I climbed a mountain last December. Summitted all twelve thousand five hundred feet of it. I was simply speechless when I reached the top. Even now when I think about it I don’t have words to describe how I felt.
Since I’ve returned I’m always asked “how was it?” I somehow manage to blurt out an “amazing,” incapable of stringing together a phrase, a sentence or anything to do it justice.
At the risk of seemingly going off on a tangent here, Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, proposed a theory on the hierarchy of needs. He said that humans travel up this hierarchy one by one, going to the next only after fulfilling the previous need. The needs, from the most basic going upwards, are ‘physiological’, ‘safety’, ‘love and social belonging’, ‘esteem’, and ‘self-actualization’.
The Kedarkantha trek was physically, mentally and emotionally challenging for me. And a couple of months down the line, I have realized a link between the trek and the theory.
Stage One – Physiological needs
Air, water, food and sleep were some of my needs that were tested on this uphill journey. In the beginning, the thinness of the air and the longing for warm food and water made me feel quite tired. The panoramic vistas of the Garhwal Himalayas provided respite that was just enough to keep me going. I tunnelled into my sleeping bag every night, out of breath, full of adventure. Hoping that the next day of snow-feathered trails and mammoth snow-peaks would energise me once again.
Stage Two – Safety
I’m sure each and every one of my fellow trekkers must have had some insecurities. I do too. But when you’re climbing up what seems like a 90-degree ascent, the only security you’re thinking of is your physical well-being.
The frosty air seemed to melt away worries of academic excellence or corporeal beauty. Despite the proficient security standards of the trek team; the fact that I could have possibly slipped and fallen to my death, or lost my breath to acute mountain sickness, really put into perspective what triggered my anxiety thousands of feet below, at the sea-level concrete jungle I call home.
Stage Three – Love and social belonging
It’s rather funny what a couple thousand feet and sub-zero temperatures can do to the way you interact with others. Strangers from all cardinal directions of the country converge with one aim. The aim is to scale that peak. And for those six days it felt like we were all on the same team. It felt like I belonged amongst these people. It was almost like we were all that we had. It gave me a sense of soundness and comfort just knowing that in the pitch dark of the night, under the vividly visible milky way, I had human beings around me.
Stage Four – Esteem
Day four was the D-Day. As we looked up from the base camp, the summit appeared to be glistening in the moonlight in the wee hours of the morning. As the day progressed, so did the gradient of the ascent.
The most important thing I took from the climb that day was that if I respected the mountain, it would respect me in return. And as I rose closer to the clouds, looking down over the narrow trail into the sheer abyss of a thousand feet; my mind was befogged with self-doubt, that swiftly switched to a feeling of respect for myself.
Stage Five – Self actualisation
As I took the final steps, the only sound hitting my eardrums was of the bellowing whistle of the wind and of my deep and heavy breaths. I gulped, sighed and lifted my head up to a sight that I cannot really put into words.
Above me the sky was a clear blue and below me was a blanket of clouds enveloping shorter hills and peaks. Around me there were massifs upon massifs of the snow-clad Himalayas.
My thoughts cascaded back. I did it. And for a few moments in time, I felt like I did not have to accomplish anything else in the world.
I was fulfilled.