I learned the hard way that you don’t “conquer” a mountain.
In 2004, I set out to climb (conquer) Mount Rainier. My goal was to get that summit pic of me holding the ice axe over my head while congratulating myself and my teammates for this great achievement.
Well, with my singular focus and a bit of luck, I made it to the summit, but I was so beat up and exhausted, that I thought they’d have to call a helicopter to get me back down to the trailhead.
Realizing no one was coming to save me, I headed down. To make it worse, on the way down, I ended up popping some toenails and getting a bad case of shin bang.
After about a 30-hour round trip, I made it back to the trailhead “dazed and confused.” No mas!
As I reflected on the trip on the way home, it was clear that I did not “enjoy” the climb. I was so focused on getting to the top that I did not appreciate each step along the way to get there.
It took 4 years before I decided to try Mount Rainier again.
This time, I took a much less traveled route and added a couple days to the climb. My goal on this trip was to simply enjoy and appreciate the beauty of being in the mountains and living each moment at its most basic existence—food, clothing, and shelter. And if I made it to the summit, that would be a bonus, not the objective.
The feeling from this trip was completely different. Making the shift from “conquering” to “appreciating” was transforming.
From then on, I decided that if I reach a summit, I’ll take a knee instead of raising my ice axe.
Taking a knee is my way of recognizing that you don’t “conquer” a mountain. Mountains humble you. They teach you lessons. And when I’m allowed to reach the summit, I kneel out of respect, awe, gratitude, and appreciation.
A few months ago, I was allowed to reach the summit of Mount Shuksan, a beautiful, majestic peak in northern Washington. And as you can see in this picture, I’m on my knee and I think you can see from the expression on my face how appreciative I am.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m reminded of everything that I and my family have to be thankful for. Life is a grand adventure filled with joy and pain, hopes fulfilled and dashed, and dreams delivered and deferred.
Ultimately, we are all here for a very short time. And the more we can appreciate each moment, each high and low, and live each day embracing each other and celebrating our common humanity, the more we’ll realize what a gift we’re all given.