A Patagonia Education

A short reflection from my recent Patagonia season. 

When I first started going to the mountains, everything seemed complicated. Each time I laced up my boots I felt as though I was preparing for battle. Not against the mountains of course, I was fighting against myself- against my inadequacies- and in my initial months of attempting to be a mountaineer I was rubbed raw with failure. Bailing characterized my exploits. I had big dreams, little knowledge, and a healthy dose of fear. I was discouraged but grateful; I had never experienced an activity that exposed my shortcomings so abruptly and gracefully.

I kept rushing back to the mountains as if seeking answers. I wanted to know how to be better, how to be indestructible. I wanted them to teach me everything. I believed that if I climbed long and hard enough I could understand. I could figure myself out- my life. I sought a remedy to the tumultuous thoughts of my late teens and early twenties. With each step I kicked, each pitch I climbed, each peak summited or turned away from, I thought I was growing one step closer to this silly sense of enlightenment.

My expectations were soon placed on trips. If I go to Peru, then I’ll know. I’ll know if I want to finish school or climb exclusively or do something entirely different. And so I went to Peru, and then to the Alps, to Canada, countless of road trips in the States, and still nothing. I still had no clue what I was doing with myself. I spent hours sitting through university lectures wondering what on Earth I was doing there, and hours in the mountains wondering the exact same thing. And then, a trip to Patagonia began to take shape. Of course- Patagonia-a place so iconic. Three months there and I will surely have answers.

And off I traveled- from the abrupt spires of the Frey to new routing in the Turbio Valley to getting thrashed on the severe towers of El Chalten. I had many successes and failures. Dreams were fulf

The North Pillar of Fitz Roy

illed and new dreams were born. I learned many things about the mountains and about myself. In my three months; however, I certainly did not come to understand anything about my life path. Instead, I arrived at an understanding.

I came to acknowledge that the mountains will never answer my questions. Like any good mentor they will teach, but they will not tell. And there, in what have been the fiercest mountains I have visited, I have found that lack of answers to be a beautiful thing. For whatever reason, Patagonia brought simplicity. I seemed to have lost my quest for resolutions somewhere along the way, cleaved by the gale-force winds of the Chalten massif or misplaced in the unknown terrain of the Turbio.

Willi Unsoeld, a prominent figure of mountaineering’s past, talks of the feeling of losing yourself in the mountains. 

An example that comes to mind is how you relate to wind…the wind bloweth where it listeth, and very often where it listeth is right in your face…and as you’re there with it in you, and on you, and of you, you say ‘bye bye bones’. And POOF! Off down the current! And pretty soon…you know…you disappear. 

In the midst of those jagged and unforgiving Patagonian mountains, that’s how I felt. As if the wind had simply carried me off. It did not seem like I had a purpose, and I did not feel that I needed one. I was there because the mountains are where I feel alive. They are a place where I can feel empty yet full, at home but unwelcomed, blissful but torn. They can appear beautiful but horrific, easy yet difficult, complex yet simple. They are a never-ending mystery that I have come to appreciate as a companion to the persistent questioning of what I want to do in life.

Perhaps one day I will finally find stereotypical ‘purpose’, I will find direction. For now though, I hope to remain in the blissful state of the unknown. When people ask I will blame it on being a

Photo: Alan Goldbetter

young twenty-something-year-old that is soul searching their way through their college years; and when I am done talking I will run off to the mountains, to be with them, as they proudly display their mysteries and I forget about mine. I will travel through them as a miniscule speck and revel in the complexities that they deliver. I will cherish the feeling of being alive and unhampered, and hope that it never changes.


One thought on “A Patagonia Education

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  1. Wow! That is fantastic writing and hits home right now, as I’m about to graduate and am a bit lost. Thanks for sharing!

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