Something powerful takes over when hanging by an axe hooked into ice, crampons and a collection of carabiners. Presence is where I find inner peace.

Grasping a single ice tool hooked in the frozen ice wall 30 meters above the frost ladened ground, my left eye on a quest for stable ice to kick into, seconds transcend time. Though I seek the perfect spot for my crampon to connect, to balance, reset then climb on, perfection does not exist.  There is nowhere for my mind to wander. No analyzing thoughts, no reminiscing, no anticipatory anxiety. I am here. I am now. 


Something infinitely powerful takes over. Presence is free of time, of past and future, free of insecurities, free of judgment. Thought away from the present moment, anything but ascending the sheet of ice, could quickly end this story. That adrenaline, that intensely alive feeling, is euphoric. The sound of water trickling behind the ice, crevasses crackling and ice breaking from above, my mind has no place to go. Presence is powerful. I crave that take over. Adrenaline found in the Annapurna ice feeds that craving. Scaling frozen waterfalls is not difficult. Staying present is difficult. 


Only by being present can I free myself from the past; unhook myself from doubt and fallacies. The compulsion to live exclusively through memory and anticipation cannot be fed when hanging by an axe hooked into ice, crampons and a collection of carabiners. Presence is where I find inner peace. 


Rumination, doubt and despair are caused by too much past and not enough presence.  The 90 minute hike from Humde to the waterfall was flooded with a cascade of stories along the way. Gratitude for sunshine and health interrupted by a barrage of doubt. Boomeranging fallacies, all rooted in being enough, worthiness and approval, carried me away from majestic Manang and into a dark space as I silently trekked alone through the snow. 


Respecting the elements, gear, and physical strength are all necessary to scale the ice yet balancing the mind at the deepest level is the essential tool in my newly discovered passion. The density of the ice, the temperature and the wind, all constantly changing though the need for acute awareness remains the same. Tuning into the sounds of dripping water behind the ice or increasing fatigue in my pulsating forearm, I am not present. When my mind remains tuned in the present, I train my ability to go deep within. With a balanced mind, I acknowledge thoughts, let them go and return to the now. Swing, hook, kick, stand up, look then swing again.


Lacing a pair of running shoes and shuffling my feet up and down a mountain trail, this is not. Though I strive to run mindfully, drifting happens, most often without more than a story and a couple bloody knees to show for no depth perception combined with a wandering mind. The language, the technique and terrain, ice climbing was brand new territory, all foreign yet the expectations of myself were high as the Himalayas I was playing in. On the mountain trail or the ice wall, dark thoughts, feelings, and emotions all rise and distract  just as they do in meditation. I am not going to successfully scale a frozen waterfall if I let my mind win. Swinging into the ice without hooking onto distracting thoughts, mindfulness allows me to keep focused on the climb. Kick with my toes held up, listen for the stealth sound of steel on ice, level the feet, make a plan. Legs moving up, tools pulling down, that comfortable balance seems elusive on the wall and in my head. 


Breathe and balance the mind. Connect with inner peace then look to swing. Whether hanging by an ice axe and two narrow points protruding from my boot or sitting on a meditation mat, I am learning to observe the distracted mind and climb on. Swing, hook, kick, stand up, look then swing again.


Present-moment awareness creates a gap in the cascading flow of my mind. Through that gap, that clear space of infinite possibility between the squat, the stand, the kick and the hook, I am present. 


Mindfulness is elusive. It entails being aware of the present moment, the space in the past-future continuum and accepting things as they are without judgment. Analyzing the mountains in my mind, longing for eyesight, comparison to how life used to be, or believing perfection is something that actually exists only grows roots of suffering.  When I am totally engrossed in the swing and the kick there is no suffering. Inner peace is irrespective of conditions, of elements or others. When the ice is unstable, I shift the axe, I shift my feet, my mind needs no shift as it is totally  present. Everything feels right because I am there. Hooked in peace.


My first ice climbing experience was made possible by the Nepal Climbing Team. NCT and the local climbing community have welcomed me like family. It is because of these friends, along with the Nepal Trail Running community that I feel at home, at peace, here in the Himalayas. 

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    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Thank you for making the time to read, connect and staying along the ice walls, trails, peaks and all of the ups and downs of the mountains of my mind Nadine.
      May this find you, your family and the MIS team all healthy and hopeful.
      Vielen Dank x

  1. Thomas Stevens says:

    Vivid lyrical writing places me on the ice with Jill. I’m inspired each time I read her posts. There are life lessons for all in her beautifully crafted lines.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Thank you for joining me on the frozen waterfalls Tom ~ your encouraging cheers move mountains.
      May you stay inspired on the trails and your keyboard.
      With gratitude,