Magazine Jul/Aug 2013 Trails of Adventure

13 July 2013, 14:24
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Trails of Adventure

The kindred spirits we met for our roundtable have experienced the world’s most exotic corners firsthand. They describe extraordinary situations that are hard to imagine for outsiders like us. What is it like to see the sunrise from Mt. Everest, knowing that you have lost a friend on the same trip? And what could force someone to travel days to the basecamp of Mt. Kilimanjaro, get close to the summit and still feel okay walking away without reaching it? Karo Ovasapyan, Baggy Cholakian, and Jessica Badashian are three free-spirited globetrotters who know the taste of adrenaline and can justify why a simple trip to a vineyard in Italy would not satisfy their appetite for adventure.

Joanna: What does it look like going on your expeditions?
Baggy: I’d never been to Africa before I went to Kilimanjaro. I was planning to go in a group of seven people, but due to scheduling conflicts, no one could come, so I went alone. It was still enjoyable. On the last day, I was supposed to reach the summit. I was feeling macho, like this is a piece of cake. But then on the last part in Kibo at about 1,200 feet elevation, I gave up. It was supposed to be easy, and I was not dying or anything. I wasn’t even pushing myself too hard, but I couldn’t do it. And I was fine with that. I am going back in August to try again.
For me, the best part is not about going to extremes. I would rather be with people. That’s why I like sailing. I’m not so extreme as to sail around the world, because it involves lots of time spent on the water, and it becomes boring. Then, some parts are really dangerous, could be deadly. My suggestion for beginners is to try short trips, like to Catalina, where you’ll still see the real ocean and big waves. Once you try that, you can go to Mexico, which takes about five hours. And in summer, there’s a race to Hawaii – 500 sailboats of all kinds. It takes about a week to get there. Sailing is not such an athletic thing, and for many it involves a lot of drinking.
Karo: Our expeditions are not short. They usually last around two or more months. We start at the base camp, then go to the 2nd and 3rd camps, and later come back down through base again. You are always going up and down. It took us 61 days to summit Everest. It should have taken around 40 days, but due to climate change the weather has been getting worse over the years. When there’s bad weather, you’re sitting there in the altitude. I lost 30 pounds. Going up to the summit there is a little bit of relaxing, and you start at midnight. I started at 12:45 a.m. and reached the summit at 6:15 a.m. There I sat for 30 minutes waiting for the sunrise. It felt like I was the only one of the 6.5 billion people on Earth to see the sun come out. Then I got back down to the base camp in a record 18 hours straight from the camp to the summit to the base camp. Tragically, I lost a friend up there, one of three friends lost on expeditions. I have photos and videos to remember.
Jessica: We used to have a geology group, and one of the things we did was climbing. We did Angels Landing Peak in Zion National Park, which is at 5,000 feet elevation, a five mile trek in 110 degrees heat in summertime. There were times when I had to lay on the floor and pour water on myself just to get motivated to get up. At one point, you have to pull yourself up to the top by a swinging rope. At these moments, I didn’t think about anything – home, work or the kids. I was there to make it to the top and was proud of myself when I reached it.
Joanna: What draws you to these different sports? Is there a special kind of satisfaction?
Jessica: I am not one of those women who go to the mall. I would have an anxiety attack! I am crazy about nature – caving, kayaking and hiking. In the early mornings, I go hiking, and that’s what I look forward to throughout the day. Even in my office, I think about nature and mountains. Especially the heights – some people don’t realize the intensity of it unless they really have it in them.
Karo:I agree. It’s like you’re fighting and working hard, getting ready for expeditions, and you can fall into this thinking of, "This is my last time. I’m getting tired, hungry and weak." But, if you reach the summit and stay there for five, ten or 30 minutes, I guarantee, in one week, you will be up there again. You forget all about the hard times – all the hardships are left behind, it was all momentary. Soon you just want to be up there again, because it’s there.

Jessica: When you’re on top of the mountain, you feel intensely alive. Those five minutes on the summit are worth a lifetime. It’s hard to describe.
Karo: First, you have to love nature; you have to love it so much that all the hardships are forgotten. Most people turn back half-way and don’t make their goal. They don’t love it deeply enough to forget the tiredness. They’re not so in love with it that they would endure it. You have to endure all the trouble to get to the goal. Their bodies don’t want to, and they don’t want to push themselves farther.
Baggy: The challenge is part of the beauty, but I never pushed myself. In Kilimanjaro, I couldn’t do it because I thought, “The heck with it. I’m here, I’ve done this much.” For me it is the enjoyment factor; if I go half way, I’m satisfied. If I decide to
do something, I will do it. If I can’t accomplish it, I will go back and try again. That way, I won’t put myself through too much torture. But I also understand adrenaline. We are sailing in Santa Monica, having a great time, water is splashing in our faces – it’s out of this world. When I come back, I feel almost drunk. People are talking to me, but I can’t stop smiling, replying in some gibberish. You have to enjoy being in nature, just like Karo said.
Joanna: Nature can show its power…
Jessica: The world’s climate is changing and sometimes the sea is really torturous. We’ve never seen the kind of winds like the one ones we saw while going to Mexico. Usually the wind dies around 6 or 7 p.m., but the wind was blowing the whole night for two days. Everybody got sick, including the captain. Nature always has the upper hand, especially in the ocean. It can upturn your boat at any moment.
Karo: Some people going on expeditions forget that they’re dealing with nature. But it doesn’t like to joke around. You have to respect nature, otherwise you will get punished, no matter how strong you think you are.
Baggy: That’s true. A Frenchman who won championships sailing around the world solo on a 120-foot boat said in his acceptance speech, "I won this medal, it’s a big accomplishment, but I always respect God, because I know if I have a 120-foot boat with a 130-foot mast, He has a wave that’s 150 feet." Most sailboats don’t capsize, because they have about four tons of concrete on the bottom to keep them afloat. But this wave was so huge that his boat did a 360 degree turn with him inside, and the doors closed. He whirlpooled like a cloth in a washing machine. One should know nature’s rules and respect them. And even if the forces of nature take your life, that’s also acceptable. I’m sure the guy that went to Everest and didn’t make it knew that.
Karo: He made it to the summit and died coming down. He sat down. He shouldn’t have stopped. And we knew he was dying and couldn't help it. There was a lot of high wind, and the oxygen was almost finished. When he walked from the base camp to the summit and used all his oxygen, we did our best to help him, but found him after 12 days.
Joanna: What was the most dangerous situation you found yourself in?
Karo: I thought I would die when I fell into a big glacier with an opening in the center with no visible end on the bottom. I broke my finger and was scratched all over. Luckily, I got roped around twice, and my backpack and I got stuck as the V-shaped crack got narrower. Then I took out my ice screws, safely screwed myself in and started going up.

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