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How Success and Failure in the Mountains Improve Our Everyday Lives

Time spent in the mountains can teach us all how to overcome obstacles in life.

By: Alex E + Save to a List

If you are anything like me, you love the mountains for more than just their natural beauty. The mountains become our challenge, our gym, and our peace of mind. We challenge ourselves to conquer these rugged, other-worldly landscapes. We posses something within ourselves that makes us want to take on foolish endeavors, climb the hardest routes, ski the steepest slope, and we camp in the middle of white outs. Do you ever wonder why we do this to ourselves? Is it the thrill? Is it to test ourselves?

Some trips are just spur of the moment and not planned at all, while others require extensive planning. The planning and strategy starts well before we take that first step. Today the thrill of adventuring in the mountains keeps that thirst for exploration burning inside of all of us. Although just about every peak in the world has been climbed or skied, for every new climber it's as if they are discovering the mountain for the first time.

We start by staring at maps for hours, trying to gain any advantage we can. These simple papers dotted with topographic lines, streams, and landmarks are all we usually have as we try to imagine what we will see on the climb. Visually walking ourselves through each challenging section and picturing a successful summit on top. Although we know we will face great adversity while attempting this climb, we look past the chance of failure and only see the positive.

We study the weather forecast and hope for a window in the weather that we can utilize to make a successful attempt. We convince ourselves the winds will be light, the sun will shine and the storm will hold off. We all know, just as in life, nothing ever goes as planned and we will face new obstacles that are thrown at us. And still....we push on.

Like a modern day explorer, we prep ourselves for the push into the vast unknown. We finger through our gear over and over again on the night leading to the climb. We inspect each piece of gear, trying to decide which piece is absolutely necessary and which piece can be left behind to save a few ounces. Every detailed item must serve at least one important purpose, if not two, in order to be on this journey.

It is at this point that the mountain starts to get the best of us. We start to second guess our preparations and readiness. We flip through books, ask locals for tips and scroll through countless webpages to ease our mind of the journey to come. Will I need snowshoes? Will I be able to get away with a 20 degree sleeping bag? Can I ski down? How much fuel should I bring? These are just a few of the questions that begin to run through your mind. 

Each time I step on trail, the excitement of playing in the super bowl overcomes me, but the nervousness of sitting in a job interview bellows inside. It doesn't matter that you have been planning, prepping, and consuming yourself with this climb for years. That preparation doesn't matter to a mountain. And just 5 steps into the trail, I have the strange urge to say f*** it, turn around and just head to the nearest bar.

I guess once you are standing there staring up at this great, silent giant, you become a little intimidated. This is the point in the journey that I remind myself of that old wise proverb, "the longest journey starts with a single step." An attitude change engulfs you and a wild and almost reckless side takes over. You put your head down, grit your teeth and start pushing forward for something bigger than yourself. You remind yourself that you welcome this challenge, you need this challenge, this challenge lets us know we are alive.

All five senses of the mountain start to envelope you. The feel of the cold, fresh mountain air. The sound of the clean, clear water brook rambling. The smell of the pristine alpine forest, untouched by man. These are the places where we can test and find ourselves. The initial instinct of a competition between you and this mountain, slowly transforms into you and the mountain. This huge block of rock and ice just sits there silent, dormant, and out of reach for the thousands that pass it everyday. But for the lucky few who risk to join this mountain high in the sky, they find a totally different kind of mountain.

A mountain that is alive and breathing. With every step closer to the summit, the mountain tests your fortitude and strength. The mountain, just like yourself, seems to accept this challenge as well. The mountain seems to push back against you, trying to stop your assent and not give into you so easily. With every step, the snow breaks, the scree slips beneath your boots and the sting of sweat rolls into your eyes. At times it can feel as if you have taken two steps forward and one step backwards.

Then you start to find solid footing, the wind subsides, the sun shines down warming your face. For a brief moment you start to believe that the worst is behind you and just as you begin to feel comfortable, another obstacle is thrown at you. The clouds move in and that cold mountain wind that was once so refreshing, now seems to freeze the sweat on your back, sending a chill down your body.

You push on, even more determined not to let the mountain defeat you. Early in your journey you were ecstatic to be outside and seemingly at a peaceful state of bliss in this beautiful landscape. But now, as you reach ever so closer to this mountain summit, the peace and bliss has subsided. The camera has been put away and the true work has set in.

The pain in your thighs is immense, your calves and feet ache and burn. Your heart pounds so hard it feels like it's going to leap from your chest and your lungs feel as if you are slowly suffocating as the oxygen is stripped from the thin mountain air. It is this moment that you slightly smile at yourself.

When most men and women would have turned around at the first sign of discomfort, you press on, determined more than ever to reach the summit. You knew these discomforts would consume you, but in some sadistic way you wanted this pain. This pain that lets you know you are alive and free. These physical and emotional pains that we go through in life that are a contradicting "good pain," that somehow make us successful. 

The beautiful pain such as a mother giving birth, the struggle of a writer to find the right words or the hard work someone puts in before a major event. For some reason we strive for these pains and struggles as verification in life. We put ourselves through these tests to better ourselves or others around us. These small feats of pain in our long lives sometimes make the biggest results. This "good pain" creates life and helps us summit that mountain we have always wanted to climb. It is all just a reminder that we can overcome any obstacle life throws at us.

Like any great mountain climb or obstacle in life, sometimes the outcome is out of our control. Sometimes the mountain gets the best of us. Sometimes the wind gusts to 80 mph and avalanche conditions turn us around. Although still achievable, sometimes you have to ask yourself is the risk worth the reward.  We will all face obstacles that we cannot overcome at some point in our lives.

This is the moment when you have to tell yourself that this endeavor may not be overcome today, but it will be overcome. The true test of one's character and fortitude is the ability to push through failure to reach your ultimate goal. The ability to tell yourself that you will live to fight another day, is what makes us great. It's all perspective when you think about it.

You want to create a balance between the two. The mountain as well as life struggles will always be there, you just have to find the right avenue of approach. Time and time again we have proven that no feat in life is too great. As you take each step closer to the summit, you will find as the pain in your legs subsides. A second wind inflates your lungs. And that motivating voice inside you, reminds you that you can achieve any goal. Your pace speeds up, that shit-eating grin returns and that desire to succeed grows ever stronger.

And then the moment you have been waiting, wanting and working for comes true. That moment when you take those last few steps to the summit of your goal. You get fired up at your accomplishment and relish in what it took to reach this point. You may whisper, "Hell yea" to yourself, or high five a buddy, but the best part is that you have finally made it to the top of your goal. You stare off into the surrounding landscape as if the king of the world. The beautiful and majestic world around you rewards you for your struggle.

You sit there quietly enjoying the mountains, the world, the sky as it fully encompasses you. For this brief moment you have succeeded, and are satisfied. This next moment is what makes mankind so great. You have an epiphany. You realize that if you can make it to the top of this obstacle, challenge, or mountain, what is stopping you from pushing further, higher, or longer in the future. This is when the journey comes full circle. You start to envision, plan, and ready yourself for that new found challenge on the horizon.

Once again, this new challenge consumes our lives. This new challenge is all we think about, dream about and work towards. And just as we did before, we usually fail before we succeed. But that has never stopped us before. So, we strap on our boots, look up at our mountain adversary, put our head down, and take that first step towards success like we have done so many times before, because we know success is never out of reach if we truly want it.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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