Backcountry skiing among the highest of the Himalayas felt blissfully surreal. In an instant, the peaks were padlocked and an internal storm was triggered.

Expedition is commonly defined as a journey undertaken with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, research, or war. I survived an expedition that led me on a journey exploring personal strength, researching human potential and in a war between craving and acceptance.  

Where fixed lines and teams with common goals support climbing expeditions, IV lines, and feeding tubes were my lifelines while a support team coddled me towards their summit, surviving the avalanche triggered by traumatic brain injury (TBI). 

The indomitable force of mountains provide opportunity to discover the limits of human performance. When forces of nature feel impossible to go any further, breaking the mountain down to the tiniest footstep forward is progress. Forward on this expedition meant distancing from where I craved to be. Not interested. 

On this expedition, a collective crew of hundreds had provided the tools and taught the skills. They got me to the summit. The job of the expedition team was done 26 months after it began. Surviving the expedition was their summit, not mine. If I could walk away having learned from the mountain, that would be success yet the craving persisted. I wanted to run; run back to how life used to be. My work was just getting started. 

No curriculum yet lessons had been taught. No structured syllabus or exams yet tests of strength proved life changing results: no mountain could be too steep.

Boarding the flight to freedom from Colorado, I glowed like a mountaineer having reached their summit; for such a climber a measurable, tangible achievement. Though physical scars tell surreal stories of my expedition, to ever consider them as tactile trophies would be a mountain I believed I would never entertain. Never, until a shift of perspective to see the light sharing stories of scars, stories of survival, can spread. 

The immeasurable value of perspective was my summit, my intangible takeaway. However, an expedition is not complete at the peak. Focus must persist. Tapping into that takeaway is fostering acceptance of the mountain I currently face in locked down Nepal. 

Backcountry skiing where only a handful of humans have ever played sounds fictitious as did receiving notice that the highest of the Himalayas were closing. Putting a padlock on the most pristine peaks, the Nepal national government enforced 100% lockdown*.  Among a mess of reactions that felt rational in my mind, I resisted reality. Denial. The serenity of Annapurna South and the solace mountains provide my soul were being robbed and my adrenaline addiction being starved. Isolating in a box rather than playing in powder, illogical. 

When we left the nation’s capital a week earlier, we had no connection to Corona. Not a single case in the country, COVID-19 was a world away. Believing that we would be breaking laws if we stayed skiing in such serenity, I struggled to fathom.

Tapping into lessons of perspective and shifting mine was the only way light would return amidst the storm cloud called Corona. Considering even the most miniscule possibility of avalanche, the micro-chance that one of us got injured, or was unknowingly carrying the virus, any one such scenario would require evacuation and as a result put others at risk and strain on the already depleted health care resources in the country. 

I begrudgingly stuffed my gear in my backpack and exchanged ski boots for trail shoes. As I roped my skis to my pack for the long trek ahead, I drifted to prison, the expedition I craved escaping for 2 years. Dark fallacies rooted in history laid the trail taking me far away from Annapurna and deep within. 

Not a cloud in the sky yet I was blanketed with a heavy cloud of doubt. There was more to the disbelief. Tuning out of conversations and inward toward darkness, an unanticipated test was in session. This test was going to be complex. 

The scale and serenity of the scene was one for coffee table books yet our footsteps descended alongside Macchupure’s receding snowline mountains escalated in my mind. Staying present was part one of the test. I was failing. 

Being forced to part ways with friends was not sitting well though being isolated was not what made me queasy. I was being controlled and that triggered terror. 

Expedition TBI had been led by authorities. The food police, the exercise police, spies and detectives, a slew of characters I despised were returning to this chapter. I had no control, no freedom to navigate the trail. An army of authoritarians dictated the regime, scans and procedures, testing, medication, nutrition, weight, exercise, clothing, access to the outside world, and the therapies that filled those dark days. They hovered around the shower, inspected the toilet and meal tray. Four walls, prescribed restrictions, no freedom. That expedition suddenly felt all too familiar. That expedition was a lockdown. 

Accepting authorities’ mandate in the mountains had cavernous roots far deeper than avalanche risk and virus mitigation. Mountains host my outlet, where internal noise simmers and chaos calms. Running, climbing and skiing are the medicine that fuels the relationship with myself and allows me to navigate the mountains of my mind. Adrenaline fuels my brain, being stagnant indoors does not. 

New rules. No mountains. No freedom. 

