest of the way to the top.

Fast forward to several years later.

A couple of years older but none the wiser, we fought to get into some kind of shape again, this time to summit Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 at nearly 15,000 feet.

The first attempt took place in the fall, around September. Thinking we’d skirt the crowds and still avoid winter, our gambling did not pay off, and we got stuck with dangerous snowy conditions at the higher elevations.

Please forgive my horrible edit job on my husband in this photo; he doesn’t want to appear anywhere in my blogs (or online) so I “deleted” his head. But that’s a shot of the narrow thruway bordered only by a thin wire railing that leads to the switchbacks that are higher up.

We had already slipped on the icy snow there, grabbing at the rail, our walking sticks useless, surprised by a sudden loud silence. What was the silence? Our hearts had stopped beating. At that point, due to the near-death experience and a descending hiker informing us of storms ahead, we abandoned ship and headed back down in defeat.

By the way, in this photo where I’m crouching on the snowy trail, what looks like little puddles of water way down below actually are huge, full-sized lakes.

At the camping site that night, the temperatures got to about -14 farenheit with frigid winds blasting through our tent. My husband and I, fully clothed, with our sleeping bags zipped together, clung to each other…and never once that night were we able to get warm.

Who had suggested avoiding the hiking crowds? What kind of nightmare was this? But man, oh, man, was it gorgeous.

Shoot forward eight months later, late spring.

We finally made it to the moon!

Seriously, though, the top of Mt. Whitney does look like the moon, doesn’t it? We had returned during a temperate month, avoided winter altogether, and finally made the summit.

The hike started early in the morning before sunrise and took all afternoon, with us returning to camp a little before sunset. We had small oxygen canisters that we never had to use because our training at Mt. Gorgornio (11,500) and Mr. Baldy (10,068) had helped immensely to acclimate our lungs and our bodies to altitude sickness. We passed many people on the way up gasping for air, unable to continue, some even vomiting. It was advised, once you acquired a headache, not to take Ibuprofen or Aleve and keep going. It was advised to turn around and go back.

It had been no easy feat. I remember one training period at Mr. Gorgonio where we were heading back to the car after camping and summiting the mountain. At some point, I realized I was making a weird sound that I couldn’t control. I was whimpering. Because every step I took felt like knives were slicing through my feet and straight into my bones. Knives made of lava and sprinkled with shards of glass. I could not believe how much my feet hurt. Could not believe it.

But then weirdly, amazingly, once we reached the car and started driving home, within ten to fifteen minutes, they were completely back to normal, as if nothing out of the ordinary had even happened.

Back on Whitney, we stared out across the stark moonscape into the vast horizon, humbled and staggered. We’d felt much the same in the Grand Canyon. The pain and suffering had been immense, but we didn’t regret it. We’ll never be able to experience those places in that way again, and the beauty that wasn’t ours became ours for a moment, having been so hard won, making it somehow more piercing. Elevated. Sublime.

47 thoughts on “When Dying Feels like Living

  1. Are you sure those moonscape pics weren’t created with photoshop Stacey? lol
    Please forgive my little bit of attempted moon hoax humor there.
    I know it’s a different type of ‘climbing’ Stacey, but your excellent post brings to mind two things –
    The first is this scene from the 2021 Ralph Fiennes movie THE KING’S MAN –

    And, speaking of moon-landing hoaxes, the second is this moment (unfortunately not as clear as the first clip) from one of my my all-time fave movies CAPRICORNE ONE (1978)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha. Thanks, Glen. I remember the “cliff/climbing” scene from Kings Men, but I’m not sure which scene from Capricorn One that is. Unfortunately, I’ve been having problems not only with WordPress lately but getting YouTube videos to play. These just spin and spin. Was it the start of the movie where there’s a set of the moon and they’re filming the “astronauts”?

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      • Those clips above – on your site – play fine for me at my end Stacey.
        This is the original (slightly blurry) 1978 trailer for the film CAPRICORN ONE.

        And this is the trailer that was put out to advertise the Blu-ray release back in 2014.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I’m sure yours are good. I don’t know what’s going on with my side yet. But the airplane scene played fine in this one. Thanks. Hubby mentioned Capricorn One several years ago–“You’ve never seen it? Well, it’s cheesy, but…” and then we watched it. It was kinda fun.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This was inspirational, on a scale beyond anything I’ve attempted. Next time I go up my local hills, I’ll be wary of making myself sound too heroic, battling against the elements and all that. Those are real mountains, and very impressive – loved the photography.

