Saturday, June 9, 2018

The #1 Bestseller taken from this blog.

If you enjoyed this blog you should check out the book it inspired. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012


We are going to Everest. You and Me. I have signed with International Mountain Guides (IMG) to climb Everest in 2013 and I intend to blog that experience along the way. I will arrive in Kathmandu March 31, 2013, but plan to begin writing in late November of this year. As well, I will feature Guest Bloggers. I have already asked a Biologist and a Physician to write articles. Please contact me if you would like to Guest Blog on some topic related to Everest.  

Many of you have been along for the entire ride, the six continental summits I have now been fortunate enough to stand atop. Only 64 Americans have managed to “touch ‘em all.” Join me at as I attempt to become the 65th. 

Dave Mauro                                                             

Post Script

“I want nice rooms and good security,” I heard Dan say to the woman at the front desk. Our reservation at the Grand Tempaga had, through a miscommunication, been cancelled and there was no room for our team as we returned to Timika from the expedition. The apologetic staff of the Grand Tempaga was calling around town in an effort to secure alternate accommodations. Dan’s emphasis on security reminded me that the post-climb ebullience we had enjoyed would need to be set aside while we lay low again. 

Our vans took us to another part of the city, down alleyways of mismatched asphalt and wild-eyed roosters. We pulled into an ungated courtyard attended by a guard shack with two bare feet propped up in the window.  Pal and I paid the front desk attendant 100,000 rupiah to find us some beers, to which our lone security guard was promptly dispatched on a vespa. Dan asked that we not wander off the premises, promising we would dine together somewhere nice a few hours hence. 

There had been a Sheraton in Timika at one point, on the outskirts of town upon a high and defendable hilltop. At various times of unrest the resort had proven sanctuary for Freeport executives and others. Now it was owned by someone else, but still boasted both the grandness of a Sheraton and the fortifications of Viking brothel. I suspect the room rate was beyond our allotted budget, and thus we hunkered down in town behind an army of one. But the fabulous restaurant at the resort was fair game.  We drank. We ate. We toasted. I consumed a steak large enough to put me on the Hindu most wanted list. 

The next day we flew out of New Guinea, over hastily sketched trees and slums, the reef, surf and tiny islands with rocks arranged to spell SOS.  In Denpasar, Bali, that night we celebrated again. A restaurant on the beach took us into the comforts of it’s large padded booth facing the postcard waters of this exotic place.  The evening went on long enough for team members to slump over in the booth and sleep then wake and rejoin the party. I introduced the group to the merits of Vodka/tonic with a lime squeeze. When the bills arrived Pal was incredulous to see he had been charged for 22 of them. I pointed out that he had in fact only had 11 drinks, but they had all been doubles. Ivan and I saw Pal back to our hotel and i bade them good evening while I attended to details at the front desk. But voices beckoned me from the bar as I proceeded to my room. Pal had insisted on buying a round of whiskey for he and Ivan.  Not wishing to offend, I joined them.  When I finally got Pal to his room he gave me a big happy hug. “You’re my best friend,” he declared. 

Team members slipped away over the next few days, returning to the far flung lands from whence they had come. As Ivan departed I urged him to pursue a career in Politics, making him pledge to hire me to manage the finances of the Dominican Republic once he is President. “You will be my Advisor,” he stated. “With a big a-- mansion,” I added. “On the beach or the mountain,” he questioned. “But of course the beach,” I said, and we both laughed. 

I hired a cab to take me south to Nusa Dua. I had reserved a room there in a very nice resort for the next 8 days and Lin would be joining me, flying in this night from Munich.  The Nikko resort is a vast and well-appointed property in the best of Balinese tradition. The warm, over-employed staff had just completed the high season for Australian Tourists and now drifted rudderless in the high vacancy tides of Ramadan. I was “Mr. Dave” the minute I checked in and everyone seemed to know it. The Concierge obliged my unorthodox request for Balinese clothing and summoned the car to take me to the airport. 

Lin did not see me at first. I was standing behind the metal gate that held back the crush of Taxi Drivers and Tour Operators as Arrivals exited baggage claim. My sarong was stylish, my hair piece tasteful. I had enjoyed minor celebrity among my kind. Then she turned back, as though a replay of her scan had revealed my counterfeit. Lin smiled at me. I had not seen that smile in a month. I wanted to leap over the barricade but had no idea how to do so wearing a skirt. Lin came to me and we embraced. I instantly felt closure on the expedition, as though I had arrived back home. In a very real sense I had.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Photo by Dan Zokaites.
We left early the next morning. The Porters were excited to be returning to their villages and the Team relished the notion this would be our last day of trekking. We passed the salt pond where we had lunched on our way in, then the landslide crossing. Some hills brought back vivid memories of how miserable I had been. I recalled seeking relief by focusing on positive thoughts during these climbs.  It is a pleasant summer evening on Lopez Island. Lin is sitting by a beach fire. I am walking toward her with two glasses in one hand and a bottle of red wine in the other. She looks to me and smiles. I probably ran that film in my head two dozen times during the trek in. But we had all become much better at trekking in our rubber boots since then. We had also become much leaner and mentally tuned to the jungle. On this day it all seemed so much more manageable.  I had enough residual energy to offer up my truly awful Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation. 

