The Freedom of the Hills

What are you thinking about when your body is straining to go uphill, while struggling to breathe in the thin air?  You may think about how much your muscles hurt.  You may concentrate on your breathing: in and out.  You are fully immersed in the now, in the moment.  Your life depends on your presence in the now.  Your mind is free of the shackles of society – problems from back home temporarily disappear.  They don’t matter.  Imagine what freedom!  To be fully present and living in the moment.   That’s why I climb – it’s simple.  It brings me to life.  Nature is my therapy.  The key, though, is to retain this state of mind in the everyday.  That remains a struggle. 

Being able to couple this passion for the high places with my scientific interests has been challenging.  Recently, it has resulted in carrying packs more than half my body weight; a diet of soup, potatoes, and candy bars while in the field; long hours; sore legs; and sometimes utter despair, when data collection fails or malfunctions.  There simply isn’t much money out there for such a career track.  You’re either a climber or a scientist.  Not both.  Hence, an identity crisis of sorts emerges.  But both can (and should!) be done.  After all, the early expeditions in the Himalaya were driven by scientific objectives, as much as climbing ones.Image

A good friend recently told me, getting to do what you love is a ferocious battle.  I agree.  This path has not been easy.  It takes physical toughness to work in the mountains, for sure.  But it also takes mental toughness, to face failures and disappointments with grace and humility.  It is very easy to give in.  I reflect on this in particular, after nearly drowning on my last trip.  In that moment, when I went in the water in a strong current, and when I could have let go of the safety rope, I didn’t.  Despite recent hardships and challenges, I chose life.  I fought for it.  Lessons from nature apply to our everyday lives; we need to choose to listen, though.

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