Finding purpose in the mountains.
It was enough, until it wasn’t enough. Summit after summit tagged, bagged and marked by a self-fulfilling selfie. That selfie would then be over-edited for the obligatory social media post which would brag about my epicness. Then, it was on to the next one. To be fair to my twenty year old self, nothing really mattered back then. I was just a kid who was fresh out of college—running away from med school—and looking for something cool to do, and climbing mountains invigorated my soul. Mountains were my sanctuary and climbing them was my life but the aching desire to do more with my life—and my adventures—was welling up inside.
The floodgates to my future opened one fateful morning when I opened BACKPACKER Magazine and found an invite to join a fundraising climb of Mt. Whitney to benefit Big City Mountaineers. Before that article, I had never heard of Big City Mountaineers (BCM) or their Summit for Someone Program. However, I was intimately familiar with the ethos that time spent in the wilderness is transforming and healing—that was my story. The coolest part of the climb? All the money raised would help BCM take urban youth on wilderness-mentoring trips! An overwhelming desire to be a part of this endeavor manifested within. I signed up.
At the time, it would have been impossible to know the path of positivity that signing up for that Summit for Someone climb would lead me down. Looking back, seven years and seven summits later, I’m so stoked that I trusted that gut feeling, signed up and started helping others through my adventures. Of course, when I first laid eyes on Mt. Whitney I was 100% percent positive that I was going to die! True story. Fortunately, Mt. Whitney was kind to our team and our time spent on the Mountaineer’s Route was wild and formative. The next year I signed up to climb Mt. Shasta and after that BCM asked me to be an ambassador for their Summit for Someone program. Since then, I’ve represented BCM on many mountains, met a wealth of inspiring people and been given countless opportunities. My mentor at BCM, Jeff Weidman, equates the time, effort and money donated to BCM as credits to your “karma account.” Consider your karma account as a theoretical holding of the good vibes you have put out into the universe. Thanks to Jeff’s advice I have intentionally invested in my karma account and the interest earned has made me rich beyond all measure.
We ambled around high-altitude hanging valleys, walked through unthinkably deep gorges, travelled many miles on snow and tip-toed over majestic suspension bridges.
That same guttural feeling I had when I saw the invite to the Mt. Whitney climb showed up again recently. Coincidentally, I was thumbing my way through a BACKPACKER Magazine and saw an editor’s note supporting another worthy cause. A pair of earthquakes devastated Nepal in 2015 and BACKPACKER’s Editor-in-Chief, Dennis Lewon’s vision was to bring a group of readers to Nepal to help rebuild a trio of schools with the All Hands And Hearts organization. And, to celebrate the rebuilding efforts the trip would finish with a rare Himalayan trek—I signed up.
I just got back from that trip to Nepal and I’m so glad that I signed up! Our BACKPACKER crew spent an entire week helping All Hands And Hearts rebuild three schools in a remote outpost amongst the Himalayan Foothills. We worked beside, and interacted with Nepali locals and a diverse group of volunteers representing 30 different countries. We endured electrical storms, sweltering heat, smoke from surrounding agricultural burns, incredibly spicy food, pit toilets and the most labor intensive work days imaginable! It was a life altering experience and I almost considered skipping the trek to stay and help.
Enduring the struggle of the work week turned our Himalayan trek into a victory lap. We made the rugged, twelve hour journey from Kathmandu through the foothills and up to our jumping off point, a hillside hamlet called Kodo. From there we could see the mouth of the gorge which barred us from our objective, the Nar Phu Valley. Over the next ten days we ambled around high-altitude hanging valleys, walked through unthinkably deep gorges, travelled many miles on snow and tip-toed over majestic suspension bridges. Our journey took us from the lush lands of the foothills through the worlds highest mountains and all the way to the high altitude dessert of the Trans-Himalaya—within seven miles of the Tibetan border.
Nepal escalated my adventures to another level. All because I had the audacity to sign up. Years ago, when I told my friends and family that I wanted to raise five grand and drive across the country to climb Mt. Whitney for Big City Mountaineers they thought I was crazy and they certainly had a point. That is a particular kind of crazy but if I hadn’t listened to that voice inside I would have missed out on more opportunities than I could have ever imagined. My friends and family have grown with me over the years and when I told them I wanted to spend five grand to fly to Nepal to help rebuild schools and then go trek in a newly opened region of the Himalaya they thought I would be crazy not to go!
My advice to you is to invest in your karma account by adding some soul to your next adventure. When you see a worthy cause you want to support, sign up—literally or metaphorically—and figure out the rest. Figure out a way to help the world on your next trip by volunteering to help a community in need, climb a mountain as a good deed, take on some trail work or even organize your own #trashtag cleanup! Adding a little soul to your adventure is like adding SOLE footbeds to your shoes. You could go without but you would miss out on the most incredible feeling!