We passed Dori's bridge without pausing, then into the series of steep hills we had already climbed three times prior. The Team rested at a river crossing, splashing cool water over our filthy bodies. Soon the village of Sunama was behind us. What had taken a day and a half to cover on the way in consumed just 5 hours on the way out. We were making excellent time so Steven and Dan decided to give the Team a rare 1 hour break, resting in the shade of a tiny wooden schoolhouse. They passed around fruit acquired along the trail; sugar cane, plantains, cooked yams, and a yellow citrus that contained sweet gelatinous globules that resembled tadpoles. 

A few hours more of trekking and we emerged from the jungle, moving easily now on the gravel road that leads to Sugapa. It occurred to me that I had yet to play one of my favorite games to pass time. "Hey Denis," I called ahead. "Yes?" " Jean Chretien and Celine Dion in a knife fight. Who do you like," I asked. "I don't understand," Denis said. "Jean Chretien." "OK." "Celine Dion." "OK." "In a knife fight." "OK." "Who do you think would win," I asked. "Is this joke," Denis queried with a confused tone. "I guess not. No, not really. Never mind," I said, retreating to the rear of the group. 

We took up residence in a tiny wooden shack in Sugapa. I was shown to an attached room with steel pipes for a floor. A 55 gallon drum full of rain water sat in one corner with a ladle hanging from it's rim. This was the shower. I retrieved a tiny bar of soap from my pack and a partially clean change of clothes. I wore the bar to a bare sliver, even washing my hair with it. Then I spooned the cold clean rain water over me. It was the first time in 2 weeks I had been truly clean. It felt marvelous. 

Several Porters milled around the outside of our shack. They knew we would be giving away some of our gear and each had a specific request. One very much wished to have my blue rain shell. He asked to try it on and I consented before realizing he intended to keep it. We had been warned to not make gifts, that this would result in trouble as jealousy bloomed. The Chief would receive our combined offerings then distribute them as he saw fit. I retrieved my coat from the sad-faced Porter. Besides, I liked that coat and had no intention of leaving it behind, though I somehow did anyway. I hope that Porter ended up with it. I also left my sleeping bag, rubber boots, fleece pants and socks. All of these were still very usable and I would normally have taken them home to clean up. But I had come to see where the value of these items to the Porters would be many times that to myself. The rest of the Team likewise gave generously. 

I woke at dawn the next morning as Ivan was going out the front door. Feeling I had taken in enough sleep, I decided to join him. I walked out in my flip flops and the boxer briefs that had proven so popular at the river. Ivan was seated on a wooden chair in the chicken yard, concentrating on the rising sun. I drug a chair out next to him and sat down to enjoy the view. A few moments later a man and woman appeared at the corner of our shack. They had come to watch the strange white people. Ivan was listening to his I-pod while taking photos of the sunrise. The man gestured that he would like Ivan to take a photo of him and his wife, all dressed up for something formal.  I stopped Ivan long enough to position myself next to them in the frame. It was the only time I had worn less clothing than the natives and the contrast was too good to pass up. 

Later, after dressing, I returned to the chicken yard with a hot mug of Starbucks instant coffee. Denis joined me. 

Voting in the Presidential Election was scheduled to begin this day in Sugapa and we did not wish to be around for it. Though it is customary that the Porters throw a traditional feast with music and dance at the end of an expedition we felt it more important to extricate ourselves, and thus caught the second flight out that morning. 

I watched the rugged landscape of western New Guinea pass below us; the tiny streams that fed into increasingly larger rivers which themselves culminate to then disgorge into the Arafura Sea. This is going home, I thought to myself. But then what did it mean to go upstream? As you fork off into smaller and smaller tributaries you give something up at each; the company of loved ones, familiar surroundings, the ability to be comfortable, to be clean, to rest well, to eat as you wish. You keep going, up the trickling creeks surrendering common language, cultural relevance, and whatever  paucity of control to which you still cling. Then, finally, you arrive at a bubbling spring. And whatever you find there is the reason you left home in the first place.  

