Go climb a mountain

This past Saturday we climbed Dunderberg Peak in Eastern Sierras.  12,374’ with a 2700’ elevation gain on the south side approach, this mountain is usually a pretty easy climb with skis and skins on for most if not all of the way up. This year, however, snow coverage started more than halfway up. When I got to the bottom of the climb and looked up, it was like ”Holly shit! Where the hell is the snow?!” Looking up at the rocky steep slope was positively daunting. This isn’t going to be easy. A large portion of our group was winding up in a line up the loose rocky trail. We had a late start and it was demoralizing looking up to what lay ahead of us.

This is an annual ski trip “ Green Creek Chuteout “ organized by one and only Glen Poulsen. In spite of poor weather forecast, the turnout this year was incredible. Around 100 souls studded by Tahoe’s finest ski and mountaineering heavy hitters. Too many famous names to mention. That too was a bit intimidating.

 David Bradford and Kari Castle 

David Bradford and Kari Castle 

What is one to do but to throw the pack and skis on your back and get going. You just put your head down and start scrambling up-words on loose crumbling slope. Every once in a while the weight of the pack pulled me back and I’d lose my balance. I couldn’t help but curse under my breath and then I'd just put the smile back on my face and kept on going.

When I was a kid, growing up in Slovenian Julian and Karavanken Alps, my dad introduced me to hiking in the mountains at a very early age. Hiking and climbing is a National tradition if not an obsession. Oh, so many  “ I can’t go any further dad!”  I would collapse in a heap of tears and sobs and often tantrums. And every time my dad would patiently (or sometimes not so patiently) coax me just a bit further. All the efforts were paid off when we reached the Alpine hut at the top. Beautiful views, hot tea and lunch, was a reward and a feeling of great accomplishment in the end. Character building? Probably yes. Learning to overcome the challenges? Yes! Developing physical fitness? Yes. And so much more we learn from climbing the mountains. I was so very lucky to have had that in my life growing up. My dad would say:” Oh it’s just around the corner! See the top of those trees? The hut is just a bit beyond. Just a bit further on the trail and you get sugar cube with lemon and some water or a piece of chocolate. That was our version of GU energy gel then. Later as I started to climb mountains by myself or with friends, I would remember what my dad taught me: Brake the mountain down into smaller sections and give yourself a mental goal to reach those sections. Reward yourself with a little break when you reach those goals. Always turn around and look back down and see how far you have come already. Take in the view, take a deep breath of fresh mountain air. Enjoy your surroundings. Listen to the wind and the birds. Observe nature in every small detail. It will distract you and before you know it, you’ll be at the top. You see, the mountains are just a place to learn about life.

As I was going through cancer treatments, I often compared my journey to a difficult mountain climb. “Just put one foot in front of the other, brake it down into small accomplishments day by day. I often thought to myself: ” I could climb the mountain when I was freezing cold,  100 miles an hour wind blowing me off the mountain, snow and rain blowing in my face, exhausted beyond belief. I often felt I just couldn't go one step further, but then I made it out alive. So I thought, I surely can make it through another chemo treatment, through another day of puking and feeling exhausted to the bones. The funny thing is, on Saturday my thought process was reversed. : “If I could make it through chemo, I surely can make it to the top of this climb. Count the breaths. Count the steps. Immerse yourself in thoughts. Turn around and take in the view of Mono Lake. Enjoy the journey. When you reach the end you forget the pain and suffering part quite quickly once you recover. We are designed that way. 

So, go climb the mountain. Go push yourself and suffer just a bit. You will be stronger when you are done. Physically and mentally. But, along the way look around you and enjoy the view. Smile in spite of the pain. Breathe. After all, It’s all about the journey till we get to the end of it all. 

Alenka VrecekComment