Mount Whitney – We Summited!

On Sunday 7/29 our Aspen vacation ended and we traveled from Aspen via Denver and LAX (where we met up with Adam) then drove to Lone Pine.  A big driving day but uneventful.  We arrived in Lone Pine about 7PM and had a surprisingly excellent dinner at Seasons in Lone Pine.  Lone Pine is a dusty, desolate feeling “one traffic light” town so gourmet Elk in dried cherry sauce with a nice glass of Zinfandel was a pleasant surprise.  The Comfort Inn was, well, reasonably comfortable.

Since Lone Pine is at only about 3500 feet and Adam had not had the benefit of several days in Aspen I thought it would be good for he and I to do a warm-up hike at altitude.  We drove to Whitney Portal, the trail head for the Whitney Trail (8360’).  I also wanted to get a feel for the drive as well as the beginning part of the trail that we would be doing in the dark.  I was glad we would not be doing the lower part of the hike at mid-day as it was quite hot but the trail was well marked.July 31st , the day of our ascent finally arrived. Due to concerns about lightening (20% chance after noon) and not wanting to feel under time pressure we decided to start at 2:00 am rather than our original plan of 4:00.  We were underway close to plan at 2:15. Hiking in the dark with a headlamp was surprisingly easy.  At 90 lumens the headlamp completely lit up the trail.  And the dark meant the trail was pleasantly cool.  We came across several pairs of deers eyes glowingly looking at us.   We took our first break at Lone Pine Lake at the 2.5 mile mark.  After a short snack we resumed.  The sun started coming up between Mirror Lake and Trail Camp. Sunrise was really beautiful and serene.  To this point we had encountered very few people.We took our first major break at Trail Camp – 6 miles up.  We ate breakfast which for me was a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.  Hit the spot.  After resting about ½ hour we started purifying water for the 10 miles roundtrip to the summit.  It was a mistake to start this after our rest.  I bought a Steripen at REI which purifies a liter of water in 90 seconds.  We each started the hike carryng 5 liters of water and to refill needed to process about 10 liters.  Including getting the water from the lake and purifying that many times we spent about another 30 minutes.  Next time we would deal with water during the rest/snack.  Nevertheless we were more than halfway up both in terms of mileage and elevation and feeling pretty good.After Trail Camp comes the infamous “97 switchbacks”.  While climbing the switchbacks you have a real appreciation of the tremendous work that it took to build and maintain the trail.  The switchbacks, while they feel long, turn a steep technical face into a hard but manageable hike.  2.2 miles and 1700 feet later we reached Trail Crest.  Adam and I were feeling a bit out of breath and lightheaded so we took a rest and appreciated the 360 degree views.    Once I caught my breath (took a bit of time as we were at 13,777’) I realized that yes, I would make it to the top.  I could see it and while the last couple of miles were rocky I knew then it was doable.

The last 2.5 miles were slow.  While there is only a “net” 700’ gain left it is actually 1300’ as you gain and lose 300 along the trail.  The trail was rockier than below but always wide enough that the steep drop offs on the sides didn’t bother me too much. We reached the summit at 11:45am.  It was a real head rush – this time emotional when I looked down to the valley and saw what we accomplished.  We took a few pictures and signed the log book outside the shelter.  All together we spent about 45 minutes on top including a lunch break (second PB&J sandwich) an apple, some Anacin for a mild headache and lots of water.As we started down I realized that I had made a tactical error – either the altitude or the apple or the aspirin had made me nauseous.  This persisted until Trail Crest making the first 2 miles of the return the hardest part of the trip for me.   I chewed a couple of Pepto Bismol and finally felt ok by the time we started down the 97 Switchbacks.  I didn’t use them on the ascent but decided to use my hiking poles on the way down and found them quite helpful.  We were all totally out of water by Trail Camp.  This time we set to work purifying water right away.The final 6 miles from Trail Camp to the Portal was uneventful – just long.  By this point in time we were simply in tired achy feet mode.  Fortunately none of us were suffering from anything more acute – no injuries nor, amazingly, even blisters – just tiredness.  We made it to the trail head at 7:45pm – before sunset.  Total time -  17.5 hours.  I still can’t believe how long it took us but I suppose we really didn’t have a time goal, particularly on the descent once we were off the summit.

