How to be a sherpa


What you’ll need: a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes, including unique hemoglobin-binding enzymes, doubled nitric oxide production, hearts that can utilize glucose, and lungs with an increased sensitivity to low oxygen*; rope

Songlist:  Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ by Nancy Sinatra

Further Reading: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, View from the Summit by Edmund Hillary

See? It's easy, just follow the yellow line!

Everyone’s favorite fact last week: 49 of 50 states boasted snow on the ground, including Hawaii.  Excluding, of course, Florida, the state that once captivated the country for months by not having its act together (if that’s all it takes, I’ll be famous in no time).

As a northerner, I scoffed at the south’s inability to handle its five inches of precipitation.  We Minnesotans are the type to store shovels in the trunks of our cars in case we get stuck, and provisions to last a week if the shovels don’t work.  In my winter-related arrogance, I conveniently overlooked the unprecedented three days of school cancelled in the Twin Cities due to a blizzard last month.  We’ve also gone well over the three “Snow Emergencies” budgeted for 2010-2011, aka the days the city plows every street, aka the days it’s good to have a garage.

In some places of the world, however, snow does not constitute an emergency but a way of life.  Take the Himalayas.  It is unfathomable to imagine a mountain range as majestic as that one sans snow–where would the beauty be?  I may never have the training or the courage to climb a Himalayan mountain (and I certainly don’t have the touch of madness that compels people to climb Everest), but I envy those who do.  I especially admire sherpas, some of whom have climbed Mt. Everest a dozen or more times, all while carrying another person’s burden.  It is their job, yes, but I find it altruistic nonetheless.

A sherpa and his pack

Technically, “Sherpa” refers to an ethnic group of people from Nepal, or those hired to guide mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas.  Thus, most of us cannot hope to become sherpas (though sherpa is sometimes used as a proprietary eponym for those who haul the belongings of others or invoked to imply knowledge of cold weather conditions).  Yet the allure is great–sherpa guides are people, mostly men, who don’t just climb mountains; they were born to climb mountains.  They are physically disposed for this act more than anyone else.  It makes me consider the question: what was I born to do?  What am I physically, mentally, or emotionally equipped for that 99% of the earth’s population is not?  So far, I’ve come up short on answers to that.

*According to wikipedia

Bobsledding requires 3 things…

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Dreamworks shares a handy how-to video on bobsledding:

THAT’S a bobsled

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Note: no matter which country you bobsled for, you’ll need ice.

How to be an Olympic bobsledder

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The Swiss Bobsled team from Davos, 1910

What you’ll need: a regulation-sized bobsled, a Caribbean nation with lax citizenship rules that desperately desires Olympic representation

Songlist: Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, The Gold Medal by the Donnas

Further Reading: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

In 2002, I fell in love with Apolo Anton Ohno.  Something about that soul patch set my teenaged heart ablaze.  The best way to catch his attention, I decided, was to medal in the 2006 Olympics.  The only problem: I’ve never been very good at sports.

While I watched yet another short-track speed skating event, despair sinking in, Bob Costas announced my ticket to fame (and Apolo’s heart).  Women’s two-person bobsledding would be an exhibition sport in 2006.  I told my friend Hilary about it, and she was in.  As an exhibition sport, we figured the competition wouldn’t be as fierce and if we trained really hard, we were sure to have a good chance.  Of course, we were busy high-schoolers at that point living in a state that specializes in winter but has a serious lack of 1300 meter-long vertical iced tracks.

Time passed without any further research into how we could become bobsled superstars, and when the 2006 Olympics rolled around I was sipping margaritas on a beach in Mexico.  Hope seemed to be lost.  But then Apolo reappeared on television a year later on a much different kind of stage and I switched my career focus.  Next week: how to be a ballroom dancer!