Boots to Slippers: Reflections on 2015

2015 definitely marked some dramatic shifts in my life, from ascents of stunning peaks in the Alaska Range, the Italian Dolomites, the Wind River Range of Wyoming, and back home again to try to make sense of these journeys and discover the deeper meanings and motivations behind them. I spent much of the first half of the year squeezed into mountaineering boots or rock climbing shoes and shivering on narrow ledges, and the second half, in slippers, sitting in front of my talking computer with a cup of coffee, contemplating what living a “No Barriers Life” really means.

Photo Credit: David Gillette

Photo Credit: Skyler Williams

In May, I was finally able to summit Mt. Huntington in Alaska, my fourth try, thanks to the help of my partners, Mike Gibbs and Dave Shuman. Our 50-hour push, from tent to summit to tent again, tested me physically and mentally. When we stood on top, we actually caught the last rays of the 9:00 PM sun before it dipped beneath the mountain. Afterwards, it was a long rappel through the night.

Photo Credits: Mike Gibbs and Dave Shuman

In August, I headed to the Marmolada with my friends, Timmy O’Neill and Rob Pizem. The Marmolada is a nearly 3,000-foot vertical rock face in the Italian Dolomites. Despite the cold and foggy conditions, we climbed slippery, wet, and loose limestone for 13 hours, through 20 roped pitches, and reached the summit at 6:00 PM. Like Huntington, we felt the elusive traces of sun on top, before it was engulfed again by clouds.

Photo Credits: Manrico Dell'Agnola

In September, I joined ten No Barriers Warriors on an expedition up Gannett Peak in Wyoming. After months of training and team building, we encountered plenty of physical hurdles along the trail, but the real purpose behind the experience was to attack the mental and emotional barriers that our team of veterans carried from their time in service to our country. The mountains have a way of healing scars and bringing us closer to that internal light we talk about at No Barriers: “What’s within us is stronger than what’s in our way.”

Photo Credits: Didrik Johnck

In the second half of 2015 I dove into the process of writing my third book, tentatively entitled No Barriers. Part memoir, part road map, part action-adventure, this book is very personal to me. After I climbed Everest in 2001, our expedition leader, Pasquale Scaturro, told me: “Don’t let Everest be the greatest thing you ever do.” He had a glimmer of a smile in his voice, but I knew his advice was serious. Living with No Barriers, instead of helplessness, is a constant struggle, requiring an ongoing, never-ending reach to become the best versions of ourselves, and there is a lot of stumbling, flailing, and failing along the way.

Photo Credit: Manrico Dell'Agnola

Originally, this book was meant to focus on my experience learning to kayak and ultimately to paddle down the Grand Canyon, but it’s now morphed way beyond that. I’m finding this concept of No Barriers is universal. It goes well beyond sports, adventure, or disability. It weaves through every aspect of our lives, from our relationships, our families, the messages we want to teach to our kids, our work, the things we want to build, and our purpose. I’m also finding it’s about the people we meet in the thick of it, who teach us what it means to confront fear and push forward, despite obstacles that should have crushed them. In a time when our country, and the world, seems so divided, our journeys through hardships and challenges should actually unite us.

I think this poem from my neighbor, Patrick Foss, sums it up best.

Winter Solstice

The man looked my friend straight in the eyes and said,

"You've been through a lot."

My friend started sobbing…

Who has not been "through a lot"?

It is when we recognize it in each other that we know love.

We unite in our endurance

As our minds embrace, our histories mingle.

We lean in to share the experience.

We lean in to touch one another.

And we know we are alike.

By Patrick Foss

Happy New Year.