REI Presents: I Am Here


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For our 82nd anniversary, we’re highlighting 82 of your outdoor stories. Share your favorite story on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with a photo or video and tag #REImember.

Day 2, 4:36am. I am waking up on Mount St. Helens, in Washington state. It is April, and the whole mountain is still covered in snow. A long day is ahead and I’m ready for coffee. The sunrise is a beautiful ombre blend of orange and pink, so it’s already a great day.

Many thoughts were racing through my mind that morning, as I admired the colors coming in from the east. My biggest worry was: Is my body strong enough to make it to the top, or will I be a burden on my team?

My biggest motivation is the legacy of survival of my grandparents and my parents. I can hardly believe that my dad and his parents grew up without electricity and would walk miles into town to get groceries. They had a burro, but that was for fetching water—not the most effective for human transport. And now I stand here with all the basic resources for survival, hiking a mountain for fun. I am here because of them. This was my biggest inspiration.


I was also excited to bring diversity and a new face to the mountain, and I wondered if my two brothers and I would be the only Mexicanos out there. My parents came to mind; if they crossed mountains, with limited supplies of water and basically no food, I had no excuse. I trained six weeks leading up to the big day. I ran seven miles a week, cycled one hour a week, and hiked at least once a week at high elevations—the bare minimum of required training, according to my research. This was my first time mountaineering; the added snow made me wary. I imagined it would be cold, even though the weather showed otherwise. The uncertainties made me nervous, but I was also excited to embark on this adventure with my brothers. If anything unexpected happened to me, I knew they had my back. They were a wonderful “safety blanket” to have.

The start was easy. It quickly became light out and I was feeling extra excited about the views and the journey to the top. The sun was shining bright, and the snow looked like a nightclub after New Year’s: glitter everywhere. Our layers were coming off quick. The first couple hours we paced with confidence. After some time and the first glimpse of the top of the mountain, my excitement grew; it looked very close, attainable, doable. Surely I was going to make it. Yesenia and her brothers on Mt St Helens

I had read a couple forums saying most people reach the summit in five to six hours. So after two and a half hours of hiking on our second day and three hours the day before, I figured, Oh we probably have one to two more hours to go. But the proximity of the mountain was an illusion, like those oases people see in the desert. We walked and walked and the distance didn’t seem to change. I had no idea how much longer it would take to get to the top.

It was at this very moment that I stopped wondering about time and let go of that curiosity. I felt so liberated and relaxed; extreme happiness and gratefulness took over me. I went into my zen-meditative state, that same feeling I get from long, peaceful hikes. I looked over at my brothers and the whole experience became unreal. Holy smokes, I am doing it, I am mountaineering. I am on St. Helens. As I looked around, I saw the views were free of any man-made structures. That is one of the most beautiful things in life: untouched nature.

After our second break, I noticed one of my brothers looked like he was enduring some pain. I knew he would ever admit to that. I asked him how he was, and even though he murmured “fine,” his body language said otherwise. I knew he was pushing through, but I also knew defeat was not on today’s menu; not making it to the top would mean defeat to him. If there is something I know about my brothers, it is that they are not just physically strong, they are mentally and spiritually strong. After all, they do come from a long line of hardworking men who have endured and survived a cocktail of the worst.

Mountaineering St. Helens

The last hour and a half to the top went by very fast. I was fueled by some special kind of adrenaline because nothing hurt, I felt great. How was this possible? I am really not sure. Maybe it was the six-week training, my state of mind, my company or a combination of it all.

Well, I did it, and I surprised myself. I am even proud to say I did not get as exhausted as my brothers who, at first sight, look more “fit” (and they are—they just didn’t train like I told them to). I am 5′ 8″ and 165 pounds, so according to my BMI I am overweight, even though I feel as fit as I was in high school. Just another reason to remember all body shapes and sizes are able to do anything we train them for.

I used to believe I had to look a certain way to go on specific adventures. That stopped me once, but not anymore—I am going on adventures I only dreamed of. I did not expect to leave St. Helens with more than wonderful memories and pictures, but that adventure gave me more confidence, made me feel physically stronger than ever and motivated me to continue to do more mountaineering. Next up: Mount Adams.

Mountaineering Washington

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