As an individual, I feel often that challenge defines me. How we deal with challenges in life reflects our strengths, weaknesses and all the little peculiarities and quirks of our personality. Challenges also offers avenues for growth. The mistakes we make and the problems we solve assemble the building blocks of who we are. When I work with NOLS, words that often come up in discussions in being a leader in life is how we deal uncertainty and adversity. Whether this is in the office or deep in the Selkirk mountains, the message is the same.
The thing about challenge though is the amount you take on. In the context of your home, buying a new home, having a baby, planning your best friends wedding and starting a new job all at once is generally not recommended. In our daily lives, taking on too much can have big repercussions. In the context of the mountains, taking on too much can mean tremendous pain, loneliness, failure or a chance at killing yourself. Simultaneously it has the ability to be incredibly rewarding. In that regard challenge can be remarkably addicting. We mountain athletes quest for a harder route, a higher mountain, a steeper descent, etc. to keep feeling like we're being challenged. There is risk in upping the challenge and you have be careful not to invite too much into your life without being ready.
When the opportunity came up to traverse the Selkirk Range as part of the team, it seemed big. With potentially up to 8 weeks in the mountains undertaking the entire traverse, it would be nearly twice as long as past expeditions I'd undertaken. After some humming and hawing I committed and I knew there was no turning back on my word. It made me nervous but the stress only inspired me to train and mentally prepare months in advance.
This trip played a big part in teaching me something else about challenge. It's something I've slowly been coming to understand and I now feel has been made clear: fear of the challenge is often the greatest challenge of all. What made the trip so successful and so damn enjoyable was the fearlessness of the team and ability to face challenge with a positive attitude and laughter. Here's an example: Steve would often joke masochistically that he wanted "Hardship!". We'd be thrashing, post-holing over logs while trying to pull on willows that were simultaneously trying to push us down. We'd laugh and yell at Steve asking "Is this enough hardship for you Steve?". He'd turn to face us with a fist clenched, his eyes masked behind glasses, and exclaim "Hard-SHIP!" followed by a smile, "This isn't hardship yet!". It made us laugh and we'd keep trucking on cursing Steve and his need for hardship; meanwhile somehow enjoying getting whipped in the face by branches and burning energy grovelling with skis on our packs. Once we finally reached the alpine with skis on our feet (where they belong), we'd stop and wonder why we were so tired already and so behind in time. Somehow the hours in the valley bottom battling the bush to ascend out had flown by so quickly that looking back right then, we couldn't imagine that could be the cause for the fatigue.
A big objective like traversing the Selkirk mountain range was challenging, but once you break it apart week by week, day by day, hour by hour, it becomes quite tangible. The key is to overcome the trepidation of the entire traverse and to face it with a positive attitude and a smile. As individuals, I'm sure we've all come to grow in some way, big or small from our expeditions. I'm sure that this trip brought out some of the best and worst of everyone and I'm glad I could share this expedition with friends and to see us all come out smiling.
And to finish, here are some before and after photos of us from our trip. The result of 35 days in the mountains on skis (and foot).
Thanks to MEC for their support of this expedition.