Finding Humility the Hard Way


By Jill Wheeler, MA, LMHC, co-founder/director of Wellfit Institute

The Diamond—the east face of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) that has a 900-foot vertical gain at a 13,000-foot elevation—has been on my radar for years. It is prominent both in the minds and on the maps of climbers worldwide.

There was a time, a little more than a decade ago, that I personally guided a different alpine multi-pitch route in RMNP, Le Petit Grepon. Just days before I had to test-lead climb that route, there had been a fatality. A gnarly, bloody swathe of mortality painted the route, and, at that moment, I told my mock-client, “I don’t want to do this for a living.”

It was at that moment that I experienced a visceral response to death that I had never felt before and realized that as much as I loved climbing, I didn’t want the stain of someone else’s blood on my belay hands. My desire to guide alpine routes also died on that route, but my sense of adventure never waned.

Years have passed and, even though I am no longer the climber I was, I am still a good climber, and I love being outdoors. Not too long ago, I judged myself when I saw the diminishing returns of my skills, as soft tissue damage, injuries, and lifestyle changes took over. I nearly abandoned climbing because, I thought, if I wasn’t getting better, I wasn’t going to do it at all. Then I made the ultimate decisions: I married a non-climber and became a suburban housewife and mother of two. But, ever the fierce advocate of outdoor adventure, I returned to my outdoor roots and recently co-founded a small wellness, fitness, and adventure company. And, climbing The Diamond had remained on my bucket list, even if I had to hire a guide for the trip.

Why am I sharing all of this now? This summer on a vacation to Boulder, Colorado, I finally summited The Diamond, but as a client—not as a guide—and I finally came to terms with who and what I am now.

Ascending The Diamond as a client has changed my entire outlook of climbing and my attitude toward those who hire professionals. Now that I have been a climbing client, I can better relate to my own clients, the ones who have hired me over the years, to guide their adventures and wilderness experiences. I have a renewed compassion towards my clientele, whether they are women’s group members, yoga students, or retreat guests.

Climbing The Diamond reaffirmed the most essential aspect of climbing, the human component. In climbing, a bond—a contract—is created between two people, regardless of skill level, and there is a trust that each climber has the other’s back and is willing to face fear, wind, rain, lightening, laughter, excitement, peace, and bliss.

For this one adventure, I enjoyed every moment of not being in charge of anything, not my business, not my children, and not my household. Amidst the vastness of the alpine, I found an inner peace akin to heaven and allowed myself to be taken care of, and to be humbled.

The concept of being led, and being humbled, is like a first ascent to me. I’ve realized that adventure doesn’t mean I have to be in charge. I have learned that being “cool” has little to do with being a lead climber and that humility means relinquishing control and having nothing to prove.

The Diamond specs:
– 6,000 feet of vertical
– A 300’ snowy, rocky ascent requires sturdy gear. Crampons, check. Ice Axe, check.
– 900’ of vertical rock climbing over six (linked) pitches
– Number of 200’ rappels: 9
– Glissade snow descent
– An exciting, wet, and electric hike down
– Total hours hiking and climbing car-to-car: 18

I highly recommend Rainbow Weinstock, AMGA (American Mountain Guide Association), certified guide at Colorado Mountain School. CMS is the largest guide service in Colorado and has more certified guides than any other guide service in the state. They are the only climbing company subcontracted by Rocky Mountain National Park.

Jill Wheeler, MA, LMHC, co-founder/director of Wellfit Institute, is a psychotherapist, yoga instructor, and adventurer. Wellfit Institute is a wellness/fitness/adventure company based in Naples, Florida, that offers meaningful and growth-oriented experiences to live a more purposeful life. When not on an adventure, you’ll find Jill on a paddleboard teaching yoga, running, or kiteboarding. She lives life to the fullest with her two young daughters and husband. Find more from stories and tips from Jill Wheeler on her Wellfit blog and through her Twitter feed, @WellfitJill.

Last modified: February 26, 2013

16 Responses to :
Finding Humility the Hard Way

  1. Great article, Jill! Thanks for sharing. Sounds like an incredibly freeing experience. You’ve reminded me that it beautiful to, once in a while, set ourselves free from being in charge!

  2. Karyn says:

    What a wonderful thing you did by sticking to and accomplishing this dream of yours one way or another.
    Why was this finding humility? Because you were not the guide? Hello?! You

  3. Karyn says:

    …Did it! You accomplished it! There should be no humility there.

  4. Ashley says:

    Jill I applaud your appreciation of changes in perspective. It sounds like that climb was phenomenal 🙂

    1. Jill Wheeler says:

      It was, Ashley! Thanks

  5. Jill Wheeler says:

    Thank you for your comments! YES! Shift in perspective, changes, rolling with life’s ebbs and flows! Thanks everyone!

  6. Joyce Anagnos says:

    A wonderfully written article about a life changing experience, you are an inspiration to all. Please write more!

    1. Jill Wheeler says:

      I love to write and plan to — more and more!

  7. “relinquishing control and having little to prove” …. Powerful Stuff! Congratulations! Jill, you’re an amazing leader of yoga, paddle and spiritually enriching activities, you just happen to live in FL. No Mountains here! We’re lucky to have you and Wellfit to enriching our lives!
    You’ve been an inspiration to me. I’ve always thought, if Jill can qualify for Boston marathon I can certainly run a half marathon. If Jill can Kiteboard, I should try it… and so on… Next stop, my first climb!

    1. Jill Wheeler says:

      OH…I cannot wait to be there for your first climb, Gibranna! Thank you!

  8. Clara Morris says:

    You write about changes as you have aged that effect your level of interest and ability in climbing. Boy, do I get that…with a slightly different perspective. I did my first climb a little over a year ago at the age of 60 and got totally hooked…I committed to a consistent fitness workout regimen and frequent climbing practice and am seeing real progress in my ability. I regret that I will never climb at a level I may have when I was younger, but I am thrilled to be doing it at all now! And about that bond that is created with your climbing partner – that is absolute magic!…I wouldn’t be climbing at all if not for having the good fortune of being introduced to it and now coached and supported in my efforts by someone I can put total trust in. So I say: climb on!!…no matter what your ability level is!

  9. Jill, thank you for having the humility to write this post. I’d wager a guess that there are a lot of people in the outdoor/climbing community who have shared your feelings, but never speak out about it. Instead they feel pressured to continue, despite their hesitation, perhaps because of a need to fulfill a reputation, convince themselves they can still do it, or out of fear that if they don’t give it a shot, they’ll never go back. I know I have struggled with this a lot myself, and sometimes can’t figure out if I’m just losing my nerve or if I really do just need to go and give it one more push. I think what you’ve highlighted here is the importance of pursuing these kinds of adventures for the sheer joy of what adventure brings into our lives. Whether you’re leading others or being led shouldn’t matter (but for some reason, in many circles, it does!). If only we could shift that type of thinking, and you’re on your way there with articles like these. Thanks!

  10. karen lopez says:

    WOW, Jill! Amazing!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.