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Lessons Learned Up a Mountain: Life Lessons From Climbing

Updated on September 12, 2016
Mountains make great teachers
Mountains make great teachers | Source

Mountaineering simplifies life down to the necessities: food, water, shelter, and safety. It pushes the climber to the limit of his or her ability and forces the climber to stay sharp.

As a young adventurer, I've often found my backside halfway up a mountain, wondering how I got into that particular predicament. "Whose idea was this anyway?" lingers in my mind as I stare up at 3000 ft of snow and ice.

One thing is for sure: the person ascending a mountain is never the same as the one who descends. The mountains change you to the core.

Here are some lessons I've learned from spending time cold, wet, and at risk of being blown off a mountain.

My playground
My playground | Source

Go at Your Own Pace

You can tell the new climbers from the more experienced by how quickly they sprint from the parking lot up the first quarter-mile. The old timers are the ones taking three steps and then stopping to look at the view.

On my last ice climbing adventure, I took my time making my way up the 1000 foot elevation gain to the frozen waterfall. I was the last person to reach the bottom of the ice waterfall because I knew what was ahead, and I knew that I needed to save energy for the real climb. After conserving energy on the approach, I was one of the few who made it to the top.

Life is not a race. Everyone finds their own path and pace through it. Going a little slower isn't something to be ashamed of. I've known doctors who went to medical school in their 40's, screenwriters who found their passion in their 50's, and college dropouts who went on to passion-filled and profitable careers. Don't let other people judge you according to how quickly you obtain success. Life is a long journey down a windy road, don't wear out on the first mile.

The waterfall I climbed.  Lee Vining, California.
The waterfall I climbed. Lee Vining, California. | Source

Never Ever, Ever, Ever Give Up

Mountaineering forces the climber to push forward when every muscle is screaming for them to stop. The altitude, the weather, and the physical exertion all drain the climber's energy reserves.

When you are high up on a mountain, quitting isn't an option. No matter how tired you are, no matter what the weather throws at you, giving up isn't an option because the downward climb isn't a walk in the park.

There will be times, high up on a mountain, when you are so mentally and physically exhausted, that you just want to dig a little hole in the snow, go to sleep, and make it all go away. Fortunately, all of the mountaineers I know have an extremely, above average will to survive.

Testing Reveals Strength

"The sea's only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here.

And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head." (Into the Wild, 2007)

Aim High

You are far more capable and resilient than you know. Until you are tested to your breaking point, you will never know the heights to which you can climb. You must enter through the crucible, to not enter would be a tragic waste of life; to come to the end and not know.

During my first ice climb, I was so cold and weakened that I only made it about 10 feet up the waterfall. I had driven several hundred miles, taken three days off of work, and climbed a mile up a mountain in crampons, to only go ten feet. Near blizzard conditions made half of our group turn around without even trying to climb the waterfall.

This year, being a little more seasoned and prepared, I felt very at home up on the mountain. I brought my Jetboil, made myself some tea, cozied up on my Thermarest, made myself some soup, enjoyed the view, and made it to the top.

For me, it was climbing redemption. Knowing that I had failed last year, made me aim very low. I pointed at a small bush poking through the snow and told my belayer that if I made it that far, I'd go home a happy gal. He called me out on my low goal setting and encouraged me to reach the top.

The View From the Top is Worth the Fight

Climbers on Mt. Everest spend weeks climbing between base camps before ever attempting the summit. They climb high, and sleep low multiple times before moving into the "Death Zone." It is figured that they end up climbing the mountain five times over, due to a series of acclimatization climbs.

Everest only has a couple of days a year where the weather on the summit is suitable for a bid for the top. This creates a line on the last couple of hundred feet to the top, which only gives the climber a few precious minutes to stand on the top of the world.

On my last ice climb, I reached the top, turned around, and enjoyed the view down the canyon. The snow was softly falling and the Sierras stood all around me like giant fortresses, waiting to be conquered. There are some moments in life you will never forget.

When you expend great energy towards anything, the risk makes the reward incredibly satisfying. When you've made it to the top of your own personal Everest, you then have the courage, the confidence, the strength, and the determination to conquer the next battle ahead. That is yours, and it can never be taken from you.

"Winners take time to relish their work, knowing that scaling the mountain is what makes the view from the top so exhilarating." Denis Waitley

Bear Grylls On Climbing Mount Everest


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    • tehgyb profile image

      Don Colfax 3 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      Great hub, Ice climbing is one frontier I just haven't had the opportunity to partake in. I'm going to HAVE to now! lol


    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 3 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Wonderful! Some great advice on climbing and lessons for life. I walk many miles each week with my partner in crime (of 35 years) and ascend the occasional Spanish/Scottish mountain. I take it step by step as you suggest and never take too many risks. I love watching the big birds, the raptors and vultures, and the views are mostly etched into the mind forever.

      Votes and a share.

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California


      I was wondering why I haven't seen any Hub on your latest adventures. It's been a little quiet over at Outbound Dan land. I hope you heal up well and get to enjoy the lovely spring that is coming. Here in California, the hills are green like Ireland, and the beaches are warming up. It's my favorite time of year!

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California

      Bill, I'll bet that the view from the top of Rainier was incredible. What an accomplishment! I love it when you post your hiking and exploring pictures with Bev. Nothing better than a couple that enjoys nature together.

    • Outbound Dan profile image

      Dan Human 3 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

      Fantastic Hub concerning the values of mountaineering. I was nursing an injury this past season so I didn't get out for any hardcore climbing this winter. However, I still have about another month and a half of snow and ice here in the Northeast.

      You are so right about starting and maintaining a consistent pace. I've gone out with people who start strong but are ready to quit by noon and then I tell them we have another seven hours to go before we stop. Slow and steady wins the non-race.

      Enjoy the moment and enjoy the mountains.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I would love to tell you that I still climb, but age has caught up with me. We still hike in the summer but my climbing days are over. I really enjoyed this one, Jen; it definitely spoke to the man who once loved standing on top of Mt. Rainier....I wrote a hub once about that might enjoy it when you have nothing better to do. :)