I Went Blind At The Top Of Everest. Here's How I Survived
Fortunately or unfortunately, most people will never have the opportunity to truly test their ability to survive. I say unfortunately because only through a true test do we know what we're capable of.
Our societal values have greatly changed in the past century with the rapid advances of technology. There are plenty of positives that come with readily accessible data and constant communication, however we're retraining our minds to require instant gratification and social media celebrity status, neither of which are truly important in our long-term growth. They create a false sense of importance and magnify issues that really don't matter.
On May 15, 2011, I soloed the summit the highest peak in the world. There was nobody above 26,000 feet as I made my way to the 29,035 feet summit. Shortly after reaching the roof of the world, I went completely snow blind — the sun burning of the cornea due to increased UV exposure, which renders the eyes useless.
Alone and blind, using only touch and sound, I inched my way down the snow, ice and rock surface back to camp. What should have taken three hours took me seven. During my descent, I took a big fall at 28,000 feet, rode a slab avalanche and ran out of oxygen. I can tell you that the last thing I was thinking about was social status or superficial first world problems.
What got me through the most trying experience of my life?
I was presented with the biggest test anyone could ever imagine and I honed my thoughts toward basic survival tasks.
Almost two decades prior, I attended some of the most grueling military training as a U.S. Navy Air Rescue Swimmer. Most of my survival training came down to never panicking and fine-tuning my focus on the task at hand. On the summit of Everest, I assessed the situation and realized what I had to do to survive. Without over thinking, I started making my way down the mountain.
In life, we tend to overthink situations rather than taking a step back to look at the big picture. Hard times eventually pass, but in the moment it's very difficult to visual success in the future. You have to keep moving and find a reason — even just one — to get beyond the immediate struggle.
The other factor that contributed to my survival was faith.
Faith has played a large part in my life and has shaped me into the person I am today. On Everest I never gave up my faith to survive. One of the keys to survival is to maintain mental toughness no matter what. Once you lose your will to survive there's nothing much that can save you.
As I made my way down the mountain, I felt a calming presence about me. Though I was alone, I never felt it. The truth is that we're never alone. No matter what your beliefs, there's always someone there whether it's faith in religion, family or yourself. Never give up faith!
From the day before the point I entered high camp on Everest, I had been climbing for over 30 hours. I was exhausted, had lost 20lbs, had two black eyes and wouldn't regain my vision for over a month. I could have easily lain down and fallen asleep forever up on that mountain, but that's not how I roll! I had a family to get back to and I wasn't about to die without a fight. I never once allowed negative thoughts to enter my head and never gave up, no matter what!
My situation was as extreme as they come and I would never hope anyone else would have to go through that type of pain and suffering. However, we all go through tough times and to you, it probably feels as big as Everest. Rather than overthink it, take a step back and assess the situation. Find something positive to focus on and never ever give up your faith!
Photo courtesy of the author