I did it! Last weekend, I completed the Everesting 29029 event.
I completed 11 ascents and hiked for 19 hours on Friday. Then, after a couple hours of sleep, I finished the last 4 ascents in just over 7 hours to complete the challenge.
It was so freaking hot, and the route was nearly fully exposed to the sun all day day.
It was mentally hard. The same route, the same mountain for 15 times.
And it was pretty freaking steep. There were no flat parts. Just straight up. The mountain was unforgiving.
While I’m not yet ready to commit to another Everesting event, I learned plenty of life lessons on the mountain last weekend. Here are my top 10, in no particular order:
This one’s for those of us who don’t like asking for help. Each ascent I completed on my own was significantly harder mentally than those I finished with others. Because here’s the thing: we’re each at our best when we’re helping others succeed and reach their goals.
Just like there is no magic pill or short cut. There is one way to the top: take one step and then another, and keep going until you reach the top.
When we’re creating new habits, it’s easy to slip back into our old ways. We can easily talk ourselves into and out of something. Don’t find yourself in the position where you’re negotiating with yourself. Instead, make a plan, and work the plan. Take the decision out of it. Climb to the top, ride the gondola down, head right back up the mountain.
(aka Be Here Now.) It’s easy to become overwhelmed or frustrated with the pace of progress when you start thinking about all.the.things you have to do to get where you’re going. Instead, concentrate on completing the task at hand, which is literally taking the next step. Focus only on what’s in front of you. Bring your thoughts back to what you’re doing. Be here now.
I couldn’t figure out how I was going to climb the steepest part of the mountain, aka “The Wall.” It was 10 yards of shale and sand, and very, very steep. But you can only stare at it and hype yourself up so long. I had to climb the wall. I had to take action. Sure, it was a hard climb, but much easier than I feared it would be. Easy enough, I even climbed it twice in the dark!
Last weekend was unseasonably hot in Sun Valley. Like, nearly record-breaking heat. And the course route was fully exposed nearly the entire day. One of the event founders was joking about that one tree throwing shade where everyone stopped on the route. The funny part: I know exactly the tree he was talking about because we all stopped in that shade. It was a sweet respite from hiking in the hot sun.
But here’s the thing: there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about the weather. The only thing within my control was how I reacted to the heat. It meant hiking some parts slower than I’d planned. It meant experimenting with hydration and electrolytes to stave off heat exhaustion and dehydration. It meant dipping a wash cloth in a tub filled with ice water, and wearing that wash cloth over my shoulders.
You build character when you face adversity head-on. Since none of us can control the weather, we’d best learn to control our reactions to situations that are less than ideal.
The race is against the clock. You either finish and complete all 15 ascents in 36 hours, or you don’t. It’s really that simple. But it becomes a math problem. In general, each successive ascent takes just a little longer than the previous ascent, and sometimes, it takes A LOT longer. That means you have to do the math and know the numbers. How many ascents before dinner? Before sleep? Overnight?
My goal was to do 10 ascents before going to bed. Instead, I chose to do 11. There was something about only having 4 to do on the last day that, when I was in the thick of it, seemed much more palatable than 5 more. And it was the right decision for me.
When you think you’re tired or you can’t go any farther or your interest is waning, challenge yourself to do 1 more.
You’ve heard about eating that elephant one bite at a time. Same thing goes for climbing mountains. While my race plan going in was to maintain a slow and steady pace — you know, the whole tortoise and hare thing — the coach challenged me to change up my approach on the fifth ascent. Instead of tackling each half-mile stretch without stopping, he suggested hiking 50 steps to the next sign or the next big rock or the next whatever. Then, take a break and let your heart rate recover. Then, hike to the next marker. Just like eating that elephant one bite at a time, tackling the climb in small chunks with short rests in between was a game-changer.
The overall time, the lack of sleep, the number of steps, the total time on your feet, the repetition and monotony, the heat, all combined to create “a challenge to check your soul.” While what we were doing wasn’t easy, there was no single piece that was hard. It was the particular combination of mental and physical challenges that tested your grit and resilience and personal mettle. But when you set your mind to it, you can do hard things.
Sure, you can train, and log hours and miles of hiking before the big event. But there is no way to create a perfect testing or training plan that will put you through the paces of climbing a mountain 15 times. Accordingly, there is no way to truly prepare for the mental struggles encountered on the mountain. You just have to experience it and move through it. Still, you have to take the physical training seriously and trust that your body is ready even when your thoughts are wavering.