After we drove back to Lone Pine we stopped in a diner for a quick supper.   We were almost too tired to eat (but we managed) and the guys had milkshakes.  I treated myself to a very large diet coke – quite refreshing.

While the hike was hard I never came close to feeling like I couldn’t do it.  The months of training certainly paid off.  No part of the Whitney Trail was nearly as difficult as the tough parts of Mt. Tallac.  Between Tallac and easily completing the 16 miles of Static Peak at 13k feet I felt prepared.   During the drive home the three of us chatted about if we would want to do it again.  I could see going back to Whitney but might opt to do it over 2 days and camp at Trail Camp.  I think it would be more enjoyable if divided up.   I took about 85 pictures – far fewer than I planned.  For a good part of the hike down I think we just wanted to be done rather than appreciating the scenery – next time I’d like to be in a more observational mode.  I suppose the fact that we were even entertaining another visit after such a long day goes to show what a great experience it was.  Certainly a memorable one.

ICUC and Static Peak

I had the opportunity to attend the “Internet Cowboys UnConference” in Jackson Hole last weekend.  This conference, hosted by Yuval Almog and Yossi Vardi brings together internet and media executives for a conference in the style of “FooCamp” with user generated topics and discussions.  There were great presentations by the likes of James Wolfensohn on the state of the world economy, Adriana Cisneros on the growing consumer market in Latin America and Arthur Sulzberger on the future of Journalism in the internet era.  I let a discussion on privacy in the cloud and there were many other interesting sessions ranging from online education to the physics of YouTube.

The conference sessions go from 2-10 pm leaving the morning for outdoor activities.  For me the choice of activity was a no-brainer.  Being in one of the most beautiful hiking spots in the world I couldn’t wait to get out in the mountains.  Two hikes were offered each day – hard and easy – I opted for the hard hikes.  The first day we took the tram up to the top of Teton Village – this is the main ski area when people talk about skiing Jackson Hole – highest single lift elevation gain in the US.  We hiked down a couple of thousand feet and back up.  Beautiful views and good chance to acclimatize to the elevation.  The second day a small group of us went to the Red and Lavender Hills in the Gros Ventre range.  Incredible views of the Tetons from the other side of the valley and great wildflowers.

I made a couple of comments to Daniel Almog that the “hard” hikes were not very hard and he invited me to join him and a few of his friends to hike Static Peak Sunday morning.  We would need to leave at 5:30 to get back for the conference program as it is an 18 mile hike.  The trail gains a total of 5300’ of elevation topping out at 11,303’.  I was a little worried – my hiking companions were four guys about 20 years younger than me and this was the longest hike with the most elevation gain I had ever done.

Fortunately the trail, while long, was quite smooth until the last few hundred meters of rocks.  (I’m seeing a pattern here of the peak sections being mostly boulders – Mt Tallac was the same).  The trail was incredibly scenic and and relatively few super steep sections.  I found it challenging but doable – I am glad to report I was not the last one to summit.  It was fun hiking with new people – we had many things to talk about – everything from religious arguments – liberal jew (me) v. orthodox (Udi) to how to distribute apps in the education market to favorite hikes and travel destinations.  Here are a few pictures from the trip.

View of Phelps lake about 1/3 of the way upAlmost to the top – just a few hundred meters of rocks with no trail.At the top with a view of Bucks PeakThis was my favorite vista – check out the lake high up!No pictures from the way down.  It’s called Static peak for a reason.  Right after we left the peak we heard cracks of thunder so we jogged the first couple of miles down to get to a safer location.  We finished the hike down at a normal pace – we did get a bit wet and my camera stayed in the pack but it did not put a damper on the day.

