From Above



A Tale of the Towers (part 2)

It was the fourth day of our Torres Del Paine hike.

The Israelis, the French, and the Canadian were behind us. Barney and Chris were slightly ahead, and I found myself plodding along up the slope of the hill. The snow that day was actually a gentler challenge than the hard rain of the previous day. A soft blanket of snow had settled on the rocky landscape, and as I worked my way up to the pass, I was warmed by the effort. Gentle snowflakes on my face, and soft crunchy footsteps as I made my way up the mountain. I felt, after a cold craggy start to the morning, incredibly connected with my creator, joyful at being in this beautiful place…

I joined Chris and Barney at the top, as the snow stopped and the sun greeted us. What I saw before me was awe-inspiring – the Grey Glacier, a horizontal ice mountain 6kms wide and 30ms high, stretching as far as the eye could see in both directions. It would be our constant companion for the next two days as we wound our way back to the main campsite and civilization.

I was still enjoying the moment and the wind came up. In a heartbeat, my rain cover was whipped off my backpack. I looked at the bright yellow impromptu kite as it swiftly blew away down…down…back into the pass. Three days of hiking left, I could but hope there would be no more rain or snow. No use crying over spilled milk, we tackled the downhill as the French joined us.

It was an interesting day. I vividly remember the landscape, where at times we were clambering down in amongst massive exposed tree roots. I also clearly recall Barney deepening our respect for him by expanding on his feelings towards homosexuals (didn’t care for them) and singing Israelis (after they ruined his Mount Kenya hike a few years ago with their joyful army singing, he detested them). At some point, I just told him to not walk with me, and get a grip. I had had enough.

That night, our supplies were running super low. Barney was still sporting half a jar of peanut butter, but Chris and I made do with some tasteless pasta and instant coffee and instant milk (best coffee I ever had, mind you). One last little piece of chocolate each, and I could slap myself on the back for holding out and not eating more than my share, as the chocolate carrier. Barney, mercifully, kept his distance.

Day 5 was a long and beautiful hike skirting the glacier. At the bottom of Grey Glacier is the lake and main tourist gathering point for the “W” part of the hike. The “W” was the shorter and more manageable second half of our hike. It allowed you to go up and see the towers, but you were never far from support and the camps were well-provisioned. We sat down and observed the big hotel and cruise ships in the distance. Barney, Chris, and I shared a moment of lament for the solitude we were about to leave behind – then, miraculously, Barney shared his peanut butter.

It was delicious.

Not good enough for me to start liking him though. I sat for a bit more by myself, letting Chris and Barney forge ahead. The Israelis had passed us and they fell into step behind them, but I felt I would rather finish this part by myself…

I finally caught up with Chris about 10kms later. We had decided to camp at the next spot, not at the main campsite. There was a small shop where we could buy stuff if we wanted to, but otherwise, it still felt akin to what we had had the last few days. More people though, and lots of faces we didn’t recognize. As I approached, Chris came up to me, laughing.

“Dude, you must be so glad you didn’t walk with us.”

“Why?” I asked, suspecting the answer.

“The Israelis started singing. Barney lost his shit, and asked them to be quiet.” Chris laughed. “It was classic. They gave him a piece of their mind, I tell you.”

“Where is he now?”

“He went on to the next campsite. We won’t see him again,” Chris smiled. “Come, everyone is waiting.”

Chris had met a couple of Venezuelans. They didn’t have any food, but they had a bottle of rum and a MASSIVE slab of Cadbury chocolate. We had some instant mince and sauce left for pasta, but no pasta. Fortunately, the Israelis had lots of pasta left, but no sauce. And everyone’s cooking gas was finished, except for the French. They had no food left though. Everyone came together, threw the lot in a pile, and what followed was a feast. A feast of food, friendship, and laughter. And a fitting end to our time together.

It was magic.

Now, it’s probably a lot easier to have abundance thinking when there are plentiful resources. We had a shop nearby, we were at the end of the hike, and no one felt the need to hoard their fuel anymore. But what a treat it would have been if we had followed this approach even earlier – shared, collaborated, and acted inclusively. The absence of Barney was also a telling factor – it often only takes one bad egg to derail a process.

The last day’s hike was still hard, a full 25kms. But we had a spring in our step and a song in our hearts. The hike had been hard, the terrain challenging, and at times Chris and I even felt our friendship tested. Barney and his covetous peanut butter notwithstanding, it remains, in my mind, one of the epic experiences of my life.

The hike taught me a few things. When things are really tough, it’s important to focus on the positives. And keep on going, no matter what. The company we choose to keep is super important, and we can make deliberate choices around that. Having discipline (and I mean around not eating all the chocolate at once) is easier if you are accountable to someone – I was accountable to Chris for not eating his share, and it made all the difference. Over the years, I am always more effective in reaching health, fitness, or business goals when I am working in a “buddy” system.

Also, the hardest times are also the most memorable. That icy, windy, hectic day…that’s what will stay with me forever. Enduring, and the reward of warmth and companionship at the end…it made it all worth it.

But the biggest lesson was around interdependence. Out there in the middle of nowhere, it was comforting to know that there were a few others ahead and behind us. Not being alone, not being completely isolated…it made all the difference. Working in a team, trusting and relying on others to also contribute, and reaping the fruits of that synergy…This can only be achieved by abundance thinking. A mindset where we all freely contribute our time and resources without fear that the other will take our share of the pie. Rather make that pie bigger for everyone, right?

Torres del Paine, hey. I’ll be back one day.

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