Trekking through the magnificent Annapurna range of mountains taught me many lessons. The biggest lesson was that I had to climb my internal mountains to get there. Yes, trekking up a mountain was tremendous physical exercise but it was even more of a mental and psychological exercise in mounting my fears and doubts.
I feared injuring myself. I doubted my ability and my fitness level. I worried about not sleeping, ever, and getting sick. I worried about feeling really cold and becoming ill. I worried that I would not be able to complete the trek. I worried that I would not meet like-minded folks on the trek. So there was lots of Saboteur chattering and nattering going on in my mind.
I learned a lot about my personal Saboteur, how loud the nattering can get and how to quiet it down so that I could move forward and complete the trek:
1. Have a scheduled plan and scheduled rest stops. In order to climb higher and manage the challenging parts we had to have a scheduled plan, scheduled rest stops and scheduled “Tea and Pee” breaks as Gelu Sherpa called them. We could not have reached the top without a goal, a plan, scheduled time to rest and replenish.
2. Adjust and realign with what is happening. I got acutely sick with some stomach thing on the very first night. Projectile vomiting sick. I didn’t sleep much. We had been told the next day was “the hardest”, trekking up five to six hours.
I took a few dozen steps and had to stop often, feeling weak in my legs, light-headed and nauseous, vomiting again. As I consumed some electrolytes, our leader guide offered me two options: Return to the tea house and rest (and say goodbye to the rest of the trek), or Pay for the services of a horse to take me to the next tea house.
Of course, the horse — because continuing on was the only option. Forty-five minutes later my white horse (really donkey) arrived. And his name?
LUCKY. I got Lucky! I hung onto dear Lucky’s saddle for dear life as he mounted up and down the steps that I couldn’t manage.
The next morning I woke up feeling strong and well again which was good because we had to leave at 5:15am to ascend steps for the sunrise at Poon Hill.
This is what I would have missed had I gone back:
4. Staying present is necessary to staying well. Worrying about losing my footing and injuring myself, I focused on each step - to see where I was going, to step safely and stay the course without breaking any body parts. Trekking up the mountains required strength, patience and endurance. Descending the mountains required concentration and courage (the heights!). Being so mindful of every step transformed the experience into a walking meditation. Focusing on the here-and-now, on each step, kept me grounded in every way.
5. Celebrate at the end of each day. It was exciting to meet the scheduled plan and goal for each day. Some days were easier and some were more challenging. At the end of every day we celebrated what we had experienced and appreciated the stunning views from the new tea house in the new village with the team of trekkers, Sherpa leader guides and porters.
6. Appreciate the boring parts. There were boring parts, even trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary. Until I remembered where I was, what I was doing, and what I was there for! Until I noticed the beauty and wonder in that boring moment. Until I brought myself back to being present, appreciating just being there, and being grateful for the boring parts too.
7. Prepare appropriate equipment and supplies. I needed equipment and supplies to keep me safe, healthy and well as I trekked the mountain. It was helpful to get up steep ascents and then back down safely, to keep me warm, comfortable and dry, and to keep me hydrated and nourished. We need equipment and resources to get us up the mountain.
8. We need support to get up there. It was important to have expert help from knowledgeable people. They knew the landscape and the dangerous parts. They knew when to lend a hand and when to give space so that I could do it on my own. and grow my self-confidence.
I felt gratitude to everyone who was a part of making this mountain trek possible — the leaders, the porters, my fellow trekkers, my family and friends who supported me to get there.
We need help to get up the mountain, and helping each other up our mountains is a powerful relationship builder.
9. The challenging, stressful parts can take your breath away. Climbing up 4000 feet (1200 metres) in 8 hours with wind and snow is a whole thing. Heart pounding, lungs heaving, my mind and body wondering, “What is going on here? What are you making us do? How do we breathe up here?”
Everyone was ahead of me and I did not care at all. I was getting there when I was getting there. It became clear as the Annapurna mountain air that I was not there to impress anyone.
During my numerous rest pauses, I noticed the raw beauty surrounding me: the stark rockiness of the landscape, the lack of wildlife and birds, and cloudy skies darkening as sunset approached. It was primal and I felt primal.
I also felt emotional — to be aware of my heart beating and pumping, to feel so much heart. It was a heart-felt climb.
I arrived at the teahouse and received big cheers and hugs from everyone. I had made it, we had all made it together and there was a palpable sense of fulfillment and aliveness in the space.
10. Leaving the mountain is both euphoric and sad. The euphoria of seeing such raw beauty and of getting “there” is potent. Two feet of snow had fallen overnight at Annapurna Base Camp. The morning skies were bright turquoise as we started our descent. It is a memory etched into my being.
I had no idea what to expect when descending the mountain. I had prepared for it by bringing trekking poles to protect my knees. I was ready to descend and welcome more oxygen into my heart and lungs.
And then it hit me. We were leaving “there”. I was leaving the mountain and leaving my mountain.
I had done it. I had planned and worked hard to make this dream happen. I got up there and now it was time to leave. I could not stay up there forever. I had to leave “up there” and come back down. Coming down the mountain was unexpectedly sad for me and I was not ready for that.
I began to think of new dreams and adventures in different parts of my life - in my health and lifestyle, career, home, family and friendships. If I could reach this mountain then I could surely climb other mountains. What other dreams and goals might I vision and focus on now? New mountains await.
Each of us has our own mountain to climb. It is only ours to climb and only we can climb it. No one can climb it for us. It is on that climb that our mountain reveals our power and our vulnerability — to us.
What is the mountain you are climbing? Where are you on your climb? Just beginning to see your mountain, at the bottom of your mountain, half-way up, approaching the top, coming down on the other side, somewhere else?