I have thought a lot about what I found at that spring. It is something different every time I go there. This time it was a reawakening to the joy of others, a realization that standing next to it and saying "yes" only makes that joy larger. Carol's summit, of course, was a watershed moment in this regard. But I enjoyed similar experiences watching Pal interact with the native children, seeing Dan rise up to lead the expedition, seeing Ivan weep as he put away his country's flag atop Carstensz, and watching satisfaction blossom on the face of a quiet man, Denis, who had sacrificed so much. There were moments, too, among the Porters and their families. I watched the look on a father's face as his young son tried to shoulder his load. I heard the women sing as they prepared a meal. A bright-eyed infant smiled at me from atop his mother's shoulders. So much joy. And it was this joy that pushed back against the hardships we endured. When I tell the story of this experience people have a difficult time understanding why I did it.  But they are missing the joy part, and the only way to get it is to go upstream. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

I wanna live in a cinnamon world.

Ivan gave me the last of his antibiotics at breakfast. It was a noble gesture, the kind of thing done only by fools and saints. He was the one member of our team that had not been afflicted on some level. Such was his empathy that he surrendered his biologic life boat. I would like to have been larger than the offer, but we were headed into the jungle. 

We set out on the trail and soon enough descended into the hothouse of damp flora. But the weight of altitude was in our favor, with the down climbs being greater than the ascents. In the end it was not so bad. We arrived at camp 2 by mid afternoon. 

Camp two was empty. There should have been many Porters with their families. This should have been where we stopped, where I rested and blew my nose with impunity. It was a ghost camp. The message of this was clear, yet I campaigned against reality. "It's three o'clock," I complained," shouldn't they be here... in the longhouse... you know?" But the Porters had pressed on. We would be making camp somewhere between camp 2 and 1. I did not recall a clear space between camps 1 and 2, nothing larger than a vending machine in any case, and I simply did not have it in me to make camp 1. I uttered profanity. 

But there was a spot. It was small. So small that our tents all touched the Porters' tent. There was a modest ledge above a river where a tiny meadow of ferns clustered. These had been harvested for the evening meal and thus a space cleared for our tents. We consumed something caloric and retired for the night. As Denis and I lay there listening to the muddled conversation of the Porters the air filled with the scent of cinnamon. Resourceful as always, the tribal members used whatever dry wood could be obtained. On this night they burned a cinnamon tree. The smell was nothing short of intoxicating, other-worldly. With the weight of the climb behind me, I felt free to soak up the now, and now was very very good. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A "different kind of Catholicism."

There was no question about it. I had the cold. The coughing fits began that night after the summit, while we were still at base camp. Denis was improving, but he too still coughed and blew his nose all night. We were an even match with germs pitted against each other in the close quarters of our tent. I ached from the sickness. I ached from the beating the rock face had dealt me. As we shouldered our packs to leave camp the next morning I looked  at the cold wet stone rising up about us. The rain clouds obscured Carstensz, and a chill rose up my back. With better weather and health this place might be beautiful in a raw manner, but on this morning it offered nothing. "Let's get the F--- outta here," I commented to Ivan, who seemed to find joy in my frank appraisal. 

We arrived at camp 5 at 2 pm. It was our plan to rest briefly, then continue on to the place where we had enjoyed that sunny lunch by the stream. But the Porters were cold and hungry, so we decided to hold there. The Porters could retreat to the warmth of the smoky longhouses still bustling with their families. It had been an uncomfortable 2 days for them and a recoup seemed entirely warranted. It also seemed a significant peace reckoning had occurred and they may wish to celebrate it. Earlier that day we had come upon a burned out fire at the overlook to the lake valley. It was fueled entirely by bows, arrows and spears. Pal noticed it first and cleverly labelled it "a cease fire." Our numbers included members of three different tribes, which in all likelihood have been at war, off and on, for many generations. To lay down their weapons and destroy them together was significant. 
A "cease fire." Photo by Dave Mauro

I prevailed upon Dan to let me use our backup tent for private quarters that night and rested better as a result. The next morning we set out across the high savannah, tromping through the bog-like swampy grasses. I lagged the team all day long, sneezing and blowing my nose constantly. 

We needed to make up time, so our plan was to press on past camp 4 and spend the night halfway between there and camp 3. But a miscommunication resulted in the Porters continuing on to camp 3.    Dan approached me to inquire of my condition as we set up tents. "I needed to stop about two hours ago," I said wearily. "I know. I'm sorry for that," he said, "but if you need a rest day tomorrow we may be able to work it out." We agreed we would see how I was feeling in the morning. As I turned in that night a great dread came over me realizing we would descend back into the jungle soon. 

The next morning I awoke to a chorus singing tunes I knew but words I did not. It was Sunday and the Porters were conducting Mass. I inquired of this with Raymond, the Pastor-in-training, and he confirmed the Catholicism of these indigenous peoples. When I pointed out the problematic nature of their polygamy Raymond simply said "It is a different kind of Catholicism." Indeed. 

