As I sit here at the end of what must be my 40th expedition I am watching the team members share emotional words and good byes as if lifelong friends.
Just 9 days ago they were complete strangers. This team have reminded me once again, and have clearly shown to each other, that there is far more to big mountain expeditions than simply reaching a peak or ticking a summit.
Heading home to friends and family they will undoubtedly try and explain what an amazing time they have had and why they enjoyed the expedition so much, why they got emotional and (some) cried on the summit, and why they feel so lost and empty for days on end once home. But it’s pointless, unless they have been too, their friends and family will never fully understand what makes a big mountain expedition so good.
I have thought a lot about what it is that these expeditions have that manages to create such a profound effect on me time and time again. I have discussed it with some of my teams and expedition members, trying to pin point what this invisible thing is.
There are so many dimensions and layers to a big mountain expedition, it’s difficult to articulate and put it into words…but here goes:
For most of my clients, mountaineering is a hobby and a passion. Most have full time jobs that they enjoy. But, for a short period of time, these expeditions allow them the chance to forget about the trials and tribulations of what they know as ‘everyday normal life’. Removing themselves from their daily routine and focus on the important things can help provide some perspective.
It gives me great pleasure to facilitate an experience which inspires people to inject a bit more bounce into their step.
One of the wonderful things about physical exercise is the ability it has to crush you and make you feel utterly bare. It pulls down all the barriers you can have in daily life, and simplifies the world you are in. It removes all the complexities of what society expects from us and allows you to work purely and only against yourself mentally and physically.
Everyone talks to themselves inside their heads, but never more so than when you are giving something your all and your will to succeed and be successful is amplified more than ever.
Teams grow as a family with a central common goal. Everyone finds their place within the team, the role they feel comfortable in, and it takes time for each member to find their comfortable level. On a more academic level this is known as Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Mourning. On expeditions, like mine, these stages are easily identifiable. However, because there is already a central control (leader) making the main decisions the Storming stage is usually bypassed. Its human nature to be liked and wanted and falling into a new family on expedition can be quick and easy.
Time and time again, I am pleasantly surprised by the kindness, selflessness, friendship and trust of individuals on my trips.
Type 2 fun & comfort zones
A vast amount of mountaineering and climbing big mountains is type 2 fun (when it’s not fun at the time, but retrospectively it is fun) – you’re in your stretch zone and it’s the best type of fun. The further you stretch type 2 – without lapsing into type 3 (panic zone) – the more profound the effect of what you have achieved will be. The wonderful thing about entering in to type 2 fun and being in your stretch zone is that there is no guard to hide behind, you’re exposed and your ego is non-existent. You absorb information like a sponge and all your senses are heightened. You’re getting kicks and highs on a daily basis instead of just every now and then.
What the team will experience is completely unique to them. Once back home they try to share and articulate the experience, but however many photos they share no one else will get what made the trip special for them. The jokes and qwerkisms belong only to those in the team, and in a strange way I really like this. No one can take it away and it’s theirs to keep: the memories born from the expedition will stay with the individuals forever. Without exception every person will have learnt something about themselves, and perhaps look at things in a new light. It can be the refresher they need, the opportunity to take a step back and gain a little perspective. They have pushed themselves physically and mentally further than they knew was possible, and with belief, trust and a big dose of sheer determination realise that actually, there is no better feeling than that of pushing yourself to the limit and the feeling of being totally 100% alive –climbing big mountains does this better than anything I’ve ever experienced.
Life is too short not to achieve
There is no word to describe what I’ve just tried to explain because its more than a single word – it’s a detailed, complex, layer of experiences all overlapping and interweaving uniquely to create ‘that something’ that is completely special for each expedition and to each member.
No one will ever truly understand how you feel because they were not there, but a simple look into the eyes of a team member from the same team will speak a thousand words.
These expeditions offer you the chance to be who you want to be without being judged or having to play up to what’s expected. There is no money, the currency is feeling alive.