Another One Bites the Dust (but doesn’t have to)



I came out of the Rwenzoris mountain range on the border of Uganda and the Congo completing the most successful personal expedition in over four years since a bad injury and surgery.  I was flying high as a kite. I completed one of the hardest treks in the world and climbed the three high peaks ranging from 16-17k ft high. “I’m back!  I was born to climb big mountains and I’m back!!!” was the refrain in my head…


Until I opened my email and saw the subject line:  “PathWrangler is CLOSING – March 21, 2015 (IMPORTANT!)”


My jaw dropped, heart stopped, and blood pressure spiked.  NOOOOOOOO!


The owner, Doug Heinz, is a good buddy of mine.  We worked together at Moody’s KMV in the quantitative fixed income analytics field in the mid-2000s, both of us going on to a few other jobs until ultimately fleeing the corporate world.


Doug started PathWrangler in 2010 with another buddy, Eric Remza, my favorite Alpine Ascents Intl guide who taught me all my early mountaineering foundation (legend has it they bumped into each other on the North side of Everest and found they knew me in common-I’d like to take credit for the birth of PathWrangler!).  I acquired Call of the Wild Adventures, Inc, adventure travel for women in 2012 to pursue my passion of empowering women through positive experiences in the outdoors.




I immediately made Call of the Wild a client of Pathwrangler, and as Doug tells me, one of his model clients in terms of fully embracing PW.  I didn’t become a client for Doug or Eric, I became a client because in the first few months of taking over the business I saw some MAJOR issues that were intense, costly administrative burdens that negatively impacted the client experience, including but not limited to:


    • Document control issues – Some people wanted pdfs so the formatting would look good.  Other clients didn’t have Adobe Acrobat and wanted Word versions.  Some had Macs and didn’t have Word on their computers. Version control was an issue…Buddha forbid you ever had to make a correction and send an updated document.  Staff would send the wrong ones, clients could never find the email with the right one.  We needed a universal format that people could access at any time and we could update simultaneously – PathWrangler does exactly that.


    • Improved gear list – Clients had long complained that the gear list didn’t have product recommendations.  We were challenged to provide meaningful recommendations and facilitate the research and purchase of appropriate gear.  I was so excited that PW allows for comments about each item on the gear list and we can even add direct links to the products that we could easily update.


    • Streamlined questions – Many clients have the same questions, or later they become frustrated to find out someone else asked a question from which they could have benefited.  The typical way to handle client questions is one on one email correspondence or phone calls, hopefully logging the answers that at some point should be distributed to the rest of the clients or incorporated into trip materials.  It’s time consuming and error prone.  With PW, we encourage clients to ask questions in the discussion area (and when they don’t we still post their question and the answer for all to see).  Everyone gets to benefit from that information.  Further, if a client asks a question that really should be in the official trip materials, we can easily and immediately add it to that trip’s overview section (without having to send out a new version of a document!).


    • Facilitating client communication – Not only do we encourage questions, we post who the clients are, where they are from, and encourage them to introduce themselves.  It’s totally optional to participate, and I would estimate around 75% of clients embrace this aspect.  They LOVE getting to know each other before a trip – it’s a great sign of success when a group already has inside jokes before they even show up on a trip!  Further, we are often asked to help facilitate carpooling, hotel sharing, etc between clients to help get their costs down and reduce the stress of traveling alone to a new place.  Due to liability and high administrative burden, we can’t get involved in these discussions, but the clients can have them on PW.  We have seen women indeed share rental car costs, hotels, even travel to other states to meet and train in preparation for some of our tougher trips.


    • Reminders – We love to post periodic reminders without flooding clients’ email inboxes. Once the trip is staffed, we post the guide bios and invite the guides so that they can get to know each other.  For trips that require training, we put reminders about where they should be with their program.  For trips with deadlines, such as procuring international visas, we can post reminders.  For international trips, we post travel recommendations 2 weeks before. All of these posts live in one place on the discussion forum so that the clients can see them at any time and don’t have to go back to an inbox to search for a needle in a haystack.


PW comments

The discussions are off the hook for Kilimanjaro 2015. Arranging training hikes and even weekend training trips. Tons of gear questions. Age comparisons with everyone vying for the title of the oldest. It’s also the first time I’ve been donned a trip nickname PRE-trip (“Excrement Expert” or E.E. for short) 🙂

I’ve already written too much about how PW makes our lives and those of our clients easier…but it’s critical to understand what a blow this email was.  I felt for Doug as I knew how hard he had worked over the last 5 years, how he was always available to service our account, how he had not paid himself and paid others from his shallow pockets because he believed in the value of PW.



