Climbing to New Heights, in Chapel and the Library
Posted January 23
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Mr. Dahlem and his father have traveled to Africa, Alaska, Russia, Argentina and Antarctica, and together they have climbed five of the “seven summits,” the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. This recent excursion took them (and 30,000 pounds of equipment) through Nepal and into Tibet. They went 46 days without running water, toilets, or home-cooked meals, to scale Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest mountain in the world. Cho Oyu has an elevation of 26,906 feet; at that altitude, Mr. Dahlem explained, “physiologists say the human body cannot survive, no matter how long you try to acclimatize. You’re literally dying while you’re up there.” He continued, “The other way to look at it, of course, is while you’re up there, you’re totally alive.”
“Cho Oyu” means “Turquoise Goddess” in Tibetan, but the climb was so challenging that Mr. Dahlem suggested that the best translation might be “Chew on You.”
Mr. Dahlem narrated a slide show of his adventures, discussing the mountain’s geography; the difficulty his team encountered entering Tibet; their experiences with leeches, yaks, and other flora and fauna of the locale; the Tibetan children they met along the journey; the religious traditions and ceremonies of the region; and the help they received from the Sherpas who traveled with them to the top and provided aid to other climbers in distress along the way.
The audience in the Chapel gasped at the fact that, even with oxygen, the team could only take one step with each three or four breaths. They laughed at the slide that showed the transportation back from the climb: a dump truck filled with exhausted climbers. They quietly considered Mr. Dahlem’s reflections on his own accomplishments: “We stood on top of an obscure mountain most people have never heard of for a mere 30 minutes. It was however, a sublime experience. I’m often asked if these climbs are somehow spiritual. Of course they are. The demand of climbing at high altitude often uncouples the mind from the body, leaving only the spirit to hold things together. I prayed on the mountain, with thankfulness and joy for the opportunity to be there, for our safety, and for peace for those who were nervously following along back home. I also prayed when we returned, for the families of the climbers who didn’t come back.”
He concluded by turning the focus to the St. Margaret’s student community, challenging students to set and pursue goals, not just for the day or week, but on a more expansive scale: “What is your Cho Oyu? What ‘chews on you?’ Certainly you have finals to worry about for now, but you also have a long weekend coming up. Get outside. Step off the concrete and onto the sand or dirt or snow or ice. Let the power of nature cleanse your mind and awaken your spirit. Beyond that, look for opportunities, big and small, and seize them. Write down your goals. Whether mastering that tricky piano part, reading the book on your nightstand, mustering the courage to smile and make a new friend, or carrying someone’s load for a while. Challenge yourselves. Whatever it is for you, find your mountain and climb it.”
Concluding the talk, Mrs. Stacey Wentzel, Director of Choral Music, gave a moving performance of “Defying Gravity,” and Carlye Porrazzo, grade 10, sang “This Day.”
St. Margaret’s Library is currently exhibiting items from and related to the climb, through February. The exhibit includes a St. Margaret’s pennant Mr. Dahlem took to the peak of Cho Oyu. Books on climbing expeditions are also on display and available to be checked out.
To hear Mrs. Wentzel’s performance of “Defying Gravity,” RIGHT CLICK, SAVE AS to download to your computer