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Expectations, Reality, and a Trip Up Mt. Adams

Last Friday I took another step towards joining the top 1% of the world by standing 12,300 feet in the air at the summit of Mt. Adams in SW Washington.

It was a fun trip and I learned a lot from my climbing partner, Adam, who I met at Cascade Climbers ­– a great site for anyone who wants to learn about mountaineering.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but notice that on my second climb ever, there was a big gap between some of the expectations I had for the trip and the reality of how it actually played out. And the more I thought about them, the more I realized that the inconsistencies weren’t unique to this trip, but actually relevant to a number of different circumstances I run into regularly in life, work, and adventure.

Generally, the distance between expectations and reality are either a hard pill to swallow or a happy realization. Regardless which way they go, though, “surprising” is almost always a good word to describe it.

Here’s what I learned on my trek up Mt Adams. There’s probably something relevant to your own life:

It was a lot harder than I (or anyone else) expected.

When I climbed Mt. St. Helens last month with no previous experience, I made it up and down in one day feeling fine even after getting lost in the woods and doing an extra 3 miles worth of bushwhacking.

I went into this climb thinking it would be similar. Not even close. Adams is a much taller and more difficult mountain and I wasn’t prepared for the mental challenge it presented.

You don’t need to be an expert to get where you’re going in life, but don’t lure yourself into a false sense of security just because you have a little experience. Life has a funny way of changing once you think you have it all figured out.

The weather was the opposite of what I expected.

Mountains are supposed to be snowy, windy, and cold, right? That’s what I prepared for, but when we set up camp at 9,000 feet, it was over 85 degrees out. There was snow as far as the eye could see, but I felt like I was standing on the beach and spent most of the afternoon with my shirt off.

Even when you think you know what you’re getting into, there’s just no way to know for sure until you actually do it. The weather on a mountain is just as unpredictable as the outcomes of the challenges you give yourself in life. Just because you’re predicting failure doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll get if you muster up the courage to give it a shot.

Animals live at the summit.

I was 100% certain that there’s no way any animal could survive at such a high altitude where it’s normally frigid, unsheltered, and there’s little or nothing to eat. Then I saw a hummingbird, a mouse, bees, and hundreds of spiders and other insects going about their day in a field of snow on top of a mountain where I was having a hard time just catching my breath.

Despite convincing myself otherwise, these creatures have found a way to make their life in what I considered an unlivable environment.

And isn’t that how we all find our success? By doing the things we know we’re meant for despite the fact that nobody else can understand how it’s possible we get along?

When I tell people now that I’m a blogger, the standard reaction is “but what’s your job?” and they wonder what secret I’m keeping from them when I explain that that is my job.

There’s probably something interesting that you do and few else can understand why it works for you. In life and at work, we succeed by thriving where others can’t.

More Than an Adventure

As you can see, these missions I’m on are a lot more than random adventures, though there’s really nothing wrong with having a random adventure just for the sake of it.

Whether I set out to or not, I tend to learn something very important about myself, other people, or the world in general by the time I complete one.

I know this now, and no longer need much of a specific reason why I do this when others ask. The life lessons that come with adventure are reason enough to pursue it.

Coming back with something that I can show for it is less of a concern now that I know that the intangible benefit that I get from it. The improvement to my life that I can’t quite explain but can feel with all of my being is all the explanation I need to say “yes” when an opportunity comes knocking.

How about you? What have you learned from your own expectations?


You can see all the pictures from this climb over at my flickr page.

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