But then I selfishly thought of the pain, time, and expense that myself and Call of the Wild were about to go through transitioning back to the old way of doing things, and I said, “You deserve this.”  Why would that be my first thought???




Well meaning folks give entrepreneurs like myself and Doug lots of “pats on the back.”  You are amazing.  Your passion is infectious.  You are having positive impact on the world.  What’s it like to be your own boss?  Must be soooooo AMAZING.  Blah, blah, blah.


I don’t mean to sound ungrateful because positive feedback is wonderful.  But in the end, we are running businesses.  And businesses need to be financially sustainable to survive.  Words don’t pay the bills or create profits.


I gave Doug lots of pats on the back as well and had often pondered calling Doug and saying, “You know, PW adds so much value to our business, I just don’t feel right paying a piddly $25/month.”  The pricing is based on number of users, and as we only have one admin, we are at the bottom of the pay scale.  However, PW is now an integral part of the way we service our customers and create community.  Even though our margins are as thin as the rest of the adventure travel industry, I would easily justify paying $200/mo, one of our higher monthly commitments.


But I never did it.


Now, faced with the closure of PW, I am banding together with my advisory board and other PW clients to donate bridge money to keep it open.  PW simple cannot die.  It has no competitors.  It has revolutionized my adventure travel business.  It can revolutionize others.  Doug is a great visionary who can execute.  I truly don’t have $$ to spare, my pockets are shallow as well, but where there is a will, there is a way.  I still have some retirement savings, and I’m pulling what I can to keep PW afloat.  I’m putting my money where my mouth is.




What are you willing to do to support a person, an idea, a great business that simply must stay in existence?


Think about it.  Don’t be one of those people, for example, who laments the closure of some small business in your community because you chose to shop at Big Box retailers when it was more convenient.  Or one of those PW clients who is using the service for free but haven’t converted to a (crazy low monthly) paid subscription. “Oh, it was so sad to see them go.  I should have done my part to support them more.”


Don’t wait, do it now!  Put your money where your mouth is for the things you believe in.  Oh, yeah, and sign up for a Call of the Wild trip while you’re at it!  😉


PW My Trips

The Case for Women’s Awards

Last night was the inaugural Bend Chamber of Commerce Women of the Year Awards ceremony where I delivered a pre-taped mini-keynote (as I won’t be back from Uganda until March 20).  I wanted to share this here as well as it’s critical to highlight the importance of women’s awards and provide inspiration to others!


“Hello! I am Emilie Cortes and I run Call of the Wild Adventures, adventure travel for women, here locally in Bend.  I would be with you all tonight but I am currently 9,000 miles away at the moment.  On this day I will be attempting to climb, Mt Stanley, the highest peak in Uganda and the 3rd highest peak on the African continent at 16,743ft high.  I hope that’s a good excuse!

I was ecstatic when I was asked to serve as a judge for the Bend Chamber of Commerce first ever Women of the Year awards.  It’s so important to recognize when in our businesses and in our community who are standing out.  But why is it important to hold an event that’s focused exclusively on women?

First, it’s important to recognize trail blazers!  Trail blazers, you say?  Are there really any trail blazers any more?  Don’t we live in an truly egalitarian world now?  Not so much.  After all, it was only 50 years ago that every industry was male-dominated and a women’s place was in the home.  There are many of us who experienced this directly or who saw our mothers’ struggle to make progress and fight for respect.  

This is why one of the awards, the Woman of the Year focuses on male-dominated industries.  Industries such as construction, finance and insurance, academia, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are still heavily occupied by men.  Women who are leaders in these fields are indeed trail blazers.  By learning about what they are doing and how they have been succession, we continue to level the playing field by showing that women can master management in these fields.  It’s not at all about putting men down, it’s about lifting women up!

The second is that we cannot be inspired by what we cannot see!  In my own personal career, I worked in finance in San Francisco for 17 years before making a shift to move to Bend to run my own adventure travel company.  When I looked around me, I saw many qualified, intelligent, dedicated women, but when I looked into the upper echelons of my industry and the companies for which I worked, I saw few or no women.  I felt like I did not belong!  It’s a natural feeling.  If I had seem more women in higher management positions, I may have felt like that was a realistic  career path for me.

