How to Summit Life’s Everyday Mountains

Written by Ingo Loge

August 26, 2010


Don’t give up on your dreams.

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” ~Confucius

How can a mountain better prepare us for life? At over 14,000 feet, there’s more to learn than I would have thought.

A few years ago I sat on top of Mt. Whitney, a 1400 + foot mountain off of the 395 just outside of Lone Pine, California. ( it is actually the highest mountain in the continental U.S.)  It was my first real summit and I was proud. Getting there took me through two days of snow, ice and below-freezing camping conditions, using crampons, an ice axe, and more layers than I thought I owned.

As I climbed, and especially on my way down, I began to realize the lessons required to reach the top and make it back down safely. As it turns out, the most important rules are just as relevant in the snow as they are in conquering our everyday challenges.

When was the last time you reached a mountain summit, whether outdoors or in life?

We face our own mountains everyday. Some small. Some big. There’s always a summit we want to reach. Maybe it’s running those few miles before work, making that intimidating sales call, or running your business. Goals, no matter the size, require a strategy for success.

A cold tall mountain reinforced an approach that can convert life’s everyday challenges into gratifying accomplishments.

A Guide to Reaching Life’s Summits:

Pack light. I wish I took this more seriously. Every unnecessary piece of gear complicates things and detracts from the experience. Aside from the bare necessities, things do not make life better. They often cause more stress and keep you from what’s most important. The lighter your pack the better. Life is too short to be burdened with excessive possessions, emotional baggage or regrets. Positive thoughts, relationships and experiences weigh nothing at all. Pile them on and leave the rest behind. They’ll lift you to the top.

Take one step at a time. Any major accomplishment can be broken down into a series of single steps. My pattern for the mountain was 15 steps up, 15 breaths of rest. I did that for 7 hours. If I would have only focused on the very top, frustration would have overcome me. If your summit is too intimidating, break it into smaller steps. Focus on those one by one. Eventually one step will be the one that puts you on top.

Don’t go at it alone. When climbing, a partner is a must. For safety, support, camaraderie, motivation and simply to share the journey. You’d be silly (and putting yourself in great danger) to go up alone. Life is meant to be experienced with others. It makes the valleys shallower and the peaks higher. Relationships magnify experiences and help you do things that prove impossible alone. Don’t leave home without your support team.

Listen to the experts. Halfway up, a passing guide told us if we couldn’t get to the top by 12:30 at the latest, then to turn back. Chances of late day thunderstorms were too great. As amateurs we would have had no idea. While we all ought to experience our own paths, it’s foolish not to learn from and observe the guidance of experts. Choose your life models wisely and keep them close by on your journey.

Slow down. As Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia says, “It’s about how you got there. Not what you’ve accomplished.” Despite what colleagues and competitors may tell you, there is no rush. Rushing on the mountain risks slipping, not acclimating to thinning air, exhaustion and possibly death. In life the biggest risk is that you miss the wonders of everyday experiences in your pursuit to the top. The top is secondary to the process.

Look back and take in the view. There’s never any guarantee that you’ll get to the top, but you always have the ability to stop, take in a deep breath, smile and enjoy the view-whether it’s miles of wilderness or two feet of fog. It’s all wonderful. Every moment of life is a new view to appreciate.

Save some energy for the trip down. We thought the summit was “just over that peak” half a dozen times before it actually was. Conserve energy. Things will inevitably take longer than expected. Don’t be discouraged. Budget your capital, energy and drive appropriately. Rarely is anything in life an all out sprint. Treat it like a marathon. You may need your reserves when you least expect it.

Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory. These are Ed Viesturs’ famous words; the first U.S. man to summit all 14 peaks above 8,000 meters with no bottled oxygen. The summit will be there tomorrow and likely so will yours. If more planning, a stronger team or more support is required, then save the summit for a time when the payout is safer and more probable. If you are outmatched, know when to turn back, only to return stronger and more savvy tomorrow. Stay objective and don’t let short-term excitement get in the way of long-term fulfillment.

Failure is a part of the process. If we would have started our climb the week before, conditions would have been too grave to make it. Be ok with not reaching the summit every time. Falling short is inevitable. You will never learn more than from your failures…at anything. Embrace them.

A daunting summit is nothing more than a challenge. A challenge is simply an opportunity in disguise. You won’t summit every one you come across, but you will become a better person with each attempt.

There will always be another mountain. You are not meant to conquer them all. Past summits are simply preparing you for the next. With the right strategy, you’ll put the top within reach. When your summit arrives, you will be ready.

and if you need a guide might I suggest some coaching and guidance from a seasoned climber like myself?

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“It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.” ~Sir Edmund Hillary

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