Climbing Mountains

There are mountains we climb figuratively and literally. Life will hand us things that we can never prepare for and we will find ourselves crawling out of craters, up hill, on hands and knees at times to get through it, to find ourselves, reinvent ourselves, reclaim parts of ourselves that are lost in the daily -not -prepared- for- the- hard- life- pieces…

And there are mountains we climb literally.


Like last week I climbed Salkantay Pass in Peru, facing it for the second time and this time conquering it. The first time the guides were less than enthusiastic about whether my group could make the pass. I had been dealing with a health issue and some of our other members were nervous they couldn’t make it so we decided to take the horse to the pass.

It was an emotionally gruelling experience for me to be on the back of a horse that I didn’t want to be on and surely didn’t want me on it. I knew I wasn’t finished with the pass. That I would come back and make the pass.

I have found that climbing things literally helps me climb things emotionally, physically and spiritually. Putting myself through the physical grind of relentless forward motion, no way out but on my own two feet – run, walk, crawl if I must, but to finish, with more than a sense of accomplishment… it’s hard to explain yet easy to feel.

I used to live the striving, more, checkbox life that was presented to me as happiness. Get the job, the partner, 2.5 kids (dogs in my case), white picket fence, the money, the cars, etc… and then…?

Does anyone ever prepare us for the daily life? For not getting the checklist and ending up unhappy chasing some fucking pipe dream that some external society has told us is our checklist to happiness but seems to be the checklist to prison?

What about when we get the checklist only to discover it wasn’t the answer? That the external seeking of things, degrees, people, stuff, bodies, fake tits, puffy lips was never the source of happiness and we wake up empty, lost, alone, wondering how the fuck we ended up here?

There are millions of reasons we chase the dreams. For some it’s the achievement of parents goals, of societies definition of success and other times, like mine, achievement was a way to fill holes that lived inside of me that I desperately wanted to plug. It wasn’t a consciousness thought of having this and doing this because I felt empty. I just always felt empty.

It was a strange feeling, to live inside myself and yet, not live.

I spent much of my time assessing my enoughness by other people’s standards of beauty and success, feeling if I accomplished those things then I would be enough somehow. But the enough never came. No matter how how hard I worked or how much I gave.

It wasn’t until I turned inward and climbed mountains inside of me to find and fill the holes that the feeling of not enough, empty, something missing went away.

The metaphorical mountains I have climbed to become the woman who can climb literal mountains wasn’t easy. I spent much of my life wanting to live a certain way but settling for the safe life, the life that others wanted me to live, becoming who and what they wanted me to become.

Facing my inner mountains was daunting, long, with steep declines and steeper inclines. There were valleys and rough terrain. And like all mountains, the peak is the glorious view from the top that we are all working towards. The problem with peaks is they never last and there is always a descent.


The time at the peak is about 20 mins at real mountains. The time at the peak in metaphorical mountains isn’t much longer. We get moments, at times longer moments, periods and phases but it’s my experience in working with human behaviour that the biggest problem we have is always want the peak to last forever. We don’t want valleys. We don’t want steep inclines and declines.

But it’s who you become in those valleys, on those hardest of climbs that shows you who you are, the valleys teach you more about yourself than the peak does. The peak is incredible, an amazing feeling of what’s possible and who you are, what you can do and create and what you’re capable of.

But it’s in the push through, the pain, the sickness, the fear, the doubt that one walks through on the valleys and in the steepest of climbs that makes the view from the top incredible.

Most of us want the peak to last forever, we don’t want steep inclines and declines and we don’t want valleys. But that’s not life. There will always be problems but the question is what kind of problems do you have?

Most people I work with are recycling the same problems, the same year over and over again and calling it life while desperately seeking life, more life, more energy, more experiences, less boredom and less drama.

And what I’ve learned through climbing my own metaphorical and physical mountains is the people we have along the way matters most.

73285731_10215951156396716_3620332189834543104_n (1)The people in our tribe are critical to if and how we climb the mountains we are presented with. We are all pushing boulders up mountains on a daily basis and we can either enjoy it or hate it. I’ve found the people you’re climbing with, the people guiding you and your own perspective are all critical to loving or hating your climb.

Having people who discourage you, disempower you, don’t understand you, hold you back makes for a horrible journey. You might be committed to getting to the top but when your team, your guides, your people are telling you that you can’t, complaining, calling you crazy, you’re pushing harder than you need to in order to prove yourself.

One of the most common things I hear from the people I work with is feeling unsupported, unheard and unseen by family and friends and shrinking into themselves, giving up on their hopes and dreams because someone else doesn’t support it. They give up on their mountains because those around them do not support them.

Often we have to look around and realize there are many other people climbing mountains who love it. They are encouraging, empowering, supportive. They want to see you win your mountains as they are winning their own. They know how hard the climb is and they are waiting to high 5 along the way. They encourage you through the valleys and the hardships.

And you get to do the same for them.

As we trekked Salkantay Mountain this time, I was still aware of my underlying health issues, but I came this time to conquer it. I think our failures, the things we don’t get right, the things we fuck up, the things we feel are unfinished are our greatest motivators. We can go home and give up or we can go home and prepare.

I went home and prepared.

And this time the team I had in guides and the people along the path with us, from the group that came with me to the new people we met along the way formed a bond that is unbreakable as each person encouraged, celebrated and supported each other.


But still, the trek is still personal. How you approach the climb is critical. If you think you can’t, you won’t. If you think you can, you will. Simple but true. How we approach life is the same. If we live in the negative, fear and doubt it will become our truth. If you feel the fear and do it anyway, you will build your resilience and inner power.

Climbing mountains literally helps us develop our inner strength, shows us who we are and what we’re capable of. It forces us to dig deep and find something we didn’t even know we had inside of us.

Once we do that, the metaphorical mountains we climb become easier.

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Stay Wild & Climb High!


PS… giving a massive shout out to Javier & Hermo of the Salkantay Trekking Company for their endless encouragement, motivation and support along the trail. And to the incredible men and women who joined me on the trek. The bond we formed along the path was undenial and incredible!


4 thoughts on “Climbing Mountains

  1. Julia says:

    Beautifully written Tonya. It was the experience of a lifetime for me and this blog says all the things I feel are hard to express and convey through words . I also want to express my thanks and gratitude to you for all your hard work and teachings at the retreat , for showing how important the physical climbing was in correlation with our internal climbing. A huge thank you to the other beautiful strong ladies in our NL group; Also thanks to the best guides ,Hermo and Javier , for their support and patience and encouragement along the way , and of course to all the other great people we met and bonded with on our trekk. 😊


    1. Tonya Whittle says:

      Julia! The Mountain Climber! You were incredible and I’m SO happy you came on the retreat. Watching you come out f your shell and believe in yourself was amazing to witness. Soul Sisters forever xoxo


  2. Jackie says:

    I am in awe of the both of you and so delighted you got to go on this journey together. I could not be more proud of you Julia! Tonya, you are changing lives. What a gift you are to so many of us. The universe is working her magic through you my friend. Keep climbing!


    1. Tonya Whittle says:

      As always Jackie, you are an incredibly supportive soul. Julia is an amazing woman and she has a strength inside of herself I don’t know if she knew she possessed. True empowering friends like you are a giant gift in this world. Keep being that light for all of us. And for me, your words always soothe in me in a way where I feel the universe speaks to me through your encoruagement. Some days I wonder if I’m helping people at all… then I ALWAYS get messages like this one… reminding me, yes, this world is incredibly needed for all of us 🙂


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