Body, Fatigue Keeps Climbers Grounded

Reed Rombough

Salt Lake City, Utah is one of the winter sports capitals of the U.S. Nestled in the shadows of the intimidating Wasatch Range, Salt Lake City offers big city life with mountains to disappear into. I flew into Salt Lake City a day before the New Year to celebrate in a slightly different way. I wanted to spend my first week of the “last year ever” standing on top of snow covered peaks.

I set my motivation on Mount Timpanogos. Timpanogos, usually referred to as “Timp”, is the Wasatch Range’s second highest peak at 11,750 feet. For serious mountaineers, a peak this small is considered child’s play. However, the route I chose to send is appropriately dubbed “The Everest Ridge,” drawing comparisons to the more famous counterpart.

My climbing partner and brother, Ryan has lived in the Wasatch Range for the last three years and has become accustomed to the area. Some people refer to us as the most hyper-competitive people they’ve ever met, and our parents worry that one day our pride is going to get one of us hurt.

The approach to the base of Timp is about four miles long, 6,000 feet from the summit. My 40lb pack was heavy on my shoulders and my giant snow pack boots felt like blocks on my feet.

The weather was unseasonably warm, at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit and it didn’t take long before I was sweating uncontrollably. Heaving and winded, my brother ambled behind me like we were on a stroll in the park. I took breaks to catch my rapidly escaping breath and to lower my rodent-like heart rate.

At this point, however, just making the approach was starting to seem like a long shot. Finally, I had to stop. My lungs were exhausted and my mind was reeling, dizzy and distraught and I did not feel right. I knew I should be able to do this, especially considering my climb to 12,000 in Colorado this summer.

I gained my feet again and kept pushing up the approach. I made it another 1,000 feet and started losing my balance. I struggled to stay on my feet and on the trail as my brain became increasingly starved of oxygen. I was fighting a losing battle and collapsed on the side of the trail. I had barely made it past 7,000 feet. That’s only about as tall as South Dakota’s highest point, Harney Peak. We took a break but my brother looked at me and I knew what he was going to say.

“We need to head down Reed, I think you’re getting altitude sickness and we’re running out of daylight,” he said.

I knew he was right, but I still couldn’t believe how fatigued I had become. The whole way down I tried to figure out what could have gone wrong, rambling through the potential causes. It was simply the elevation. That work 6,000 feet above my normal elevation was just too much for my bloodstream to keep up with.

I must say, I have never felt more defeated than seeing my brother make work of the approach like he did it every day. He lived in it and I simply did not. I just had to drop all of my pride and walk back before things got even worse.