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Within every adventurer there lives, to some degree, an optimistic dreamer. For better or for worse there is a part of the brain that can push aside practical apprehensions and believe in success just enough to continue in pursuit of a goal. During my past exploits in the mountains I have confirmed that I do possess this trait. It has never been tested, however, to the degree that it was this past winter during an expedition to the remote peaks of the Turbio Valley in Patagonia.
The goal was to ascend the peak Pirita Central via a previously unclimbed path. My expedition partner, Alan, and I spent a little over a year collecting all of the information we could on the seldom-visited area. Before we knew it we were en route to Argentina. Few parties venture deep into these mountains, sometimes no one in an entire year, and as a result getting from civilization to Pirita Central was an arduous task. We began with an hour-long boat ride followed by two days on horseback. After the horses left us, a day of hiking up a broad river valley brought us to our last obstacle. For a day and a half we thrashed through untracked jungle so dense that often times fifty feet of progress was grounds for celebration.
After five days of work we found ourselves staring Pirita Central in the face. We received a promising weather forecast and decided to begin climbing the sheer north face of the peak the following morning. That evening Alan and I sat anxiously at the mountain's feet. We sorted and re-sorted our equipment. We tried to envision the most promising pathway to the top. We paced back and forth. We had invested so much to get to this point- time, money, effort, anxiety- and we would finally get to see what it was all for. The optimistic dreamer inside of me was working as hard as ever to muster some confidence. I couldn't help but stare endlessly up at our objective though, and feel swallowed in its presence. After an eternity, the sun set, and I was relieved when darkness finally shrouded our view of Pirita Central.
When Josh asked me to write on my experience in Patagonia and it's connection with my time at the Adventure Leadership Institute, the first thing that came to me was a short video project I worked on during my first year at Oregon State. At first I was confused by this subconscious correlation, but after thinking on it for a few days some clarity arose.
The video project was my first time really engaging with the core of the ALI. I was nervous and had little confidence in my abilities with a camera, interviewing people, or editing footage. Josh, on the other hand, casually said I'd do great and helped me along until we had a finished product. Sure, it wasn't the best video ever, nor was I the most qualified person for the job, but what that project did do was give me confidence.
In my three years with the ALI I noticed a trend of being put in positions that made me uncomfortable, be this working through a complex guide problem or standing in front of a class of twenty students. The discomfort, though, always derived from a distrust in myself as opposed to a lack of qualifications. I think that one of the things the ALI does best lies in the relationship between skills, experience, and confidence. I was often subjected to situations where I had the skills and experience necessary for the job, but in order to succeed I had to nurse a confidence in myself. Continually having to foster this confidence has made it habitual in a way. This confidence, too, is what has allowed me to follow through on the best adventures of my life.
Two days after we began climbing Pirita Central, Alan and I stood on its summit. We succeeded in establishing a new route to the top, and as it turned out the climbing ended up being for the most part easy and enjoyable. We spent an onerous and taxing 14 hours rappelling off of the mountain, and when we were back within the safety of the valley we finally found relief in accomplishing our goal. We reversed our path back through the jungle and then used inflatable rafts to carry us two days back through the terrain that the horses had brought us to so many days before.
There's no saying whether the optimistic dreamer is an entirely good or bad thing. That confidence leads to pushing limits, which can be a good thing or a dangerous one. It necessitates either success or failure, and induces vulnerability and excitement. Above all though, it ultimately leads to an opportunity for learning. I think that is an invaluable thing.