Why the experience of trekking or climbing a mountain changes people’s lives

“One day a friend called me on the phone and said: ‘we are going to climb Lanín, will you join me?’ I asked him how long he had to confirm and he clarified that he was waiting for an answer that same day. ‘Well okay, I’m going to go’ I replied, I remember looking at myself, I was in my pajamas in the middle of July and I said ‘I’m going to do something meaningful with my life’, says Sofía Betti, a 26-year-old amateur mountaineer, who climbed Lanín for the first time in 2019. For six months she trained almost every day, not only physically but also mentally with a clear goal: to reach the summit. “When I finally reached the top I felt immense joy, My cheeks ached from so much happiness. She had made it: he couldn’t believe it.”explains Betty.

Both professionals and amateurs who are up for the challenge of connecting with the mountain agree that it is a transformative experience.

Hiking or trekking confront those who take the risk with innumerable challenges, perhaps directly proportional to factors such as the difficulty of the terrain, the weather and the physical preparation of each one. “A lot of sun and we forgot the sunscreen. Mosquitoes, horseflies and we did not bring repellent. Steep path and we came with sneakers instead of boots. Tent night, cold and windy, and the sleeping bag they lent us is for summer days”, says Pedro Serrano Espelta, an amateur climber. He claims that “The more we venture out and the more in contact with nature we are, the more unexpected situations will arise.”

But the circle is always virtuous: Serrano Espelta recounts that once in the mountains, when one is cold, hot or physically achy, he realizes that mental strength and perseverance is almost the only thing that allows him to move forward or “find the taste ” to something that might otherwise be torture. “Each difficulty we overcome will build our self-esteem, our confidence, our ability to take on challenges that seemed impossible before. This will then be transferable to real life, work, school, family or any situation that is unknown to us”, he deepens.

The first feat of the mountain guide Pablo Piccone was to climb Cerro Tres Marías in San Juan; he was less than ten years old and that is how his passion was born. Since then Piccone knew that he wanted to spend his life near the mountain. He lived and studied in Buenos Aires but was certain that that when he had the chance to live alone, he wanted to do it near the mountains. That is why, after graduating as a Physical Education teacher, he decided to go live in San Martín de los Andes where he works as a guide, close to what makes him happy and which, he says: has transformed his life.

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But what is the magic of the adversity of the mountain? Although the experiences depend on each person, there are those who set themselves a personal goal of reaching the top, those who enjoy the journey and do not worry about reaching the summit, and those who find their passion in mountaineering. However, they all agree that in some way, embarking on this adventure helped them learn something positive about life.

We will trust ourselves more and we will set ourselves more ambitious goals. Over time we will remember with nostalgia the climbs or walks in the mountains, and we will want more. Only this time we will surely look for something different, more challenging. We may train more, we may pay more attention to food, equipment and the people with whom we will go. We will see new places and experience different sensations. We will dare to do more, not only in the mountains, but also in our lives”, says Serrano Espelta, who tries to instill his passion in all the people he loves.

Marcos Serrano Espelta inherited his passion for the mountains from his fatherPeter Serrano

“Mountain climbing is a lifestyle. At some point it ceases to be a hobby and begins to be a need to relate to the primitive and hostile environment. It is a need that awakens, to get out of the everyday life, to do something different. You feel that you need to detach yourself from society to some extent or interact in some other environment. And better if this happens with people who have the same ‘crazy’”, says Jony Espinosa, trekking guide and photographer of mountain expeditions.

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Francisco Bassani, climber and professional photographer agrees. The man who has been climbing for more than 40 years affirms that in the challenge of the mountain he feels respect for the environment, for nature, for the animals. For him, climbing is synonymous with feeling free and at the same time the only limit that exists there is the sense of not making mistakes.

Having that contact suggests a certain transformation in the lives of people who dare to go to the mountains. It is hard, it is difficult, it implies training, desire and perseverance. For the most part, those who dare to climb highlight learnings that they then apply to their daily lives.

Overcoming fears that arise in experiences is part of learning
Overcoming fears that arise in experiences is part of learningJony Espinosa

Fears appear before reaching the destination of the adventure and especially attack beginners; nobody said that climbing a mountain would be an easy challenge.

“Fear is something we have to deal with but when you face it on the mountain, you realize that many of those things that you are afraid of in your daily life, do not make sense. Fear is the key element and when you overcome it is when you grow up”, says Espinosa.

The experience also connects. Serrano Espelta maintains that he has gone from having to climb the mountain with people who at some point become blocked and afraid of him. In those cases he says that the important thing is to help the other, that characterizes the group spirit. “In the mountains you cannot be selfish and come back, you have to try to continue and challenge those fears”Add.

Beginners are the ones most exposed to the fear of “not being able to”. “It is normal that they do not dare to continue and it is good that it happens to them because they live the experience with intensity. Being in charge of security and the group when there are people who feel fear, I try to motivate them to get out of that state and understand that there is no reason to be scared. I explain that professionals are there to help them and that if there was a greater risk, we would not subject them to that”, Says Pablo Piccone.

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Espinosa, also a mountaineering professional, agrees with this last statement, assuring that when people manage to overcome their fears, they relax and begin to see the mountain with different eyes. “I love when that happens, because it means that as a guide you are doing your job well,” she adds.

Mountaineering experience in Cordón del Plata

It is the most desired goal, the end of the road. But unlike the collective imagination, reaching the summit is not everyone’s goal and according to the mountain guides, in many cases the conditions are not right for continuing to climb.

Piccone, who has more than 140 summits, affirms that mountaineering “is not going to Disney”, it is adventure tourism. “It is not guaranteed to reach the summit because sometimes the storm does not allow it, the only thing you know for sure is that you will live an intense experience”. Also add that really the summit is something more symbolic than physical. “If you really think about it, the summit is a piece of rock. What makes it significant is everything the person had to go through to get there, everything it cost. And when it finally arrives, very intense emotions are triggered: crying, happiness, nostalgia, laughter, ”she reflects.

Serrano Espelta and Bassani made “summit” several times, but having fulfilled those experiences does not define them but rather the path they followed to achieve it. In fact, today is not a priority when planning a getaway. They both agree that The entire previous journey serves to reflect, admire the landscape and connect with nature, in short: “return to the innate connection of man with the earth”.

Apart from the physical preparation that must be done, it is important to prepare psychologically
Apart from the physical preparation that must be done, it is important to prepare psychologicallyJony Espinosa

Training prior to mountaineering is mainly physical, but we must not forget that psychological preparation is essential. Regarding the latter, specialists recommend: meditate, get used to not being connected to technology for so long, do breathing exercises and get psyched up for adventure.

Regarding physical preparation, Piccone divides it into four essential parts:

In short, those who dare to experience it assure that “the mountain changes you”: it leaves lessons and helps to grow internally, regardless of whether the person who tries it becomes a fan or not. That is, even if it is an experience, it is already valuable. “The mountain transforms completely, as long as one allows oneself to be transformed by it”, concludes Betti.

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