ABOUT ADVENTURE CLASSROOM
Adventure Classroom is a not-for-profit organization founded by Helen Thayer, an internationally recognized explorer. She uses her expeditions to the four corners of the world as metaphors to teach and inspire adults and students. The program began in 1988 after Helen became the first woman to walk alone to any of the world's Poles. She has since spoken to over one million students in schools throughout the USA. She, and her husband Bill, continue to develop educational programs, sharing their expeditions to remote regions of the world.
Step by Step, Climb Your Mountain - Helen Thayer's story of how a life of adventure began
I was born in New Zealand and for as long as I can remember I wanted to climb mountains. When I was nine years old my mountain-climbing parents allowed me to climb with them as long as I carried my own pack. My first mountain was Mount Egmont now known as Mount Taranaki. At 8, 261 feet high I knew I would be challenged, as never before, but here was my chance to become a mountain climber. To prepare I ran the hills of our 10,000-acre farm and instead of riding the bus to school I walked the two miles carrying a heavy backpack. It would be a winter climb with snow and ice all the way to the summit. With my parents I practiced climbing techniques in the snow with ice axes, crampons and ropes. A close family friend, Sir Edmund Hillary who was to later become the first person to summit Mount Everest, joined in the practice sessions with lots of expert advice. Finally the day arrived to head off to the mountain. Edmund Hillary and two other experienced climbers accompanied us.
Mt Taranaki, an active but quiet volcano, sits amidst Mount Egmont National Park located in the North Island of New Zealand. The region is not only legendary for its majestic mountain and surrounding scenery, but also for its ever-changing weather conditions due in part to the close proximity to the west coast where storms that develop in the Tasman Sea race inland driving high winds and blizzard conditions.
After a long drive we all arrived at the base of the mountain ready to begin our climb next day. The weather forecast predicted clear but cold weather for the next several days. I was so excited I hardly slept that night. At first light I was dressed and ready to go. The weather was perfect. The mountain's snowy summit stretched high into a blue, cloudless sky.
My pack held all the essentials, a water bottle, first aid kit, wind gear, extra fleece jacket and food. I wore a climbing harness and especially made crampons to fit my boots. Under a lukewarm sun we followed a well-worn dirt path until it disappeared under a thick layer of consolidated snow. It was time to put our crampons on. We climbed up ever steepening slopes until we stopped to rope-up for increased safety. We roped up as a three-person team with my father in the lead. I was in the center and my mother right behind me. Our three companions made up the second rope team led by Edmund Hillary.
As we zigzagged up the steep icy slopes it was important to concentrate on correct technique to avoid a fall that could have serious consequences. As we climbed higher, fatigue gradually set in. My strength and stamina began to fade. I stopped and looked up at the summit that seemed impossibly far away. I was determined to go on but now doubts crept in. My father told me, "You don't have to climb the mountain in one long step, just one small step at a time will do it. Believe you can do it." At that moment I learnt one of the most important lessons of my life. It was a lesson that has carried me through many arduous expeditions in remote regions of the world. Taking my father's words to heart I climbed on one step at a time all the while telling myself that I could do it.
Later, closer to the summit, my mother told me, "I can picture you standing on the top. Keep the picture in your mind and soon you'll be there." I looked up at the summit and yes I could picture myself standing there. On I climbed one step at a time keeping that picture in my mind.
Soon the crater and summit were within reach. I was more tired than I had ever experienced. Just a few more steps and I stood on the summit. I had carried my own pack all the way. I looked around me and saw Mt Ruapehu in the distance. Everyone congratulated me on summiting my first mountain. I felt an immense feeling of achievement. After a short time on the summit we descended to a sheltered area where we stopped for a quick food and drink break, then began our descent, concentrating on making sure each foot placement was secure on the steep and in places icy slopes. There was no time for long rest breaks. It was important to be off the mountain by late afternoon.
At last, tired but happy, we all arrived at our base camp after a long tiring day that I would never forget. Not only had the climb launched my mountaineering career it taught me lessons that would mold my future and carry me through many expeditions to remote parts of the world. To reach your goals it takes just one step at a time. No matter how high the mountain might be, always stay positive, see yourself as successful, be persistent and don't give up.