Monday, April 27, 2015

On the Way up to Mt. Britton in El Yunque

This article was published originally in 2012.  This is my updated version to honor my friend Victor Roman.  Victor, was a scientist, engineer, avid astronomer with Las Sociedad de Astronomia de Puerto Rico, and for many years a part of my family by marriage.


Why do you climb a mountain? Some people say, "Because it is there." You wonder. They risk their lives because it is there. What is that supposed to mean? We have all heard of people rising triumphant over Mt. Everest and others falling in a crevasse trying. We continue to wonder. What?  Are they seeking fame or are they trying to prove something to themselves and are willing to die trying? Are they in their right minds?

Yesterday, I did such a thing. Perhaps it wasn't on the grand scale as Mt. Everest, but to me who am a bit over weight with lots of silver hair under medium brown tint it was a bit of a challenge. Okay the truth. It was a challenge. It took me and Victor two hours to climb the regularly 45 minute trail if you are in good shape.  Though Victor and I are not in perfect shape we refused to shy away from this challenge and be denied the opportunity of climbing one of Puerto Rico's highest peaks.

We reminded ourselves this wasn't a race but a marathon. The important thing is that if you are not in top shape, you either go with people who respect your speed or lack of. It was a gift to do it together.

I went with Victor. Victor is my niece's husband who has been battling a lung condition most of his life. Then a couple of years back, Victor suffered from a deadly condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It in fact, almost took his life. I am not at liberty to describe everything that happened to Victor, but as a result of the syndrome he temporarily lost some of his vision, stability in his hands
and loss of balance. He remained in the hospital for over a week and then for months which then became years he had to fight to regain his strength. He still has areas of weakness and his original lung condition has not gone away which requires him to have daily oxygen treatments, but he is driven to regain his life.

Whenever I am in Puerto Rico, Victor and I go to El Yunque.  Since Victor is an avid photographer he always wants to go. So when on our last visit driving through El Yunque, we took some nice photos of Mt. Britton way up on a distant hill, and he asked if I had ever gone up to that tower.   I really did not think anything of it. I could vaguely remember going up that trail and frankly it had been decades before and scanning my memories I think I went up with my ex-husband. I was at least 30 pounds lighter and twenty years younger.

The trail then was a little different. The path was not a narrow cement path as it is now. It was all an uneven gravel pathway which though more unstable seemed wider. Wider is better when you are making an ascent that will take you up to three thousand eighty-eight feet with slippery drops on one side of the trail.

This two feet width, proved to be a concern when other people were either coming down the trail or coming up behind you. Someone had to step off the trail to let them through. So the climbing had to be a matter of engaging with other people and negotiating the path. Once on the trail we encountered some younger hikers and they simply stepped off the path onto the gravel and went on their way. On my way down, being a bit more cautious, since it was raining and streams of water were intermittently flowing down the path, Victor and I encountered a multi-aged group with a rather large boned lady coming up of the path. She decided that she would keep her feet on the path and leaned on the edge of the mountain and jutted her rear end out and expected us to skirt around her. I sized up the situation rather quickly and realized that if we did I risked slipping and falling down the ravine. I declined her kindness and simply stepped off the path in a small gravel clearing next to the mountain's side. "Oh!" was her surprised response. I let them pass. In other words, use common sense. Always defer to the side of the trail that is safest, not to the side where where you can break your neck!!!

But whether the trail was narrow or wide, made of cement or gravel, with three shelters or not, the climb was the same. It was steep, curvy, and wet. For people in top shape it takes 45 minutes. It took us two hours. Why did we do it? We did it because it was there and because we wanted to go. It took us a week to actually find a day that would work for us but I think, Victor had to think things through before taking the challenge. I was more or less going for the ride. As we climbed, I would tell him I was not in a hurry because I didn't want him to feel rushed but most importantly I could not be rushed. I found the climb was not as exhausting as I expected. Providentially, it rained that day cooling the forest considerably and with the constant breeze and sometimes heavy rain and wind, all these conditions helped to keep the temperature down. I realize that these wet conditions actually was what allowed me to go up this mountain. I am so grateful and encouraged to get into better shape and perhaps do this again in the near future. Perhaps another trail? Perhaps another mountain?

Unfortunately, it will not be with Victor, my Yunque Buddy, as my niece called him.  Victor has been promoted to a higher mountain.  He passed away two weeks ago and I believe he is breathing deeply and climbing easily now.  Rest in peace, Victor.  You are missed.

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