Hugging Mount St Helens

9. Standing on the shoulders of giants

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves. – Sir Edmund Hillary

As you stand at the summit of a volcano, gazing down on the world around you, you experience a huge lump of emotions. The immense pride that you managed to fight against your internal voice for the last 4+ hours, the one that’s been telling you that ‘this was a stupid idea, I can’t do this…’ or, ‘I should just quit and go home to a nice cup of tea’. Relief, that you did it, you finally made it to the top. Immense satisfaction and awe, when you look at how incredible the view is, and how amazing the world can be; how you can’t believe that you almost turned around 2 hours ago. And also, sometimes, immense dread, because you know that you’ll have to go back down again! In this blog post I will share my experiences of standing on the shoulders of some incredible sleeping giants.

Mount Merapi 2014 summit sunrise
Sunrise from the summit of Mount Merapi, Indonesia. Credit: SWanmer 2014

The night before

After mentally preparing myself for the challenges of climbing a volcano I knew that it’s really important to get lots of rest the night before. However, the excitement and nerves that flow throughout your being are most defiantly not going to let that happen. The night before my first climb of a volcano I didn’t sleep at all, which went against everything that I had mentally prepared for. I was ridiculously excited.

The morning

Waking up early to start a climb certainly isn’t an issue when you’ve been awake with excitement all night. When the alarm went off I almost lept from my bed and felt like I could run all the way up the volcano straight away. Like an eager child waiting for their parent to wake up on Christmas morning, I was ready and rearing to go.

Permits are required to reach the summit of Mount St. Helens, USA.

The climb

As I started the climb my excitement reached a peak, a peak that was impossible to maintain for much more than half an hour. Gradually the excitement turned into an internal battle to keep going and not give up. It’s a tough physical and mental challenge to keep going up a 45+ degree slope for several hours on end. Even with the summit in sight and a clear view of the route ahead  it’s a real struggle. Most of the time the summit lies in view for several hours, so that not even the sight of the summit motivates you after a while. Not only are there the physical aches that come with walking in this terrain for extended periods of time but there are also the constant mental checks that you make each time you step forward. The ground around you may be jagged or loose, and unforgiving if you fall, and you have to constantly calculate where you will put your feet next.

Standing on top of the world

There is nothing that can prepare you for all the emotions and relief that you feel when you finally heave your tired body up onto the summit rim of a volcano. No matter how I describe this I won’t be able to do the experience any justice.

As you reach the summit of a volcano absolutely every feeling washes over you. It is a feeling that I will never ever forget, almost like a shock to your system, the feelings remain vivid for years to come.

When I reached the summit of Mount St Helens. This was something that I had always dreamed of, yet I never expected the views that surrounded me. Looking out across the world, with the biggest smile on my face, and a tear in my eye. Relief and awe striking me down as I took in the whole experience, wishing that I could stay there forever.

Hugging Mount St Helens
Hugging the volcano: at the summit of Mount St Helens in 2012

However, reaching the summit of Mount Merapi, was a completely different experience. The climb had been the most difficult thing that I had ever done, starting at 1am and lasting the rest of the dark night, it was filled with excitement and panic attacks. As I stood at the summit watching the sun rise over Indonesia, I was struck by an immense feeling of dread. It was absolutely amazing to have reached the summit after a 5-6 hour climb but I knew that we would then have to hike the same route back down, and I was absolutely terrified!

Standing on the shoulders of the magnificent beast that is Mount Merapi, Indonesia, in 2014

Making memories

Everyone has a different summit experience, but I promise you that it will be one of the most incredible things that you will ever do. It will challenge you physically and emotionally and test you to your limits. But will give you the added satisfaction that you’re standing on top of a wild and untamed beast, one that could destroy itself within your lifetime, giving you the chance to experience something that might not exist several years or decades down the line.


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