Lessons From the Trail

In the spring of 2001, I was hiking every weekend to prepare for a trek to Everest Base camp. The trek is a 30 mile route of narrow up and down trails with heart-stopping views of the Himalayan mountains around every corner. It takes about 12 days on the route to ascend, passing through successfully smaller and smaller villages until you reach base camp at an altitude of about 17,600 feet.

I was in pretty good shape at the time – in my early 30’s and the year before I’d summitted Mt. Rainier for the second time and also climbed Mt. Ixtacchuatl in Mexica to reach my personal highest altitude to date of 17,160 feet.

The problem was that I was hiking every Saturday with my friend, Sue, who was preparing to climb Mt. Everest. She was working out every day in order to prepare for a three month trip and attempt to reach 29,035 feet and hiking with me on Saturdays was just a warm-up for her.

So I quickly adopted a strategy of asking her questions all the way up whatever hike we were doing and I’d talk all the way down. Whether we were doing Tiger Mountain and gaining 2,000 feet of elevation in an hour, or Mt. Si with a climb of 3,200 feet which we could ascend in 90 minutes, she was always less winded than me. She would give me a full chapter-by-chapter book review of whatever she’d just read, regale me with stories from her childhood that I hadn’t heard yet, or fill me in on the personalities of who was on the team for Everest and all I had to do was ask a few questions and listen.

I learned a couple of things on those Saturdays. The first was that I could only measure myself against my goals and not someone else’s. I was doing fine in my preparation to get to base camp. But I sucked if I was comparing myself to Sue and her fitness level to get to the top. It sounds so obvious as I type this. Except that comparison is so insidious that it often skips the big picture and make us narrow in on the one or five things that make us feel like we aren’t measuring up.

The second thing I learned was that it is okay to draft off our friends. There are times when they are on fire, hitting every goal to do incredible things, and we can just surf along in their wake asking questions. Listening and learning often happen for me when I’m in the draft position, not in the lead.

Given that Endless Weekend just had a post in which we discussed three as a magic number, I’m going to throw in a final thing I learned that spring. Accompanying Sue and her husband, Phil, to Everest base camp was an incredible privilege and journey. When we reached Everest base camp, a monk came to perform the Puja ceremony, a rite to bless the climbers for their journey ahead. Part of the ceremony involves drinking a beer. My final lesson was that drinking a beer, or even half a one, at 17,600 feet will knock you on your butt. You’re welcome for that pretty useless bit of knowledge… 😉

(images mine)

Please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com And if you want to follow me, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

33 thoughts on “Lessons From the Trail

  1. Extraordinary, Wynne

    In addition to what you described here, I imagine you have the experience of knowing things that cannot be put into words; those that must be lived. I would guess that inexpressible realm of knowing both enlarges you and separates you from some of those who have never entered that internal and external world.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Geez, Wynne, thanks for head’s up about the the beer. I’ll certainly remember that the very next time I decide to hike myself to the top of Everest. Love your wisdom, and the lessons you glean from others along the way. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Aw, shoot! Julia stole my line — LOL! I loved the 411 warning about having a beer at a high elevation! 🤣 And the photo you included in celebration mode is just fantastic! What a pic!
    I loved the entirety of your post, Wynne, and the concept of drafting when we need to…and your wonderful Wynne-icism about the ‘one or five things’ re: insidious comparisons. Yes, yes! 😊xo!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Glad you like the beer drinking picture, Vicki. That was before I was weaving around for the next couple of hours… 🙂

      And I’m lucky to be able to draft and tagteam with you! XOXO, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh boy, such a fun post, yet filled with wisdom! I love the learnings you’ve shared. And of course, when I read your climbing posts, I always feel a sense of awe. I’ve been enjoying Jimmy Chin’s posts on IG ever since you mentioned him a while back, so I’m picturing what you’re describing as I’m reading. Incredible – AND incredible lessons you’ve shared as well! Thank you, Wynne!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I love that you are also following Jimmy Chin on IG. That guy is incredible! If you are ever in the mood for some great movies he’s made – he did Free Solo (if you haven’t seen it yet) and Meru.

      Yes, I have been incredibly lucky to have some fun adventures. I guess one advantage to doing life a little backwards… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love everything about this, Wynne! First off, how impressive to even make it to Everest’s basecamp. Amazing! But the wisdom here is also great. No matter how many times we hear, I think we can always stand to be reminder that we should only compare ourselves to our past and future selves. We’re all unique individuals on our own journeys.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Numbers can be magical, and I’m glad you took us there, and I’m glad it stretched to a third lesson!

    I remember reading that Teddy Roosevelt also reached the same lesson on comparisons and said “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I’m glad for your lesson that brings much joy. Thank you for a joyous post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a lovely photo of you with the beer – even if it knocked you off your butt! I do love it when you share your climbing stories. There are always nuggets of life wisdom in every post.

    I agree that the only thing you should measure yourself against are your own goals and yourself. And love that you were open to drafting and learning from your friend Sue too. How lucky we are to have these people to learn from – and that includes you as a teacher!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought of you as I was typing up this climbing story, Ab. You are such a great encourager of me telling these old stories. 🙂 And you said it so well – how lucky we are to have people to learn from – like each other!! 🙂 Hope you have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Not comparing yourself to others, sure, I’ve heard, but being in the drafting position of your friends and learning from them–that’s a brilliant., well-worded insight. I also appreciate the knowledge-nugget of drinking a beer at altitude. Interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

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