At the top of the mountain I learnt the meaning of life

An arm wrapped around me, her voice seemed distant, as I sat sobbing on the sharpest shale.

After six hours of climbing, I was exhausted – everything was screaming at me from the tip of my toes to the top of my head.

Whirling around in my head on repeat at deafening decibels was – “What were thinking? You – do this, you must be kidding?”

Throbbing pain of my right hip, shoulder and head, from my latest and greatest slide down the treacherous scree and rock slope with only my butt as a brake, brought me back to reality: I had to get off this mountain.

The only way was to keep going.

I opened my eyes and looked at my climbing buddy, she smiled “are you okay?”

I nodded, she stood gave me her hand, I took it, stood, took in a deep breath and said, “thanks – let’s go”.

This was a turning point for me.

Pushed to my limits – physically, mentally and emotionally – and during a good cleansing sob, and repeatedly saying, in my head I hope, “teleport me home to my family and friends”; I realised it was people that were the most important to me.

And it was also about gratitude, being thankful for the amazing people in my life from those close through to anyone that touched my life in some manner, no matter how small. All these people help me to lead a blessed life.

A life filled with love and support where all my needs and many wants are met.

For a split second, as I stared at a stark, white cross where a climber had fallen, broken a leg and bleed to death; I had the thought this could all disappear.

And I did not want that to happen.

So where was I when this epiphany hit me?

Sitting half way down a mountain known as Licancabur in Bolivia. At 5916-metres this dormant volcano has a reputation of only 10 per cent of climbers making it to the top. We had become a statistic, only one of our team had made it. The majority, including me, had turned around at 5300m.

We had the determination and passion but not the right guides, logistics or itinerary.

I was disappointed but not defeated. I was proud and believed we had done an admirable job with the odds against us.

It had been worth it for so many reasons. One important reason was it had brought nine women together to make a difference in a world far removed from our own.

We were the 3 Peaks 3 Weeks – South America 2014 team.

Climbing three peaks in three weeks in three countries; challenging ourselves while raising funds and awareness of three grassroots not-for-profit organisations in the Andes.

Eight wonderful women shared this journey with me. Seven were strangers and the eighth a fellow Novocastrian and friend Melinda Lee Harvey. We were from diverse backgrounds with our own strengths and stories. However, we were connected by a philanthropic thread and love of adventure and outdoors and now bonded by this trip.

Together we travelled Peru, Bolivia and Chile.Saw three diverse environments – Machu Picchu, Atacama Desert and Patagonia. Climbed three mountains – Huayna Picchu, Licancabur and Oportos. Met with three empowering groups – GirlSportWorks, The Mountain Institute and Conservacion Patagonica. Raised more than $100,000 for these organisations to continue their programs in health, sustainability and conservation.

On this trip, it was easy to become lost in the moment and be a child again immersed in a world filled with wonder, danger and first-time experiences.

I ate guinea pig, drank purple corn juice, listened to pan pipes, rode a horse on precipice in the Andes, crossed a landslide or two – all amazing experiences.

However, when stripped back, the biggest lesson was starting to discover or maybe more to the point, rediscover myself – what touches my heart and what chills it.

Street parades colour and noise; playing, singing, jumping puddles, especially with children; nature with all its wonder of animals, snow, rainbows, butterflies, birds, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, rivers, lakes and coastline; people’s kindness through a hug, smile, chat, or phone call; reading, swimming, walking, skipping, dancing, hiking, taking photographs and laughing – they all warm my heart and are joyful memories.

On the flip side, it is self-criticism, negative self-talk, doubting my abilities, comparing myself to others, lack of trust in myself and others and self-imposed isolation, that chills me to the core and I sometimes give them the power to darken my moods and day. I found I am not alone with these negative behaviours and the struggle to nullify them.

Although, as a student of myself, I am learning to live in the moment; respect and look after myself; listen to my heart and body; to lighten up as life is wonderful and smile more.

It is really okay to be me and not follow the crowd or be concerned about others’ opinions of me or my decisions.

More importantly, if I let go of control and fear and go with the flow, I have the power to achieve so much.

It has been close to four months, since I have returned from South America where I discovered more about myself than the wonders that surrounded me.

Some days I struggle to remember the lessons learnt as I become engulfed in the everyday grind of life.

It is so easy to be swallowed up by daily tasks and the whirl it creates physically and mentally.

Each day, I try my hardest to focus on continuing my journey but some days it seems near impossible as I become swamped and start to sweat the small stuff once again.

At these times, it is the wonder of nature and people’s kindness that helps me to refocus.

Also, a ring bought in Peru has become an amulet.

It has the power to remind me I lead a blessed life that I mostly take for granted. Like a comfortable bed, hot showers, clean clothes and flushing toilets; let alone the basics of shelter, fresh water, good food, health and safety.

Every day I remind myself to be grateful for these things and many more, including the people in my life and especially the love and support of family and friends – a simple task but sometimes a hard one.


Kim-Cherie x

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