For many veterans, finishing their time in the military and returning to the civilian world is daunting. Many struggle from both physical and mental wounds and have difficulty in finding their footing without the military lifestyle they have grown accustomed to. Heading into the backcountry can be a vital piece of the recovery process. It is an opportunity to reconcile the past and move forward to the future that veterans fought to secure for others. The mountains can provide the constructive "therapy" that we need. Not by sitting on some couch relieving war stories with some therapist who has not walked in our shoes. Nor by taking pills prescribed by a doctor or worse yet, self- prescribed alcohol and drugs to dull the pain. But by providing a connection to nature.
We are all at different stages in our lives. Some are struggling to find their way. And to those individuals, the back country can truly be a turning point in their lives. For others, it is an opportunity to finally let go of the past. The mountains provide the direction and the purpose for veterans to heal. While the summit is a physical place and a goal to reach, it is only a point along a larger path. The mountain is a journey that allows veterans to leave the past behind them. Stefano de Benedetti said the following which perfectly captures one’s experiences in the mountains:
"In the perfect moment…there is no space for other thoughts. You act in a very different way, you act with all yourself. You are making a completely different experience and in some way you are discovering yourself. This is the magic of the mountains."
When we learn to finally let go, and live life in the moment, we are free to discover who we are. No longer are we defined by our past or fear what the future may hold. We can discover who we are and are free to push ourselves to our limits of who we want to be.
To climb a mountain is to suffer. We feel the burning in our lungs and legs. The cold that bites into us. It is what the mountain extracts as payment from us. There is never any guarantee that the mountain will allow us to stand upon its pinnacle. But it is never about whether or not we conquer the mountain. The gift of the mountains is the chance to conquer our doubts and fears. To accept life on its terms. It is by surrendering ourselves to this reality that we can truly be free. And for all the pain one experiences, in the mountains, there is a freedom that is not known in the lowlands. To venture up into the thin air, and to look out into the endless sky and gaze upon the mountains. The chance to stand at the precipice of a 2,000 foot cliff, to understand our mortality, and know that every moment of our lives is a gift.