India – Rich and Poor

My time in India was a harsh reminder of the problem of extremes of income inequality.  Of course this topic is a political hot button – especially here in the US around election time.  The issue in India feels less political, however, and more in the realm of basic human rights and dignity.  The topic was brought into sharp focus on my first day.  Dell hosted our event at the new Leela Palace in Delhi.  It is safe to say that this was the most opulent hotel I have ever stayed in.  This view of the lobby is an example.   The Leela family clearly believe the adage that nothing succeeds like excess – there is a glorious excess of flowers, service, marble, gilt – you name it, they have it.

Our first afternoon I elected to join an optional program where we went with the president of Save the Children to learn about the mobile health program they operate in the slums.  They operate this program in the poorest slums of Delhi (and other cities) where people have the least access to health care.  We saw two programs that are part of Save the Children’s mission.  One is a mobile health van – literally a large van that goes to places without other medical care – on board are a doctor, pharmacist and nurses.  There is a mini lab as well as exam room.  They also run educational programs where they “train the trainer” – children and adults to educate peers about sanitation, nutrition etc.

The slum where these programs were taking place made the Favelas I had visited in Brazil during the 90’s look like luxury condos.    Sanitation was poor – a single non-functional latrine for an entire neighborhood.  Water was not safe to drink.  I’m sure the vast majority of the illnesses being treated stemmed from the poor water and sanitary conditions.  According to Save the Children, 50% of children in India suffer from malnutrition.  Look at the two children in this picture – these children appear to be 2 and 3 – they are 5 and 7.  And they don’t catch up – this degree of malnutrition will handicap these children and the society that needs to support them – for life.  Save the Children has a pragmatic program – focus on exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and food supplementation programs for the first 3 years.  That is the most leveraged use of their resources and I admire their pragmatism.  It is hard for them to have to allocate their resources so carefully – after all proper nutrition for children of all ages should be viewed as a basic human right.

We hear about the growth in the Indian economy – all of the brilliant software engineers, outsourcing companies etc.  India is actually a net food exporter so malnutrition today (unlike 30 years ago) is not a lack of food but of money.  Inequality in earnings has doubled in India over the last two decades, making it the worst performer on this count of all emerging economies. The top 10% of wage earners now make 12 times more than the bottom 10%, up from a ratio of six in the 1990s.  By contrast In Brazil, household incomes have been growing faster among the poorest households than among the richest for the last two decades.  India spends less than 5% of its GDP on social welfare as compared to Brazil’s more than 15%. Its tax revenue as a proportion of GDP is under 20%—the lowest of all emerging economies, and just half that of developed countries.  This is not the path towards improvement.

There are bright spots.  My visit to Hyderabad was exciting – a high-tech oasis in the midst of all of this.  Many busy office towers, thousands of educated, bright engineers and business people working on cool technology.  But I question if things are structured for these bright spots to pull up the laggards in the economy.  There is a growing middle class – about 5% of the economy in 2007 according to McKinsey and Co but the poverty is overwhelming.

Apologies in advance to readers if this is too much of a rant.  I think it is probably for the best that I left my internship at Agency for International Development (A.I.D.) in Washington in 1986 to go to business school – I would be ranting every day if I worked full time in the development economics field knowing these realities.  On the other hand technology companies such as SugarSync can be part of the solution.  We employ 30 people which has its own small multiplier effect.  It was exciting to do a training program for the team  and see their excitement about our software and working with our customers. I’m looking forward to going back for a more extended trip to learn more about the business climate and other parts of the country.

India, A Sensory Indulgence

I was invited by Dell to participate in their annual Women’s Entrepreneur Conference in Delhi. I’ve always wanted to visit India – I’ve traveled very widely (more than 40 countries) so for me not having been to India – it was a real gap. In addition to the conference, SugarSync has a support team in India and I’ve been wanting to meet with them – we just doubled the size of our team there so timing was good. The business content of the trip was great but I wanted, first, to write about my impressions of India in general.

