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What I Learned on the Mountains

I recently attempted to climb three mountains on three continents in three months to raise awareness and money for obstetric fistula patients in Ethiopia.

This is what I learned on the mountains:

Lesson 1: The woman I was roped to got an anxiety attack just as we were about to traverse a ledge, right before the summit of Gran Paradiso. Gran Paradiso is the highest peak fully within Italy (Mont Blanc is shared with Switzerland and France and 300 m higher).

I have an intense fear of heights and estimated the drop to be 200 to 300 meters, but I have since learned that it is much higher than that. She was unable to carry on as she was shaking and crying, repeating over and over to herself: “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this”, just before I was about to rope myself into the bolted section and dangle over the edge. Her reaction forced me to focus on her, and not on my own intense stress reaction to what I thought was my impending death. Helping her across the ledge, she made it to the top, as did I. Truth be told, if she hadn’t freaked out, then I most likely would have been the one freaking out. Focusing on getting her across helped me get across.

Lesson: when things are tough, force yourself to help others less fortunate than you, and you will regain what you thought you had lost.

Lesson 2: On Kilimanjaro, the guides forced us to walk really slowly. “Polé, polé” (slowly, slowly) was the refrain. I took this to the extreme, forcing myself to slow down to a crawl to conserve energy. It felt as if I was going nowhere. Many groups sped past us (except on day 2 when our guide went berserk!), but we caught up with and passed many of them, often arriving in camp first after having set out late. They exhausted themselves and had to stop frequently.

Lesson: fast isn’t always fastest, although we’re taught otherwise these days.