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Perspectives of a Mountaineer

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After coming down from an epic hike in the Wichita Mountains, I thought it fitting to attend the Noble Foundation's latest installment of the Profiles and Perspectives Community Enrichment Series.

Peter Athans was an unfamiliar name to me until I read about his upcoming presentation at the Ardmore Convention Center. "The Everest Within" was the title, and I was immediately intrigued. I did some background research and discovered this guy has a fascinating resumé. He is a world-famous mountaineer and has climbed Mount Everest 16 times, reaching the summit seven of those times. He has also been featured on National Geographic for guiding anthropologists through excavations in Nepal's Kingdom of Mustang.

On top of all that (pun intended), he is a philanthropist involved in numerous great causes such as the Himalayan Cataract Project, the Magic Yeti Library and the Khumbu Climbing Center, each of which aims to improve the well-being, literacy and safety of the Nepalese people who are instrumental in successful climbs in the Himalayas.

Athans told captivating stories about the journeys climbing has taken him on. He spoke of his first four failed attempts on Everest and how that humbled him to the mountain. He joked about learning how to climb the right way by doing it the wrong way. He said one of the greatest experiences he has had through climbing Everest was immersing himself in Sherpa culture and Tibetan Buddhism. The Sherpa people refer to Mount Everest as "Chomolungma," which translates to "Goddess Mother of the World" – this makes sense after seeing the awe-inspiring pictures of the mountain shown at the event! Athans even spoke some Nepalese for us, which was interesting to hear.

It was obvious that Athans cares deeply for the mountains of Nepal and the people who inhabit them. He also had some inspiring things to say about our own personal Everests. It all boiled down to why. Why? Why do we climb mountains? Why do we endure so much just to stand on top of something? Discipline? Personal fulfillment?

Athans offered a quote by René Daumal: "You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know."

I'm so appreciative that I'm not only working for an organization on the forefront of agricultural research but also for one that knows the importance of cultural immersion through the narratives of others. It was an absolute pleasure to attend this episode of the Noble Foundation's Profiles and Perspectives. Now it's time to hit the trail.

Helen Holstein is a 2014 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Monetta, South Carolina.