Written on September 10, 2006
I must really care about you guys to be sending this letter today. Why? Well, every muscle in my body is aching. I've been popping aspirin all day, but it doesn't seem to help much. It hurts to stand up and I'm walking around in slow motion. When I went to bed last night, I alternated between having violent chills and sweating profusely. What has caused this, you ask? Yesterday, I climbed Mount Rysi (2,600 meters) and it was the most physically demanding thing I've every done. From start to finish, we spent about 10 hours going up and down. I'm going to try and narrarate what happened including pictures. I'll ty to send even more pictures in a follow-up to this e-mail.
So, about a month ago, some students of mine asked me if I would like to climb 'Rysi' with them. At the time, I thought how hard can that be and agreed. We planned the trip and traveled to the High Tatras yesterday. Mount Rysi is the second highest mountain in this range and the highest one you can climb without hiring a guide and having special equipment. You can see the mountain range in picture #1. Our hike began by walking through a forest and was quite easy at first. This was deceptive, however, because we soon started going uphill on a more dangerous path. In picture #2, you can see some of us before the agony set in on our faces. Another thing you should notice about this picture, the trail was composed entirely of rocks all the way up. Our feet took a tremendous pounding especially on the way down. In the next picture, you can see a mountain lake, but we are still at the stage of weaving in and out before starting the ascent.
You can see some scenery as we began the climb in pictures #4 and #5. As we were climbing, I never had any problems with my breathing even though we were at higher altitude. But, I really had problems with my legs. After a while, they were screaming for mercy! We climbed and climbed and climbed. The hardest thing was that you had to be mentally focused in addition to dealing with the physical. One false step and you could have a serious injury. My hiking boots saved me numerous times by keeping my ankles from turning when I misstepped.
At the 2200 meter mark, we reached what the Slovaks call 'refuge' but what I would call base camp one. I barely made it there and could not imagine climbing to the summit. Fortunately, we took some time to rest and eat cabbage soup. The rest combined with the food gave me the energy to continue. In picture #6, you can see the summit ahead. This picture does not in any way convey how difficult it was to climb up there. Also, a lot of the climbers had spent the night at refuge and were climbing the last 300 meters on one night's rest. Finally, in picture #7, you see me at the summit sitting on the official highest point.
I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point, but didn't realize that the worst was yet to come. Going downhill was absolute torture. You could feel pain in your knees and back every time your foot hit a stone. Also, you had to be more careful about slipping. Believe it or not, there have been seven deaths on this mountain so far this year. Most of them resulted from bad weather or people leaving the trail and getting caught in avalanches. I was determined to survive especially after all the pain I had endured to get to that point!!
The next few pictures are just pictures of me during the descent. I think I have more interesting pictures that I can send you in the next few days. Anyway, I don't know if you can see it but I was absolutely exhausted. We spent the last hour in the dark retracing the steps that we had made during the morning. Finally, at 8pm, we made it to the car.
Well, I'll send a follow-up to this in a few days with more details of the climb. I am ready for work tomorrow and will not be taking a sick day I'm proud to say. Enjoy, Russ