Attempting to Settle the Score

Is there a piece of unfinished business in the back of your head? The one (or many) thing(s) that you wish you could go back and do over or complete? For the past eight years, one such piece of business has haunted my thoughts, perhaps even my self-worth in a sense:

Eight Junes ago, I visited Aosta, Italy. It was the first time I'd seen snowcapped mountains, and as a reckless adventurer, I made a goal to get a bottle-full of snow by day's end. I began at 3pm, reached snow by 8pm, but then tried to reach the top of the mountain I was climbing. Approximately 100 meters from the peak, I stopped. It was 10pm and dark, I was exhausted, and I still had a 13-mile hike back to town.

I revisted Aosta last week with one goal: to finish what I had started. This time, however, I chose a much taller mountain. At 9:30am on September 11, I began an attempt to reach the peak of Becca di Nonna, which would be an 8,406 feet (1.6 miles) vertical climb in one day (1,902 feet to 10,308 feet). Before I share the videos and pictures that I took during the journey, I'd like to share a few thoughts about the experience in general.

If nothing else, this adventure reinforced my belief that life is definitely not all coincidental. If you keep your eyes and ears open and notice what goes on around you, it's apparent that people and situations happen to us for a reason. Those reasons aren't always writing on the wall. I can't walk you through everything that happened in that one day, but I can highlight certain parts:

After setting out, I concentrated on setting a good pace. I knew I would never reach the peak at a reasonable hour if I stopped to take too many pictures, to rest, or to eat. As such, I covered the first 12 miles by 3:00pm, including a stop for lunch and an emergency roadside pitstop, where I had the opportunity to use the "stick, rock, pinecone" approach I had become familiar with at survival camp. Once I reached the small town of Pila, where I would begin the real climbing, I ran into an Italian guide who told me it would be impossible to climb without proper boots, especially in the rain (I made the decision to wear tennis shoes, knowing it may not be the best idea). Regardless, I headed on into the rain and hail with a rain jacket and a poncho to cover my backpack.

I left Pila thinking I could make the top in 3 hours, but after 5 hours of hard climbing, I knew I was totally screwed. It was freezing and rainy, nearly dark, foggy (cloudy), the terrain was very steep and rocky, and I was completely exhausted. There was no way I could make it back to Pila, and despite my lack of warm clothing, a tent and a sleeping bag, I really thought I would have to try to make a bed, not knowing how the night would end.

My dear father tells me I have 9 lives and says he is aware of 4 or 5 that I have used. I understand where he comes from, and I'd tell him I've used at least 15, but I look at things a bit differently. I follow my heart, and sometimes, even in dangerous situations, when my heart so strongly tells me to go forward, I go. I'm not saying that we should put ourselves in danger, but at certain times, I just know that everything will be OK. Other times, I don't feel so confident, and I don't "move forward". As I get older, however, I find myself taking less and less risk...When my mother handed me her "prayer stone" as I boarded the plane for London and I saw the tears escaping her sunglass-covered eyes, for the first time I really connected with the fact that my life is important to others beside myself.

On the mountain, I was scared. I wasn't scared of the danger. I was scared because there are people who care about me, and I realized that there is no personal vendetta worth settling at the expense of others.

As the darkness approached, I stopped thinking. I was getting delirious (as you can tell by the videos) as I faithfully climbed toward the white object I believed to be a sign far in the distance...

Videos: (forward to 1:23) (I regret I ran out of battery during this ascent by one of the top mountain climbers in the Alps...the camera angle doesn't do justice to the incline)

Pictures: (click "slideshow" and give it a bit to load)

I never want to settle another score. Sure, I'll set goals for myself, but my days as a reckless adventurer are coming to an end and my days as a grateful, wiser adventurer I hope are approaching. As I walked off the mountain, I felt the burden of unfulfilled dreams lifting from my shoulders. The expectations of days gone and days to come, dissipating like the fog around me. Last week I wasn't just settling my score with an old friend. I settled every score in my past and every score to come. Sometimes we have to just let things go.


Anonymous said…
Brandon, you're amazing. I'm so inspired by your adventurous spirit and your generous soul.

I'm enjoying the trip - glad you're taking us along!

Elizabeth Young
l i t t l e said…
Those last few sentences you wrote are very inspiring, honest and sincere...I've heard you speak those words before and at the time just letting go was something I wanted to do and didn't know how. But now I do...

I believe by letting go of every anxiety, going in with no expectations and following my heart, I will achieve greatness and it will lead me down a path I never knew existed. You inspired that within me months ago and your words just revived that faith once again.

And it's very obvious you genuinely believe your own words now as well...sometimes it takes climbing a mountain to truly understand what we've been telling ourselves the entire day it just clicks. :-)

This is such a beautiful adventure...
Anonymous said…
Brandon, I am always amazed by your luck. Your dad told some of this story in his blog. We are keeping you in our prayers. Oh and go get yourself a good pair of hiking boots and a fleece, maybe one of those emergency reflective blankets too, especially if you are going to climb mountains by yourself. I mean you didn't even take someone to spoon with. :-) Didn't you learn anything from those first few days of survival school? :-} You can't always count on a bunkhouse shed full of people on the top of every mountain.

I just hope Owen and Ethan don't decide to travel the world alone. I am not sure my heart could take it. (Really I hope they do because I never got to)

Love Ya and stay safe, as you can.
vacanti said…
What's the "rock, stick, pinecone" approach?
Anonymous said…
You sir are a mad man. I love it. So, you feel the need to go back to conquer a mountain of your past. A regret to confront. And not only do you climb a different mountain, but you say, "Fuck you fate! I choose my own destiny! Im gonna raise you another 1000 feet and start from farther away...with no hiking boots. But its ok, because I've got some sandwiches!!" Hilarious. Inspiring. Insane. Real. You seem to plunge yourself face first into these surprising adventures. Then the powers that govern turn you upright again and drop you back on your ass, hard enough that you feel it, but not hard enough that you wont get back up again. Thank you Brandon. You're a legend sir. A true legend