How the Mountains Continue to Save My Life

Report from 11/9/18

The outdoors really is the best kind of therapy available to us. Yes, it is critical that we seek professional help in times of need, but as a general coping mechanism nature is the best. Hands down. This week, I needed the mountains more than ever.

Without going into great detail of my living hell growing up, let me just give you the basics of my backstory…

  • My sister passed away when I was 10
  • An unusual number of friends around me passed away from various causes
  • I was emotionally abused, and sexually assaulted on numerous occasions
  • I was dealing with untreated depression
  • I tried to kill myself… twice.
  • I dealt with an eating disorder
  • …but most of all, I felt worthless, unloved, undeserving of love, ashamed, and a waste of space. 

It wasn’t until I passed out at the wheel from malnutrition and totaled my car during my eating disorder that I was able to finally get some help. I have spent the last 8 years in therapy trying to sift through all of the crap. I have put a lot of pieces together over the years, but nothing hit me like a brick wall more than when I found out about a week ago that one of my abusers, nay the first… was recently released from prison. 

Looking back all those years ago, I didn’t think anything was wrong until after the relationship was over. I was blind to the manipulation, the emotional mind games, and the damage he was causing. He made me feel like I was nothing more than an object… When he dumped me for not getting “his way” it all really began to sink in. This was when I REALLY lost myself. I didn’t care anymore. I was worth nothing to myself, or anyone in my mind. My childhood dreams were long forgotten, I was never going to be good enough anyway… because how could I, this worthless, disgusting piece of trash, every be able to live or go after those dreams?

That fire eventually was rekindled through therapy and literally getting back outside where I belong. I was able to work up enough love for myself to be able to taste my dreams and I finally made it to Nepal! But hearing he was out of jail brought up all those horrific feelings: the fear, the anxiety, the disgust in myself, shame for not having the hindsight, the self-loathing, self-doubt, and worthlessness…. they came flooding back. The fight began. Tears, and panic attacks were all of a sudden a daily occurrence, all while the “smarter self” I have spent so many years working on was patching holes at every turn. At first, I slept… A LOT. After a couple days, I finally had some time where I could head up the canyon, take in the snowy views and the cool breeze and try to recenter myself in my element. I was able to just sit for a while, take in the view, think, and process everything that has just happened, as well as other questions my life was trying to throw at me.

Trying to work through the overwhelming amount of feelings going through my head this week I realized a few things. I am NOT, nor will I ever be that person again. I have grown and worked so much, I refuse to let my past try to drag me back down into that hell. I have learned what is truly important to me in my life and am constantly working to make sure my life goes in that direction. I may doubt myself all the time, and feel like I’m not good enough, and question every move I make, but that is because I want to make sure it is the right one. I tell myself all the time, I want to inspire others, and be someone who goes after there dreams and succeeds because those people are amazing inspirations to me. What I have to remind myself is that I already am that person. I have students and people tell me all the time, but being my own worst enemy, by brain would tell me not to believe it, or that I am still not good enough anyway. The one belief system that I haven’t been able to shake…

But it is time. It is time to tell myself that I AM that Badass I have always wanted to be! The one who is training to climb to the top of the world, doing circus tricks in her backyard, and inspiring others to conquer their own dreams, whatever they may be. 

Because after all… (excuse the cheese)

“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves” 

                                                                -Edmund Hillary 

What I Learned About Myself in Nepal

Report from 7/7/18

There are dozens of articles out there on trekking to EBC, reguarding “do’s and don’ts”, “things I wish I knew”, etc.

The reality is, none of that can really prepare you for the experience itself. I myself, have been dreaming of the day I could finally see Everest since I was about 9 years old. I studied everything. read every article, every forum, every blog….. and there were still surprises.

First off, the reality:

It seems like everyone always says they wish they trained more. I thought so too, but physically I did really well. My body and legs felt very strong. I didn’t have any issues with altitude sickness, but breathing up high (especially with asthma) is incredibly difficult. The trick is to just find your pace, and stick to it. It’s OKAY to go slow!

