Life Lessons Learned Climbing a Deadly Volcano

A guest post by Eric, a blogger from the site Coffee and Warm Showers. Eric made a decision to ‘escape the rat race’ and lead a conscious life – quitting his job, moving to the Idaho countryside and having downsized and de-stressed, is now living a life he describes as ‘anything but ordinary’.

Living in the Seattle area for a few years now, you see Mt. Rainier from anywhere (whenever it clears up enough to see it, of course.)  It becomes the norm.  This enormous snow-capped mountain that towers over everything.  You tend to forget it is one of the most deadliest volcanoes in the world.  Just a piece of the sky.

One of the things I’ve never had a chance to do but have always wanted to is to climb a mountain then snowboard back down.  Luckily for me, one of my co-workers had this great idea to do just that on my last weekend in the area.  I jumped at the challenge.

There are things in our lives where we have to jump at an opportunity to do something.  Something we’ve wanted to do for a while now, but have never “had the time” or “money” to do.  I encourage everyone to take those chances.  Not only will you be glad you finally did it, but you’ll learn so much about yourself on the way.

Let me start off by saying this was, BY FAR, the most difficult hike/climb I’ve ever done.  I’ve done small hikes here and there, but nothing like this.  This was (in my mind of course) the equivalent of walking up 3,000 flights of stairs carrying 50 lbs. on your back…in the slippery snow.

The climb itself took us a little over 5 hours to get to our destination.  By the time we reached the top, we were tired, hungry, cold, but the view (as you can see from the top picture) was amazing and all worth it.

Although the climb up was over 5 hours long, it didn’t take long for me to catch on that climbing this massive volcano was much like life.  I started to realize the tips I was using as internal motivators would work as life lessons in “real life” as well.  I’ll share some with all of you now.

What were those life lessons?

1. You can prepare as much as possible, but always expect the unexpected – We packed a lot of gear, food, snacks, water, cameras, etc.  However when you get up there it’s a different world.  You feel completely vulnerable and there’s no way you can feel 100% prepared for anything.  We had about 6 or 7 avalanche/rock slides happen around us and when that’s happening, you keep your eyes and ears open always.  In life, you have to do the same.  You can plan your life, your career, your marriage but you must always keep an eye on it and maintain.  Never get to a place where you feel complacent and that everything will always be the same.  That’s when you’ll get side-swiped.

2. Only take what you need – As I mentioned above, we packed a lot of gear.  When you’re climbing there’s a fine line between being prepared and bringing too much.  The latter will cause you to tire quickly.  Just as in life, only take what you use and use what you have.  The more you have, the more you must maintain.  That’s physically and mentally draining.  Remember, life is a marathon and not a sprint.  Take on what you can handle and nothing more.

3. 10 Steps, 10 Seconds – The beginning of the climb was okay.  I knew I had to pace myself, but my ego still got in the way.  Let’s just say my “pace” was quick.  Once we hit the snow it was a different story.  By that time you’re almost completely drained and seriously thinking about turning around.  My buddy came up with a good plan.  We take 10 steps and then rest for 10 seconds.  At first I thought it wasn’t such a great idea since that would lengthen the climb quite a bit.  But it ended up helping us, mentally at least.  In life, things get tough.  It’s best to stop pushing towards the end like it’s a race.  Slow down, take small steps, and rest.  You’ll make it there eventually and when you do you’ll actually have the energy to enjoy it.

4. Take time to stop and look around – I’d catch myself getting focused on the climb up.  Looking down at my feet.  Thinking how much this sucked.  And then I’d realize, right behind me is a view many don’t see.  I’m 10,000 ft. up above the clouds and I’m not enjoying it.  So I’d stop.  Every now and then, I’d stop and turn around and take a look at what was going on behind me.  Taking myself out of the climb mentality and into the enjoyment mentality.  The same goes with life.  You have to “stop and smell the roses” as they say.  Life goes by too quickly for us to get caught up in the details.  Take a higher level approach and look at your accomplishments.  Look to your past but don’t dwell.  Look to your future but don’t stress.  Enjoy the now, keeping the past and future in your peripheral.

5. Everything is more fun with friends – No doubt about it.  If I hadn’t had my buddy to do this climb I never would have done it.  In fact, I wouldn’t have had the idea if he didn’t mention it the day before.  And I DEFINITELY wouldn’t have made the climb to the top had he not been there.  Use friends as support.  To help you through your mental battles in life.  And then once you get to those moments of enjoyment, enjoy those moments with others.  You’ll be a much happier person.

6. It’s always about the journey, not the destination – I caught myself constantly thinking, “I just want to get to the top so I can strap in and ride this thing!”  In the beginning of the climb it was a race to get to the top.  Towards the end, it was a slow steady walk but I was still begging to “just get there already!”  In life, you have to understand that true happiness comes from the journey and not where you’ll end up.  Your destination is ever-changing and the onlyreal destination any of us have is death.  So enjoy your journey there and stop focusing on where you’ll end up.

7. Live in the moment – Similar to a couple of points above, I caught myself many times thinking of other things while climbing.  I start my new job next Monday, I’m packing and moving all week this week, etc.  There’s so much LIFE to think about that I didn’t realize I wasn’t enjoying this opportunity I may only do once in my life.  You have to be able to turn your thoughts off sometimes and just be.  Live in the now and appreciate everything you have in this moment.

8. Listen to your body – It knows what’s up – Mentally this climb was tough.  But I knew I could do it.  I just had to constantly remind myself and give myself tips to make it.  Physically there were a couple of times where my legs stopped working.  Literally…my hip flexor would seize up and I couldn’t go anymore.  Instead of pushing myself harder, I stopped.  I took a break and got started again in a few minutes.  Life is the same way.  If you are a workaholic and you are constantly tired, listen to your body.  If you are constantly angry because of your kids or lack of support from your partner/spouse, listen to your body.  It’s telling you something.  Slow down enough to realize this and then resolve the problem.

9. Set small goals and reward yourself for achieving them – Toward the top, the 10 steps, 10 second rule was starting to get harder.  Not because I couldn’t make it anymore, but it was getting boring and I wanted to speed it up a bit.  So I changed it up.  I looked up the mountain, found a spot I wanted to get to and then pushed to get there.  Once I got there, I took a break usually longer than 10 seconds.  In life, you can only push yourself so hard before your productivity decreases.  Set smaller goals and when you reach those goals recognize them.  This makes it much easier to accomplish bigger tasks.

10. Try new things! – This climb itself was something totally new for me.  I loved it.  Even though I was dead tired when we were back at the car and I vowed I wouldn’t do it again, by the time I got home I texted my buddy (half jokingly) that next year we should summit Rainier.  When you try new things you experience something you’ve never experienced before.  New cultures, new ideas, new perspectives, etc.  It may have been a hard journey but totally worth it.  This allows you to continually strive towards growing as a individual and taking on new challenges.  This is what life is all about in my mind.

Challenge:

Take these life lessons and think about them.  Which ones resonate with you?  These are my life lessons so you may have some of them down already.  Maybe some are brand new to you?

Set a goal for yourself.  Focus on one of these lessons each week for the next few months.  Really focus on one lesson each week or longer until you find yourself regularly living by these.

Once you are keeping these in mind always (and any others that you’ve found) you will become a happier person.  You’re now conscious of how you’re living and taking control of your life.

There’s no better feeling.

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Photo by Alaskan Dude, via Flickr

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