After years of training plus two months of trekking, climbing, acclimatising and waiting, I managed to do what I’d been dreaming about for years – I summited Everest. Climbing Everest was an experience I’ll never forget.
Standing at the top looking down onto at the mountains that had towered above me for the previous weeks, seeing the curvature of the earth, talking to my husband and basecamp support team on the radio, I felt utterly amazed that I had reached this point.
Although I had completed many climbs previously, this one pushed me in different ways and taught me some important lessons that I continue to use to this day.
Dealing with overwhelm and doubt
Heading off into the blackness of night for my summit push, I remember feeling utterly overwhelmed at the enormity of the task ahead of me. After climbing for several hours in temperatures around -35C, it seemed that I’d barely made any progress and I actually felt quite stupid for taking on a challenge that right now seemed so out of my league.
Prior to the expedition, I’d obviously read a lot about other expeditions and in particular, what went wrong and the different choices that might have prevented those disasters (if you haven’t come across it, Into Thin Air is a fantastic read). One of the decisions I made prior to climbing was that on summit day, I would turn around and start heading down by midday – regardless of where I was on the mountain. Many of the previous accidents seemed to occur when people pushed on for too long, a phenomenon known as ‘summit fever’, and then didn’t leave enough time or energy to get themselves safely down. So setting a ‘turn-around time’ seemed like a sound and logical decision to make.
Forget the goal, focus on the effort
Well, in the thick of the climb, it now appeared to me that I had absolutely no chance of making it to the top. The lack of oxygen was taking its toll and I felt like I was moving way too slowly to get even close to the summit. But, as thoughts of pulling out and returning to the relative safety of Camp 4 came to mind, I managed to reframe my thinking.
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Instead of telling myself I would ‘turn around at midday’, I told myself ‘I would keep going until noon.’
This re-framing had a galvanising effect – I found a way to keep myself taking action. From there I simply focused on getting to the next crest, the next rope change, five more steps.
And amazingly it worked.
Although the expedition was not without issue, I stood on the summit at 7:50 am and my husband and I later returned safely to basecamp.
The big lesson I still carry with me today
I’d hoped that climbing Everest would give me a feeling of invincibility and confidence that would stay with me throughout life, but unfortunately I still have my shares of self-doubt and fear.
Instead, what it did teach me is that perseverance is everything. It’s more important than skill, knowledge, networks and anything else that people might think are currently missing from their lives.
Clearly, there are times when it makes sense to pull out or change directions, but most of us have a tendency to do that way too early. Before you decide that something is impossible, make sure you’ve given your all before you quit.
So if you’re struggling through something right now, please keep going. And remember this: if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.