You can imagine my reaction when I found out that Jamling Tenzing Norgay was coming to Miami.
My reaction was: "Who?"
Then I found out that he is the son of Tenzing Norgay, the legendary Sherpa guide who was with Edmund Hillary in 1953 when they became the first people to reach the top of Mount Everest. In 1996, Jamling followed in his father's footsteps as the climbing leader of the team that went to the summit and filmed the IMAX movie, "Everest." He was coming to Miami to talk about his excellent book on that expedition, "Touching My Father's Soul."
In other words, a world-class mountain climber -- a man who survived one of the deadliest climbs on earth -- was coming to my city. Not to brag, but I am something of a climber myself. On several occasions, at risk of personal discomfort, I have bypassed a hotel elevator and ascended to the mezzanine level via the stairs.
So I wanted to climb something with Jamling Tenzing Norgay. Specifically, I wanted to climb the highest mountain in Miami-Dade County. I knew this would not be easy, because there ARE no mountains in Miami-Dade County. All of South Florida is basically at sea level, which is why every time there's a hurricane, we wind up with ocean-dwelling fish in our family rooms, flopping around and moving their mouths as if to say: "What are YOU doing here, Lung Breath? This is SEA LEVEL!"
So I decided that, in lieu of a mountain, Jamling and I would attempt to climb the closest approximation we have: The South Dade Solid Waste Disposal Facility. This is a South Florida landmark, known locally as "Mount Trashmore." It's basically a large mound of garbage covered with dirt.
I proposed this climb to Jamling through his publisher. He agreed to do it, partly because he is a brave man who relishes a challenge, but mainly because he was on a book tour. When you've been on a book tour awhile, you give up and do whatever anybody asks you to do. When I'm on book tour, I allow TV makeup people to apply so much mascara to me that I become a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor.
And so on a Saturday morning, I met up with Jamling, a quiet and dignified man, and together we attempted to summit Mount Trashmore. I will not ruin the suspense by telling you up front whether we died. Instead, I will give you a dramatic, minute-by-minute account:
9 a.m. -- We set out. Almost immediately I consider turning back, because it is terrifying. I'm referring here to the South Florida traffic, where the motto is: "GET OUT OF MY WAY! CAN'T YOU SEE I'M ON MY CELL PHONE?!?"
9:30 a.m. -- We arrive at Mount Trashmore, where we meet our guides for the ascent: communications director Gayle Love, and Bill Thorne, whose title is "chief of landfills." We discuss the ascent, and agree that if spoken communication becomes difficult on the summit, we will use hand signals. For example, waving your hand would indicate "Hi!"
9:38 a.m. -- Nothing dramatic happens during this particular minute.
9:40 a.m. -- We start our ascent. It is frankly easier than I expected. This is because we are riding up in a Jeep. I wonder why this technique has not been used to ascend Everest, but do not mention it to Jamling, lest he smack his forehead and say, "NOW you tell me!"
9:43 a.m. -- We're almost to the top, a place where few humans have ever been, unless you count the several hundred people who drive dump trucks up there daily. We leave the Jeep and walk to the summit, ascending a slope that is pitched at about the same angle as a shuffleboard court. That is the kind of mountaineering studs we are.
9:45 a.m. -- The summit! We stand 149 feet above sea level, just 28,879 feet lower than Mount Everest itself. It does not smell nearly as bad as we expected. I ask Jamling to compare this experience with being atop Everest.
"It's very different," he says.
10 a.m. -- We begin our descent. On the way down, Chief of Landfills Thorne informs us that Mount Trashmore contains -- I am not making this up -- human body parts AND dead whales. I can tell Jamling is impressed.
10:03 a.m. -- We reach sea level, tired but proud. On the way back to the hotel, we are killed in a car crash.
No, really, we got back fine. It was a successful expedition, and Jamling was a great sport. So buy his book, OK? Because it's there.