In today’s episode, Jaci shares;
- Several stories of her journeys climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Oyster Peak in the Canadian Rockies, and Mount Everest
- 3 key lessons that her time in the mountains have taught her about life.
- The purpose of pain, the value of vision, the joy of success
Jaci’s stories of her mountain climbs, mixed with the beautiful life lessons she has taken away from these difficult journeys make this episode so inspiring. Jaci reminds us that in our everyday lives we face mountains, some bigger than others, and we must decide which ones to tackle and climb. You can listen to the full episode by tapping the podcast player above, or keep scrolling to read the full transcription and find references from today’s episode!
I’ve always loved the mountains for as long as I can remember. And these past 10 years, I’ve been able to do some hiking in beautiful mountain ranges all around the world. And in 2018, I finally knocked off a bucket list trip, I went to Africa, and that included a trek on Kilimanjaro. I prepared months in advance. I hiked all over the Rockies, I was as strong as I ever had been, I was in the best shape possible. Everybody wanted to know the details of my trip, and I was happy to speak with everyone. But as the date of departure drew closer, I started getting comments from people, “You’re going to Africa, by yourself?” “Should you be doing that?” “I would never go to Africa by myself.” “Why are you doing that?” “You’re going hiking, camping in Africa, for your vacation.” I don’t think anyone meant any harm, but their words started permeating every pore of my skin. I started having deep doubts of what I had committed to. Days before I left, I started having a breakdown that I wasn’t used to having, I started losing things, my driver’s license, I couldn’t pack my final bag. I was crying uncontrollably. I was scared out of my mind. I went and saw my doctor and she reassured me that I was fit and healthy and ready to go, but I couldn’t stop the anxiety. I called my brother in a fit and panic, “what have I done?” He spoke to me calmly, “you know you’re about to do something that some people will never think of doing. They’ll dream of it maybe, but you’re actually doing it, and you are well prepared. You’ve put everything in place”. He could hear my sobs and then he said, “you know you have a choice. You could put a stop to all of this right now and nobody would even think twice about it.” I thought about what he said, I did have a choice.
The next day I was on the plane to Africa. Being in the mountains helps you improve your resilience and shift your overall attitude so you can be more effective. Your relationships with others will flourish as your relationship with yourself deepens. With this comes the ability to accomplish things that you never thought was possible. I’m going to share three key lessons that the mountains teach us and these lessons also apply to the everyday challenges we face at work and at home. Hiking up a mountain is exhausting and the first 20 minutes are the worst, your legs actually hurt. But this pain reminds us that we are alive and once we look around at our surroundings, instant gratitude always kicks in. Pain also warns us of danger that we might have gone too far. We need to listen to our bodies and take action when necessary. If we don’t, we can harm ourselves and that could last for weeks taking us out of the mountains for a while. Some hurt is okay, it’s what builds our stamina and resilience. But if we ignore the pain, we can get into trouble. Pain tells us how far we can stretch. This in turn builds our resilience and we are better able to manage both physical and yes, even emotional pain. In addition to hiking, I also love backpacking. Friends and I ventured off to Baker Lake many years back. This is about 13 kilometers back behind Lake Louise Ski Resort in the Canadian Rockies. The entire area is very special and incredibly breathtaking. We had planned to hike several mountains in the area, pack our weekend with as much as we could. My friend Chip and I decided to tackle Oyster Peak one day and took off for the ridge a few kilometers away from the campsite. The ridge reaches a height of about 600 meters of elevation by the time you reach the top, a good elevation gain for any day hike. I was used to this. I also love ridge rocks, so this was an adventure I was loving until I wasn’t.
The weather was quickly changing and black clouds were coming in the distance. Chip along with another solo hiker we had met up with decided it was time to descend quickly. We went off trail and started picking our way down giant slabs of rock. The two guys were like billy goats, completely comfortable with this level of scrambling. I was not, I was well over my capabilities. And to make matters worse, my legs were tired, my back and shoulders were starting to ache, and my knees were giving out. If we were anyplace else, I would have simply turned back. In this case, there was nowhere to go but down. It was my first true experience of fear in the mountains. I remember that feeling well. My feet froze to the rock, scared to make any move for fear of going straight down. And if you fall, you do go down, down, down. My poles became my safety net and I quickly realized my emotions were about to flood me. I truly only thought of a few things, my son Ben at the time, who was just a little guy, my master’s degree I hadn’t yet finished, my newly purchased townhouse after my divorce. Life was just beginning wasn’t it? And here I was fearing for my life on an almost vertical slab of rock. The guys did well to coach me down. I moved slowly, and calculating every step along this slim ridge of rock. I contained all my emotions and dug in deep. I made it down and to this day I have no idea how long it took. I didn’t care, and I never asked actually. Once I was on safe ground, I dropped to my knees and started crying. I let it all out. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. My beloved mountains had put me to a test. My body healed of course from this experience, I had typical sore legs and bruises from the rock, but my emotional state hung with me for quite some time. It took a while before I went up a ridge again. I have recovered however, stronger and more resilient. And even to this day, I know and honor my limits on any given day. Pain changes you for the better. If we listen to our bodies, and our hearts, we can come out stronger because of the experience.
