Three things I learnt climbing three mountains in three days across three states

Treasure Aamayah
By Treasure Aamayah | 5 July 2024
Treasure Aamayah.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done that you would do again in a heartbeat? For me, it’s hiking Mt Bogong which I have affectionately nicknamed Mt Brutality. From the nickname, I’m sure you’re wondering why I would want to tackle this mountain again. Well, it’s for three reasons, which I promise I will get to, however, for the sake of story, I’ll begin at the start.

It was the beginning of January and like most people, I was thinking about my new year’s resolutions for 2024. More importantly, I was thinking about how I intended to keep them this year. I, like so many, have experienced the immense disappointment when you realise it’s December and another year has passed you by. The goals you set at the beginning of the year have long been forgotten. I, again like so many others, have promised myself time and time again that this is the year I get it together. I say to myself “This is it! This is the year I lose the extra kilos, find a new hobby, and finally commit to writing!” And then like so many others, I falter. Why? But even more importantly, how do I change that this year?

It will never cease to amaze me that the answers to my somewhat existential questions seem to appear the moment I think of them. It was the first or second week back at work, when an email from our MD popped into my inbox, titled Three Peaks. The email was a call out for donations to support him in this challenge. Honestly, I would normally have filed that email and moved on with my day, but this felt like a sign. So, I did what any normal person would do in the spur of the moment and signed up for the challenge. I think this is an apt time to mention that up until this point, I did not like hiking or the great outdoors for that matter.

Thankfully, the organisers of the challenge put together a weekly hiking training schedule. One of the first practice hikes was a 21km circuit up Mt Jerusalem. Everything that could have gone wrong, did go very wrong! I had a significant caffeine crash, ate too much food at lunch and was on the verge of vomiting, ran out of water 3/4 of the way up the mountain and to top it off it was 38 degrees that day! I remember thinking two specific things to myself; F$%k this and I’m probably going to die on this mountain. Whilst it was a huge shock to the system, I realised, if I wanted to complete this challenge and achieve my new year’s resolution, I would need to significantly ramp up my training.

My resolution was not just to lose the extra kilos I had been promising myself to do for years but it was also to find freedom. I have craved freedom for as long as I can remember. When I was a teenager, I thought freedom was late night parties, drunken kisses, and a sloppy kebab. As a young adult, I thought having the financial means to buy pretty shoes that hurt and dresses that will be out of style next season would equal freedom. In my mid-twenties, I thought travelling to wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted was freedom. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I was wrong on all accounts. These are all surface level, but I realised what I truly wanted was freedom of the body. To wake up every morning without that heavy feeling you only get when you’re out of shape.

So, in the pursuit of freedom, I pulled out the elbow grease and got to work. Every morning at 4am, the familiar dong of my alarm would cut through my sleep, forcing me out of bed. After overcoming the first battle of getting out of bed, dressed and out the door. I would fight the next battle at the gym, where I would spend an hour on the stair climb followed by an hour on the treadmill at an ever-increasing incline. Then work, eat, sleep, rinse, and repeat. Like a new member in a cult, I followed this schedule religiously for twelve weeks until the event.

On day one, we climbed Mt Tennent in the ACT, which was a casual 15km hike with 800m of elevation. If I’m being entirely honest, it didn’t feel like much of a challenge. On Day two we climbed Mt Kosciuszko in NSW which is the tallest peak in Australia. This was a harder hike, covering 22km whilst gaining 961m in elevation. I was still in high spirits, but I could feel the fatigue beginning to set in.

Day three was Mt Bogong and we were pre warned that this was going to be the actual challenge. Firstly, it’s the third day of back-to-back hiking and secondly because the hike itself was the hardest out of them. I remember being quietly apprehensive about this hike. It was the highest mountain in terms of elevation gain, and it didn’t help that everyone else seemed to share my anxieties. Together we were one moving mass of anxious, tired, hangry hikers.

Initially, five and half hours were allocated for the hike to the summit of Mt Bogong if everything followed the planned schedule. As you can imagine, I likely wouldn’t be writing this story if everything went according to plan. Due to unforeseen circumstances including a wild brumby running in front of the bus and death ice covering the mountain pass, we didn’t end up starting the hike until an hour and half past the original departure time. This meant we needed to climb up to 1400 metres in elevation in 4 hours!