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    • Thank you! Coming from you, who’s walked every trail and photographed it all, that’s huge praise! And your bragging rights should continue in full force, especially since you’re so consistent with it. We did these hikes at least a decade ago, and G.C. was before that. All the pictures were taken by us EXCEPT the Phantom Ranch one, btw. For some (weird) reason, we didn’t get a shot of it. Probably from exhaustion. Ha.

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      • Thanks, most trails I walk take an afternoon. Not sure I have steam for several days up 14,000 footer. I think you can wear your badge with pride, even if it was a decade ago. 👍🙂

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  3. Awesome stories and pics!🌄 I hiked the Grand Canyon for the first time a couple years ago with a friend. It was February 2019. We didn’t even make it half way!😄 There was a foot of snow on the trail that made it very slow going, but even if it was clear we would have stopped well short… I fully appreciate now what a journey down that is. Well done👏 And Mt. Whitney too.

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    • Many thanks! And congrats on your effort. Yeah, no, I cannot imagine being in the GC during snow. Eeeeek. The funny thing about the park is how clueless visitors are. My husband and I had been hiking for many hours and hadn’t even reached the first campsite. We stopped at an area where other tourists were gathered and heard a park ranger telling a man that, no, he shouldn’t keep hiking down further with his family (it was about 12 noon at this point) and should, in fact, turn around and start back. People were dragging little kids, on foot, down deeper into the park, which meant if they kept going, by the time they headed back, it would have been dark.

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      • When my dad was 12 my Grandpa took took him and his younger brother all the way down and back in one day🥵Meltdowns were had by all of course lol He has retold the harrowing story many times to our extended family. I still can’t believe it. Sounds like you did it the right way by lodging / camping.

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  4. Why do we put ourselves in these situations!!! 😀 … seriously though, we di it because there’s nothing like that feeling when we make it to the top, or the bottom, in ways we never thought we could. What spectacular adventures! 😀

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  5. Yeah, the lower we hiked down, the hotter and hotter it got. That was part of the reason why I got partially dehydrated! I tried to drink the water, Kev. I tried! And conversely, that was why Whitney was so much more pleasurable. Even the second time around, although it wasn’t winter, it got colder and colder the higher we went. Perfect for moi! I’m invigorated by brisk temperatures, lol !!!

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  6. Stacey, you write so matter-of-factly and that makes it all the more phenomenal. You put in the sweat equity and it paid off again and again. Consider me impressed. Such gorgeous photos! I’m wondering how many have to be helicoptered out of there each year? I would have been freaking with all of that snow and trying not to slide off of the mountain.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Hey, thank you, Li. Funny about the pics, huh? We actually were using a “real” camera back then–no cell phones yet, haha. But yeah, believe me, WE freaked out when we slipped on the snow. It was time to leave at that point, tout suite.

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  8. Hey, Kev, I took a look at the title and chortled loudly. The piece looks very interesting, lol !! Not sure why a DINOSAUR is pictured sitting on the toilet, but…. whatevs, as the kids say, ha ha. Can’t wait to delve into this piece, and the blog in general looks interesting as well. Thanks for thinking of me, sir !! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, Stacey, you’ve definitely nailed some bucket list material! I would never think to do what you and your husband have done. Not to say that I wouldn’t want to visit. I’d have to be one of the tourists riding a mule for sure. I do hope to at least see the Grand Canyon at some point! It was fogged over the one and only time I was anywhere near it. I hear they have a fine restaurant at the bottom of it too!

