14 Days and Counting

It’s two weeks today until I leave on a two month long expedition to K2. I can’t believe that after nearly a year in the planning, it’s finally here.

People want to know how I’m feeling. Nervous? Excited? I’m feeling all of those things and more.

Mostly, I wonder if I’m making a good decision. Climbing mountains is ultimately about assessing risk and reward: is the danger I am about to face worth it?

It’s a really hard question to answer, because the bottom line is that, no, no mountain is worth dying for. And yet we put our lives on the line every time we step on to the hill.

Therefore, I have to make a decision about how comfortable I am about pushing those limits and walking that fine line between life and death. I have to consider whether what I am doing will kill me aged 28, or whether it will more likely be another great experience that I’ll look back on when I am 98. Are the odds skewed in my favour, or against me?

The frustrating thing is that there is no crystal ball, I can’t guarantee that I will return from K2. I just have to believe that the odds are in my favour. I have to trust my judgement and instincts, so that if the moment comes when the odds become truly clear, I will have the courage to turn back, or the ability to get out of harm’s way.

People also ask me, why K2? That’s an even more difficult question to answer, because in some ways, K2 chose me. K2 has been lingering in the back of my mind for many years, but it was only last year that a plan began to form, and before I knew it, my life was on a trajectory towards the mountain, as if almost magnetically drawn. I feel like I have merely done what I was meant to do- I feel like my entire life has been leading up to this expedition.

So finally, is it worth the risk? What do I have to gain for putting myself in so much danger, suffering on a mountain in the Karakoram and leaving my loved ones behind to worry about me for two long months? The answer, for me, lies in everything that I believe life is about. For me, setting an audacious goal, problem solving towards it, dealing with risk and facing death and getting to experience a truly breathtaking part of our planet is what it is to be human.

I don’t believe that we are supposed to live within our comfort zones, but I do believe that when we take on risk and challenge ourselves, the most incredible things can happen. Today, the things I cherish most in life are my loved ones, the amazing memories I have from my travels, and I am also incredibly grateful for the opportunities that a life in the mountains has given me. But, I have had to face my own mortality, and perhaps that’s a good thing, as Steve Jobs so eloquently put it:

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Climbing the world’s highest mountains reminds of me what is truly important: my family, my boyfriend and my friends. Climbing the world’s highest mountains keeps me grounded. They remind me that the things that we get bogged down with every day are completely secondary to what’s really important. Climbing the world’s highest mountains don’t make me happy, but they certainly help. I have seen, experienced and learnt things I don’t think I could have done spending my life any other way. I just see myself following my heart, because in the face of death there is no reason not to.