Mark Bennett: Reaching the top “a deeply spiritual experience” | News columns



It all started with a cottonwood tree in little Lindsay Zimmerman’s rural Vermillion County yard decades ago.

Her older brother climbed the rope in the family’s treehouse, then teasingly pulled the rope before Lindsay had his chance.

So she took off her shoes, grabbed the deeply grooved bark of the earth poplar with her hands and feet, and clambered up the trunk to the treehouse—no ropes needed.

This story became an inspiration for Lindsay years later. This happened during his toughest times in medical school. It happened when she took her family’s passion for mountaineering to new heights.

In times of doubt, she often telephoned her father for advice.

“I would say, ‘Linds, maybe you should take your shoes off,'” Les Zimmerman said, referring to his daughter’s brave climb up that poplar tree.

Lindsay kept her shoes on earlier this month when she climbed to the top of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest. (In fact, she wore boots equipped with gripping spikes called crampons.)

Yet the metaphorical point of her childhood feat was to climb the dangerous 29,031ft Himalayan mountain on the border between Tibet and Nepal.

She overcame exhaustion from low oxygen levels, anxiety after another climber developed COVID-19 and a knee injury. Yet at 3:15 a.m. on May 15, Lindsay reached the top of the world.

A nearly full moon shone above our heads. A line of lights on the helmets of the other climbers below snaked upwards. Nepalese prayer flags planted in the icy snow fluttered in the sub-zero wind. A golden cultural statue shone in the moonlight. The horizon line looked like a black and white photograph.

“It was like this carpet of clouds, with the moon glistening on it,” Lindsay recalled Thursday afternoon, sitting with her parents, Les and Dr. Anna Zimmerman, in the family home north of Clinton.

At the top, Lindsay hugged her Sherpa guide, Mingma Dorjee. “I had to stifle a few sobs,” she said, to avoid a frozen face. “It was so affirmative, because I did.”

Her accomplishment capped a series of adventures stretching back 13 years to Lindsay’s first ascent to the top of Granite Peak, Montana’s highest point, with her father. At least one member of the Zimmerman family – Les, Anna, Lindsay, his brother Jeff, his sister Cassie Whitsett, their spouses and their children – has climbed to the highest peak in the 50 American states. And Lindsay – now an ER doctor and wife of 38 years in Indianapolis – has reached Seven Summits, the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents.

“We did some cool stuff,” Les said, nodding.

A burst of determination set their course. In a 2006 phone conversation, Les informed his daughter, “I want to climb a mountain before I die – a serious mountain,” he recalled. Les was then 58 years old and a decade before retiring after 30 years of operating Zimmerman Farm Nursery. Lindsay was 22 years old.

Hired them a guide, bought some gear he knew little about, and set off for Granite Peak. They prepared in a climbing school and then climbed the 12,807-foot mountain. At one point, Lindsay nervously hugged a rock, wondering if she could continue. He said, “Get your ass up on that mountain.” She did, and they did.

“We’ve always encouraged our kids to take risks,” Les said on Thursday. “Risks add spice to life.”

Les, Lindsay and Anna poked fun at the memory of Granite Peak on Thursday as they sat around the dining room table, revisiting photographs and memories of their climbing exploits. A pocketbook of each state’s highest points contains a log of their ascents. Lindsay hit 47 of those highs, Les 43 and Anna – who’s a bit more laid back about the project – 35; Jeff, Cassie, Lindsay’s husband, Tony, and the others hit a few each. The toughest of the 50 was Denali in Alaska – the highest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet. Indiana’s peak, Hoosier Hill near Richmond, is a more tranquil getaway at 1,257 feet. US Geological Survey markers indicate the highest point in each state.

Reaching these American heights inspires them. “It’s a deeply spiritual experience,” Les said.

“You are in remote areas and you feel what this state is really like,” Anna said.

“Mountains center me,” Lindsay said. “I find being on the mountains meditative.”

In their basement, Les and Anna keep a small “shrine” dedicated to the family’s quest for the 50 highest states and their other mountaintop adventures, like a vial of “snow water” collected in Denali. . The shrine also features elements of Lindsay’s Seven Summits exploits. These include rocks from the peaks, which include Denali (North America), Mount Everest (Asia), Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft, Africa), Mount Elbrus (18,510 ft, Europe), Aconcagua (22,828 feet, South America), Kosciuszko (7,310 feet, Australia) and the Mount Vinson Massif (16,050 feet, Antarctica).

After passing Australia’s modest Kosciuszko – “a day hike”, as Lindsay put it – Lindsay had reached six of the seven peaks. Fewer than 600 climbers, including fewer than 100 women, completed all seven, according to recent calculations. After the summit of Australia, only Mount Everest remains for Lindsay.

Anna remembers first saying to her daughter, “Lindsay, people are dying on this mountain.” Indeed, 311 climbers have died on Everest, according to Lindsay told Anna she wasn’t considering an Everest climb, but they all warmed to the idea later.

“I had accomplished all of that. It was tough, but I had risen to that challenge,” Lindsay said.[Mount Everest] was a challenge I could fail, but it was a challenge I wanted to try.

She planned the climb for 2020 and began training in 2018, a regimen that included marathons. The pandemic delayed his plan until this year. When the time was right, Lindsay traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal to begin the seven-week, five-day adventure.

Climbing Everest involves a 40-mile trek to base camp, which sits 17,000 feet above sea level. The slow process helps climbers acclimate to the air rarefied. The vertical climb from base camp to the summit is an additional 12,000 feet. The “ice fall” between Base Camp and Camp 1 is icy and treacherous, with crevasses leading to a chasm. “And you can’t see the bottom,” Lindsay said.

She was paired with Mingma Dorjee, her Sherpa guide, who had summited Everest 11 times before. Her experience helped Lindsay overcome her two moments of doubt.

When her oxygen level dropped due to the altitude, she grew weary. Lindsay also thought about her possible exposure to another climber who had to leave Everest after testing positive for COVID-19. She had treated struggling COVID-19 patients in the emergency room during the pandemic, and that memory led to doubts about her own oxygen levels.

Then Lindsay twisted her knee falling from a ladder.

“Those were the hardest parts of the whole trip, because I was doubting myself,” she said.

Mingma reminded her that she would receive supplemental oxygen at the next higher level camp. It worked. She felt invigorated. The moment Mingma spotted the top and shouted, “Oh, it’s right there,” Lindsay felt strong.

“As we get closer, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I did it,'” she said.

She was a long way from Indiana, where she grew up an outdoor bookworm who attended Ernie Pyle Elementary School in Dana, South Vermillion High School (graduating in 2002), Butler University and the Indiana University School of Medicine.

A tear rolled down Les’s cheek as his daughter described her summit of Everest. He said Lindsay’s story left him “happy and impressed”.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or [email protected]


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