Within the first twenty minutes of starting the hike, I became a place where positivity went to die. Every negative thought bounced around my skull like my brain was no longer there. I was exhausted by a type of fatigue that seeps into your bones and somehow attaches to your soul. Step after step, I battled my demons and felt suffocated by their questions. Why am I here? Does it even matter? Am I enough? Why did I think I could do this? Whenever a fellow hiker passed me on the trail, I felt a wave of inadequacy wash over me and cement that I was in fact incapable of doing this.

Lesson 1: “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t – you are right.” – Henry Ford.

The power of the mind is a wonderful and equally unpleasant thing. With dirt underfoot, I was mentally transported back to all those 4am wakeups. The hours spent pounding the stair climber. The sweat that increasingly made its way past my eyebrows and stung my eyes every session. I kept thinking ‘maybe I didn’t do enough.’ Through the fog of my existential crisis, I heard someone say in encouragement, “We climb Mountains, so they don’t have to”. A reference to how the funds raised would go on to help countless youths supported by White Lion. The thing is the mountain was no longer underfoot. The mountain was me and my feet were struggling to take me to a place my mind could not find. What does overcoming me even look like?

After a solid 2.5 hours of uphill, I rounded a corner and finally made it to the hut which was the halfway point for the hike. Thankfully, through all my begrudgery and personal moping, I was still making my way, albeit slowly up Mt Brutality. I sheepishly joined the others that had already made it to the hut before me. I was embarrassed I didn’t get there faster. I struggled to make eye contact as if they would be able to see right through me. A fraudulent hiker who had hated every second of the last few hours. Hello imposter syndrome! Nice of you to finally join the chat. After the shortest lunch break in history, we had to get going again, inching our way closer and closer to the top of the mountain.

As I set off, I vowed to burn my hiking boots as soon as I got off the mountain! Between the peak and I, was every excuse I’d ever made. Every time I started something but didn’t finish. Every time my growing pains scared me back to my safe but small little box of a life. I was so close but emotionally I was chasms away. Like I said, it was no longer me versus the mountain- it was now me vs me. Who I could be and wanted to be vs who I was and felt trapped as. I knew deep down that there was a choice to be made and either way there would be pain. I could suffer the battle to victory or suffer the regret of giving up.

Lesson 2: “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” – Albert Einstein

I was about 3.5km from the summit with a solid 600m of elevation left to climb and still feeling like I had every excuse to stop. That’s when I overheard the radio call of one of the guides behind me stating that 3.30pm was the turnaround point so anyone who hadn’t made it to the final rest stop by 3pm, wouldn’t be able to summit. Up until this point, I had spent the entire hike cursing every life choice that led me here, so you would think that the radio call would have been a welcome blessing, but you’d be wrong. Whether good or bad, there are some things that my ego can’t take and failing something I’ve committed to is one of them. I looked at the time, and it was 1.53pm meaning I had a little over an hour to get to the final rest spot. I knew I was about 15 to 20 mins behind the front group, who were moving at a pace I had struggled to match all day. They were going to reach the summit and if I wanted to be there with them, I would need to haul ass.

The quiet threat of failure acted as an instant mind reset to default factory settings, leaving only one thought to remunerate, and become my mantra – I’m going to make it.

Lungs on fire – “I’m going to make it!”

Heart palpitating – “I’m going to make it!”

Thighs aching – “I’m going to make it!”

Knees burning – “I’m going to make it!”

Back seizing – “I’m going to make it!”

Sweat in my eyes – “I’m going to make it!”

I found that there is a certain type of magic that lives in the pain born from our yet untapped potential. Physically, it hurts because we haven’t stretched ourselves like this before but emotionally, it stings just that little bit more. We realise that we are enough, we are able and potentially have always been completely capable and so we ask ourselves why haven’t I tried to do this before? It is within this concoction of magic and pain that I found the freedom I had been searching for. Finally, I cleared the tree line and caught up to the front group. I made it to the final rest stop in time and I was going to reach the summit.

Lesson 3: “Slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be” – Andre de Shields.

Tears flooded my eyes as I stood on the peak of Mt Bogong reminiscing on the hours, days and weeks that had been leading up to this moment. The pain and sweat of the hike evaporated instantly leaving me with a cliche swirl of emotions. It was on this peak that I realised in the 12 weeks leading up to this challenge, I gifted myself with my most precious resource, my time. I gave myself time to grow and flourish. It wasn’t immediately apparent, however upon reflection, I found that it was the journey to the top of every mountain where I continued to find better versions of myself. I believe Andre de Shields sums it up perfectly when he said, “The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.” And I intend to.

Treasure Aamayah, Performance Manager - Social, Wavemaker 

Wavemaker Three Peaks Particpants

Wavemaker's Three Peaks particpants

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