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Chapter 6

Chapter 6 - FWA

FWA stands for Full Wife Approval. Itís pronounced "fwah." No climb begins without it. FWA is reserved for big mountains. Itís something we joke about, "Dude, I got FWA! Weíre going!" Itís like the fun pass.

Maggie and I started dating on June 21, 1989. It was a love-at-first-sight sort of thing. She was physically fit, but not an outdoors girl. I told her how much I enjoyed the Adirondacks. I asked her if she wanted to go backpacking and, when she said yes, I took her to do Macomb, South Dix and East Dixóthree trail-less peaks. I know, "What was I thinking?" Sometimes I get ahead of myself. I knew it was a beautiful climb up the rockslide, but I didnít think about what it would be like for someone who had never climbed to actually have to do it.

We got up Macomb and someone else was there who asked Maggie if she enjoyed the hike. She said, "Yeah. Itís my first mountain." They said, "What?! Heís taking you up a trail-less peak for your first climb?!"

But she thought it was great. It was a hard, long day and she enjoyed it. We went up to the Adirondacks a couple times a year and when sheíd climbed twenty or so peaks she said she might as well become a 46er. She never intended to be a 46er. She finished on my first mountain—Haystack—on July 5, 2003. I had a jeweler make up a custom gold charm of the Adirondack 46er logo. I gave it to her on the summit that day.

Thatís why she appreciated my love for the mountains. She loved them too.

When I floated the idea of doing Everest, she had four stipulations: One, I had to tell her everything. Good, bad, indifferent. She told me, "Donít leave anything out. If youíre going to be gone 12 weeks, say itís 12 weeks. Donít sugar-coat it."

Two, I needed to train like a man-possessed. I had to be real serious about it. Before I went the first time, I ended up working out 12 months. Three, I had to upgrade my gear. Iíd always been the frugal mountaineer. Everyone always mocked my fluorescent green fleece jacket that Iíd gotten in a closeout bin. Something no one would ever wear, let alone buy. I remember meeting guide Craig John in New Hampshire to do some ice climbing work about six weeks before I left for Nepal. He said, "You need two of these and two of those." I said, "Two? Why two of everything?" He said, "Because itís Mount Fucking Everest. You donít scrimp on the biggest mountain in the world. What if something breaks or you drop it in the Icefall; what are you going to do then?" Four, I had to come home. That was the deal. Iím a member of the Live-to-Tell-the-Tale-Club.

We donít have kids so that made the decision easier. If we had kids, I donít think I would have gone. I think the responsibilities would shift to more important things. Not that Iím judging those who climb who have kids. It just would be a harder decision for me to make.

Iíve had people say, "Everest was your big dreamówhat if Maggie said ‘no’?" I tell them, "I wouldnít have gone." Itís that simple. I can go fly in the clouds, but I also have a motorcycle license from my days in college. Iíve asked Maggie about getting a motorcycle and she wasnít wild about the idea. We talked about risk and concluded that itís harder to manage on a motorcycle than when flying an airplane or climbing a mountain. So I donít ride a motorcycle. Itís a risk-management issue.

The first test for our deal came when I got the Body Disposal Election Form. You have to decide, "If I die on Mount Everest, I prefer to be left on the mountain, to be cremated, or repatriation." Iíve thought about the possibility of dying on a big mountain. For instance, when I first went to Mount McKinley in June 1992, 11 people had already died on the mountain that year. It made national news. On my way to Alaska I read an article in Newsweek saying it was nastier than Everest. People were dying left and right.

So when you look at the Body Disposal Election Form, thereís a bit of, "Holy shit!" to it. You start thinking, "What have I gotten myself into?"

The wording is pretty straightforward: "If you die on the mountain, your body will be put in a crevasse and/or marked with a rock cairn in a respectful manner by your Expedition team members...."

"If you die down low, it might be possible to get your body down where it could be cremated by Buddhist monks from the local monastery. This would cost well in excess of several thousand dollars...."

Itís definitely something you have to discuss with your spouse. It shows that this is really serious business and was one of the first things that came up after weíd agreed that I was going to climb Everest. Iíd been sharing with her who I was talking to about going there and including her in on my e-mails. When I decided I was going with International Mountain Guides, I brought this to her attention.

"Know how I told you Iíd share everything?" I asked.

"Yeah," she said.

"Well, here you go," I said, handing her the form. "This is about as serious as it gets. Iím thinking I want my body left on the mountain if I die. What do you think?"

"OK," she said after a moment, "I guess this is one of the things that goes with the territory. Thanks for sharing."

I checked "left on the mountain."



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Front Cover
Back Cover
Table of Contents
Chapter 5: The Decision—Don't Tell Anyone... Yet
Chapter 6: FWA
Chapter 17: A Camp 3 Wake-Up Call
Chapter 18: Death on Everest—Our Dirty Little Secret
Chapter 32: My Dad's Dying
Chapter 33: Here We Go Again


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