Dan and Pal were checking on one of the Porter's wives. She had collapsed, lips blue, on the trail to camp the day before.  Pal  diagnosed pneumonia and the team all pitched in antibiotics from their dwindling med kits. She seemed to be marginally improved the next morning, but Pal insisted she should carry no load this day and the tricky business of negotiating the cultural norms of the Dani people took some discussion before honor could be maintained in compliance with this wish. 

Tatoosh and one of his friends appeared and broke down my tent without comment. "We could have someone carry your pack today if you want," Dan offered. It sounded like a good idea, but my pride would not allow it. "I'd like to at least start off carrying it. Thanks," I said. He gave my shoulder a squeeze then left to check in with the rest of the Team. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Our first steps toward home.

(Ivan beamed this photo back to the Dominican Republic by satellite phone the same day it was taken. The next day it was featured on the front page of the Island's largest newspaper. He is a Hero among his people, and the flag he carried was later handed off to the Olympians representing his country in London. )

The Team retraced it’s steps back down the ridge to the Tyrolean Traverse. The giddiness of summiting was soon replaced with the kind of sobriety normally reserved for Coroners and Russian Tea Exporters.  More familiar with the routine, we crossed the gap in much less time than it had taken on our way up. Copy and paste this URL to your browser to see video of myself crossing the Traverse.

We then began down-climbing the rock face. This involved 
rappelling down the fixed lines we had used as safety during the ascent. These lines represented a variety of gauges, wetness, and disrepair. Thus the more typical use of a mechanical Grigri device for descending would not serve the task at hand. Each climber clipped a steel figure eight apparatus into his waist harness and ran the line through it. Then, leaning back out over the rock face, he allowed rope to feed through the figure eight, using his legs to push off and walk backwards down the rock face. There were 19 such lines strung end to end down the rock face.  

My leather climbing gloves were already warn through at the finger tips from the ascent.   The coarse limestone had chewed them off. Now it was a matter of making the leather palms last all the way to the bottom. At times the thicker line would load up instead of feeding through the figure eight. Then it would suddenly release, leaving me to sprint backwards as I crashed side to side off the rock. It was clumsy, but not awful. Occasionally I would dodge a rock loosed by a climber above me. A few bounced off my helmet with a loud "clack". Then the rain began. 

The lines refused to pass smoothly through the descender as they became increasingly soaked. A length would hang up, then zip through.  As I clenched the line back to slow, it would bite hard, leaving me to bounce like a squirrel on a bungee cord. The fissure we were working down became a creek of fast-moving water. The rocks grew slippery. I could see Dan working with Carol up above me. Denis was just below them, moving tentatively.  Ivan and Pal were already off the wall as I clipped into the second to the last rope. It was a modest grade that terminated at the top of the large round boulder formation. This had been the start of our climb the night before. The frayed outer casing of the line had not shown itself until I had already committed, swung out over the cliff to climb up the face. But now I would be denied the comfort of ignorance. I examined the line as I clipped into it. The inner strands were completely exposed like the tendons of an arm with no flesh. They were wet and filthy. But I knew each carried the capacity to withstand a considerable load, and collectively they were not likely to fail in unison. I backed out over the ledge and slowly released the first length of line. 

I lowered down to the level of our starting ledge and swung on the rope over to it. As my feet knew purchase I quickly unclipped and extricated myself from the area.  The occasional stones still whistled by and it seemed advisable to be out of their path. Denis was less willing to trust the frayed line. I watched him shuffle back and forth about the anchor point. Then Dan and Carol caught up with him. The rain was falling quite hard now, filling my hood and running down my chest as I looked up at the trio. A brief congress occurred among them, then Denis backed out over the edge. Soon we were all together on the ground, enjoying a short celebration. Then we started the trek back to base camp. 

The entire round trip ended up being ten and a half hours; a faster time than most expeditions I had researched. Back at camp we hydrated enthusiastically. Jaimie pan-fried french toast for us to eat. There was no syrup, which was just as well since it was not really french toast. The bread had been dipped in a mixture of reconstituted egg and powdered cheese mix from the boxes of Kraft dinner. But we were not inclined to be picky eaters. The sooner we ate something, the sooner we could collapse into our tents.  I could feel a raw area at the back of my sinuses and desperately hoped I was not coming down with the cold.  I crawled into our tent and removed my wet clothing, careful to sort the items I would have to wear again the next day. These garments would share space in my sleeping bag, where they might dry a bit overnight. I laid there in my sleeping bag; warm, comfortable, drained. The rain was falling hard on our tent. The sound reminded me of home. We were headed home now, and we would be taking with us what we had come here for. We had done it! I rolled to one side and reached an arm out the top of my sleeping bag. "Congratulations," I said, giving Denis a pat. "And to you," I heard him call back.