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Excerpt from "High-Altitude Woman"

Chapter Five: What Goes Around

by Jan Reynolds

AS WE SET OUT ON THE NEXT portion of our Everest circle expedition, I felt like an unambitious kid being sent to summer camp by her parents against her will. I was wrestling with the change in attitude since Jim had gone home. His good humor had balanced Ned’s frequent gloominess and had added snap and color to our conversations. He had also shown a certain respect for my attitude and suggestions. Suddenly I felt like I had been demoted to the class of draft horses and yaks. It irked me when Ned and Craig ignored my comments while discussing our route over the open map and folding it up while I was still pointing something out. I was disturbed that Ned had not heeded my calculations concerning money and the number of porters we needed to get from Namche to the base of the Mingbo La. We ended up, just as I suspected, short of cash and asking our Sherpas to carry more than they should have. As the Sherpas trekked back to their homes, leaving Ned, Craig, and me to fend for ourselves, I decided to bide my time and see how things unfolded in the field.

January 17 we headed up to the mountain pass Mingbo La. We climbed tied into one rope, not simultaneously, but belaying one another up after each had finished one-third of a rope length. On the last pitch Craig and Ned decided to tie in closer and climb simultaneously to gain some time. As I belayed them from below, I came to the easy conclusion that this was not smart. If one peeled he would surely take the other with him, and I would never be able to hold them both. They had basically set it up for all three of us to pop off if any one of us blew it. Considering I was anchored into the slope and not moving, it would most likely be one of them.

When Craig hit the cornice, the frozen wave of blown snow at the top of the slope, he had to hack through it with his ice ax to haul his big body and heavy pack through it. Without one single piece of protection holding our rope to the slope, this was quite precarious. I wondered for a flicker of a moment what Jim would have done, but I realized that was a distraction. He wasn’t here. My thoughts turned to having confidence in Craig. He pulled it off, but not without a lot of grunting, which I could hear more than one hundred feet below.

Ned and Craig were being buffeted in the wind while I was belayed up, so we skedaddled down as soon as possible. After jumping a couple of crevasses we were on an easier slope and stood to marvel at our surroundings. There was a special magic to this portion of our circle because of its remote isolation and tranquil stillness. This portion of our expedition was pure commitment--we had no radio, no Sherpa support, no base camp. We were alone going from point A to point B, carrying everything we would need on our backs.

We walked two miles on glacial snow as smooth as carpet. It was getting dark, and to avoid the crevasses dead ahead we moved to our right onto a frozen stream, climbing down little frozen waterfalls like giant stairs. Ned continued to appear tuned in to Craig, racing along down the waterfalls with, or against, him--I couldn’t tell exactly which. What I could tell was that I was growing impatient with my demotion to load-bearing chattel and serfdom. As studies have shown, women are prone to loose motivation in competitive situations, where males tend to thrive. I realized that Ned and Craig bonded through competing, racing against each other, resulting in their private conferences to make decisions while I, on the other hand, was put off by the competition and left out of the decision making. Although I hated to, I knew I needed to confide in Ned so I wouldn’t blow up about it at the wrong time.

I realized my choice to avoid confrontation up to this point could make me seem easily influenced and unconfident. But I didn’t feel unconfident. Women are often considered unconfident because, as some data shows, women are more easily influenced than men. In a reinterpretation of this data, women researchers determined that the women in these studies weren’t unconfident; they just think differently. These women appeared more easily influenced because of their choices to conform for the sake of harmony. The women weren’t necessarily passively influenced by their male counterparts to conform, they were choosing to keep things harmonious, and thus went along with decisions so as not to rock the boat.

I was living it right here on the expedition, a little microcosm of the big world. I had been holding on to my thoughts for the sake of harmony, going with the flow of Ned and Craig’s decisions, but when the time came to speak up I didn’t lack the confidence. I could go with the flow as long as we were safe, but I questioned that.

I called ahead to Ned and we had our little tête-à-tête. He took it well; we ended up hugging with arms too short to wrap around our backpacks, adding a little levity to the scene. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure, especially in the microcosm of an expedition.

Ned and I heard Craig’s whistle. He’d found a camp spot and was drawing us in as the darkness wrapped around us in the belly of this wild, desolate valley deep in the frozen Himalayan landscape. I had found the day draining, both physically and mentally, and looked forward to totally decompressing in the comfort of our little two-man tent for three.

Jan Reynolds is a prizewinning photojournalist whose intrepid adventures have taken her to every continent, photographing and recording vanishing cultures to preserve their unique heritage for future generations. An accomplished athlete, she is a medal-winner in World Cup biathlon, holds several high-altitude skiing and mountain climbing records, and ballooned over the Himalayas. She has lectured at the National Geographic Society and her accomplishments have been documented in their magazine. Her work has been featured in Esquire, Adventure Travel, Ski, and Walking magazine, and she has appeared on the covers of Outside and Ultrasport. She is the author/photographer of the Vanishing Cultures series of children's books, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which won the prestigious Parents' Choice Award. She lives in Stowe, Vermont.

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High-Altitude Woman: From Extreme Sports to Indigenous Cultures—Discovering the Power of the Feminine by Jan Reynolds © 2013 Reprinted with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com

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