We spent one night in hell

I have been hiking through the Alps in Austria for the past month. We traversed over a glacier, mildly missed an avalanche, clamoured across vertical slopes, and slept 1,000 metres underground in a cave.

In certain parts of the cave I had to slither and squeeze through small holes with jutting rocks of ice. Occasionally my headlamp would flicker off and a mild panic would start to set in with disorientation.

“Three or more days alone in this cave could cause madness and eventually death,” echoed the voice of our guide. He moved carefully on his feet like a cat, and I didn’t doubt him for one minute.

The cave oozed with a darkness that went deeper than physical, so when it came time to leave the following morning you can’t imagine the glorious sensation we all felt as we clamoured our way out.

Our group of eight emerged from the cave on the ridge of the mountain with the most empowering feeling, like as if there was nothing else on earth. All the problems of the world below were forgotten as the warmth of the sun glowed through the cracks of the summit.

We stood covered from head to toe in soot from the cave and bleary-eyed, but wrapped in a feeling of ecstasy. We had just spent the night in hell and now here we were standing in the heavens with not a cloud in the sky. It was an awakening that I will never forget.

Our path throughout the mountains was littered with obstacles, but it was those challenges that truly defined our character. These challenges are similar to what we face each day in life. They are opportunities in disguise. Challenges exist to test our strength and faith. And now I understand that it’s only in our darkest of moments that our light can truly shine.

I am looking forward to coming home, but climbing these mountains has been an empowering journey – body, soul, and spirit. I came out here weak, but now I am strong. And we can endure far more physically and mentally than what anyone might think possible, as long as we don’t give up.

*This is the last postcard I sent my grandmother dated in 2002. I had recently turned 18 and climbed the Alps.