A Slow, Steady Climb–Together

Upward: Our Head of School's Blog
I’ve started this blog as a means to share my thoughts and reflections as Head of Vail Mountain School. Ultimately, I hope to use this forum as a means to connect with parents, students, faculty, and others drawn to this wonderful community. I’ll preface this by saying that my office is always open and I firmly believe in the value of face to face exchange. Nevertheless, technology provides a unique opportunity for community discussion and engagement, unrestrained by time or geography, and I very much look forward to the exchanges we will have here in the future.

As an inaugural post, I’d like to share some thoughts on change and growth. Last Friday, at the end of a very productive and energizing faculty work week, our teachers and staff gathered to watch the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. I enjoy cycling and climbing mountains, and while these athletes could ride circles around me, Vail Pass is right up my alley and a wonderful metaphor for my approach to change and growth. I prefer long, slow climbs where one has the opportunity to look around, enjoy the scenery, and plot a deliberate, considered course. Over the past few decades as a teacher, administrator, and guide, I’ve had the privilege of leading treks up many mountains, both literal and figurative.

About 15 years ago, I traveled to Nepal with a group of students. We had raised several thousand dollars to help Thyangboche Monastery rebuild a dormitory destroyed by fire. To reach the monastery, which was in a remote location near Mount Everest, we had trekked several days on foot and were in the middle of the final climb to 14,000 feet.

With just a few hours left in our journey, one of the students sat down, unable to go any further. This was my fifth Himalayan expedition with students and I was no stranger to this kind of struggle, but this was different. After a long conversation, it became clear that the emotional and physical exhaustion she faced was in direct parallel to the turmoil in her home life, and that these two paths had converged at this very moment, on the rooftop of the world, paralyzing her.

In the midst of this apparent impasse, an elderly Nepali woman appeared. She was burdened by a mountain of firewood on her back, and wore only an old pair of flip flops despite fresh snow. She stopped, surveyed our dilemma, bowed slightly forward, holding her hands against her chest with her palms pressed together, smiled and said, “Namaste.”

The literal meaning of her gesture was that she was bowing in reverence to our presence, but perhaps we should have been the ones bowing to her. Her strength, dignity, grace, and resolve were overwhelming and provided us with inspiration to press on. We stood up and took the first step together, and then the next, one foot in front of the other.