9 Surprising Lessons From a 3 Day ⛰ Climb

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Lessons from a 26 Hour, 3 Day Mountain Climb

Mounds of new Contrarians to the tribe.

Bring a friend, our journey isn’t for the alone.

A short story of lessons learned from a hard thing.

After all, hard things are always the best teachers, aren’t they? I’m not sure we really learn any other way.

Like the stubborn oversized monkeys we are, we have to beat the lessons into us, in this case, one step uphill at a time.

Maybe by the end of this, you’ll find your mountain.

Thinking critically is hard, so this article is all about civilizing the mind... and making savage the body.

#1 Statistics Only Matter to the Uncommitted

Suffering.
That’s the language of the mountains. It’s a slow depletion.
Each step siphons a little from your sole into the ground. The mountain is like life, it has no empathy, no compassion. It just is.

We climbed for 3 days. More time on two feet than on our backs. There was a goal in mind, but we didn’t know quite why. We just knew one thing… to continue.

Our guide calls out in the darkness, “4 am!”

It’s time to go.

We wriggle out of our puffy cocoons into layers like snakes re-entering their skins. Our boots say hello with torturous kisses against legs begging not to be touched. Sleep can’t fix all the ails. Especially when there’s so little of it.

We line up as beggars to a kitchen hoping for hot water to warm our bones. Despite the dark, the mornings offer a respite, it’s quieter, the wind hasn’t woken up yet.

Mountain time isn’t linear. It’s:
  • 15 minutes until break they say;
  • but 1 hour until you stop
  • 13 minutes to pause they say;
  • but only 90 seconds to sit.
So with less time than required, we line up. Hi-ho, hi-ho it’s off to trek we go.

Our hips and our fates wound together by a rope thinner than my pinky and a stranger at the helm. We count the climbs these strangers have done before but don’t ask about the lives lost, or the dangers that befell.

What good are statistics when you’re already in the arena?
  • Lesson: When you’re in the game. Be in the game. Don’t look for a plan B. There isn’t one. Finish your plan A.

#2 Nothing is Ever All Black or White

It’s not all bad. Oh no, that’d make it too easy to say no. Looking over the mountain top the view takes your breath away just a tad more than the cold.

I wonder if birds stop to marvel too? Craigs as black as night painted white surround us, the basins too far below to view.

It’s an amphitheater in the sky and up on the main stage, the summit. The goal.

It wisps smoke, puffing its own cigarette, a dormant volcano full of heat but covered in snow. Contrast. Her word. From the blinding views, to the blistering cold, she’ll give you a slap before you get a tickle.

Lesson: As I sat miserable.
  • I am both #1 terrified of heights
  • #2 called Cold-ie because I am constantly freezing
  • I realized there is always a lightness in the dark. My goal for each day. Find that God-forsaken silver lining.

________________________________________

#3 Everything Has A Beat

The wind whips past us, the visibility minimal. All I can hear is the roar of the mountain. Yes, mountains can speak. When the roar mellows to a growl, an odd beat emerges. The sound of feet crunching ice, axes breaking the surface, and poles clattering for footing. A frigid staccato symphony.

It’s a beat you’re not fast to forget if you’ve lived to hear it. The melody accompanied by no words, no song. Your entire world narrows to two things; the rope connecting you to another, and your feet stomping.

1, 2, 3.

1, 2, 3.

1, 2, 3.

Nothing to look up to except the goal. Sometimes it’s better to not look at all. One trip is not a small thing up at 8,000 feet.

To fall? My mama always told me we don’t use the f word.
  • Lesson: Focus. That’s really the secret to everything, isn’t it? Focus and murder distractions.

______________________________________

#4 Maybe We’re All A Little Mad

The mountain’s treachery is always in my mind. I play tricks to distract.
  • 10 more steps and that’s it.
  • 10 more minutes until a break.
  • 10 more seconds of pain.
The numbers don’t matter, just that you keep going. A song would sneak into my ears… snatches of ridiculousness, the brain playing tricksies.. “Just keep swimming…”

Maybe I went a little mad up there. Maybe that’s the point. Just you alone with the voice in your head we all try so damn hard to ignore. For 26 hours that invisible gremlin gets to chattering, expecting undisrupted attention. No stimulus to focus on justice as far as the eye can see, and a ridge with no end in sight.
  • Lesson: I was happy for that madness.
  • The conversation in my head no one could hear.
  • It’s a bit lonely without it. So hold on to your crazy, maybe that’s where the magic is found.

#5 Fear is the Mind Killer

A mantra emerged.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Can you name that tune?

Atop a bloody, tall, insufferable behemoth of a mountain, I imagined a character I’d forgotten, Paul from Arkkais. A character from one of my favorite books, Dune. There is power to fiction. It can lend its strength to another, it can give you a veil to hide behind.

He said, “Fear is the mind-killer… I will face my fear… Only I will remain.”

Up there on the mountain, fear looms, larger than the outcomes possible. So, you must kill it. Mercilessly, lest the fear becomes you.

