Flashback to volcano climb

I had a job interview yesterday and by far the most interesting question posed to me was to describe an achievement, personal or professional, that I have experienced and why it was so memorable.

Immediately, my mind floated back in time to March 2009 and the memory of Volcán Villarrica outside of Pucón, Chile. The past couple months had been filled with unforgettable days and nights of novel experiences – hikes to Incan ruins, new friendships, living in the jungle without electricity or internet, 24 hour bus rides, running down a sand hill in the Atacama desert – why not add climbing a volcano onto the list? So I joined my friends in planning to climb this volcano, blissfully unaware that it would be the most physically demanding activity of my life at that time and still is to this date.

Volcan Villarrica

Why was it such an accomplishment? Because the climb consisted of 5 and a half almost merciless hours of ascent, stopping periodically only for nourishment and rehydration, and being frequently reminded by our guides that we had to get to the top before the increasing winds and cloud cover threatened to prevent us from making it all the way. Part of the volcano was covered by a glacier, and we even had to sport special gear on our hiking boots part of the way to avoid slipping on the snow and ice.

I still remember that combination of raw emotions when I had finally reached the top – friends already there and waiting – and there were no illusions of grandeur at the time. I felt relief, gratitude, serenity, a humble appreciation for what I had just accomplished; but exhaustion was probably primary. True, I’d reached the point of “tired” much earlier on, but at the top I could allow myself the luxury to be devoid of energy for a while, knowing that there wasn’t anywhere higher to go and that the pressure was over. While catching my breath and trying to slow down my pulse, I soaked up what I could – watching the clouds in all directions obscuring the wilderness and the town of Pucon, peeking down the crater at the top of the volcano, smelling the sulfur and other gases that contributed to my fatigue, posing for pictures (that didn’t turn out too great).

Physically draining, mentally challenging, spiritually fulfilling…From this day I believe I cultivated a discipline in me that still endures and urges me to “keep going” however tired I may be, how difficult it is to breathe, how sore my muscles are, how much sweat has soaked my clothes. Physical effort notwithstanding, this day taught me that my perseverance, determination, true resolve, and positive attitude can channel something from deep within myself to do anything I truly want in life. The trouble is, most often I can’t seem to make up mind about what that is…

And in case you were wondering, getting down the mountain was less strenuous and a whole lot easier and funner – sliding down the icy glacier! Sometimes we even had to drag the ice pick in the snow to slow down!

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