Instead I chose to forge my own path and to focus my company exclusively on women. I’ll often be asked if I’m not being sexist or discriminating against men by running women’s only trips.  To that I always answer – ‘The entire adventure travel industry is welcoming toward men.  The other companies are owned by men, the guides are male, and majority of clients are male.  The men are doing JUST FINE! It’s extremely rare to go on a trip in the wilderness with only women and with female guides, and the experience is in stark contrast.  

Women are more comfortable to be themselves, be vulnerable, and work through doubt and fear.  The impact of female guides is palpable.  After being told our whole lives that the female sex is the weaker sex, it’s empowering to see women in charge, leading with confidence and making decisions without a man in sight.  One of my Nepali partners, who I love to death, is always so incredulous when I tell him that there are no men around our trips in the US AT ALL.  He always says, “But Didi, what HAPPENS if something goes wrong and there are no men around???”  You can’t help but walk away from one of these trips with the realization, that yes, we can take care of ourselves and be successful, if in the wilderness then certainly also back in civilization.

It’s with every fiber of my being that I am excited about and dedicated to the lifting up of women around me.  So I sincerely hope that this event has the desired impact on each and every one of you – to recognize the trail blazers in our community and to showcase who we could not see before, and be inspired by them!”

The Case for Self-Nomination

I’ve recently joined the brand new Bend Chamber of the Women of the Year award judge panel.  It’s a great honor to be in the position of evaluating the nominations coming in of wonderful women in our community!

As we have been putting out the word about the nomination period, we are reminding women that they can also self-nominate.  We want to have a great turnout for the inaugural year, and self-nomination is a perfectly legitimate way to be considered!

However, most woman have responded reluctantly to my suggestion to self-nomination.  “Self-nomination really isn’t my thing,” responded one community super star. Another leader in her field said, “I really don’t want the recognition. What have I done to deserve it?


Why are we so hesitant to self-nominate?  There are many angles we could explore but a few come to mind that are obvious:

1. We want validation from others.  Does a nomination for an award need to be submitted by someone else to be worthy?  If we have no one else to pat us on our back, we feel like what we are achieving is somehow less meaningful.  Or perhaps, we haven’t truly achieved success until others are willing to recognize us.  Let’s move past validation and chose to intrinsically believe in our own worth.

2. Humility and modesty are valued among women.  If we toot our own horn, we are immodest and full of ourselves.  Our accomplishments are seemingly less amazing if we bring attention to them.  Where did we get this idea from?  We must shout from the mountain tops all of the amazing things we are doing to change the world around us, to change the way the business is run, to change how women feel about speaking out.

3. We don’t feel deserving. How much do we need to achieve before we feel worthy of recognition?  If we have created a movement, run a company, or touch individuals one by one, don’t we deserve some accolades?  I would say so!


Your work is important!  Your contribution is important!  Perhaps what you have accomplished has not had much visibility or your work has been ignored despite your best efforts.  Showcasing your achievements, your company, your projects has the added benefit of providing exposure and increasing the probability of your success.

If you are worried about others judging you for self-nominating, the judging panel has asked that we do not see who nominated each of the candidates.  All barriers have no been removed, so please, nominate yourself today!

Nomination forms are due February 20 by 4pm and can be downloaded on the Bend Chamber website at

Planning Makes Perfect

I’ve been geeking out on The Rock Climber’s Manual and experimenting with the training concepts within with my crew here in Bend (thx Rod!!!).  It’s the first time I have ever focused on actually training for rock climbing (as opposed to my core passion – mountaineering – a very different discipline), and the concepts outlined in this book are very effective.  After indoor and outdoor rock climbing recreationally on and off for years, I thought I simply wasn’t the best rock climber.  I’m short, heavy set for a climber, and not super strong in my hands and arms.  However, I have been seeing tangible results for the first time and skipping grades and feeling great.  This experience has reminded me of the importance of training.

I have seen many friends and clients struggle on their dream trips or mountains, and they think I am simply “amazing” for the things I have accomplished in the mountains, but the reality is that I have simply learned the importance of planning and training.  This recent experience has just reminded me just how effective training can be to help us improve at something we’re not great at, to take us to the next level in our goals, or even just set a good foundation to get started.  Read on…

What is YOUR dream goal, your bucket list item? I am personally uninspired unless I am working toward a big goal. I have actually felt this way for several years now until I recently got the opportunity to scout the Rwenzoris trek of Uganda for Call of the Wild in March. The Rwenzoris trek has three of Africa’s highest peaks along the way, so I’m not going to miss the chance to climb them along the way! This gets me jazzed and inspired to get out of bed each day to dream, train, and organize.

