Mountaineering and Depression

I felt like shit but I smiled and said it was amazing. I felt hollow but I told people that I had a great time.

It’s the post trip blues. Pretty standard with any Caribbean holiday, but because my trip was an expedition, for me it hit a little harder. I had put my life on hold, trained 15 hours a week for six months and cleared my bank account for it. Quite literally. I came back red rawer than your standard tiki tan tour. Unsuccessful and unsure what to do next, there was a big void where that money and hours spent at the gym used to be.

Ama Dablam was a domino in a line, to be submitted and toppled, allowing me to cleanly take the next linier step to Everest, a goal which I’ve had for five years now.

I sat on top of a rock at Camp One and made a video. Sick with AMS and the beginnings of a full blown bout of gastro, frustrated and feeling alone. The team were behind me in the morning sun, strapping on crampons, boiling water and getting ready to leave for camp 2, and for the summit bid early next morning. I spoke to my video, a diary and life line to the friends and family I held in my mind, and I cried. It made for a gripping vlog, but that moment has lasted two months since I have been back home in Sydney.

People ask what’s next. I honestly don’t know. I mean I’d even made a fucking infograph of my mountain timeline plan in a neat aesthetic order. If this domino didn’t topple, how could I get to the next? Apathetic to get back into training, disinterested in hiking in any form, jaded at the idea of Everest as I watched my social media flood with butcher line images of the summit.

If a dream that I’ve held for so many years is not possible, what do I do? I mean, sure the logical answer is get on with it. But seriously, I’ve made so much progress, have situated my life around this goal of getting to Everest, and have even become a climbing writer in the process. Yes, I get it, it’s not all that bad, I should buck up. However, in my mind, the process was going to be concluded (in a sense) with me standing on the summit of the very tippy top of the highest point in the world. One of the only places on earth where you can see the curvature of the earth, the colour of the sky change darker as you can stare into the stratosphere, to touch the void beyond this earth into the space and sky.

I brainstormed other ways to ‘conclude’ this quest of immersion as I left the team to the summit attempt and trotted alone down to the base camp of Ama Dablam. Buy a horse and travel Australia? Could I spend my 15 hours a week in the studio making paintings? I could start a family! All these things which I have put my life on hold for, I could do if it wasn’t for this goddamn mountain and this god damn sickness and this god damn gastro. God damn.

I don’t really know how to frame this piece of writing, nor conclude it. I didn’t want to make it a 7 Ways to Beat Post Trip Blues, or some fluffy feel good thing. I mean, I am still feeling pretty blah about mountaineering. I did go to training for the first time in two months through. I suppose I wanted to share a part of mountain climbing that sometimes gets looked over, this bit is not so glamorous. There is no easy quick fix for post trip blues, or low grade depression and sometimes it’s just muddling your way through it. Maybe the thing to take away from it, is to plan for it. I mean, I wrote a list of all the things that could go wrong, sort of a risk assessment but more for my own fears and insecurities. Next time I am going to include post trip blues as a part of that. Include remedies such as; time in the sea, time with my friends and maybe a horse ride. Actually I’ll book that now.

  • Sara
    Posted at 19:18h, 05 July Reply

    Thank you for sharing honestly about something not so “pretty or glamorous”. I hope you find a way to something that is inspiring and fun to you. And hey, you just missed out on something that was really important to you. It’s ok to be sad about that. Big hugs!

  • Lara B
    Posted at 21:46h, 05 July Reply

    Had post trip adventure hiking blues v bad a few years ago.

    I blame some of it in the dopamine thrill and excess I was running off. The hardcore focused obsessive, walk til the pain is nice type vibe.

    I think back and it was exciting, tough and I was skinny and in survival mode. The presence was incredible but the morphing back to small commutes, only an hour or two of movement a day, fines and bills and all seemed very peculiar and foreign. I also realised the constant adrenaline of adventure was wearing thin and I couldn’t keep it up as much as I wanted too.

    It took a long time, especially as I felt I hadn’t ‘completed’ my full journey. But now I feel I can pace myself, not get addicted to the goal but also not hide again from the fear. It’s a weird balance. The nervous system I think has to come back to a balance.

    Thanks for your post and your honesty. It’s a good part of it.

    I reckon you’ll get there, or find your new version of adventure there. When you’ve had a taste, it’ll always be a part of your relief and journey.


  • Joe Bonington
    Posted at 07:56h, 11 July Reply

    Awesome article Steph.
    My two pennies worth… for the time being, stop focusing on THE mountain itself and refocus on the joy of the MOUNTAINS. When you are ready then refocus back onto THE mountain, if it feels right. Don’t do this goal because you “HAVE” too. Do it because you would “LOVE” too.
    A great goal should be scary and exciting at the same time. If you aren’t excited by it…. walk away, until you are…. even if that means just walking away.
    The only one making yourself feel like you are is you, the mountains are just mountains, they only become a challenge or a goal once we start thinking about them.
    You are 100% in control of how you move on from here and how you tackle this emotionally.
    The thing I love about outdoor, challenge and experience is there is a lesson at every turn, which is why I like to use the physical and mental challenge of the outdoors to help people grow.
    What are the lessons, you can learn today? Resilience? Patience? acceptance? I don’t know, but its’ great isn’t it!

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