The gentle lessons of mountain climbing

When you’re attempting a summit, months of hard work, camaraderie and patience come together, to take away the (minor) disappointment of not summitting

My watch told me the altitude was 6,120 metres. It was about eight in the morning and we’d been climbing since 11 pm the previous night. We had been moving slowly up the icy, windy, pitch-black slopes of Bandarpunch, a glacier formation in Garhwal, Uttarakhand, inching towards our goal, the summit, at 6,316 metres.

By the time dawn broke and the sun came up, surprisingly fierce after the howling winds overnight, it was clear that we were not going to make the summit. We simply didn’t have enough time to climb those last agonisingly steep 200 vertical metres. And so, firmly, but with great regret, our expedition leader told us that we must turn back, and head down, leaving the summit unclimbed.

After months of preparation, and days of exhausting climbing and, yes, let’s be honest, a lot of money, the summit remained elusive. A tantalising 200 vertical metres away. We accepted the decision unquestioningly, posed for our ‘almost summit’ photos, and with smiles on our faces, turned around for the exhausting climb down, now no longer in darkness, but in blinding sunshine.

When we collapsed back into Summit Camp, exhausted, hungry and sun-burned, after more than 14 hours on the go, there were no tears, there was no discontent. A little twinge of disappointment, perhaps, but everyone was relieved to be down safely from a treacherous summit attempt.

The gentle lessons of mountain climbing

Plus, we all felt immensely proud of what we had achieved. “Proud? But you didn’t summit!” is the usual reaction to a statement like that. Other than resorting to clichés like “it’s the journey not the destination”, how can you explain this overwhelming feeling of pride and accomplishment, when the main objective hasn’t technically been met?

When you set out on a risky enterprise like climbing a mountain, you always have to accept that you may not make the summit. You could fall sick and be sent down by the team leader. The weather could ruin your summit attempt. The condition of the ice could ruin your summit attempt. To get even part of the way to the summit, you will have slogged for days, and battled harsh weather, and struggled to sleep in a little tent battered by high winds. You’ll be tired, and probably sleep-deprived, and almost certainly grimy after days without a bath.

But you will also have seen such breathtaking beauty that it brings tears to your eyes, and makes your soul sing. You will have watched the sun rise over snow-clad peaks, and years later, you will remember that particular dawn. You will have an everlasting feeling of gratitude, for having been permitted to witness such beauty.

You will have formed a bond with your climbing team members and the valiant sherpas — a bond forged through harsh weather, cramped tents, shared meals, helping hands, and people who understand why you cry when you see such beauty. So yes, it is indeed all about the journey, and not simply the destination.

The gentle lessons of mountain climbing

Obviously, a summit would have been ideal, but the lack of it does not, for one moment, negate the beauty seen, nor the sense of pride at having worked hard. We all headed down from Bandarpunch stronger than when we first set off.

Pushing yourself beyond your usual comfort zone, enjoying every wonderful moment of the slow journey to what you hope to achieve, balancing the risks and rewards — gosh, how could you feel disappointed after all that? By all means, set goals in life and try as hard as you can to achieve them. But be sure to enjoy the journey towards those goals. If you fixate only on the final result, you are setting yourself up for possible disappointment, as well as losing out on all the contributing moments.

And in case you’re wondering, my Bandarpunch team is already planning our next big adventure. We want to tackle a new challenge and enjoy new sunrises and, if we summit, that will be marvellous. But it isn’t the only thing.

The author is 64, has climbed 7 mountains (so far) and is affectionately called Maasi by her running group

Source: Read Full Article