Aconcagua, the highest peak in Argentina

Aconcagua, the highest peak in Argentina

An old high school friend of mine, we’ll call him Eddie, is also inspired by a huge goal – to climb Aconcagua, the highest peak in Argentina. Now, Eddie is not a climber, not a backpacker, and is not even hiking regularly. Do you think it’s wise for him to aim to climb Aconcagua within a year?

I do, as long as he’s motivated, plans, and executes his plan.

It does no one any good to dream big but fail to take the next basic step – to lay out a solid plan to get ready and fulfill that dream.

“A goal without a plan is a pipe dream.” -Mike & Mark Anderson in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual

Part of planning is determining what your strengths and weaknesses are in face of your dream goal. In Eddie’s case, Aconcagua is a tough but non-technical mountain. It requires great stamina to hike for nearly 3 weeks for 5-10 hours a day typically with a heavy pack, up to 60# to an ultimate altitude nearly 23k ft.

What are Eddie’s strengths? He’s highly motivated. This is incredibly important and powerful and can make up for a lot. I was in the same boat when I first bit by the mountaineering bug.

What are Eddie’s weaknesses? He currently lacks the experience, equipment, and fitness required for a mountain like Aconcagua. He need to fully embrace these weakness and work slowly and methodically on each one of them.

Normally, the greatest benefits will come from focusing on weaknesses. For example, I naturally have great endurance, above average pain threshold, proven ability to acclimatize, and keen body awareness, but I have a lower than average pack-carrying capacity as a very small woman. Thus, I focus much of my training efforts on slowly increasing my pack weight in a diligent, disciplined training program so that I can carry the food and equipment required for my objective.

Carry a pack nearly half my body weight is tough to say the least

Carry a pack nearly half my body weight is tough to say the least

In Eddie’s case, he needs to work on all of this weaknesses as he is quite unproven in this arena. As he is training, strengths and weaknesses will likely make themselves more apparent and he can alter his training appropriately.

A big goal like climbing Aconcagua in 12 months can be incredibly intimidating. Where do you even begin? Breaking the large goal into smaller intermediate goals really helps the large goal feel more manageable. Eddie will have to think about what skills and fitness is required to climb Aconcagua and break them out.

Intermediate goals for Aconcagua include the following:

  1. Get in great hiking shape
  2. Refresh backpacking skills and get in great backpacking shape
  3. Experience climbing over 15,000ft
  4. Organize logistics for Aconcagua expedition
  5. Acquire basic snow climbing skills
I have hiked Mt Diablo over 40 times over the years to prepare for different objectives

I hiked Mt Diablo over 40 times over the years to prepare for different objectives

Obviously, having a very solid hiking base is key before throwing a potentially demoralizing pack on your back and trying to crank out the miles. Most of Aconcagua is not snow covered, so ability to be comfortable setting up and managing camp in a typical backpacking style is key. Working up to carrying a heavy pack is a key component of backpacking, and is part of the challenge of Aconcagua in particular. Another unique challenge of Aconcagua is the extreme altitude of nearly $23k feet – how does one train and prepare for that? The logistics can be intimidating enough and should be broken out separately. Snow climbing skills are important for summit day when you are likely to be climbing on snow. While these skills are a only required for a small portion of the overall climb, they come at a critical time when you are the most tired, at the highest altitude and have the highest propensity for falling and needing these skills.

Each intermediate goal is then broken out into short-term goals which can more easily be turned into calendar deadline entries and to do lists. As an example for Aconcagua, we can breakdown sample short-term goals for step #3 – getting the backpacking skills and fitness ready for the demands of many consecutive days of carrying a heavy pack and setting up/breaking down camp over and over.

Short-Term Goals for achieving intermediate goal #3

  1. Sign up for a course like the Sierra Club’s Backpacking Training Series offered in the Bay Area or do some guided backpacking trips to get tips from experts
  2. Procure backpacking equipment. Train with it to test it and gain intimate familiarity.
  3. After building a solid day hiking volume, begin hiking with a weighted backpack starting at 15# and adding 3# each week. Working backwards to carry a 60# pack, you must start a minimum of 15 weeks in advance and not miss any weeks. For those without previous experience, it would be wise to start even 6 months in advance to be more gentle on your body. Make your hikes mimic the actual event as much as possible (distance, gain, altitude).  As you get closer to the trip, add in a mid-week pack workout with 50-75% of your current training pack weight. This helps keep your body used to carrying weight without stressing it too much and gives you time to recover from your tough weekend hikes.
  4. Plan several backpacking trips of increasing difficulty throughout the year, including ones in the U.S. above 14k ft.
  5. Evaluate progress and adjust training accordingly.