I haven’t killed it yet. But it’s wounded. Growing smaller with each step. Growing weaker with each pain overcome.

I see you fear. Thank you for the worry. It’s not mine to take. And just like that, it passes.
  • Lesson: Maybe the hard things either take you or take the fear.
  • Why not give away more of it?
  • Fear feeds the hard thing just like our carbon dioxide to a tree.
  • Go do more hard. You’ll leave lighter.

______________________________________

#6 On Pain

The pain is constant.

It radiates with each touch, like a pebble tossed in water. I forgot what it’s like to live in pain. To wake to pain, to sleep to pain, to live in pain. It makes everything else pale, unimportant, an echo.

My shins are so raw the skin is sandpaper to touch, the bumps from my boots create their own mountain range of hills and craigs. Their peaks and valleys colored purple, blue, red, and black from bruises. Shin bang they call it. And let me tell you what, it ain’t fun.

I pull the laces on my boots tight hoping to ease the friction. I pull my laces loose hoping to touch nothing. And the mountain, she laughs. The first thing to go, your shins. The second thing to go, your knees. The third thing, your mind. Or is it the other way around?
  • Lesson: Today… a few days later, the bruises are gone.
  • The pain is a memory.
  • I could have leaned in harder. I took it too easy. Shame.

________________________________________

#7 Time, Does It Matter?

Someone asked me the date. I laughed. The day. A giggle. The hour, now that matters. Darkness is to be avoided in the heights and open areas. Welcome once inside your tent. A plastic sack between you and a terrain not meant for humans. There’s a reason all else lives in holes or caves, only to awaken from hibernation when the snow melts and the sun shines.

But climbers, we’ll shelter in the daylight. Tempting fate if you ask me.

Then again, no one does.
  • Lesson: Time is a construct.
  • Who says you have to work from 9-5?
  • Who says the days have to be equal.
  • I’m experimenting with a calendar all my own.
  • After all, did you know night owls often get more done?1

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#8 Air Isn’t Always Clearer at the Top

Oh, the smell.

Down below where the trees dance it’s all Christmas. The junipers releasing their scent with every rub and tree climbed over. Birds tweeting, squirrels chirping, everything’s alive.

But up top, it’s Halloween. The day of the dead. Volcano’s care nothing for juniper. Sulfur hits you in the face. First faint. You wonder if it’s an animal emerging from its slumber. That musty pungent smell at the edges of your nostril, tickling. Until it grows so thick you can taste it. The mountain doesn’t brush her teeth.

Turns out air isn’t always cleaner up top. Who’d have thought?
  • Lesson: We spend all our lives trying to climb to the top.
  • Where the air is clear and the living is easy.
  • What if it’s not?
  • What if the best spots to be are the valleys and plains, the top is a lonely desolate place.
  • Are you sure you're climbing to a better place?
_______________________________________________

#9 Without a Why You’ll Never Thrive.

For the love of all that is holy.

I like my life just fine, thank you very much.

I ain’t got nothing to prove, thank you kindly.

I have jumped enough hurdles, kind sir.

And yet, here I am.

Climbing a mountain whose name had never before touched my lips, in rented gear and a borrowed rationale. I lay in my tent, the air outside below freezing, wondering how did I get all the way up here? What exactly was I climbing for?

Silence.

My only reply. Nothing. I lay for a while wondering how I was going to get up if I didn’t even know why I needed to.
  • Lesson: Why, Matters.
  • There’s a reason we’re told “Start with Why,” by Simon Sinek.
  • Find a Why so big the What doesn’t matter, by Tony Robbins.
  • If you don’t have that internal fire, you’ve no engine to propel you forward. Do you really know yours?
_______________________________________________

#10 Nothing Left to Prove

A thought started to bubble. All my life I’d been trying to prove something.
  • I was just as good as the boys.
  • I could build a business in LatAm even if Spanish wasn’t perfect.
  • I was more than the dollars raised and the revenue hit.
  • A kid who never touched an Ivy could play in the big leagues.
So, I made myself a promise. Tomorrow I’d climb. But I’d do it to leave something at the mouth of the slumbering volcano. The Old Codie.

The Codie who felt she needed to prove herself to others, the Codie who let others treat her poorly, the Codie who does things because she’s supposed to but not because she wants to.

I had a lot of love for her, but a lifetime of Yes’s meant it was time to come into the season of No’s. Of more time spent on fewer better things.

We made it up to that crater, and a girl who is terrified of heights dropped something into the mountain’s depths. All the things she’d been told she had to do, that turn out aren’t true at all.

Maybe, if you journey to Mount Baker, maybe you’ll see her. And you too can leave her some company. All the shoulds, the musts, the need to’s, the have to’s, the expectations.

That was why I climbed, bye old Codie.
  • Lesson: Go, find your mountain.
  • Then leave a little something behind.
_______________________________________________
So what does this have to do with what we talk about here?

It's the triad of freedom...
  • Civilize the Mind
  • Compound the Bank Account
  • AND MAKE SAVAGE THE BODY


Question everything AND climb,

Codie

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