Top of Baldy (almost!)

A lot of

you probably know my story. The drugs, the alcohol, the blah, blah, blah...boring

right? Agreed. There are many


Duff McKagan: Out of the Armchair

Top of Baldy (almost!)

A lot of

you probably know my story. The drugs, the alcohol, the blah, blah, blah...boring

right? Agreed. There are many different ways however, to come out of a funk

like the one that I had. Some people go straight to rehab, some people church.

Others to  AA, and still many

others...a pine box.

The severity

of my particular malais placed me at a crossroads back in 1994 and luckily for

me, fitness and a thirst for intellectual knowledge filled the void left by the

blur of the 'fast lane'. So, for the last 14 or so years, I have tried to train

my body like that of a professional athlete, at least how I THINK they

train-although I have recently given up the dream of making the Seahawks (I did

seriously contemplate going out for the Seattle U. baseball team when I was

there recently. I could hear it now, "Now batting, 39 year-old rookie sophomore

Duff McKagan"). My thirst for knowledge has lead me to a ton of reading,

including many books on polar exploration (check out 'Endurance' by Alfred

Lansing) and mountain climbing ('Touching the Void' by Joe Simpson).

I grew up in

the Northwest and accordingly grew up doing my fair share of hiking. But hiking

is NOT mountain climbing necessarily, and I've always wondered how I might

stand up with crampons strapped to my feet and a 60-pound pack on my

back--teeth to the wind and howling at the moon.

A few weeks

back, a friend of mine asked if I would like to climb Tiger Mountain with him

and another guy (I may reveal the names of these gentlemen in the upcoming

months, but for now, they shall remain anonymous). Now, my friend is

ridiculously fit and has been known to take the Seahawks secondary up Tiger for

some ad hoc suffering (there was an article in the Times about my friend doing

just this). I accepted my friends' offer to 'do' Tiger and he offered to pick

me up at my 5:30am. It was about 15 degrees up there that morning and

it had been snowing all week and so there was no broken trail. With headlamps

on, we proceeded up the mountain..FAST!

Now, I pride

myself in being fit in a general sense. I work out pretty damn hard. I sweat

like a 'whore in church' I am told- and that means that my cardio-vascular

system is working pretty darn a fuckin' Ferrari I tell myself. Or a

broken down '71 Ford Maverick. I am telling you, just when I thought I could

hang with the big boys, my friend set this pace up Tiger that tested EVERYTHING

that I had inside of me. Where he looked like Robo-Cop, I looked like Jerry

Lewis in the 'Nutty Professor'. Where he climbed with style, I was grabbing for

branches and tearing shrubs out just to get a handhold. But finally we made it

to the top and I was hooked.

At this point,

friend #2 takes over for the downward trip...SPRINTING! If any of you have tried

running down a VERY steep and VERY slippery mountain, you may know of what I

speak when I say...this sucks. Not only were my legs burning to the core then

from the actual run, but also 2 days later I could not even walk!

When my girls

asked me why I was going to bed at 10 on New Year's Eve, I replied that I was

getting up early to climb again. "But Daddy, they INJURED you last time". The 3

of us dudes climbed Tiger again on New Year's Day. On the summit this time

though we stopped to actually talk for a minute. The idea of a climb up Mt.

Rainer was thrown around with my name included. "Aren't you sick of just

LOOKING at that thing Duff? Isn't it time to climb it?" I nodded yes, not

really thinking of the perplexity of getting ready for the whole thing.

I have a

friend down here in LA whom some of you may know from the Discovery show

'Everest'. He was dubbed 'Biker' Tim for the show. This guy is straight-up

hardcore. Tim got in a real bad motorcycle accident a few years ago that

required the surgeon's to put a steel cage around his lower spine and to fuse

his left ankle. Tim somehow took this as his sign to start his career in

climbing and has climbed Everest since as well as now guiding clients of his

own up gnarly peaks around the world. I made the mistake of telling Tim that I

may be climbing Rainer this summer. "Killer man, you can be my training partner

down here in California". Tim is preparing to climb the Lhotse face next to

Everest in a couple of months. I did mention to you readers that I have only

climbed Tiger twice thus far, right?

I am a

true alcoholic, and as such, I have never really backed down from anything.

Whether it is good for me or bad, I want it ALL and I want it NOW! Tim and I

did our first 'training' climb last week. Tim told me that we would be going up

Mt. Baldy and I chuckled as we drove to the mountaineering store the day

before. Anything in Southern California has got to be a cakewalk compared to

Tiger, right? As I was getting fitted out for boots (a REAL bad idea the day

before a climb), the salesman asked where we were going. When he informed me

that Baldy was over 10,000 feet and the third highest mountain in California, I

felt my butt pucker just a smidgeon. Oh shit, I've done it again.

The next

morning I went to pick him up. Tim assured me that everything would be fine and

that the crampons and rope that we were to bring were only precautionary " at

best" he said. He pulled out two big climbing packs and filled mine with all the

heavy stuff..well, at least it felt that way. On our way to the mountain, he

explained some of the finer points of climbing in the snow and ice. When we

arrived, he demonstrated a 'self arrest' with his ice axe. I didn't really pay

attention because I DIDN'T HAVE AN ICE AXE TO ARREST MYSELF WITH! (Note to

self: get one of those.)

In the first

10 minutes of our climb, I could feel the blisters rising on the back of each

heel. After an hour, my feet were so raw that I couldn't actually feel the pain

THERE anymore. I COULD however feel the pain everywhere else...but we tread on in

a silence only broken by my wheezing and Tim's Ipod blaring TLC's 'Waterfall'

through his ear buds.

A very

interesting thing happened about 4 hours into the climb; everything turned to

sheer ice..and JUST as we got on a really steep part of the mountain. One slip

here and you are curtains. Tim told me to stop (I was frozen with fear as it

was!). Tim put his crampons on and gingerly slipped around to where I was, he

then told me to sit down. He put on my crampons for me (I had never worn them

before, remember, two times up Tiger?) 

Tim looked me straight in the eyes and said that this pretty much

separates the men from the boys and I wondered where I fit in in that equation.

Once I found purchase with those crampons though, I practically flew up that

mountain and out of the 'danger zone'. Tim held me back from summiting by 300

feet, saying that we would lose daylight. I could feel a little of what it must

feel like to want to keep climbing no matter the risk. I turned as he

instructed and we made it down safely, albeit in the dark. I WILL be back to


  If you see

some tall, freaky, tattooed guy with a weighted backpack, climbing hills in

your neighborhood, that could be me training for my next climb. Or, it could

just be some unlucky bastard who looks like me!

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