Last week, I had the opportunity to climb Mt Rainier after having it as a goal for over a year. This blog post details the process I used to get there. Anyone can work towards a Breakthrough Goal – a goal that changes your life or gets you to the next level of whatever it is you’re doing. It’s my pleasure to let you know we made it to the top and I’m honoured to be able to share these learnings with you.
Ever since I got into hiking, I’ve wanted to climb big mountains, it was just that I couldn’t at the time. It was a summer of recovering from my second episode of psychosis where I went through a suicide attempt, hospitalization and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. My mum had hiked for over 20 years and sitting at home, with nothing to do after dropping out of all my university courses, I asked her to take me hiking. I had never had an interest in hiking growing up, playing all sorts of other sports from hockey and baseball to wakeboarding and snowboarding. But that summer, without the ability to socialize, the thought of getting into nature with only my mum got me excited.
Our first hike, we walked on flat ground for only 20 minutes before I needed a break, but the feeling of peace and calm was intoxicating. I’ll never forget that first summer of hiking – mostly with my mum, sometimes with my dad too. It was one of the few things that gave me hope that I could still have an ok life.
Fast forward a few years and I was back at university, had met my girlfriend on a snowshoe trip and I was an active member of the SFU Outdoors Club. The adventures we had and the friends I met were some of the best memories of my university experience. After graduating, and slowly getting in better shape, my girlfriend Val and I joined the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) and signed up for their Intro to Mountaineering Course in the Spring of 2012. I had been wanting to get into mountaineering from pretty much the day I started hiking, but I needed a few years to build up the experience, equipment and fitness needed for the big mountains.
After completing the mountaineering course – which I highly recommend by the way – I set my eyes on some of the bigger mountains around. We climbed a few last summer, including Mt Matier, Mt Baker and Mt Richardson – all above 9000ft – but my real goal was to climb Mt Rainier. Why? Because I knew if I could climb Rainier – as the biggest mountain in the Pacific Northwest – it would open up the possibility of climbing even bigger mountains in other areas.
The opportunity to climb Rainier either had to come from people I knew, through one of the clubs I’m part of (ACC or the VOC – UBC’s Varsity Outdoors Club), or I would have to pay a company to guide me up (>$1200). Wanting to avoid paying a company, I held out and hoped for an opportunity. 3 friends seemed keen to climb it last summer, but all plans fell through, so I left it and hoped to get an opportunity this summer.
In the meantime, I decided I needed to stay in shape over the winter, so I signed up for some trail runs between October and January. Val and I attempted to run an ultramarathon on New Years Day, but had to stop after ~26km due to leg pains (from a lack of training). We soon signed up for another 50km in August and decided to actually train. Turing hikes like the Squamish Chief and Grouse Grind into hike/runs, we quickly improved our fitness and got in pretty decent shape.
Then as summer approached I began seeking opportunities to climb Rainier. I reached out to friends and put feelers out there, but nothing was really happening. One weekend Val and I had free, we though about attempting it on our own, but after consulting an experienced friend, we realized that would be unwise.
The first real opportunity came up in mid-July, but due to a number of factors I didn’t hear about the trip until 3 days before. It was a Wednesday, the climb was starting on Saturday and Thursday-Friday I was flying to Kelowna and back for a speech and all day event. After flying home Friday evening and realizing how exhausted I was, I decided to bail on the trip – a very difficult decision, but the right one. I knew this mountain demanded respect and I accepted the fact that I couldn’t attempt to climb it at 70%.
I was comforted by the fact that I’ve clarified my top values, with health being number 2 and growth being number 4. Going ahead that weekend would be an amazing opportunity for growth, but knowing my health would suffer, it was an easy decision not to go. I was upset, but I moved past it quickly, even though my friends had a great weekend of weather and summited successfully. I of course hoped another opportunity would come up this summer, but did not expect one to and instead got on with enjoying myself.
Seize the Opportunity
Then only 3 weeks later Val asked me if I had seen a Rainier trip posted on the VOC message board. Never really checking it myself, I hadn’t, but as soon as she told me about it, I got on there and emailed the leader – Gili. This time it was a week before the trip and although I was heading to Nanaimo for another speech and all day event, I would still have 4 days from the time I got back to prepare. After a few emails back and forth, I was signed up and like the lead up to many adventures, I was happily nervous, yet excited.
I was the least experienced member of our 4 man team, and it started to show right away. Not only did I forget my passport when we went to meet them at 6:00am, but they tore my pack apart and made me lose about a third of it as it weighed so much. Apparently pre-cooked pasta and fruit platters are not the best idea for big, long climbs.
We got on our way though and after many more delays, we arrived at our base camp around 9pm that evening. We decided to have a rest day the next day as the summit day would require us to wake up at 2:00am to leave by 3:00am. On the summit day, we somehow ended up leaving camp at exactly 3:01am, which is pretty incredible since there are often delays. Pushing up the mountain, we held a decent pace – the hill running was paying off. Soon we were passing groups that had left camp 1.5 and 2 hours before us. We experienced a beautiful sunrise and happily avoided falling in the many deep crevasses.
It was a day of worry though – of getting dehydrated; of falling in a crevasse; of experiencing altitude sickness; of getting sunburned; and many other hazards. But by 7:50am, we found ourselves standing on the summit, surprised and elated, although humbled by the long and dangerous decent ahead of us. We enjoyed the view and took and rest for over an hour, before carefully starting down towards camp. Getting back to camp by 1:30pm allowed us the time to have a rest and hike back out to the car the same day which we did. We got to the car at 8:00pm and decided to camp at the base to avoid a dangerous 5 hour drive home. We enjoyed a few sips of celebratory whiskey and slept like babies before driving home the next day.
All of a sudden having achieved this goal after working towards it for 2 years was a surreal experience. It all happened so fast in the end, although part of me is glad it’s behind me. It felt amazing to be back in the comfort and safety of my home. The process of climbing the mountain was a different kind of fun – a very rewarding, yet not very pleasurable experience.
I like to set big goals and work towards them. Even if I never reach my end goal, I usually end up pushing far beyond what I was previously capable of and that growth is addictive. So I have some big mountain goals, which shall remain nameless for now, but the experience of climbing Mt Rainier has been a great adventure and a great learning experience. This biggest takeaway is how right I was to listed to that inner voice and bail out of the first trip. I know how serious a sport mountaineering is and I decided I needed to listed to that inner voice from day one – and it payed off!
Now it’s on to the next adventure – that 50km run we signed up for. Right, that’s next weekend. 50km and +9000ft of elevation gain will be similar in elevation to Rainier. But what we did in 3 days on Rainier Val and I will attempt to do in 7-9 hours next Saturday. Again, I’m thinking this will be that ‘other’ type of fun, but whether we make the finish line or not, we’ve already won in my opinion. The benefits to our health and fitness, along with the growth I so value have been incredible these past few months. This run will test us, but I think we’re up for the challenge. I won’t tell you yet what I have planned if all goes well, save that for another blog post.
Until then, PLEASE, please, Please, set yourself at least one Breakthrough Goal – that goal that will change your life forever, that goal that gets you super excited, that goal that’ll make you wake up at 5am and hammer through each day like a champion. Set it today and start working towards it, you never know how quickly it might come true.
I hope you’ve gotten something out of this post, or enjoyed the pictures at the least. Please reach out to me in the comments below and find me on Facebook here, I’d love to hear your stories of adventures too!
Keep Well and Keep Inspiring,