Highlands Blog

Even at 6000 Meters, It All Boils Down to Relationships

Robert McGehee
Recently, as I was reflecting on our theme of relationships for this school year, I recalled a powerful event from my life that sums up all that is possible when we build and maintain successful relationships.

Years ago, I had the unique opportunity of climbing mountains in Peru. On a June morning, after leaving our tents at midnight, walking for 3 hours across a glacier, and scaling 1,000 feet of vertical and near vertical snow and ice, I punched through a snowy cornice onto the summit ridge of Alpamayo, a 6,000 meter peak. I pulled myself onto the ridge as the sun was beginning to rise, and the world around me was bathed in gold and blue. It was spectacular.

While climbing the vertical face that morning, there was a group ahead of us. They were probably 300 feet above. As they climbed they would dislodge bits of ice and snow. As a precaution, someone in our team would scream “ICE” when stuff was falling, so that we would be ready. I knew what to do and this was just part of the whole ice climbing experience. Typically what you do is pull yourself into the face the cliff and pull your chin into your chest and let the snow and ice glance off your helmet. I had done this a number of times previously; today was different. I had never climbed anything this large, so I did not understand the speed at which the snow and ice were moving down the mountain. The shards and blocks literally screamed past us. And then it happened. My partner yelled, “ICE”, and I looked up. SMASH, a piece of ice the size of a golf ball hit my face between my nose and lip. It felt like I had been kicked in the face. I was disoriented but fortunately held onto my ice axes and did not lose my footing. I was about 800 feet from the base of the climb. Falling was not an option. Ironically, I was never scared, nor did it occur to me that I wasn’t going to be safe.  I was mad at myself for looking up, and I was irritated that my lip hurt, but that was it.  I knew the people belaying me were going to catch me if I fell.

The relationship that I had built with my climbing team made me feel secure even in precarious circumstances. I knew that I had the support of others who wanted me to succeed.

As spectacular as that day was, it could have turned out very differently had I not been surrounded by people I could trust and rely on, which is what makes this story more about relationships and less about high adventure in the Andes Mountains.

I have always felt that Highlands School is just such a place that allows students, teachers and parents to develop relationships that help everyone feel that they will have someone ready to “catch” them if they fall. The higher the expectations and the more daring the task, the more essential strong relationships become. Highlands students push themselves, take risks and put themselves in vulnerable positions in order to always be improving. Their relationships allow them to do all of these things with the confidence to keep climbing. 
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Highlands School, 4901 Old Leeds Road, Birmingham, AL 35213, (205) 956-9731
Highlands School's 'whole child' approach to education and commitment to academic excellence, creative expression, and leadership development prepare and motivate students in grades 4k through 8 to make a positive difference in an ever-changing world. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, Highlands School holds dual accrediation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Associations of Independent Schools (SAIS).

For more information, visit www.highlandsschool.org.