Dan Waldschmidt

by Dan Waldschmidt

March 10, 2020

The Courage To Continue When You Feel Cold and Dead Inside.

He was alive. Or at least it was a dream. A good one to have.

Beck Weathers peeled his face off the frozen ground. He painfully blinked the ice out of his eyes. He couldn’t feel his hands. They were frozen.  He couldn’t feel his feet. They were frozen, too. 

The only warmth he felt was from the urine filling his snowsuit. And that was only temporary. Soon, it would be frozen too. 

As he put one foot in front of the other, Beck didn’t know he would lose both hands. He didn’t know he would lose his nose.

All he knew was that he had come back from the dead.

And he needed to get off this mountain and back to his family. It was his driving obsession.

Beck spent most of his adult life battling depression. It was his dirty little secret. When he met his wife, Peaches, he didn’t even share it with her — and she was supposed to be the one he shared everything with.

In college, when the darkness would set in, Beck would just keep to himself. Or he would ride his motorcycle way too fast around curves in the dark. The rush of adrenaline would stir something deep in his soul.

Then he found the gym.

He could exert all his frustrations and doubts into lifting weights. He never considered himself an athlete, but he liked the way weightlifting made him feel. 

After college, when he was a doctor, he traded the weights for running. He didn’t need any equipment — just a pair of shoes and some empty road.

It soon became an obsession.

When he wasn’t working, he was running. Or he was boating. Or he was reading up on some other “thing” he could do to get his mind away from his life. Away from the darkness he felt all around him.

Beck went to work every day with a smile on his face. He pretended like everything was OK. But for long periods of time, it was never OK. His depression made everything hurt.

One day on a trip with friends, he got introduced to hiking. He and a few of his friends were supposed to wake up early and attack the mountain. But they all awoke to find the day cold and wet.

Everyone else decided to skip the hike — but Beck found it exhilarating. 

Soon, his hikes became longer. And more difficult. Before long they turned into full-blown climbing adventures. Ascending the peaks of the tallest and most treacherous mountains in the world. 

Beck’s life became a torrid rush of adrenaline. Work. Workout. Go on a climbing adventure. Work. Work out. Go on a climbing adventure. Work. Work out. Go on a climbing adventure…

Little did he know that his life was about to change.

He found himself at the base of Everest. Surrounded by other extreme mountain climbers. Despite all of his training, Beck considered himself an amateur next to the company he would keep for the next few months.

Even though he had been working out rigorously for the five months, he still felt inferior to the others.  Would this would too much of a challenge for him?

Climbers navigated from camp base one, to camp base two, to camp base three, to the death zone, to the summit. They had to get down from the summit as fast as they could and beneath the death zone because the human body was not meant to withstand that high of an altitude — and it would start dying. Literally. The lack of oxygen would begin to shut down the human body.  

The hike up Everest was littered with the bodies of people who had tried to reach the summit and failed. Due to the altitude and the danger of staying there too long, and since it’s so cold, they are just preserved on the mountain.

Beck and the other climbers walked by them. Which, by the time they reached the Death Zone, had become an everyday sight. He would never forget the sight.

But right now he had more important things to think about.

The wind had started blowing and snow was raging up the mountain, causing whiteout conditions that trapped Beck and dozens of other climbers inside the Death Zone of the mountain. 

They were stuck right below the summit. Hour after hour they waited.

At midnight they got a break. Miraculously, the storm cleared up. Their guide, Rob Hall, woke him up from his tent and told him it was time to go.

They would climb while it was clear and reach the summit by 2pm.

It was May 10, 1996.

Beck would never forget. His life was about to change. Forever. 

Beck got up and got ready and left with his group. But it was dark and he had been suffering from night blindness for years.

Add to it the freezing cold temperatures and Beck had to take it slow.

As the sun rose, Beck’s vision gradually cleared and he could see. That is until he wiped his eye with his ice-laden glove and accidentally lacerated his cornea. 

Beck’s common sense kicked in and he decided the climb was over for him. He told the guide to go ahead without him. If he felt like he could catch up he would.

Rob told him he had thirty minutes to figure it out.

If he didn’t start hiking in thirty minutes he needed to stay put — so that Rob would know where to find him on the way down back to camp. 

As nightfall came, climber after climber passed Beck on the way down. Some even offered to help him off the mountain. But he had promised Rob he would stay put and wait for him. And so he waited. And waited. Without shelter. As another storm ravaged the mountain. 

Beck was wearing three pairs of gloves — which was par for the course.

They had all been instructed to remove two pairs of gloves and place their single gloved hand inside their coat to warm it up in the event it was terribly cold.

