I wanted to give up. The voice in my head was telling me I was weak and would never make it.
Then I remembered why I had decided to do this climb and what it represented to me and my fellow foster brothers and sisters. Foster Youth Questival is an event to help bring awareness to foster youth and to empower us through our journey up Mt. Shasta.
Held every June and hosted by Fostering Media Connections, publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change, the Questival also raises funds to support foster youth. This year, the money raised will go toward The Chronicle’s Youth Voice Initiative, a program that trains current and former foster youth in the basics of journalism and publishes their writing.
Halfway up the steep mountain, my feet were frozen. I felt like sharp needles were stabbing my knees and all my muscles were tense. We had started hiking at 1:00 in the morning, and by 3:00 a.m., I wanted out of this climb.
I am a sophomore at the University of California, Riverside, working two jobs, so I don’t have a lot of time to hike but when I do it’s never in snow, up a steep mountain, and at 3:00 a.m.
In the back of my mind, I heard Daniel Heimpel, publisher of The Chronicle, singing: “Baby, baby, baby, oh like won’t you come with me tonight?” I decided I would rather suffer on this mountain than another car ride with Daniel singing.
On the mountain, I used my headlamp to see what was in front of me because it was so dark. I could only see the next step in front of me. I guess this was my first life lesson: Walk by faith, not by sight.
Frank, another youth climber, stayed by my side, and we trudged forward. We could make out another two youths, along with climbers Kevin Clark and Daniel, leading with their headlamps. I guess Frank and I weren’t doing so bad since we could see four other headlamps in the distance behind us, but the blinding white snow was everywhere, enclosing me in this white asylum.
Daniel yelled out to me and suggested that I walk in a zigzag pattern, so I started walking slowly back and forth, taking it 10 steps at a time. After every 10 steps, I took a sip of water and gave myself a pep talk.
My pep talk went as such: “You didn’t drive 12 hours and listen to Daniel sing in the car just so you wouldn’t summit.”
Then my real pep talk came in. I told myself something along the following lines: “I’ve overcome harsher conditions in my life so what is a little cold and dark?”
My whole life revolves around being a former foster youth, an identity which has negatively impacted me up to this point. Here on this mountain, walking in a zigzag, I am coming to accept and even embrace my identity as a foster youth.
While trying to stay focused and motivated, I didn’t realize that dawn was approaching. As soon as I caught a glimpse of the sun rising over the mountain peak, I quickly grabbed my phone and captured the dark mountains in the distance and the tip tops of all the trees below as well as the campgrounds and the bottom of Mt. Shasta covered in snow and climbers.
I felt so happy as my body started getting warm, and I could feel my fingers again. I couldn’t have asked for a clearer view, which I could see even without my glasses. This was an uplifting moment to remember as life lesson number two came to me: The darkness only lasts 12 hours, and as the sun rises, so will I.
Being on the mountain was comforting. I felt a sense of purpose and belonging, like I was on a mission to discover the wondrous mysteries life has to offer.
The closer I got to the top of the mountain, the fewer burdens I carried. I started tearing up, and felt ever so blessed as I realized that all this time I just needed to look up to the sky for answers.
Only then did I realize that the only true moment of failure is when we do not push and strive for what is within our reach even if it seems distant, narrow and steep, similar to my journey up this mountain. As long as we have the willpower, we can achieve just about anything. I found my willpower in the mountain itself.
On Mt. Shasta, I set myself free from the things that I once thought would eat me alive. Now I will always remember the final life lesson of the mountain: We can only see as far as the headlamp reaches, so take it one step at a time.
Monique Guerra is a trainer for the Y.O.U.T.H. Training Project. She attends the University of California, Riverside, with a double major in Spanish and sociology and a minor in education. She plays soccer and practices Muay Thai, and loves attending social change conferences. One day she hopes to become the Secretary of Education.