Patagonia Andes

Well I'm a big fan of "do it or don't", and if you're going to take the opportunity to learn the leadership, life efficiency, and backcountry skills necessary to climb mountains, then the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is the best way to do it. Eagerly signing onto their Patagonia Mountaineering course, I showed up in Coyhaique Chile as the only Canadian in our group of 16 strong. The spark of excitement in my eyes was far from subtle.

We did have a German bear of a man though. After a "We should really stick together eh? You know how these American's can get" followed by the classic cowboy finger gunshot motions to complete the joke, he was quick to open up and someone I greatly enjoyed having around.

What followed during our month long expedition and 120 km's of travel in the middle "god who actually has a map" nowhere, we endured everything the Andes could throw at us and more. It was sweat out all your water hot. It was up to your waist in rapid river wet. And on my favourite days when we went for summits, it was fight through the snow cold. Without a doubt, I was getting the experience I had looked forward to for so long.

A big part of climbing is learning to deal with challenges as they come without getting too caught up in next steps, because no matter how good your plan is on paper something always goes wrong. When halfway through the course, and after an extended push through some of the most difficult terrain we had encountered at that point, arriving at our resupply drop off to find nothing there qualified as a unique challenge. Being on strict rations the entire time while managing our own ever present hunger in doing so, of course we had devoured nearly everything we had left the night before. Backcountry pizza sounded like such a great idea then. Now maybe it wasn't the smartest decision.

So a good question is what happens when you take a group of first world kids, expose them to real hunger and doubt about how they're going get food for once, then tell them that if they want to eat they need to put their packs back on and travel to a distant guide run farm? They deal with it of course, and keep going. And did we ever! When asked at the end of the course what our highlights were, that "Hunger March" day was high on everyone's list. What we felt and feared for is far from new for many people around the globe, and the experience opened our eyes to that very reality.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. That's part of what draws me to climbing, and what guides a lot of my decisions now. Looking back, I have this trip to thank for many of the things I've accomplished to date, and I'm excited to see where it'll lead me next.

There's always more mountains!

Mt. San Jacinto

California 2015