Tom Seidell

Climbing Day 2: Thorsmork to Fimmvorduhals
Wednesday, August 15
Waking up on Friday morning had a different feel to it. We had gotten our first hike out of the way, had a good feel for the weight of our packs, and now we were all collectively bustling around the hut preparing for what we all knew was going to be the most challenging day. There was a cool mist in the air – cloudy, foggy conditions. As breakfast was served, I was doing my best to calm the butterflies in my stomach and force down some muesli. Hot coffee was a sight for sore eyes. We made our final preparations and quickly came to the realization that we now had to carry EVERYTHING in the packs. The weight was significant. Fortunately, our guides gave an excellent tutorial on how to wear the packs, and once the weight was distributed to the hips rather than the back, it felt much better. I filled my water in the bathroom sink and reluctantly accepted the fact that I had nothing else to do but go suit up.  Our guides gave one final briefing and then before you could think twice, we were off.

The first few minutes were a quick indication that, despite the tutorial, we were going to feel the weight of these packs no matter how well we managed to rig them on our body. Fatigue set in at first, and my mind was racing, wondering how on earth I was going to make it over the rest of these two days with this much weight on my back. After some additional adjusting and a second wind, my optimism came rushing back and my concern was replaced with excitement and awe at the surroundings. I couldn’t help but smile as I heard the whizzing of the film crew’s drone as we made our first ascent up the mountain – it was this moment that the reality truly set in of how amazing this experience was. I felt totally immersed in it. My teammate Erica had been asking me the day before, “Does it feel real yet?” Well, it was at this very moment that it did, and from then on, I was totally lost in the experience.

Reality hits you fast in life, especially if you’re not ready for it. It’s easy to make excuses, but hard to face things head on. Every person in this group, in one way or another, embodies the concept of doing just that – facing things head on, never quitting, never backing down – a representation of the efforts of the MMRF with the support of Celgene. Our guide in North Carolina, Gary Rudman, and his motto “Never quit. Never stop. Not Today. Not Ever,” was brought to life and put in practice right in front of my eyes. We had all heard about the “Cat’s Spine” before the trip. I did not expect it to come so fast, and so suddenly. I remember asking “Wait, is this the cat’s spine?” And then before anyone could answer, we realized it was sheer cliff on either side of the path. The answer was undoubtedly “Yes.” Before the trip, the fear of heights was voiced, and there was a sense of tension as the team made its way over the treacherous, narrow, intimidating and unforgiving curves and ledges. But what was so impressive was that there was absolutely no hesitation whatsoever. Facing reality, facing fears, and never backing down – we reached the end and landed on safer ground and there was a group exuberance that was hard to put into words. This moment was a total triumph. Watching fears being conquered head on was one of the most inspirational things I have ever been a part of.

We marched forward. Taking in the beautiful scenery as we gained elevation and became one with the clouds, it was hard not to feel the mystique. Low visibility and fog shrouded the sloping landscape. This day really pushed our limits, as the inclines felt endless. Muscles were being used that I don’t think I’ve used before. Finally, we reached the plateau. It felt like we were on the moon – we had gone from green, rocky, sloping hills to a completely flat, barren, desert-like plateau. It was fog in every direction, and we had no idea what was beyond it. We stopped to make a stone monument as a tribute to our purpose in Iceland, which is to find a cure for multiple myeloma through research funded by the MMRF, and with the support of Celgene. Each one of us placed a stone in the pile, and we kept moving forward. Only a few moments after constructing our tribute, we reached the edge of the plateau. It was at this moment that, almost on cue, the fog cleared and revealed the absolute beauty that had been surrounding us, seemingly awaiting our arrival. I have never felt the power of beauty so much before. It took my breath away. I couldn’t help but feel that this was a sign. My goal on this trip was first and foremost to raise money to find a cure for multiple myeloma. My personal hope for this trip was to reflect. To process the loss of my mom and remember her while with this amazing team, immersed in the beauty of nature and bonded in a common goal. When the fog cleared and revealed the spectacular views in every direction, that mission felt achieved.

Leaving the plateau, we approached Heljarkambur, otherwise known as “Hell’s Crest.” The sun had come out at this point, and we made our approach to the crossing. All you could see was a chain to hold onto, a tiny ledge about a foot wide, and an expansive drop-off to the right, surrounded by stunning landscape. The sound of dry gravel meeting boot soles laid the soundtrack for our crossing. Not much talking at this point, only focus. We made our way single file, and nerves were high once again. The metal rods holding the chain in place were not very reassuring, and some were completely loose – but still there was no hesitation. We powered right through it and were rewarded with more dazzling views at the top.

We moved forward and experienced the drastic weather change we had been warned about. It went from sunny back to foggy, and the temperature dropped from the 50’s down to what seemed like the 30’s in a matter of about five minutes. My desire to stay wearing shorts went out the window, and before I knew it, we were using every layer we had, snow hats, gloves and all. Snowball fights ensued. We were nearing the end of our day, wondering how much longer until we reached the hut. And then, in the distance, through the fog, a tiny structure on a mountain started to become visible. Our guides let out a sly smile, and we knew that we were looking at our home for the evening. As if this trip couldn’t have gotten more awesome, it just did.

We arrived at the hut and settled in for the night. The bond that this team had formed was evident in how much fun we were still able to have with 20 people crammed into a tiny space. For me, this was the culmination of one of the most amazing days of my life with the most incredible group of people I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. Joining together to find a cure for multiple myeloma by raising funds through the MMRF, with the support of Celgene, allowing us to take part in such an unforgettable adventure. This truly was a gift that I will forever be grateful for, and a group of people that I will forever call family.
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