Recording your results serves several purposes by:

  • Forcing you to plan. Laying out your training program in written form (spreadsheet, journal, etc) makes you think about, plan, and schedule your training instead of leaving it to chance.
  • Providing accountability – Did you do what was planned? Why or why not? You can see it in black and white that you are doing what you said you set out to do.
  • Providing a feedback loop – Are you on track or progressing too slowly? Do you need to change your program? How are you feeling mentally and physically?
  • Serving as a motivator – It feels sooooo good when you are doing what you said you would do, see results, feel good and start getting closer to your dream.

In the future, you can look back at your old records and learn from your mistakes and successes to train even more efficiently for new goals.

Planning makes perfect. You still need to have a solid plan, execute it, and evaluate it’s effectiveness…but you are setting yourself up for failure if you move toward an ambitious dream without making an effort to create a well-laid plan.

Please share with me what your big dream is for 2015 and how you are going to go about achieving it!

Additional resources:

The Outdoor Athlete by Courtenay and Doug Schurman – great for hikers, trekkers, and backpackers

The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Mike & Mark Anderson – excellent for serious rock climbers

Training for the New Alpinism – A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House – best for well rounded alpinists

Seven Enemies of Success

I’m a firm believer that success in the outdoors translates directly into success back home and at the office – confidence, skills, communication, learn how to ask for help, contribute to a team, and find power in your own mind and body.  It’s why I have dedicated my life and career to running Call of the Wild Adventures.

So when I saw a good friend of mine, Gregg Swanson, the Warrior Mind Coach, write about the “Seven Enemies of Success” in his email newsletter, I believe they are totally relevant to what I try to do on Call of the Wild trips.  Gregg specializes in developing mental strength to help you achieve your dreams and objectives, and his blog is great if you want to check it out.

Here’s my interpretation of Gregg’s “Seven Enemies of Success” in terms of wilderness adventure:

Ungratefulness – Gratitude brings a mindset of success – it’s the antithesis of negativity and cynicism.  When I guide Call of the Wild trips or go on my own adventures, I’m immensely grateful for the perspective it brings me.  Seeing how others live and often struggle in the rest of the world makes me grateful for my comfortable life.  I feel grateful for the privilege to be able to walk, interact with others from around the world, and to open my mind to endless possibilities.  What are you grateful for?

Apathy – A lack of enthusiastic is the path to mediocrity.  I rarely see signs of apathy in Call of the Wilders though – it would be tough to be apathetic AND have the initiative to register and prepare for an adventure.  But be mindful of other areas of your life where apathy might encroach.

Victimhood – The belief that the world is acting upon you and you are powerless is a great enemy of success.  It’s also one of the biggest lessons we learn and reinforce on our trips.  With all female participants and all female guides, we instantly become a team and a community.  We learn that we cannot control the weather, injury, even government intervention and we figure out how to make a trip a success regardless of the obstacles that the natural (or civilized) world may present.  Sometimes the biggest obstacles can become the most cherished stories!

Learned Helplessness – Belief that you can’t do something or learn to do it will “repel success away from you” in Gregg’s words.  Indeed!  I have a friend that climbed Everest a couple of years ago despite missing most of his arm and I met a gal in Bend who completed the Iditarod despite being legally blind.  The experience does not have to be extreme, however.  For many women, camping for the first time in their adult life is extremely empowering.  I remember getting stranded in my car during a snowstorm and not being scared because I had learned to how to snowcamp.  Our supportive guides are always willing to instruct and answer questions to improve your self-sufficiency.

No Vision – You need vision, drive, motivation to be successful.  I have always been inspired by big goals.  I could never get my booty out of bed to workout in order to look good for a bikini, but with a challenging goal like backpacking Mt Whitney, I was motivated.  I love the phrase “ambitious realism” – set some goals that are ambitious but realistic for where you are now in terms of your experience, fitness, and comfort.  What is your vision???

Fear of Being Judged – I think this is one of the biggest ways we women hold ourselves back.  We are so afraid of failure and judgment, and often will not even try something new as a result.  What is so great about Call of the Wild, and why I chose to focus my life on women only, is that much of this fear is reduced when you are in the company of women.  Funny enough, most participants are worried about holding the group back, but if you are all worried about the same thing, eventually you just have to let go of your own fear.