Despite lots of descriptions from my Indian friends as well as friends and family who have visited – it is hard to anticipate the experience. It is almost as if each of the senses has been tuned up several notches.

For me it started with the visual – the brightness of the colors of the clothing and jewels. Not just the beautiful Sari’s worn by the wealthy – bright colors are the norm for all women. And not just the colors, but adornment with sequins and beads – nothing succeeds like excess. Adornment does not stop with clothing. Many of us had our hands painted with henna and were affixed with the traditional red dot on our foreheads.

I’ve always loved Indian food – the huge variety of exotic spices did not disappoint. The aromas accompanying the food were just as wonderful. And good news – apparently turmeric is an antioxidant. I finally had a chance to listen to Indian music during dinner my Wednesday evening. I found the alternate tonality almost assaulting to the senses. It’s interesting how we are conditioned to certain tones but despite the conditioning I found the Indian music quite evocative.

Another extreme was the temperature.  Many people told me that June in Delhi would be extremely hot.  Right before I left I had a conversation with a friend and former colleague – after he gave me the usual admonition about the heat I replied that I was used to traveling in the heat – after all I had hike Masada (Israel) in the summer.  He laughed and said that this was hotter – and yes in fact – the temperature hit over 45 degrees celsius – about 115 fahrenheit.

Despite the heat – we had a great time sightseeing before the conference started.

Benefits to Kids of Mom’s Career (part one of two)

When we discuss the challenges of balancing family and a career and the desirability for a mother to work full-time outside the home we often hear about the negatives.  In my experience as a daughter and a mother I must say that I see many positives.  I’m not talking about the ones the psychologists study and report on (e.g. that children of working moms have higher reading scores and better social skills – there are negatives on this front as well).  What is on my mind are the specifics – what specific experiences did my children have because of my career.

The one that is most obvious for our family is travel and international experiences.   I was interested in international relations since college and international marketing and sales since I started my business career.  When I started my career here in the valley I wasn’t able to find a position focused on international marketing from the start so I began in product and channel management but I was looking for international opportunities from the start.

I worked quite a bit with the European sales teams at Informix then when Informix started its Latin American division I joined.  I ended up moving to Sao Paolo for six months to open the Informix office and Derek (6.5), Todd (4) and our nanny Susan came with me.  It was an incredible experience for all of us.  The boys got to experience school in Brazil, play on a local youth soccer team and briefly live an urban lifestyle.  We traveled every other weekend all over the country.  The school was an international one so we made friends with people from all over the world.

Steve and his partner Gus Spanos had just formed a company to purchase 2 Miller beer distribution franchises so they were incredibly busy.  Of course the separation was very hard on all of us, especially the boys, but Steve was able to come down and spend 2 weeks with us in the middle.  We took a great trip to the Amazon and several other regions of Brazil.

I wrote previously about my experiences traveling with Margot in Latin America. I continue to take the kids with me when possible.  Margot joined me at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona two years ago and last year Adam, Margot came with me to Tokyo.  We’ve also had innumerable international visitors to our home for dinners and meetings and the kids have gotten to know them.  I believe that there is something different and more educational being exposed to a foreign country and culture when connecting through work (or volunteering) rather than simply as a tourist. You get to know people and about their day-to-day lives – not just the tourist sites, although those are great too which brings me to my next point…

There is that second order benefit.  I’ve racked up literally millions of frequent flyer miles – it’s been several years since I received this card in the mail.  Steve has earned his share of miles as well and that has funded the air part of a good many of our trips – South Africa, Vietnam, Europe, Peru – you name it.  Of course there is the downside to all this travel.  Time away from home is not without consequences – there are things I’ve missed and it’s hard on the spouse at home.  But even that has some benefits – the kids learn a bit of independence and see that Dad is competent to keep them fed and productive and even tucked in with bedtime stories at night.

