3am. My watch and phone simultaneously alert me that it is time to get up and get ready, yet I promptly hit the snooze button. Unlike our three previous climbs I was not keen to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. A part of me even hoped the weather outside was horrible enough Andrew and I would decide to go back to sleep.
We both lay there for a number a minutes hoping the other would start to boil water for our morning oats and coffee. Eventually the red light of Andrew's headlight filled the tent and he got underway with our morning ritual.
Though no-one said anything, you could sense the reluctance. Or perhaps that was just the domination my mood had on my perception of the atmosphere.
We were in the Llangauco Valley to climb the west face of a peak called Yanapaccha. A moderate face of 60° snow, it was to serve as our last ‘warm-up’ route before we turned our eyes towards the main objectives. Peaks which offered more challenges both in terms of terrain and altitude.
Andrew and I had spent the previous nine days climbing with only two rest days. One in between climbs in the Ishinca valley and one in Huaraz to re-stock on food. Every other day had involved more than a thousand meters of altitude gain, descent and pre-dawn starts; so it is fair to say we were physically tired.
However I believe my mood that morning was owing to more than just my fatigue levels. I was feeling lonely. To be more specific, I felt like the human connections in my life were lacking, including one of the most important human connections in my life - that with the person I love most.
Since moving to Peru my ability to communicate with Bec, family and friends freely has been stifled. If you follow the Vertical Year on Facebook or Instagram you may have noticed the flow of content has been somewhat choked. Partly due to poor quality internet but mainly due to my isolation. I am simply in places where I do not have internet access more often than I am in places where I do. As a result I find it even harder to share experiences, support one another and most importantly, let Bec know that she is loved.
I recognise that this is by design. It is as a result of my choice and I feel the full weight of that choice. Particularly during moments like that morning. As it is my choice I do not ask for sympathy, rather I seek recognition that even when someone is doing something they love, they can feel alone and isolated. Feelings that can be a slippery slope towards greater mental health issues.
After eating breakfast I strapped on my boots and exited the tent. I saw no stars in the sky, it was windy and I could notice low level cloud through the beam of my head torch.
It would have been easy to say to Andrew, “hey I think this weather is pretty poor, let's go back to bed”. However that would not have made me feel any better. Rather, it probably would have made me feel worse. Not only would I have cheated myself out of the climb, but also Andrew, my mate who has traveled halfway around the world to climb here with me.
It definitely crossed my mind though. Aside from not wanting to let Andrew down, what kept me from saying anything was the knowledge that I love climbing. I might not have felt like starting but I knew that if I did, I would start to get into the rhythm and feel better. So I bit my tongue and we set off.
The weather was horrible the entire way with winds constantly whipping us as we climbed the face. Visibility was no more than twenty meters and everything slowly became coated in a layer of frost. The climb however went well and I enjoyed it.
We made the ascent and were back at our camp in just over five hours. Pretty good considering the guide book suggests six to seven hours to get from camp to the summit. Furthermore, Andrew and I both moved well on the steeper section of the route, down climbing rather than rappelling. Giving us confidence we are ready to tackle bigger, more demanding routes.
Laying down in the tent after the climb I still feel Bec’s absence from my life. I still miss her incredibly and as you can probably tell, she is constantly on my mind.
After practicing some skills this afternoon, Andrew and I will return to Huaraz tomorrow. We have decided to take an extra couple of days rest before attempting our next few peaks. Part of this is to enable our bodies to rest and recover. However, for me a big part of this break will be about connecting with friends, family and the woman I love. Not only to share this and other experiences, but just to hear their voices and see Bec's smile on my computer screen.
I certainly don't regret making the decision to take on this year away. I love climbing. I love how it puts so many aspects of life into perspective. This time, it helped me recognize the importance of human connection in my life. I need it to survive. To be happy. As the saying goes, “a joy shared is a joy doubled.”
Doing what you love day in and day out is no vaccine for feeling lonely or isolated. I am sure I will feel this way again and when I do, I hope I have the courage to do what is necessary for me to feel better. To take a step back, reach out and put the effort in required to improve that connection. Not only with Bec, but other friends and family as well.
If you are ever feeling lonely or isolated, even when you are doing something you love, or are surrounded by people; I encourage you to reach out. Reach out to your loved ones and friends. They are a pillar of support and most likely have no idea you are feeling this way. I am thankful for the support of those around me because with it, waking up at 3am for my next climb will once again be a moment to look forward to.
For other tips and strategies for dealing with feelings of loneliness or isolation I encourage you to visit the ReachOut Australia website.