Top-down ruling suddenly became intimately familiar. Pushing goalposts, bargaining and bending, I don’t play by the rules well. Skiing Annapurna backcountry, moons away from COVID masks and frantic fear of fevers, I was all in for breaking the rules until I learned the viciousness of the virus. From a mysterious illness in a foreign land to an unprecedented pandemic, breaking the rules carried potential to be tragic. Despite the spaciousness of the Himalayas, there was no space for selfishness. 

There are no easy answers on this test. I have been tested before. The intangible lessons it taught are essential to be successful on this one.

Mountains, my outlet, my most consistent support have been taken away. Where I see the sunrise and later set, the massifs I play in and the trails I run, who I share them with and the hugs we share, where my nutrition comes from and what is considered essential: no freedom to choose, no control. Perspective is something I can control. 

Lockdown, restricted movement, has become an opportunity to exercise strength. I still have all the gear I need. No one can take it away. It is deep within. Such indispensable gear has led me away from a focus on losses: eyesight, autonomy, and confidence, to a celebration of capabilities, and potential. Utilizing it now, the skills and tools learned on expedition TBI, is essential to come away from this test on top. 

This mountain is new territory for humanity. No one is climbing through these uncertain times alone yet intimidating thoughts of unticked boxes and tactile productivity, take me to a dark and lonely place when. When I let go of the tools, perspective begins to veer off the trail. How I should be feeling, what I should be doing, how much time I should be exercising, what I should be writing about, who I should connect with, what I should be eating, how I should feel, trigger value judgments of self worth as though I am alone on this climb. Craving palpable products and quantitative data in my days, expecting myself to thrive in uncertainty is like disrespecting a mountain. Shifting perspective, letting go of control and accepting that there are no right answers on this test is progress. 

Though alone within these four walls, I am not alone on this mountain. Humanity is being tested yet in this together. We have been handed an opportunity to connect on unparalleled levels. Rather than a focus on the challenges of this mountain, shifting perspective and considering how it can bring humankind together will help get through the test more graciously.

Change endures. While waiting for Mother Nature to catch her breath, I connect with the beauty of impermanence she models and her strength through devastating storms. 

Surviving expedition TBI was not my summit. Success is learning from the mountain. I embrace those lessons and climb on locked down.


*with a heavily policed prescribed 2-hour window for essentials, namely rice and oil, within one’s neighbourhood

Namaste ~

Thank you for making time to read and join along in my trail.

While reading my reflection, I wonder what comes up for you? How do you connect to life’s mountains? What space does uncertainty play in your days? What tools help you climb life’s daunting terrain?

If this is your first time joining my trail, reading through the 6-part series on the About Page provides a glimpse into how I took to mountains to navigate those in my mind.

As well, as always, in the space below or in my inbox, I welcome your questions, thoughts and suggestions.

All the light,


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  1. Monica says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your insight. You are an incredible writer and adventurist! I’m looking forward to reading about all of your adventures.
    Stay safe and positive during these unprecedented times.

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Thank you so much for making the time to read the post Monica!

      Figuratively, my writing is written out in the trails amidst my adventures. The mountains heal; where the mountains of my mind ease.

      I hope you find connections in other posts as well ~ thank you for connecting Monica. Take good care and know you brightened a rainy day in the Himalayas.
      Shine on.

  2. Candace Leveille says:

    Namaste ,
    Such a good read. I really think you should contact the Banff Film Festival this journey should participate in this. I connected before. We were suppose to journey thru Annapurna with a group in April. I look back and wonder now how long this has been stewing. Our flight pattern was taking us into China. Starting Dec. 31st our flights were constantly being changed and rerouted. Then finally the truth of why surfaced. I don’t know if I told you why are 1st draw to Nepal was. My husband has had an obsession for as long as I have known him. Never once believing he would get there. Then? his youngest brother went. We were married and had children by that time. So Grant’s dream seemed impossible. Then ? his oldest brother went. Guy became a climber. Grant just obsessed about it. Then Grant’s brother over the years of climbing went back to challenge Cho Oyu. He got stuck in a storm at 26,000 feet and ended up dying on the way down. He remains there. You can google him and read the story. Its easier to read then to type it out. Gives you something to do in lockdown. My husband and I have been self isolating and quite enjoying the down time. My job as a dental hygienist became part of the Covid PAUSE. I embraced it. I feel that this was literally the 1 st in my life I could experience the daily start of spring on my acreage.
    Keep strong
    Candace Leveille

    • Jill Wheatley says:

      Thank you for all the connections to my story and to the land of Never Ending Peace and Love ~ Nepal is obviously a very special place with the people even more beautiful than the mountains. Lockdown or high in the Himalayas I am thankful to be here and too thankful you find inspiration in my story.

      Thanks so much for sharing your light Candace.
      Keep shining,