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  10. Aw, thanks, Henry. Believe me, I would never have thought to do it, either, without my husband coming up with the idea, lol. That’s so sad that you were at the GC and it was foggy! How horribly ironic !! Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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  11. I missed going to the great canyons twice in my life, but I have been at Copper Canyon in Mexico twice, but mainly as viewer on the nice train ride, and the miradors, along the waywith spectacular views, you and your husband will enjoy that placce a lot, since there is a lot of treking there. The train ride is also one of a kind, and the chile relleno burritos the best.
    You are a brave soul dear, doing all that climbing, somewhere in the late eighties I climbed with some friends Mount Baldy, an did Misogi on the Waterfall at the bottom, I remember it as a grueling experience, specially the coming down with terrible sore legs, and thighs.
    As i was writing to you my eldest brother just called me interrupting me to inform me, our sister had died, just a few minutes ago, after complications on a surgery from some ailment.
    She was 67.years old.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Burning Heart, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister. I’m very sorry. Especially after evidently being ill and having a surgery which was, I assume, supposed to make things better. And obviously, 67 is NOT old. So my heartfelt condolences, B.H., to you and yours.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your condolences, what can I say, I am not in shock, but saddened by her death, the fact that I have not seen her since 2006, and not even being able to attend her funeral does not help my conscience, I do. I don’t know for sure, but it seems to me that it was a case of malpractice.
        Which unfortunately cannot be prosecuted where she lived, it is different than US law where lawyers are eager to do so. There, doctors do not serve as witnesses in malpractice cases, such as insurance, so as not to be prosecuted themselves. And basically the responsibility of choosing a good surgeon falls entirely on the patient who is going to receive the surgery.
        And as you know, most people know little about such things, you must have a good friend who knows about the medical profession, from the inside, and can advise you, like his family, a trusted general practitioner.
        In short, I was not there, but according to my older brother, they did a new medical procedure, most likely the surgeon who did it was not experienced enough, in short, she died Friday at noon of internal bleeding, probably produced by surgery.
        I live two hours from a place where I could take a flight to attend her funeral, flights to that city, there is only one a day, so I already missed that flight of the day, and the way they do it in Mexico. People who are interested in attending the funeral, go to the funeral home, and spend the whole night drinking coffee, watching over the coffin, and the family of the deceased receives the condolences of the people, and in the morning they bury or cremate the body. It’s not like in the United States, where they put the body in the freezer and wait up to two or three days for the whole family to come to the funeral. Even flying the next day I would have missed it
        I talked to her about four days ago…
        Still, I am saddened by the loss of her..

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Well, not only would I be so stressed out trying to find the “right” or “best” surgeon, then the topic of $$ enters, of course. How to PAY for the best? What a terrible, uncertain process, and I’m so sorry your sister seems to have fallen victim to it. The funeral proceedings afterwards. too, do not make it very easy for folks to get it together and gather. Sounds like you have to drop everything and sprint there immediately. The circumstances conspired, and not in your favor, Burning Heart. But it’s good to hear that you at least spoke with her a few days ago. At least it wasn’t six months ago or a year ago! I guess we all used to stay together longer, or stay in a closer vicinity, in the past, but that’s just not how it is anymore. We separate and live far away from each other now. I feel for you in your sadness; I’ve felt that way several times in the past ten years. But I was luckier, I guess, having moved back here from NYC, so I was closer to my family when my brother and then my mother passed away. Distance can be a blessing and a curse, I guess. Cuidate.

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    • I guess life today it’s that way, long past the day, when you will be born, live, and be buried in the same town you spent your entire life, now we move around, all over, I had lived in seven cities five States and two Nations, and change houses, and apartments maybe thirty five times.And wait a minute I forgot the month I lived in Bogota Colombia, on a trip to South America in 1074, and have to spent there all that time to recover my passport that was stolen from me, and I lived there courtesy from my Embassy, until my new passport arrived.
      Well, regarding my sister health and the malpractice issue, was due to negligence by ignorance, from my family members, would I have been there, I could have suggested better care being wise to other ways,I will not go on mention them, since the fact is she is now gone. I will not even mention to my family, but as I mentioned last night I called her twin my youngest brother, and he concurred with me it was very likely a case of malpractice.
      But there’s no point to grieve further the other members of the family with guilt.
      On the interval from my last comment to you, I found just talking to my brother some minutes ago, the names from my two youngest nieces Rocio, and Sofia, that I had totally forgot, now married and with children of their own. And sent to them my condolences through my eldest brother.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Yeah, I was gonna say….holy cow! Burning Heart is either a time traveler or a vampire from the 11th century, ha ha.
    But seriously, the unfurling details are saddening…but unavoidable, like we’ve been saying, these days where we all move away to other places. I think that’s a compassionate decision not to mention things no one can do anything about now….and my heart goes out to you and yours… my husband’s sister also passed away, several years ago, at around the same age as your sister, but not from medical malpractice. She didn’t take great care of herself and went from colon cancer, which was highly preventable. And even though the late 60s isn’t young and your sister and my husband’s sister lived the majority, if not the entirety, of their lives out, we never want to see anyone go, at any age, and the suddenness is also a shock…so my deep condolences again….and, lame as it is, hang in there, Burning Heart………….

