“You’re going to suffer,” my brother said. “I’ve climbed Mt. Moussa and I was tired, St. Catherine is a lot harder.”
“I know! But I’m totally doing this, so what? I’ve been running lately, and I’m working on my fitness, I’m better than I used to be, I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m totally doing it.” That’s what I said when I was mocked by my brother when I told him I’m going on a trip to hike up Mt. Saint Catherine, the highest peak in Egypt. At that moment, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, not the slightest idea!
Days later, on the 31st of December, 2012, I was hiking up the mountain, and I wasn’t just tired, I was exhausted. It was cold, dark, and challenging. The group I started with was way ahead, I couldn’t see them anymore. I wasn’t alone though, my best friend Sarah (who’s fitness is way better than mine) didn’t leave me behind, even though she could have been ahead with the rest of them including her little sister. And Hussein, a very supportive, 47 year old Bedouin guide originally from St. Catherine, was taking care of us and leading the way. All I could think about was, “Why did I get myself into this? Why am I doing this to myself?”
A few hours before, I was given two choices. 1. After an hour and a half of brisk walking in the valley before reaching the mountain, I could go back to the camp and give up, since I was already aching, or 2. After that same tiring hour, I could tell myself it’s only been an hour, I’m sure I’ve done more physical effort than that before, and start the actual hike. The group was supportive, yet understanding. One friend said, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Obviously I looked very tired already and they were all worried I might get stuck on the way up, and not make it to the end, or be able to go down again. I didn’t want to hold anyone back, yet I knew my pace was a lot slower than everyone else’s. But I sucked it up and stayed positive, which was a value I always practice, and it was being tested, quite severely.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
“I didn’t come all the way here to give up now! This is what the trip’s about, it’s about the challenge, and I’m going to do it!” Again, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
A very helpful new friend offered to take my backpack, which was initially light, but got heavier on the way, and my shoulders and back were already starting to get sore. We kept on going, I was still with the group, but I was the last one, which sort of brought me down, but I reminded myself that I have to keep on going, and resist resting as often as I felt the urge to. It worked for a while, and my breathing was definitely getting better, but I was losing energy and getting more tired. I’d forgotten that my only energy source, a chocolate bar, was in my backpack, which was now far away in front of me, too far to reach.
Thoughts of giving up now rushed to my head, what was coming next was still a lot more than what I had already achieved, and going down is definitely easier than going up, but no, I didn’t give up. I started resting more, and Hussein and Sarah were now the only ones with me, everyone else was a lot higher than we were. I frequently looked at the other mountain peaks around, and saw how every time I looked, the sun shining on the peaks decreased. I couldn’t define what was kicking in my head, but it wasn’t fear. Or at least not fear of the obvious things like darkness. I wasn’t alone, I saw no scary animals anywhere, I knew I could still keep going. Now I realize it was fear of failure. I was worried about not making it to the summit, even though I had already taken the decision that I’m going up there, no matter what.
My mind was starting to play tricks on me, telling me I’m a loser, everyone’s faster, and I’m holding 2 other people back with me. My heart rate was getting faster, and my legs were hurting, but it wasn’t that bad, I’ve been through all of that before. It was all in my head, and I hated my head at that moment, because it was pulling me back. What’s wrong with me? I’m always in control, I’m always optimistic, I always win if I want to, why am I losing now?
Sarah was trying to help, but my head blocked her out. She tried everything. She tried being strict and she tried being supportive. She suggested that I listen to her iPod, offered me biscuits, and gave me endless hugs, but my head still blocked her out. I now despised my head. I could hear everything she was saying, I wanted to befriend Hussein like she was, I wanted to join in the interesting conversations they were having, but my head didn’t let me.
I wanted to join in the interesting conversations they were having, but my head didn’t let me.
Hussein was also trying to help, he was being strict at first, but then realized that I was really trying my hardest, and he offered that I hold on to him while we climbed, and so I did. The speed I was going at on my own was too slow, but when I held on to his arm, I was forced to go faster. I was still stopping them too often though. Sarah and Hussein kept motivating me, telling me we’re almost there, only 2 more hours to go, and that I’ve already done a lot more than that. I panicked, and I started demanding that I see the peak we’re heading to, because I could now see neither the beginning or the end.
By then, my mind had complete control over me, everything I’ve been preaching about for the past years about persistence, optimism and positivity was being shattered. My feelings were starting to surface. I broke down, and I started crying. I had so many mixed feelings of weakness, apologies, and depletion. Anything my mind was blabbering to me, I was saying out loud. I found myself saying things like, “I’ve gone insane, why am I doing this? Why am I crying? I don’t want to cry! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
“No! Don’t cry, don’t cry! You’re strong, you’re doing this!” Sarah started telling me. “Cheer up, we’re not moving from this spot until you’re smiling.”
Again, I refused to smile, I hated myself because of how I was reacting, and how I wasn’t succeeding in keeping the negative thoughts out. Panic was taking over me again and again. We kept on going, hiking up, until I was totally out of energy. This time it wasn’t my mind, it was physical. I had the will, because we could now see the peak, but my body couldn’t handle anymore. I was now very cold, to the point of shivering, so Hussein started a fire and I sat next to it.
To our luck, and surprisingly, there was signal on Hussein’s phone, even though we were too far up. And with even more luck, his other Bedouin friend at the top of the mountain had signal too. Hussein asked him to send a camel so I could ride it up. We had one more hour to go, but at my pace it would have been two. We climbed and climbed, until we finally met with the two boys walking down the mountain with the camel. I was saved!
Thirty more minutes and I’ll be up there! There will be a fire, I’ll have my backpack and put more clothes on, and I’ll get to sleep. The last of my insane emotions were finally leaving my mind. I talked to the camel, I thanked the camel, and by that I mean I was really talking to the camel out loud. I can’t remember a moment in my life when I felt more grateful. It’s over, or at least I thought so.
I reached the summit on the back of the camel. I was relieved, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy because a part of me still felt like I gave up, and I let the circumstances overwhelm me. I let my mind control me instead of me controlling it. Aren’t the tough times the real tests of our values? But then the other hikers saw me, and they made me see everything differently. Everyone was being so supportive, asking me how I feel, telling me I did it, I succeeded.
After a long freezing night spent at the peak, the sun was finally shining again, warming us up slowly. At 8 am, everyone was helpful, offering each other food and tea. We started walking down the mountain. “This should be easier,” I thought. I can do this, it’s going to be different. This was easier! And definitely more enjoyable. I was still the last one, and everyone was still ahead, but pride was keeping me going. I stopped at the spot where the camel picked me up the previous night, and I looked up, realizing it was difficult.
4 hours of walking and more interesting conversations with Hussein, we were done. We were at sea level now. All we need is a car to drive us back to the camp, and 10 mins later, we were there.
This was the most physically and mentally challenging activity I’ve done in my whole life. The process wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be, and I wasn’t as mentally successful as I always thought I was, but this definitely taught me a lot.
I learned that when you’re genuine, everyone appreciates it and supports you instead of bringing you down. I learned that when you think you’re going to push a certain limit, you need to push a lot more than you think, and probably push to even more limits. Also, that I need to practice what I preach more often, and always challenge myself to develop. I’ve learned that pain leaves you eventually, and that when you’ve done something and succeeded, you’d want to do it again, no matter how hard it was. When my body was aching, I kept reminding myself that I should never do this again. Now, I’m definitely doing this again.