Lack of Discipline – “To have what you want tomorrow, you have to forgo what it is you want today.”  All of our trips are active and range in difficulty, but all require that you be a regular hiker as a minimum and some require that you train for 4-6 months to be properly prepared.  It’s no good to sign up for a dream trip and then fail to do the preparation needed to be successful.  Discipline will help ensure that your hard work maximizes your chances of being successful.

Noodle on how the “Seven Enemies of Success” might be holding you back, and how adventure (and Call of the Wild!) can be part of your journey to personal success!

Showing up is (more than) half the battle!

I recently joined the board of the Cascades Mountaineers in Bend, OR and have been helping expand the reach to draw in new members and breath new life into an awesome organization. We are using to post events and make it easier for the volunteers to manage RSVPs and event changes.

I received a one email in particular that stands out from a woman interested in joining one of our monthly social climbs at the Bend Rock Gym – an opportunity to meet other climbers and get to know them in a low-key indoor environment. We’ll call her “Norma.”

Norma said she REALLY wanted to learn to rock climb and asked if we would be welcoming of beginners. I said “Of course! We have climbers of all abilities and those of us who are more experienced still remember what it was like to be a beginner.” She RSVP’d “yes” and then did not show up.

The next event rolled around and Norma reached out again asking, “I’m in my 60s and I’m worried I’ll be the oldest one there. I want to have new adventures and meet new people. Will I fit in?” I responded, “Of course! We have a wide range of ages who participate in the Cascade Mountaineers. Age is no barrier and in fact, I recently climbed a tough mountain with a friend who is 73.” Norma RSVP’d “yes” but then did not show up again.

Norma was interested enough to reach out, express her interest, and even express her concerns…but she let her fears hold her back.

Let’s deconstruct her fears. It was clear she was afraid she would be judged as a beginner and as an older climber.

If an organizer inaccurately described an event as beginner friendly, it would be the organizer’s error, not the attendee’s error, if the event really wasn’t beginner friendly. But how many people do you know would truly alienate someone new who was eager to learn?

I have climbed with men and women as young as 20 and as old as 73 and all were great experiences. As someone smack dab in the middle (at 40), I have no issues about my age or others’ ages as climbers. Yet, when I assured Norma that her age was not an issue based on the demographics of the club and the attitude of climbers generally, she still did not show up. Sure, it’s theoretically possible she could have been the only 60 year old in a group of 20 year olds, but she might have just been that much more welcome as someone who could provide inspiration to young folks.

Check out this incredibly intimidating group of people!

Check out this incredibly intimidating group of people!

Is it possible that she could have shown up to an event and found herself alone in a group of elitist a$$holes? Sure, it’s possible, but truly, how likely is that? Clubs are formed to help build community, volunteers donate their time to help others and share the love of the activity, and events are designed to enable people to get to know each other.

Norma failed only herself by not showing up. The risk was that she could potentially be rejected by a new group of people. The reward could have been the resolution of her aspiration to try climbing, and perhaps even discover that she was good at it and enjoyed it.  In the end, she felt the risk was greater than the reward.  Would you agree?

How are you holding yourself back? What are you wishing you could do or try, but you keep sabotaging yourself by failing to show up? What happens if you try by showing up, even just once?

Think about it.

SIX SIMPLE SECRETS OF HAPPINESS – Observations of a Wilderness Guide

Adventure travel is a fantastic way to see the world, get in on the ground floor to interact with locals, shake up your preconceived notions of what was possible, and bond with your travel partners. It’s also a fantastic study in human behavior, and I now feel that I can pick out a generally happy person within minutes of meeting them simply by seeing what they comment on when we first meet. Watching how they interact with others, how they approach obstacles, and how they treat themselves provides inside into the secrets of happy people.

1. Be Kind to Others
Those who are kind to others are the happiest by far. Their genuine concern often outweighs their own concern for themselves. You will find that others really react differently and will go out of their way to help someone who is warm and kind. Sometimes our culture idolizes strength and dominance, but most people don’t like to be on the receiving end of dominance.

Imagine you meet a stranger who immediately barks an order at you. You bristle because they seem to have a sense of entitlement that you should help them and they seem to believe they are so superior that they have the right to ask for help without any consideration for your feelings.

