This is a guest post from Kevin DeVries, founder of Grace Explorations and lead mountaineer for the award-winning movie, Finding Noah. In episode 45 of the BoldIdea podcast, he talked about trauma and misadventure.
Great things are done when men and mountains meet. – William Blake
Mount Everest, the tallest point on planet earth at 29,029 Ft. (8,848 m), is both a mountain and myth. Those who climb Everest are climbing more than a mountain. They are climbing a myth; a story whose origin remains unknown, and therefore cannot be fully explained.
As a true and mythic mountain, Mt. Everest casts a long shadow on the meaning of our existence. It lives as a fleeting expression; a cloud of metaphors passing over precarious peaks, cloaked in the shrouded mists of a mountain’s hallowed halls and ragged ravines rustling with rumor of a life least understood. Our deepest life is a waking dream, and Everest is the wildest dream. Its iconic peak is a master metaphor for mankind.
Because Everest’s stratospheric peak rises to the cruising altitude of commercial aircraft, the air pressure at the summit is about one-third what it is at sea level. It takes approximately five weeks to acclimate and climb to Camp III at 23,500 feet from the trailhead 12,000 feet below. Here, at Camp III, there is not enough oxygen in the atmosphere to heal a paper cut. Without supplemental oxygen, your lungs and brain can fill with fluid as your body literally drowns you to death. You’re a fish out of water. You can barely breathe and you virtually have no appetite for anything except sleep.
At Camp III, climbers sleep with oxygen before doing the unthinkable the next morning. Instead of continuing to climb up to the Camp IV @ 26,300 feet, (the infamous Death Zone where the human body is no longer able to acclimate) climbers descend through the notoriously unstable Khumbu Icefall, across aluminum ladders swaying over gaping crevasses, past BASE CAMP @ 17,598 Ft, all the way down to the trailhead 12,000 feet below. Why? All the oxygen built up over weeks in your blood stream is keeping you alive to understand this: the way up is down because nothing heals in thin air.
You don’t lose any acclimatization going down. In fact, when your appetite and optimal health returns after several days at lower altitude, you can ascend to Everest’s summit in less than two weeks. Great destinies demand greater descents. It’s true on the mountain and it’s true in our own lives. The pain and failure you feel in the descent is redemptive not punitive. You’re not a prisoner being punished. You’re a patient being perfected.
If you want to climb high, you must be humbled and healed first. You have to go down to get well. You cannot heal if you cannot feel. You’re not a criminal. You’re a climber. We’re all mythic mountaineers climbing mountains to find our message where marvel and madness struggle for mastery in the margins—where life hurts but never seems to heal. As a good surgeon, God allows hurt to heal us because feeling is healing.
I’ve climbed five of the seven continental summits, skied to the North Pole and searched for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat. And, I’ve endured divorce, bankruptcy, and loss of home—all to discover this truth: the True Summit is Base Camp.
The summit is only halftime. The true summit is Base Camp. Success is halftime. Significance is final. Most climbing fatalities occur during the descent due to fatigue and blurred judgment. The ascent tells a man what he can do. The descent teaches a man who he is. As a result, most men know what they do, but very few know who they really are. We do not conquer the mountain, only ourselves.