Also, if this is you’re first trip to Asia, or a developing country, you are almost guaranteed to get sick. Be prepared to eat the same half a dozen “safe” dishes in every teahouse… I watched my trekking partner eat whatever he wanted with no issues, but he had much more travel experience than me and was living in Bangkok where he was used to the bacteria common in Asia. I on the other hand, got food poisoning 3 different times. I was able to pinpoint which foods where the most likely culprits and I avoided them the rest of the trip. I was trying to play it safe eating vegetarian up there, but cheese was a bad idea, even vegetables themselves can be a risk if not cooked or washed properly. If you are a first timer, stick to pasta dishes, oatmeal, ramen, rice dishes, popcorn, and dal bhat (a traditional dish of rice and lentil soup). You will get incredibly tired of eating the same thing for 2 weeks, but it is the safest option.

Another piece of advice I once read about was to take multivitamins with you to make up for the lack of nutrients. I felt like this was helpful and I think this strategy also helped keep me from catching the “khumbu cough”.

This was my first time out of the country. I went from 1st world luxuries in the US, to the vastly different world of Nepal. My first night in Kathmandu was complete culture shock, and took some getting used to. (Read more about when I first arrived in Kathmandu here.) There were a lot of emotional ups and downs on this trip. I learned a lot about myself on this trip… particularly things I didn’t expect.

I learned that dreams take more work than initially planned. It took me a lot longer to finally get a chance to trek to EBC than I wanted but in reality, I would not have been ready before now. This was step one in my complete dream to climb the Seven Summits. But when I finally got to see the Himalayas in person, that felt absolutely daunting. I began to realize how glorified, and “easy” documentaries and movies make Everest look. Everest is HUGE!! The mountain is scary, dark, and looming. The reality of the darkness this mountain carries really begins to sink in once finally seeing it in person. SO much death, pain, misery, and despair. Out of those who summit and live, many go through a personal hell to achieve that goal. They come home 30+lbs lighter, sun damage on their face, and may even lose a few fingers or toes to frostbite.

During my time in Nepal, I experienced only a small fraction of this and it was a lot harder than I expected. I lost close to 15lbs in total just in the 2 weeks I was in the mountains due to both traveler’s diarrhea and hiking 5-6 hours a day. Despite putting on sunscreen nearly every hour, I still maintained a pretty severe sunburn on my face. And on days I felt sick and exhausted, separation anxiety kicked in. As a kid, I spent a month each year at a summer camp in Colorado, happy to get away from my family and never had a problem with homesickness. This time I was leaving behind a husband, who is my rock in everything. Not being able to contact him when I was having a hard time was incredibly difficult. I began to really wonder if Everest and the rest of the Seven Summits was what I really wanted. It would mean spending money on years of training and climbing, surviving miserable trips full of pain, and discomfort, all for just one shot at the summit…. is it really worth all that trouble? Do I care enough? The answer is yes, however it is going to be A LOT harder than I expected… And honestly I’m a bit terrified.

On a bit of a lighter note, there is a special feeling and spiritual connection that has developed over the years for me when it comes to climbing high peaks; the Himalayas were no exception. I have known for years that I always felt closer to my deceased sister in the mountains, but being alone in the Himalayas gave me a much larger perspective on the matter.

On the summit of Kala Patthar with a photo of my sister Brooke

My favorite day of the entire trek was not the day we climbed Kala Patthar or went to EBC, it was the day we trekked from Dingboche to Lobuche. We had 360 degree views of the mountains that surrounded us, and we visited the Sherpa Memorial field. The mountains were the most beautiful I had ever seen, and I could feel how the memorial field was a very sacred place on the mountain. This was the day I could really feel that connection, but that wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of moments throughout the trek where I felt like I was really able to be myself in a spiritual way which was something I had been craving for a long time.

Growing up in a religious family brought up a lot of issues over the years. I felt like I couldn’t be myself. I felt like I was being forced into living expectations I couldn’t possibly live up to. Fear caused me to unfortunately hide how I felt for years, which contributed to depression, and my eating disorder after high school. I never really had the chance to come into my own until I was able to work through many of those issues through therapy and I began to look inside myself to figure out what I even believed in.

This trip really helped me cement some core beliefs on my spiritual side that had been lost nearly my entire life. I believe that personal spirituality, and your personal relationship with God (or whatever you believe) is far more important than the religion itself. A belief I personally feel like has been lost in many common religions today. This is not to bash on anyone that belongs to a religion and practices regularly, there is nothing wrong with that! There are a lot of genuine people that are members of a church. However, I have personally found a lot of hypocrisy in religion growing up, and I know I am not the only one who has felt this way. Religion is made up of people. People are human. Nobody is perfect. Therefore, no matter the religion, you can always find flaws. This is why your personal relationship with God is the most important. Being responsible for your actions, holding yourself accountable, no matter what they are, and just working on being a better person all the time is the best thing you can do, with religion in your life or not.

