GO WHERE THEY THOUGHT YOU COULD NOT GO
As the last glimmer of sunlight shone over me and the snowy volcano,
I embraced its warmth and wondered if I was going to survive the night.
Darkness settled over the sprawling Andes Mountain valley.
They had warned me that it could not be done, should not be done.
But I, alone in my tent, knew that I would awake to see the light.
NEVER QUIT QUICK
The adventure began earlier that morning when some friends and I left our home to go hiking. We were living in the south of Chile in a small resort town called Puerto Varas as English teachers at Idiomas Sin Fronteras. We rushed to barely make the local bus just as the sun grazed over the snowy volcanoes that silhouetted the lake below. This was winter in Southern Chile, where it rained five days a week, so the fact there was sunlight at all was a miracle.
After a few bus rides through the bucolic countryside, fueled on instant coffee and empanadas and pay-per-megabyte data plans, we arrived at the base of Puyehue National Park, yet still 18 kilometers from our hike up the volcano. When we finally hitchhiked to the trailhead at Antillanca Ski Resort, the coveted sunlight was already fading away.
We spoke with some local hikers about our proposed route, and they said, "I wouldn't recommend it. The snow is too thick, the trail isn't marked well, turn back now and we'll give you a ride to the bus station."
I thanked them for their advice, but the icy mountain peaks shined in the sunlight smiling at me. I said to my friend, "get home safe and I'll see you tomorrow." Then I turned and ran up the snow-covered hillside.
YOUR HOME IS HERE
I raced up the mountainside chasing the setting sun. In the distance, volcanoes lined the cordillera. One by one, they created a divide, the expansive mountain range separating the unexplored space between Chile and Argentina.
Although I was entirely alone on an unknown mountainside in a foreign country, I was home.
Once I arrived to a relatively flat and snow free apex, I threw up my tent just before the sun could set. A myriad of pink, purple and orange sunlit snowy peaks gleamed in the alpenglow's last sunny embrace. I screamed with glee. Not a soul to hear me near, not a faint echo cried. I screamed for my freedom, for my independence, for the trust and goodwill in my heart that believed I could make it. I screamed to release my fear.
Never had I camped alone before, and nothing can prepare you for sleeping on an icy peak alone. You just do it. While I ate my dinner in near darkness, a shadow emerged in the sky sailing right toward me. A hawk, smelling my tuna dinner, soared toward my face. I screamed again and it changed course and sailed away.
Crawled inside my Big Agnes bag on sticks, cocooned in Patagonia down jackets and thermals, I began to write in my journal. Frozen and exhausted, I said a prayer of gratitude, and knew if I made it to the morning light I'd be alright.
WHEN I WOKE
Fear speaks to us when there is silence. It creeps up the back of our neck into the amygdala and welcomes itself as a permanent resident. Its purpose as our primordial survival instinct is occupied instead with irrational self-doubts, fear of imaginary painful situations, and hypothetical what-ifs that probably never materialize.
I tossed and turn throughout the night, hugging myself continuously to stay warm and feel loved.
When the slightest hint of light slipped into the sky. I rose to see the immaculate landscape unfold before me. The sprawling snowy mountain curves showed their soft, supple edges. Leaving my body like a bird from the nest I fly.
THE ADVENTURE NEVER ENDS
Warmed by the morning light, I packed up camp and set off to complete my hike to the summit of the volcano. Fortunately, the day before the Chilean Army was training on the mountain so I had a direct route to the top; I simply had to follow their footsteps through the snow.
When I arrived at the top, triumphantly basking in the victory of self belief, I knew I had broken through a huge mental barrier. This adventure proved to me that anything is possible. Fear is a guide, a subconscious tool your brain uses to protect you. However, it can also limit your potential. By pushing fear aside, and placing faith in myself, I was able to survive the night, summit the volcano and witness one of the most breathtaking landscapes before my eyes.