Tough Love: Why the Mountains Are the Ultimate Teacher

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Sir Edmund Hillary

Have you ever had the strange sensation of loving and hating something at the same time? For real, there could be one thing that genuinely gets you excited while at the same time make you second guess your decision. But no matter the amount of torture we put ourselves through, the satisfaction and personal gain will always outweigh the pain and hardship.

Though after giving it some thought, there must be a reason why we would put ourselves through such torment just to receive some sort of satisfaction or personal gain. And honestly, those reasons will differ depending on what you’re looking for. As for me, I do it because it honestly makes me a better individual and teaches me valuable lessons about life. I often seek out adventures that will teach me something new about myself while keeping me humble at the same time.

I don’t know about you, but the place that makes this happen for me is when I’m off hiking somewhere in the mountains. Mountains typically lure people in by promising epic views. But honestly, they have a different priority in mind, and that’s teaching life lessons in a way that only nature can.

The following are several life lessons I’ve learned while spending time on the mountain:

1. Perseverance

When life knocks you down, how will you respond? Well, we all know there are only two real options. You can either stay down and accept defeat, or you can conjure up the strength to get back up and keep moving forward. We all have had, without a doubt, our fair share of
challenges that pushed us to the brink, and the thing is, the mountain isn’t going to make things easy for anyone. Whether it’s pushing through fatigue, self-doubt, or even the elements, we know that it’s going to take a little something extra to reach the top.

2. Have a Positive Attitude

In my opinion, this is the key to having a good time regardless of what you’re doing. And quite honestly, when has a poor attitude propelled you to new heights? I feel like this is something that people often run into while in the outdoors. And there are certainly many variables that can lead to a bad mindset, such as busted hiking plans. But challenges often have a way of impacting how you enjoy your time in the outdoors, and if something bad or unexpected happens then that can put you in a poor place mentally. Sometimes, our own worst enemy is our mind. However, the nice thing is that we are in control of our thoughts and we can choose to be positive, regardless of what happens to us. Trust me, easier said than done, especially when the mountain can hurl a new challenge toward you at any moment. But having a positive attitude

can greatly improve one’s outlook on life, especially if you believe that everything will work out in its own time.

3. Work Hard For What You Want

This always reminds me of the time several friends and I hiked Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park and I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself in to. It happened to be the first (and only) 14er I have ever hiked, and once we started on the trail I knew that I was going to have to give it everything I had. After reaching the summit, I don’t think I had ever felt so tired or weak after a hike. But it certainly made me appreciate the accomplishment and the work I put
into it. So just like any strenuous adventure, things aren’t going to be handed to you so easily. You actually have to work for the things that you want in life. And though sometimes we want the path to the top to be flat and easy, I think we would all agree that hiking would then be
considerably less enjoyable and satisfying.

4. Be Patient and Go With The Flow

I think that we often get in our heads the need to rush and reach our destination as quickly as possible, as if life is going to pass us by in an instant. Luckily, spending time outdoors teaches us to slow down, mainly because nature is on its own time and not ours. Random thunderstorm rolling in at the last second? That’s okay, seek shelter and wait it out. About to scramble on an exposed ledge? Take time to look at your options and make the best decision. Learning to accept the timing of everything will be extremely beneficial in the long run, mainly reducing the stress that comes from worrying and being in a rush.

5. Know What You Can Control and Let Go of What You Can’t

Do you want to save yourself from copious amounts of stress? Practicing this is certainly a good place to start. Sure, you can worry about every little thing that might happen on the trail, but why sacrifice the fun that you could have? Trust me, I went through this when I went on my first road trip. When we had our hikes planned, I was pretty sure I had it all figured out, even down to how long it would take us. Welp, funny story, nature had other plans. At one point hiking in the Grand Tetons, I had hurt the heel of my foot (of all things), suffered through a torrential downpour the entire night in the backcountry and waking up to a puddle in my tent, and having to abandon the rest of the hike due to an incoming storm. Yeah, my friends and I were a little bummed that we couldn’t continue, but we took it as a sign to enjoy what we had already done and to live another day. Yes, you can be prepared, but don’t expect to be in control all the time.

6. Appreciate The Present Moment

When on the trail, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and focus primarily on the goal of summiting the mountain. But are we sometimes guilty in forgetting what happened on our way to the top? To often we get caught up in where we’re going that we forget to stop and appreciate what’s right in front of us. We obviously have certain goals in life that we want to attain, but it’s important to remember that the journey in between is where our most crucial personal development occurs. What obstacles did you overcome? At what point were you thankful that your friends were there to help you out? Which memories stood out to you the most? It’s not necessarily about reaching the top, but more so what you learned during the journey.

7. Reaction to Adversity

Let’s face it, if something didn’t go wrong then it wouldn’t be your typical occurrence on the trail. Even though you planned for weeks and have all your gear perfectly set up, you never know what you’ll run into while on your adventure. Maybe a piece of your equipment broke, you started on the trail later than you wanted to, or one of your friends suffered an unexpected injury. How are you going to react and how are you going to handle the situation? Funny enough, this is how life goes sometimes. Are you going to complain about the things that are happening to you and your squad or will you embrace adversity and handle it appropriately with a positive mindset? My vote is for the latter option, and this is also where a positive attitude can come in handy.

8. You Can’t Do Life Alone

No matter how many times we tell ourselves that we’re fine, we’ll eventually realize that we can’t do it all by ourselves. We will need our friends to push us through the hard moments, to encourage us, and to lend a helping hand when we need it. I can’t tell you how many times
I’ve needed help or encouragement on the trail or heading up to summit a mountain. I’m not going to lie, I can think of several instances in which I probably would have given up if it weren’t for a friend helping me get over an obstacle. If there’s one life lesson that stands above them all, it’s that you need friends and family by your side.

So, final thought, there will be moments in which you’ll hate your decision to hike that mountain, but those moments are what make us appreciate the decision in the first place. And at first we might believe that traversing the mountain is the ultimate goal. But I think we can all agree that the character we build from making our way to the top is the real prize, because aren’t we all striving to be better individuals in one way or another?

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!

Matthew Thomson

Adventure seeker, kid at heart, and a firm believer that the outdoors can change one's outlook on life for the better. Currently living in the upstate of South Carolina, where adventures are aplenty. Check out my Ins...