Mountain Do

My friend Sven is making a career of good. He’s part of a United Nations mission in Iraq, protecting citizens in a place where he himself is not always stress-free or safe.

But it’s the children he thinks of, the small kids in struggling countries who are stuck with a mountain of trials.

Maybe that’s why Sven willingly took on a quest last month that would threaten him body and soul, but would also help the children of Iraq and other nations ravaged by war.

Sven was determined to try to conquer Canada’s highest peak and raise funds for UNICEF. He joined a small team of mountaineers and guides, flew to a Yukon glacier near the foot of Mount Logan and began a hard 17-day journey. Destination: 19,551 feet.

It was mid-May. I don’t know what you were doing while Sven was lugging a backpack and sled up a frozen mountain, roped to his teammates and trembling with cold. Me, I think I may have been near some garden flowers. There would have been sunshine. Possibly, I had a cocktail at hand.

Hundreds of people do it around the world, but let’s not forget that mountain climbing is a serious business. At one point, a snow bridge broke under Sven’s boot, exposing the deep and dangerous crevasse below. My stomach gets butterflies just reading his travel notes.

The team’s turning point came near the summit. Note “near.” They had made their final camp, and after 12 gruelling days, the group was only a few hours’ climb from the highest photo opp in the country. But a violent storm was on the way, and the leader of this expedition determined it was too risky to complete the climb.

He decided they would turn back.

There’s been a lot of dire news lately about mountain casualties. So I think even those of us with feet firmly stationed near sea level are aware that when your guide says go, you go. On May 28, Sven began the long trek downwards, frostbitten and struggling to secure footing in the fierce blizzard that now circled him.

I imagine Sven was sorely disappointed. But not-quite-conquering Canada’s tallest mountain turned out to be a sort of personal epiphany. In turning his back on a chance at death, Sven felt he understood just a bit better all the kids he was trying to help – kids, he says, who are “perpetually on the edge of survival.” And he felt connected to his cause. “UNICEF is all about providing opportunities for children… providing them with the means of pursuing their aspirations and dreams,” he notes. “Setting goals, embarking on a path, falling short, learning lessons – these are fundamental elements of human growth.”

So Sven’s climb may have fallen short, but it was long in lessons. “Had this been a ‘bluebird’ trip, with clear skies and a straight march up to the summit, it would have been a much less valuable experience,” he says now.

Did I mentioned my pal raised over $7,500 for UNICEF? How can that be anything but a win? Check out his fundraising page here (top up his total if you’re so inclined). Send him a message of support.

Then enjoy the flowers and sunshine – don’t forget the cocktail, and be glad it’s June at a mere 347 feet.

Beautiful view from mountain

Sven inside a tent at high camp, holding a UNICEF sign

He may look cold and miserable, but he’s actually pretty warm and friendly once you get to know him.

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