Story and photographs (© Jake Norton/MountainWorld Productions) by Jake Norton
Never let success hide its emptiness from you, achievement its nothingness, toil its desolation. And so keep alive the incentive to push on further, that pain in the soul which drives us beyond ourselves.—Dag Hammarskjold
Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.—Francis Chan
“This is the first expedition I’m truly proud of.”
As those words came out of my mouth—and my heart—in conversation with Wende the other night, I think I even surprised myself a bit. But they were true, honest and from the core. The Challenge21 Expedition to the Rwenzori Mountains was indeed the first expedition in my 25+ years of climbing of which I am truly, deeply proud.
Some people may, understandably, find that a bit weird. I’ve had great fortune and success in the mountains over the years, climbing Everest, traveling the world, and climbing in the great ranges of the earth.
But in the end, none of that matters much, none of it had an impact beyond the narrow scope of the climb and climbers. My tracks on Everest, Cho Oyu, Gurla Mandhata, South Georgia, the Atlas, the Andes, the Ellsworths and elsewhere are all erased. Similarly, despite our team’s blood, sweat and tears in the Rwenzori, our tracks through the mud and snow of those distant peaks have long since disappeared, washed away by equatorial rain and alpine wind.
When looked upon from a more distant perspective, however, one which encompasses not just that remote range of mountains and our actions within them…well, then the view of the Rwenzori expedition gains more meaning.
This view runs horizon to horizon, across the globe, and stretching far and wide from the offices of Water For People, to the villages and people of Rwanda and Uganda, to the hearts of all of you, our supporters and teammates.
Thanks to my team, and thanks to all of you, we climbed more than a mountain in Uganda.
We raised money … money that went straight to Water For People, helping them create lasting solutions and solve the water and sanitation crisis.
We raised awareness … awareness about this most pressing development issue and the need to address it.
Together, in just three weeks, we created change that will transcend the transitory ambitions and lives of people.
And, for all of that, I am proud. I am proud to have climbed a mountain for something more than just the climb. I’m proud to be able to tell my kids, Lila and Ryrie, for the first time, that the mountains were merely a vehicle for something bigger, for something that will impact our world.
In the years to come, to borrow from Hammarskjold, we’ll continue to drive beyond ourselves through Challenge21, and strive to succeed at these things that hold meaning and impact long after our footprints are gone.
To me, that’s what really matters … and that is what makes me proud.
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