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  14. You just catch me before I am done, on my daily morning routine of taking care of my blog. Otherwise I may not respond until next day, or even later, specially when I publish a new post, when I get flooded with responses.
    According to my eldest brother, my sister was having issues with the death of her husband, who died maybe ten years ago or so. And dealing with her daughters all by herself, my sister character was quite strong, and willful with a stubborn determination for her will to prevail, her Husband was the appeaser, and the only person she will listen to.
    All three of her daughters are married, and with their own families, and now free from her will, due to her character, our relationship when living with our parents, was not always cordial, specially with me, but since I left at eighteen years of age, had little contact with her, except for brief visits to my parents house, maybe once every three, or four years apart and have no problems since then, during my 32 years in LA maybe because I only show my face three, our four times in all that period, I was there in 2004, when my mother died, and 2006 two years after, but briefly my sister was alright with me in both occasions.
    I was planning on going to see my daughter, and on my way back stop there, by I decided to postpone the trip, until late Autumn.

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  15. Ha. I figured as much: B.H. is busy in the computer right now, otherwise I wouldn’t hear from him till tomorrow, or much later if he had just posted something.
    So funny–I relate to you on this issue also, as my brother had a very unpleasant personality much of the time and was also an alcoholic, and when he tried to “stop drinking” he was a mean dry alcoholic. So that, and my own limitations, prevented us from being really close as siblings. I was more angry at him than anything most of the time. But now I can still think of him and become teary-eyed because….well….we don’t want anyone to go out like that.
    Late autumn sounds so nice….it’s a good idea. I’m already looking forward to some brisk weather and a break from this heat.

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    • Family relationships are complicated always, I guess, everybody think of me, as some sort of strange character, I am an INFJ person on the Myers-Brigg psychological test.
      “Sometimes referred to as the “Advocate” or the “Idealist,” people with this personality type often feel misunderstood. Perhaps it’s because they’re the rarest MBTI personality type, making up only 1% to 3% from the population.”

      No, I do not feel misunderstood, but its difficult for me to live with people who are too extroverted, unfortunately all my family an some of my exes are, or where extroverted, I rather be alone, too much contact with people, and lack of privacy wears me out, it lowers my battery, and need time alone for myself in order to be recharged, and be at peace.

      I have learnt my lesson the hard way, and live alone since 1995, after three mayor relationships, and six children, and four grandchildren so far. It’s not easy, but prefer rather to live alone, than with no peace at all.🤷‍♂️

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  16. We’re very similar, B.H.! My batteries run out, also, in social situations. Just completely drained after a while. I don’t know if I’m an advocate or an idealist… but I’m probably on the spectrum, for sure! It’s been nice chatting with you. I hope you start to feel better soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I am fine thank you, just facing the last years from my peripatetic life.

    If you want to find out your character, jus make the Myers & Briggs personality test, you can find it online, maybe you even took it already and you don’t know, some colleges, and companies use them in order to evaluate students, and future employees. Some people are dubious about it, but personally find it pretty accurate.
    An I circumscribe to the ancient Heraclitus phrase: Character is destiny. 😉

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    • It is easy just take it online, I first took it many years ago in 1970 went I apply to go to college, but at the time did not knew it was the Myers-Briggs test, until years later, and took it to find my character, working for different companies, also noticed they use it, as well, before hiring you.

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      • You may be, the fact you are inclined to have long written conversations, like I do, as well, incline me to believe you may be. Or you can share at least 3 of the letters, in any case it’s worth for you to figure out your type, it will help you to understand yourself, and the why, you are who you are.
        Sort like your Natal chart, done by a good Vedic Astrologer, like Chakrapani in LA.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, gotcha. Yeah, understanding oneself is key. I’ve found out a few things that I didn’t know when I was 20 compared to now…. that have greatly cleared up some mysterious aspects of my personality, haha. More elucidation can’t hurt, for sure. I don’t want to have my head up my butt, lol. Chakrapani, eh? Hmm…. Thanks, Burning Heart.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My experience through life, its we keep finding things, despite our age, may not be great surprises, but figure out we will keep on doing it, until we die. If there is an afterlife, we will find more, if there’s not, we have nothing to worry.,
        Never met Chakrapani, but met many who did, and told me he is pretty good.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, marlagro. Thanks for stopping by! Thanks a lot, but I am NOT that brave. If I ever summit Everest–which is unlikely at this point–THEN maybe, lol. But they definitely are adventures!

      Liked by 1 person

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