(Transcribed from a satellite phone voice message
received Monday, April 14, 2003, 11:28 PM CDT)
Mother’s Day reflection - “How do we tell our mothers
that we are going to climb Mt. Everest?”
Huss arrived at Base Camp two days ago and I stopped
in to say hello yesterday morning. After catching up
on current events, I asked him if Brian O’Connor
arrived, and if so, may I have an introduction?
Brian, it turned out was not as anxious to meet me.
The story began several months ago, half a world away.
November I attended a lecture at the Chevy Chase Club
in Washington, D.C. with my aunt. The speaker was Dr.
Michael Wiedman, of the Harvard Medical School’s
Department of Ophthalmology. Dr. Wiedman, an Everest
vet, was speaking on high altitude physiology and the
predictive benefit of retinal hemorrhaging on high
altitude edema. After the lecture I went to introduce
myself, and after discussing the lecture, I realized
that Dr. Wiedman was sitting next to Supreme Court
Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor.
As coincidence would have it,
I had just learned that Justice O’Connor’s son, Brian, was also planning a
climb of Mt. Everest as at that time we were negotiating to become members of
the same team. Thinking that this may be my golden opportunity to fast-track
from a D.C. legal assistant to a seat on the high court, I introduced myself
and said “Justice O’Conner, I understand that your son, Brian, is also
planning a climb of Mt. Everest and it appears we may be climbing on the same
Those present acted in great
surprise, including Dr. Wiedman. “Perhaps, Justice O’Connor’s modesty
prevented her from sharing her son’s plans,” I thought.
Yesterday, after finally
meeting Brian, I shared this story with him. “So you’re the one that told my
mom that I was going to climb Mt. Everest,” he responded. “Oh, no!” I
thought. After clearing my throat I realized that I had broken the cardinal
rule, “Never, ever, discuss an expedition with another climber’s mother!”
As it turned out, my
conversation with Justice O’Connor was the first news that she heard of her
son’s plans. As my clerkship vanished before my eyes, I withdrew from the
dining tent and went to consider my falling, in solitude.
“Why do climbers struggle so
much with telling their mothers about their expedition,” I wondered.
I laughed as I considered my
own life and the reputation I had duly won among my climbing partners. In
planning my various expeditions, as the routes increased in severity and
scope, someone, usually Clint, would ask, “So have you told your mother, yet?”
They all knew that to be the final, most important negotiation only after
which visas, air tickets, immunizations were to be obtained.
In the annals of
mountaineering history the presence of mothers is awkwardly absent. How did
Reinhold Messner’s mother respond to his plans to be the first to attempt
Everest without Oxygen? What about all those historic journals. We hear
plenty of the girl friends but nothing of dear ole mom. Perhaps we know as
climbers that mothers are like the Heel of Achilles, the one weakness in the
impenetrable armor that allows us to reach so far in the pursuit of odd
So today I thank my mother,
who in this case was not the last to know. I fact, she was near the first.
Always to be found in the front row of any lecture, with a tear in her eye by
the close. It was only two weeks before the departure that the tear turned to
a smile and she that nodded in agreement. I knew it was time to take off.
(Tomorrow we begin our
longest acclimatization climb on the mountain as we hope to reach Camp Three
while spending ten days in the high camps.)