So Beck tried that. 

He got two of the three pairs of gloves off his hand — but before he could get his hand inside his coat to warm up, a gust of wind violently blasted as his hand, freezing it, and blowing both pairs of gloves out of his other hand.

His hand immediately started burning. 

Beck knew what frostbite felt like. He had felt it before. And this was nothing like it. It didn’t hurt at all. But maybe he was too cold to tell.

He laid down to wait for Rob.

Little did he know that Rob was never going to show up. He died on the top of the mountain trying to help another climber. 

As he waited not knowing Rob’s fate, Beck started to freeze to death. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. It was warm even. He had a sense of floating and then gently fell asleep.  

His face froze to the cold ground below him. 

Other climbers stepped over him, leaving him for dead, even though he was still technically breathing.

His eyes were glazed over. His hands were grey and black with frostbite as were his nose and a couple places on his cheeks. 

Nobody tried to save him. On Everest, a man in his condition might as well be dead already.

And so Beck lay on Mt. Everest one more night as his wife was being told her husband was dead. Even Beck thought of himself as a dead man. 

It was the sun that brought him back to life. Woke him up. Literally. Sunlight flooded his face.

In the glow of the sun as Beck slowly opened his eyes, he saw Peaches. He saw his daughter. He saw his son. He saw his purpose. And he stood up. Or at least he tried to.

Every time he tried to stand, he would fall. Pain would sear through every inch of his body.  But he knew he was only an hour hike from the camp. He had to try.

The ground was uneven. And slippery.

Making every step a possibly fatal one.

But he persisted — step by step by step, hour after hour after hour. And he made it to camp. Trudging in like the walking dead.

The others looked at him as if they were looking at a ghost. It was impossible that he was still alive.

Beck was carried into a tent and warmed up. No one could believe he was still alive. Even when they called Peaches to tell her, they didn’t expect him to live much longer.

Peaches hoped for the best. And when hope wouldn’t do, she sprung into action. She began calling every politician and government official she could think of. Working together they orchestrated a nearly impossible rescue for her husband.

It took Beck over a year and 11 surgeries to heal from that trip to Mt. Everest. He lost one hand at the wrist. Four fingers on his other hand and had to have his thumb recreated with bones and skin from other parts of his body.

There has never been another story like his.

In all the conquests of the world’s most formidable mountain, no one else has survived the onslaught of blizzard conditions overnight, all alone — without gloves or a guide.

He shouldn’t have made. His body was well beyond the point of failure. His legs were frozen. His face and hands were frostbitten. He didn’t have the calories inside his body to create enough energy to take the first few steps.

And yet, despite all the logic of what should have happened, he decided to get up and start moving towards where he wanted to be. And therein lies the secret to all great stories like this.

You will only go as far as you’re willing to take the next step.

That’s the secret to all great comebacks — moving forward just a little bit more. Every day. In every way. Just another step.

That next step is all that matters.

The hard truth is that no audacious challenge is accomplished quickly, easily, or without setbacks.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is figuring out where to get started. What to do. Where to go. What you actually want.

Unless you’re deliberate about forward progress you’ll find yourself spinning in circles. Doing enough to appear like you’re living a meaningful existence, but doing absolutely nothing that truly matters.

Which is a shame because if you’re going to be tired and frustrated, confused, annoyed, and thoroughly beaten down at the end of the day it might as well be because you’re doing something that matters magnificently.

But taking the next step isn’t as simple as it sounds. You might not know the exact next step to take. So here is what to do when you aren’t sure what you should be doing.

Do the thing that scares you most. That hurts the most. That you think is crazy and unnatural and ridiculously impossible.

That’s the step that will likely impact your chances of success greater than anything else.

You’ll stay stuck as long as you’re not moving in the right direction.

It’s a choice. A simple decision actually. One that you could make today. Right now.

So get started. Take one step today towards what matters.

You might be banged up and feeling cold and half-dead inside. But getting to where you want to be is worth every bit of the fight. 

You’re not dead. It’s just time to start moving.

About the author

Dan Waldschmidt

Dan Waldschmidt doesn’t just talk about leveling up. He’s obsessed with it. He's set records as an ultra-runner and been the personal strategist for the leading business leaders of our time. He wrote a book, called EDGY Conversations that accidentally became a worldwide bestseller and continues to share his insights from the stage as a keynote speaker and on the blogs and podcasts you will find here. Most days, you'll find Dan heads-down, working on breakthrough strategies for his clients at EDGY Inc, a highly-focused, invite-only, business strategy execution company based out of Silicon Valley.