By Robert Byrd, an EO Houston member and CEO of Truewater, an IT firm providing cloud and network support to the SMB space.
“Do the hard ones first.”
That was my strategy for summiting the highest mountain in every U.S. state, a goal I had set for myself in 2010. As an entrepreneur, I love a good fight, and mountain climbing really resonated with me. In September, I finished my eleventh state highpoint by scaling Washington’s Mount Rainier, a 14,410-foot mountain considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Along with climbing partner and EO Forum mate Rick “Crapshoot” Overholt, I set out on what would be the most physically challenging adventure of my life. Here’s a recap of my experience:
Day 1: Pain and Suffering
From the beginning, our brisk-paced climb toward Camp Muir—an elevation gain of 1,000 feet per mile—was painfully arduous, and it didn’t help that we had 60-pound packs strapped to our backs. Throughout the first part of the climb, we followed the “step-rest, step-rest” technique as we moved upward. I tried to ignore the searing pain in my legs, a reminder of the challenge ahead, and one that prevented me from enjoying the beautiful meadows and snowfields through which we trudged. We reached Camp Muir before night came, set up low camp and slept in boxcar-like, ramshackle buildings. Not surprisingly, the day’s exhaustion took me under with little trouble.
Day 2: Why is This Glacier Still Moving?
Short, but difficult, was the climb to high camp. Awestruck by the spectacle of Ingraham Glacier, we found ourselves in the middle of an active glacier laced with huge crevasses. The glacier was literally breaking up around us, reminding us of the instability with its occasional creaks and groans. When we finally reached high camp—two climbers in our group had already turned back—the ground started to shake as a bone-chilling, cracking noise filled the valley. Mesmerized, we turned to witness a mammoth serac slowly breaking away and disappearing into the waiting void. Our guides boasted that this was the largest icefall they had ever witnessed. We settled in around 5 p.m. at 11,039 feet, marking the highest point Rick or I had ever camped (and my first time sleeping on a glacier).
Day 3: Summit Day
We awoke at midnight to gear up and rope into three-man teams. We left camp just after 1 a.m. for the summit. Enveloped in utter darkness—we had only our headlamps as illumination—we trekked through a winter wonderland of otherworldly ice formations. Our first major hurdle was crossing the battle zone of crevasses around high camp. Some were six-feet wide, and to cross these seemingly bottomless chasms, we used narrow ladders as bridges. But crevasses notwithstanding, this was the easiest part of the day. Once we cleared the Ingraham Glacier and made our way onto Disappointment Cleaver, the climbing was steep, technical and far more difficult than expected. Some sections were so steep that we had to climb walking backward up the mountain in order to keep more crampon points on the ice. But once daylight broke, the awe-inspiring sunrise was almost worth the climb alone.
Victory at 14,410 Feet
Greeted with an amazing view of the mountain, valleys and glaciers, exhilaration overtook us as we reached the summit around 10 a.m. The ever-looming threat of an approaching storm makes hanging out on a mountaintop generally a bad idea. So, after about 10 minutes, we headed back down the mountain. This long slog was demoralizing and painful, and the words “death march” were bandied about more than once. After an 18-hour day of intense physical effort, we found ourselves at the bottom of the mountain, where we shared a big “mission accomplished” man hug.
All in all, it took us three days to reach the summit, and the experience offered countless realizations. For example, I learned that when the goal seems overwhelming, just stay focused on the immediate task at hand. Also, I surprised myself on this climb, realizing my capacity to do infinitely more than I think I can. From now on, I will expect more and push myself harder. The question now burning in my mind is: What could be accomplished if I ran my business with the same singular focus and determination required to climb a mountain? Stand back, because I’m going to find out.
Want to learn more about Robert’s adventures? Visit www.robertdangerbyrd.com.