Now imagine you meet a stranger who says “Hey there, sorry to trouble you, but would you be able to help me with xyz?” They immediately give several impressions – 1) that they don’t assume it’s your job (even though sometimes it might be), 2) that you are gracious, and 3) you leave them some room to say they don’t know or to direct you to someone else. My experience around the world in many different cultures, is that this approach is far more effective to get things done, make friends, and garner support. You don’t ALWAYS have to be standing up for yourself, at least not until you have a REAL problem.

Learn your porters names!  They are people, too.

Learn your porters names! They are people, too.

I make a real effort to learn the names of everyone that works for me on my international trips, even when we have 10 porters with challenging local names, as well as key words and phrases in their native tongue to express appreciation. Small gestures, but I think some of these folks are not used to kindness from foreigners, so it can go a looooong way.

2. Be Grateful for What You Have
The more I travel, the more I’m convinced that wealth has a real dark side. In some of the poorest countries and regions, I have seen families that were all smiles and giggles when together, porters carrying heavy loads that were willing to bust into dance with me without an iota of self-consciousness, and young children playing with soda bottle caps with great delight.

Happiness is a state of mind, not a state of material accumulation.

Wealth, and the pursuit of wealth, seems to breed an unhealthy desire for perfect…whether in the structure of our lives, our partners, our clothes, even our food. Even though something may be so darn good already, there is always room for improvement, right? Just 5lbs less. Just a nicer car. Just a better apartment. Then I will be happy.

I have seen many clients ask for lots of customization with their meals in developing countries to make their culinary experience perfect (despite my warnings – generally these kinds of requests can be confusing and well meaning staff will get it wrong). When that meal wasn’t prepared exactly as they expected, they will often proclaim, “Oh! If ONLY it didn’t have the xyz ingredient, THEN it would have been perfect.” And they can be greatly unhappy with imperfection of a single meal and that unhappiness amazingly can seem to last for hours!

International trips are very perspective resetting.  When I return home, I always have renewed gratitude for a comfortable bed to sleep in, a safe environment, consistent electricity, and faucet water that I can drink and bathe in without a care.  We are very fortunate here in America.

3. Respect other Cultures
Other cultures are around us every day, you don’t have to cross any major seas to experience them. There are different ethnic groups, religious groups, differences across regions and even cities, and even gender can be considered a culture in my opinion. There are MANY different ways to react, to process, to address people and situations based on your cultural reference point. It can be quite jarring to barrel into a situation with your own perspective and no consideration for another’s.

In Tanzania and Nepal, it’s considered shocking for both men and women to show skin, many clients will ask again and again if it’s REALLY not OK to wear tank tops and shorts because they REALLY want to wear them. I feel as if I’m an overly strict parent by insisting that we respect the local cultures when I turn them down repeatedly. They are still adults and can do what they want, but I will not give my blessing. Why should we show up in someone else’s home and do things that are considered offensive?

Hanging with a family deep in the Makalu Barun region of Nepal

Hanging with a family deep in the Makalu Barun region of Nepal

Tread lightly, ask questions, try to understand, and where you cannot understand, try to respect…you might just learn something and others will react more positively to you. At the very least, you will not leave a trail of shock and dismay for your behavior.

4. Take Care of Yourself
Marytrism is a bad deal for you and everyone else around you. If you don’t take care of yourself, you become tired, cranky, overworked and generally unpleasant to be around. This is one of my greatest challenge areas that I’m working on. Even the simple act of doing a 10 minute meditation before starting my day on Kilimanjaro helped me feel far more focused and present. I have a great morning mediation from my coach, Gregg Swanson, which asks you to focus on ONE thing you want to accomplish that day. If we just accomplish one important thing each day, it’s amazing how far you can get.

When I was on Kili, every day I focused on being present and being kind to my clients. Sound weird that I’m talking about taking care of myself by focusing on my clients? It can actually be quite challenging on such a physically demanding peak to take care of yourself and be physically and mentally available to your clients. Their anxiety can be high and both the best and worst can come out of people on trips where they are far out of their comfort zone. In order to take care of them, I set aside time each morning alone in my tent to gather and focus my energy on them.