One thing I really loved about Nepal is that it is an incredibly spiritual country. You can find every type of person on the religious spectrum, such as monks praying at the stupas, non-practicing, and everything in between. But no matter who they are, everyone is nice, helpful and genuine. This has a lot to do with the Buddhist belief in Karma, but more than that, it is their culture and it was probably the most real place I have ever been in a spiritual sense. Simply put, people just want to help, and are trying to be good, whether they are Bhuddist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or something else. This is how everyone should be, this is how our would should be, and this was the best thing to learn about myself on my trek to EBC.

Solo Trekking

Finding myself in the woods.

Report from 10/7/15

Over the summer, I struggled through some life bumps in the road. After 6 years in therapy, I was finally getting to the bottom of my deepest darkest inner demons that had resulted in my depression as a teen, and my eating disorder during adolescence. This was that stuff no one ever wants to look at, let alone work on. As the school year began to close in on me, I decided I desperately needed some alone time in the mountains and not just a hike by myself, but an overnight trek into a quiet place where I could decompress, de-stress, and get in touch with that nature-linked spiritual side. I had hiked alone plenty sure, but I had never slept out in the wild alone. It was sure to be an interesting night.

Life delayed my solo trip for a few weeks, but once school started I knew I needed to make it happen before my brain felt like it was going to explode. A few weeks ago in mid-September, I embarked on my night alone in the wild. I picked a beautiful spot, in the saddle between Devil’s Castle and Sugarloaf Peak Utah; a saddle between two peaks that I had been curious about camping in for years.

I made it to the saddle just after sunset. The hike itself only took me two hours, but I had a much later start than I had hoped that day. I pitched my tent in a small wind shelter built out of slate, cooked my food, and went to lay down in my tent.

That night was NOT a quiet as I hoped…. The weather forecast was calm and clear, but just after dusk the wind picked up. Sleeping at 11,000 feet, I knew there was a chance of wind, but the normal wind pattern for this area of Utah has southerly and westerly winds which the shelter was built to block out. What I encountered were winds from the North winds which would blow into the doorway opening of the shelter and swirl around in my small little nook. My tent was SO LOUD, and the wind didn’t die down until after midnight. I felt myself digressing to my childhood ways of hiding under my sleeping bag from the wind as I slept alone, on a mountain, in the wind. At around 2am I was awoken by howling in the night. The saddle I was located on straddled 2 valleys with great acoustics and full of wildlife. I could hear the howling and laughter of coyotes but I couldn’t tell which valley the sound came from or how far away they were. I continued to hide in my sleeping bag wishing for the sun to come up. It was a new moon, and with a thin layer of cloud cover, the night was dark and empty. I had never felt more alone in my life. Not a star in the sky, no one to comfort me but myself. It was a test of strength of mind and a test of self.

I woke up the next morning just before the sun rose. It was calm, cool and the most refreshing feeling in the world (despite my lack of sleep). Every dark, lonely feeling from the night before was immediately washed away with the sun’s morning rays. I sat on the ridge overlooking the Albion Basin below me. The Autumn colors were glowing at first light and I felt that indescribable feeling of awe as I watched the sunrise. After about a half hour of just enjoying the view, I decided to greet the sun in the best way I could think of that had been inspired by a wandering friend… đŸ˜‰

Something about that moment was awe-inspiring. (I don’t know what it is, but if you have never gotten naked in nature, I highly recommend it.) You feel completely free in every way imaginable. No worries, no stress, nothing to constrict you both mentally and physically. You really can embrace the world around you and truly become one with nature.

After my hippie moment, I finished off my morning by trekking up Sugarloaf Peak. It was a short hike from my campsite and it was a great way to finish off my experience. I had climbed these mountains countless times over and over but had never seen them quite like this. It was exactly what I needed and left me feeling rejuvenated for everything that was still in front of me. The greatest lesson learned in the whole experience was that despite whatever darkness or challenges you may come across in your life, you can make it through it and will be greeted with light on the other side.

~Sometimes you just have to get out there and get lost in the world~