By: Allison Upchurch, Staff Reporter
On Thursday Nov. 8, Dr. Aaron Conley, a professor in the Philosophy Department at Regis College, gave a presentation in Claver Lecture Hall about his experience climbing Mount Baker in the North Cascades of Washington last September. Conley reflected on his experience climbing, and how climbing is a coping mechanism for mental health.
During this presentation, Conley spoke about his personal life experience of depression and suicidal thoughts. He reflected on his mental health as a culmination of misfortunes entered into his life, starting with trying to attain a tenure teaching position in 2016. After his spouses’ unexpected diagnosis of a rare autoimmune disease and an unplanned pregnancy, Conley went for a solo climb on the Kiener’s Route on Longs Peak in August of 2016. It was there in a moment of hesitation that he found strength within him to reach the top and take in the view around him.
“And it felt sublime” Conley said of that moment, “I was enraptured in the beauty of the space, in how insignificant my actuality was and how insignificant my problems were in light of this huge, beautiful mountain.”
From that moment, he took on his hobby of climbing as a mechanism for support, he has launched himself on a number of escapades including climbs up the Black Velvet Canyon in Red Rocks, Nevada, part of the Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier in Washington, and Mount Auburn in Indian Peaks, Colorado.
His bid to attempt to summit Mount Baker started when he applied for a grant called the “Live Your Dreams” Grant by the American Alpine Club and The North Face. He submitted a proposal entitled “Why I Climb” and was awarded a share of the grant money and an additional sponsorship from Fjällräven to supply him with gear for the climb.
Last September, Conley and his climbing partner made their way out to Washington over Labor Day weekend to climb the North West Ridge of Mount Baker, which is one of the most perpetually snowcapped mountains in the United States. They started out at four in the morning and made their way up to the summit of the mountain at an elevation of 10,749 feet. Their trek up the mountain and back down took 11 ½ hours and included narrow ascents on and around crevasse 40 to 50 feet high, patches of heavy glaciers, and overhangs of ice for a total of about 1500 feet of ice climbing.
“To be out there, I felt light,” Conley said of his alpine climbing experience. “I felt like that’s how it’s supposed to be on these rocks.”
A connection between nature and breathtaking beauty of the world, coupled with self-determination and personal endurance transformed the life of Conley at a time when he needed it the most. From the most intimate details of our life to the grand endeavors we embark on, the key to unlocking our personal happiness comes in many shapes and sizes and for Aaron, it came in the shape of snow capped peaks.