Working on my Zen on Kilimanjaro

Working on my Zen on Kilimanjaro

I give a big lecture at the beginning of each trip about how are are all a team now and have to support each other to meet our desired objective, but that a team is comprised of individuals who each need to take care of themselves to first in order to contribute to the team. Despite this, many and especially women, have great difficulty stopping a group to take care of something personal. Once such woman, after hiking down a very rugged section after the Lava Tower on Kili said, “I’m really hot and need to take off my jacket.” I said, “OK, let’s do it now before you overheat.” She protested, we hiked for 20 paces, and then she complained again of being hot. This time her tentmate said, “So why don’t we stop and take care of it?” She protested again, we hiked another 20 paces when she said something once more. This time I stopped and said, “OK, we need to address this now. Everyone take a break here.” Her response flabbergasted me – “Ha! I knew if I said something a third time, you would be willing to stop.” Far less drama and internal dialogue would have been necessary if she had simply stopped on her own. You don’t need to ask permission three times and receive a satisfactory answer in order to take care of yourself.

For more about putting your own oxygen mask on first…”Serious Self-Care.”

5. Avoid Blaming Others
It’s so easy to find fault in others or a situation if you are looking for it. Always having your negative radar on can be a major obstacle to happiness. This was very evident on one trip to Italy. Several of the clients had not read their materials nor heeded my advice to add stairs and stepmill machine to their training to prepare for their trip. I told each one over the phone that previous clients had said there were more stairs than they had expected (hence my recommendation to add stair workouts to their training). Once we were on the trip, several expressed concern about hiking along sea cliffs, the amount of stairs, and the warm weather. They were disappointed that I had not properly warned them.

We had numerous discussions about how the materials should be changed to properly warn people (although I was certain the materials did a good job, the customer is always right so I entertained all of their suggestions.) After the trip, I did a thorough review of the materials. Sure enough, there are descriptions of hiking up and down rugged trails, sea cliffs, numerous stone stairs and stair switchbacks, and suggestions to be prepared for hiking for 4-6 hours in hot weather. It’s easy to find fault when you are looking for it, whether or not it is there.

Instead, they probably would have had a much better time if they said, “Wow! Look at these glorious blue skies and sunshine we have and are blessed not to have any rain. And what a great workout hiking along dramatic sea cliffs so that I won’t feel guilty about my espresso, gelato, wine, and elaborate multi-course dinners.” Same experience with a different perspective can make all the difference in your happiness.

Hiking along sea cliffs

Hiking along sea cliffs

Beautiful village of Vernazza

Beautiful village of Vernazza

At the same time, you can’t be too hard on yourself. So what if you missed something or forgot something important…usually the only thing that’s the end of the world is death (and maybe a lost passport)! Things can be replaced or borrowed, schedule mishaps can be fixed, hikes can be cut short, meals can be reordered, miscommunications with friends can be repaired. So don’t blame others for your mistakes, but don’t blame yourself either. Just recognize the mistake, try to fix it, learn from it, and move on. You, and everyone around you, will have a much better time as a result!

6. Anxiety is Not Your Friend
Bad things happen whether you send countless hours worrying about them or not (and so do good things!!!). If you are afraid of flying, the plane probably isn’t going to crash and you may have spent 5 hours in agony worrying about it. And if you are worried that not worrying about a crash could actually cause a crash, let me assure you that your thoughts have little impact on the successful or unsuccessful outcome of a flight!

I have seen a lot of anxiety on the trips I have led around the world. Typically, what happens on a trip happens regardless of any one person’s worries. And often, when bad things happen, they are not so bad and are truly unexpected. It’s one of the great lessons that adventure travel teaches you – you can never be completely attached to an outcome, and you have to be mentally prepared for many obstacles along the way. This makes it all that much sweeter when you achieve your goal!

Being mentally prepared for obstacles and worrying about obstacles are miles apart. Being mentally prepared involves strength, flexibility, and a presence of mind to remain calm and think about options to solve an issue, as well as the awareness and acceptance that not all problems are solvable. Anxiety is a focus of energy on the thing you are most worried about happening, and in the end it often results in not being mentally prepared for any host of other things that many happen – your mind is far from a state of calm and focus.

Sunrise over Kilimanjaro from Mt Meru

Sunrise over Kilimanjaro from Mt Meru

Another story from Kili involves a woman who was incredibly fit and physically prepared for the trip, yet her anxiety level was off the hook. Her mind kept going straight to the summit, all the things that could go wrong along the way, and what she would have to say to people back home if she didn’t make it. Each night we did breathing exercises and a pep talk about how the only thing she had to worry about was putting one step in front of another each day. In contrast, another client was far less physically fit and was really challenged by the hiking each day. But she had no expectations about summitting, enjoyed the experience, and never stopped smiling. Every step and every day was a great gift.

In the end, they both summitted, but who do you think had a better time?  This is how I prefer to approach a big peak…If you can’t have fun and be kind along the way, it truly may not be worth it.  🙂