It’s hard to know exactly how these experiences have affected the kids.  I have to believe, though, that given how small our world is becoming, familiarity with other places, people and cultures will only be more important.  Derek and Todd, as physicians will be taking care of people in a country where more than 10% of the population are immigrants – that percentage is certainly much higher for their likely patient populations during residency.  Margot is considering a foreign language major (among many possibilities).  Adam is enjoying Spanish 3-honors – who knows where this can lead :-)

I Love Paris in the Autumn

One of the things I enjoy about working in technology is that it is such an global phenomenon so international travel is part of my job.  I love traveling for vacation with my family as a tourist but there is something special about going for business and working with the locals.  We announced a major partnership with Orange (the former France Telecom) last June so we were back getting ready for the launch.  It’s been great working with and getting to know their team and of course it doesn’t hurt ending the work day with dinner at a typical French bistro.  From years of doing business internationally I am also lucky to have friends in many cities in the world and Paris is not exception.  I went out to dinner with one of my former sales managers from Check Point – it was great to compare notes on the industry as well as catch up on kids and family – all over a great dinner.  I got to sneak out between work and dinner for a gorgeous walk around the Tuileries and over to St Germain for a bit of shopping and galerie browsing.  A work day that includes a walk down the Rue de Rivoli in the sunshine can’t be bad.

The First Year

I had a lot of time to reflect last night.  I finished moving Margot into her dorm, helping her unpack – then we said our tearful goodbye’s.  After that it was just me and my thoughts (with some showtunes music background) for the 260 mile drive from Hanover, NH to my parents house in Great Neck, NY.  It was a mental trip down memory lane and I think some of my experiences the first year are what I want to share as they relate closely to one of my themes of the work/life juggle.

Margot was born in June 1993.  At the time I was working as a sales rep managing the Andean, Central American and Caribbean region for Informix Software.  I started my maternity leave on my due date but returned to work when a heat wave struck.  I decided it was actually more restful to work in the air-conditioned office and close out the quarter then to swelter at home worrying about the numbers.  It was a treat having most of the summer off to be with the baby.  I then returned to work when she was about 8 weeks old.  My plan was to breastfeed for a year as I had for my older two children.  The tricky part was travel.  My closest customer was 10 hours away and there was no replacing time with them in-person to make the deals happen.  Given the distance of my customers it was impractical to go for less than a week – not compatible with nursing.   Plus I really didn’t want to be separated from any of my children the first year if possible.  I believe that is an important part of the bonding experience.

My solution to this challenge was to bring Margot with me.  She ended up coming with me on about a dozen trips throughout Latin America.  It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done but it was certainly one of the best.  Logistics were not easy.  Carrying an infant carseat through airports (this was 1993, before the era of the “all in one” carseat/strollers) was tiring.  Babysitting was an issue.  When I traveled with newborn Todd 5 years earlier my mom met me in DC to watch him and once my cousin Ellen subbed.  This was trickier.  I arranged babysitters through the hotels where I stayed.  I requested that it be a longtime employee of the hotel (typically a housekeeper) and I interviewed them over the phone.  A few times one of my distributors who I had become friends with would help me find a sitter.  Of course all this took some extra planning.  My friends would ask me if I worried about not knowing the babysitters personally but inevitably she was completely doted on when I was working.   The funny part was that these Latin ladies were not happy that my bald baby girl did not have her ears pierced.  They were concerned she looked like a boy.  They also consistently thought she should be dressed up in fancy dresses even though she was just staying in a hotel room.

The best part was my time alone with her – precious one-on-one time that you don’t usually get with a third child.  I’m enjoying thinking back on those memories now.

Here are 2 pictures from her first passport.  That passport is one of my treasured possessions as a reminder of her first year.