The best part about climbing a mountain is remembering that I climbed a mountain. You see, things haven’t been so easy in my life lately and it all came to a horrendous climax three days before we headed to Mt. Adams. So while I was climbing the mountain, there was a whole lot of crap back in the real world waiting for me. At the time, it seemed incomprehensible that I had to step outside of my new and scary reality to go finish a journey I had started when things were a lot easier in my life. I remember wondering if summiting was even possible considering the stress I had been under and my never ending preoccupation with worrying about what my future held. Thirty minutes into our climb, I had a mild panic attack and announced that I was done. The kindness of relative strangers in my class overwhelmed me as several assessed the situation and quickly helped me readjust my pack so that all the weight wasn’t on my shoulders. Then, another hour into our climb, five members of our team had to turn around and head back. Their journey was over and the psychological impact of this fact hit us all very hard. By the end of day one, I wanted nothing to do with the mountain. I was tired, sore, sad, and feeling very helpless and hopeless about the entire universe. I remember lying down in the tent and thinking “Well, you know, I tried and I did my best. There is no shame in stopping here. No one really expected me to make it this far anyway.”
Morning came too soon, even though none of us in that tent really slept much. I remember opening my eyes and looking up at the false summit and thinking “I’ve got to try. I can’t look back some day and regret giving up without even trying.” Once this decision was made, there was really no question that I would make it. Some internal drive kicked in, my mind shut down, and my body took over. It was hard, I won’t deny that. But also, it was not hard because each step that I took required every ounce of my presence in the moment and there was no time to think about anything but the next foothold, the next breath, the next placement of my poles. Some in the group had cathartic moments, where they were able to open their minds and really meditate on problems in their life. My experience was exactly the opposite. Everything in my life ceased to exist and I became laser focused on the here and now, this problem, this pain. I probably would have just kept walking, not realizing I had made it to the top, had the cheering not jarred me out of my reverie. Even then, the impact of what I had accomplished did not hit me until much later in the day.
Everyone keeps asking me if I would do it again. They are wondering perhaps, if it is possible for someone so unlikely to fall in love with mountaineering. The answer is complex, like most things in life. I would do it again for the journey, the story to tell, the growth and personal development that has shaped me and will continue to impact me for years to come. The experience cannot be replicated though; there is only one first time for this kind of thing. And looking back, had I not brought all my baggage with me to that mountain, the take away would not be as great. When the tough things in life come my way, I will now respond with “Well, I climbed a mountain; it can’t be as hard as that.”