Lessons Learned from the Mountains

I’m fascinated by mountains.  I’m impressed by their size and beauty.  I enjoy the serenity they can provide and also respect the preparation, struggle and effort it takes to stand on a mountain summit. Attempting to get up and down a peak successfully is not too different from taking on a DIY home improvement project, or facing life challenges.  Many lessons can be learned, I believe, from climbing mountains.

My Mountain Background

As a teenager I enjoyed hiking Mount Timpanogos, Utah (11,749) with friends.  One time with a couple of my brothers, I carried my skis up and skied the glacier above Emerald Lake:

When I got to Ricks College in eastern Idaho, I enjoyed taking outdoor recreation classes like rock-climbing and back-country skiing.  In the fall of 2001 I took a mountaineering class.  Our small class would climb peaks in the Tetons or nearby mountain ranges together.  The highlights were summiting the Middle Teton, Wyoming (12,804′)…

…and Diamond Peak, Idaho (12,197′).  We also attempted Buck Mountain, Wyoming (11,938′), but turned back about halfway up due to a storm.

Just after my mountaineering class ended, a couple buddies and I planned a Grand Teton, Wyoming (13,775′) attempt.  But as we drove toward Jackson Hole from Rexburg the morning of our climb, clouds blew in and dropped over the mountains and it started snowing.  We were disappointed, but ended up deciding to just go camping in Yellowstone instead.

Several years ago in March my cousins invited me to do a snow climb up a south-west rib of Mount Nebo, Utah (11,928′) with crampons and ice axes (you really feel like a true alpinist anytime crampons and ice axes are involved).  We made it to the top just as a fog moved in.

I was lucky to marry a girl who also enjoys hiking, and going on adventures with me.  In 2007 we attempted Fremont Peak, Wyoming (13,745′) during a week-long backpacking trip, but followed our instincts to turn around on the south-west face only about 1,000 vertical feet below the summit.  We made it back to our tent just as a rain and snow storm hit.  Here’s a picture taken before turning around:

In 2008 Desiree and I scrambled up Lone Peak, Utah (11,253′).  In 2009 we summited Kings Peak, Utah (13,528′) with our dog Gooch:

In 2010 Desiree and I did the Pfeifferhorn, Utah (11,326′):

And last year we made it up Box Elder Peak, Utah (11,101′).  Even though the peaks I’ve summited aren’t too technical, with just some exposure to overcome and a bit of scrambling to get to the top, I still feel like I’ve gained from each experience, and by the following year, I’m itching to try another.

Lessons Learned

I just finished reading a book called No Shortcuts to the Top by Ed Viesturs (the first American climber to summit all 14 of the worlds 8,000 meter peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen).  In the book, he shares his passion for climbing, the effort and patience it took to pursue a climbing career, and many of the experiences he went through to reach his dream.  Several points he makes in the book hit home with me, and can be applied to many “normal life” challenges and experiences we all face.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from Ed, and how I think they apply:

    1. “Inexperience leads to accidents… You don’t just pick up a hammer and build a house.  In the same sense, you don’t just pick up an ice ax and climb an 8,000 meter peak.  You need to start with the basics and work your way up the ladder.  That means surrounding yourself with people who have more experience than you do.”  Don’t bite off more than you can chew all at once.  Start simple and work your way up, and learn from those around you.
    2. “It’s critical to make your own decisions and not be swayed by the crowd… Your instincts are telling you something.  Trust them and listen to them.”  Ed almost lost his life on K2 when he ignored his instincts to turn around, when his climbing companions wanted to continue up in bad snow conditions and a storm.  Do we sometimes just do what those around us are doing instead of following our own gut instinct and feelings?
    3. “Climb with humility and respect… Mountains are not conquered: they simply do or do not allow us to climb them.”  Ultimately, we don’t always have complete control over the challenges we face.  But we can do everything within our power to prepare and have the patience so that when the right opportunity comes along we are ready to take advantage.
    4. “Whatever challenge you have before you can be accomplished in the same fashion-whether it takes a week, two months, or a year.  If you look at the challenge as a whole, it may seem insuperable, but if you break it down into tangible steps, it can seem more reasonable, and ultimately achievable… I learned to break up the “impossible” 4,000-foot climb to a summit into tiny, manageable pieces:  just get to that rock outcrop there, then focus on the ice block up ahead, and so on.”  This is like that old question… “How do you eat an elephant?  -One bite at a time.”
    5. “I never stopped believing in myself… No matter what the future holds in store, I can say now-out loud, without hesitation-something that, sadly, all too few men and women can ever say:  I have lived my dream.”  Believe in yourself.  Live your dream.

6 Replies to Lessons Learned from the Mountains

  1. Mary Meyers says:

    Kurt, that was a GREAT post! I LOVED the pictures, too!!!! That first one was fabulous! Made me want to paint it!!! How is Desiree doing? Tell her hi for me! You guys need to come to Florida! It’s not quite as exciting as mountain climbing but we could go deep sea fishing out in the Gulf! Or snorkeling down in the Keys! (That, I will say, is gorgeous and SO fun!!!) Tell everyone hi for us and that we send our love. And thanks for keeping me on your email list! Remember, we always have room for visitors!

  2. Mark in PA says:

    Great post, Kurt! So, I didn’t see any 14ers in your list… are you telling me you’ve never done a 14,000 footer? Oh man, we are going to have to plan something in the future!! As experienced as you are, that’s a travesty!

    • You’re right, I need to try a 14er. Hmmm, Alaska, Washington, California, or Colorado?

      • Mark in PA says:

        Let’s do all four!!

        I’m not nearly as experienced as you, but I did go to one place when I was a teenager called Chicago Basin in CO. You take the train north from Durango and get off – hike in about 7 or 8 miles, and then there are four 14,000ft peaks all right next to each other. Pretty dang sweet.

  3. Cliffie Johnson says:

    Kurt, this is inspirational! I believe in you.. keep living your dream. In all your adventures you always have my faith & prayers behind you.

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