It is OK to fail. It is not OK to give up.

Only 2 weeks until the National Championship. One would think that my focus would be on preparing for that event. Why am I in California with my son, in the middle of a semester? Where is the lesson?
Last year, before I even thought about doing a competitive Duathlon, my son and I had a failed attempt on Mt Whitney, in CA. We agreed to try it again in a year. That year was up, and I had scheduled a business trip to CA, giving us a great chance to finish what we started.
One of this blog’s readers, Yan, has shown an interest in mountaineering, and I suggested that he prepare himself and join my 12 year old and me as we attempt to climb a 14,500 mountain in the middle of the desert. He ran twice a week to prepare himself, and his history as a college football player give both of us confidence that the part of climbing that he could control, he would control.
The day of the trip came, and the weather forecasts predicted 1-2 inches of snow accumulation at high camp, with temperatures as low as 24 degrees F. We planned our trip around these conditions, and my coach changed my training schedule to include some running while I was out in CA, as opposed to the typical blend of running and cycling.
With all arrangements in order, we drove to Whitney Portal, expecting to park our car and cover the 22 miles, round trip, with two overnight stays. Even as we were preparing to drive up, I questioned the decision to even be here, knowing that my competition was going to be focusing on their trade while I was mountaineering.
The weather report was wrong. At high camp, there was 16” of snow, and the lows on our last night were -12 degrees C (that is 1 degree F), according to the Canadians we met and camped with. During the last night, we found ourselves crammed in a small space, at 12,000 feet, shivering and questioning our decision.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, I was awakened when Yan came back inside after going outside to vomit. He was experiencing Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), an ailment that cannot be prepared for and can only be consistently addressed by taking the victim to lower elevation as fast as possible…therefore the name, “Mountain Sickness.” Having lead these sorts of expeditions before, I knew that the only real decision was to abandon the effort and take Yan down to safety. The Canadians were quick to admit that they were intimidated by the conditions outside, and one of them went so far as to say, “This is the coldest that I have ever camped outside, and I am a Canadian!” That means something.
As we went outside in the morning and we saw Yan’s proverbial fingerprint all over the ground, we all saw his sluggishness. He felt guilty that I made the decision to take us down, he was the first one to say, “I think we can do this. It is only 3 miles up and 3 miles back down to right here. We can do it.” He didn’t want to feel that the trip was going to be a failure, because of him.
That is when I got it….I knew why we were here, right now, doing this event and embracing our circumstances. Yan did nothing wrong. In fact, he was better prepared than the Canadian guys. I found myself looking at him and telling him, “the team comes before the individual. If we continue down this path, you could get much worse and even die.” He heard me but disagreed, thinking he could push through a summit bid. I would have none of it. We left before the sun hit the campsite. And, within an hour or two, his color came back, and resumed his talkativeness and actively participated in the group’s tasks.
It wasn’t only us. No one had reached the summit since the snows came-we met people from Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and the US, all with dreams and hopes….all of them dashed.
Before we left camp, Alex looked up into the ceiling of the tent and remarked, “Well Dad, third time is a charm,” admitting the need to come back to CA for a 3rd time, to try to climb Mt. Whitney. Our flights had cost us $30 each, as there was a glitch in the Dividend Miles system that allowed us to purchase a round trip ticket for only 12.500 miles. Yan picked us up and the airport, and we were staying at my sister’s house in Thousand Oaks, so I didn’t have any rental car or hotel fees. I compared my costs to that of the Canadians and Europeans, and it was negligible.
And, I graciously and humbly embraced that it is OK to come back and try again, without placing the blame on anything and attach a negative feeling to it.
We are coming back next September, and we have already invited Yan to join us again.
It is OK to fail. It is not OK to give up.

Author and his son, on the trail up Mt Whitney, after a snow storm.
Author and his son, on the trail up Mt Whitney, after a snow storm.

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