On a bad day, we often wonder what am I doing here? Why am I at this job? I rarely feel that way in the mountains. I always know exactly why I go hiking. Getting to the summit of a mountain provides direction, focusing our energy and driving us towards the goal, and along the way, we make decisions that will help us get there. Knowing where we are going paints a clear picture.
In December 2019, my friend Jade and I traveled to Nepal and tracked to Everest base camp for Christmas Day. It was a seven day hike up to base camp with varying conditions and it was December after all high in the Himalayas so it was colder and colder as we ascended. We had some rough spots along the trek, but we knew at each milestone we were closer and closer. Once we reach Gorak Shep at about 5000 meters, you are about one to two hours away from the actual base camp. It is here that you also have the option to take an extra side trip to Kala Patthar meaning Black Rock in English. Kala Patthar has an elevation of about 5600 meters and it’s a small trekking peak famous for its incredible summit views of Mount Everest. This means it’s another 500 meters of elevation to get to the amazing views, it’s an extra two hours straight up for this excursion. What is also interesting is that the top of Kala Patthar cannot be seen which for some along the way it’s a mental difficulty that people aren’t used to, and it could add to the struggle. Jade and I hadn’t really thought about this extra hike, we were so focused on our main goal, to enjoy our time at Everest base camp, and to have a great trek back. We opted out of Kala Patthar knowing we could always come back again. We felt we didn’t need any more hiking. We saw pictures from another trekkers camera and agreed that we would have enjoyed a sunset far more than a sunrise. For us to go up to Kala Patthar meant getting up about 430 in the morning, prior to starting our trek back to Luca. Nonetheless, we felt good about our decision. It was our vision of making it to Everest base camp that kept us on course. Vision provides direction and gives you purpose. You will always face decisions that may divert you, but ultimately, it’s you who decides. The exhilaration of reaching the top of any mountain is addictive. Any struggle on the trail is all forgotten as you embrace a sense of accomplishment. And the views are often breathtaking and totally amazing. Joy comes from your purposeful choice to hike, to spend that day outside physically stretching yourself. You feel strong, capable, and alive. And joy emits from the tiny community of people that often assembles at any summit, and joy loves connection. It thrives around other people, on the trail, in the struggle, at the summit. Success is that state of being truly happy with our choices. My son Benjamin and I went on Inca Trail years back, it was the biggest track we had ever been on and it was the furthest away I had ever been with my son. So being a nervous traveler, it was all overwhelming. We spent some time acclimatizing in Cusco and the surrounding area. We loved Cusco and felt really comfortable with the altitude we were at and we had gotten over any headaches we were suffering.
As we started on the trail, we were a small group of four with a guide and our porters. We were a small agile group compared to some of the larger groups we came across. Four day three night trek on the Inca Trail through some of the most beautiful mountains. It was so magical and very Lord of the Rings. Day two hiking up Dead Woman’s Pass is a glorious feat, it is at this high point that you know you’ve made it over the largest hurdle of the whole trek. And yes, we made it to the sun gate and saw Machu Picchu. Being there with Ben made it so special. Ben was as proud of me as I was of him. It was my biggest hiking accomplishment to date and I was so amazed at us. Who you surround yourself with in those moments matters. Share your successes, always celebrate and never minimize them. Those who really care will want nothing less than that for you. Simply being outside decreases stress levels and helps us shift towards a more positive mindset. Positive feelings make our brains work better, we make better decisions, we concentrate better, and we are more creative. We face mountains every day, and we have to decide what mountains to climb, some are bigger than others. When you choose to tackle your mountains, you’re choosing your life. You are the creator of your life. Mountains of all kinds teach you that you are truly capable. What challenges may you be walking away from because they feel too big to tackle? Do you feel lost or not sure what you’re working towards? Are you celebrating your successes in life with people who really matter? If any of these answers are no, I encourage you to hike outside, find a mountain anywhere and it doesn’t matter how big it is. John Muir said “it is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.”
Once I landed in Tanzania back in 2018 and I met up with my group I knew I’d be fine. And once I started hiking up Kilimanjaro, I was at my best again, comfortable, happy and totally calm. I successfully made it to the top of Kilimanjaro on that trek and looked around with awe. My breakdown back at home was a distant memory. I wasn’t looking back. I knew I could tackle anything, anywhere, and decided at that moment to only look forward.