On April 25, 2015, when the Nepal earthquake hit, it triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest while Sara Safari was climbing the 30feet ice wall. Although she trained for two years learning everything she needed to know, she was not prepared for such a devastation killing nearly 10,000 people.
In this interview, Sara shares the many struggles, tortures and fears she faced throughout her journey leading up to that day. She talks about her decision to pursue climbing Mount Everest after having given up and her discoveries and lessons which have changed her life and connect with her “True Being.”
Meet Sara Safari:
Antonia: You had never climbed a mountain before in your life. What brought you to venture climbing Mount Everest?
Sara: I had attended a three day seminar and on the last day, the leader challenged us to come up with a project so big and beyond ourselves, we couldn’t imagine doing it. I overheard two women seated behind me talking about Mount Everest. Since I hate cold weather, never climbed anything in my life, never slept in a sleeping bag, it sounded like a great idea.
I got home and googled to find information on how to climb Everest. When I read about all that was involved, I thought, “ok, this is extremely impossible” and gave up the whole idea.
Taking The First Step
After two weeks, I remembered my leader’s words, “just focus on taking the first step.” I called and asked what I needed to do to climb Mount Everest. They said, “Go climb Mount Whitney and call us back.”
I bought all the gear and began training.
I made it up to the trail camp which is 12,500ft and set up my sleeping bag to get some sleep for the night. I put my water bottles in my sleeping bag and one of them opened. I was jumping to remove the water and didn’t realize I had my crampons on which made a hole in my sleeping pad. Now, my sleeping bag was wet, I didn’t have a pad and snow was blowing in my sleeping bag.
I was freezing. I was shivering and shaking and began to cry. That night, I was sure I would freeze to death.
After about 20 minutes of crying, it suddenly occurred to me that, “Wait a minute; I don’t have to die here. What do I need to do to stay alive?” Of course, I needed to stay warm. I started exercising for about two hours till I got warm and started eating and drinking. The whole night, I was still scared. I was alone in the cold and the dark. I fought to stay awake and make it through the night.
When I finally could see a little light shining through the mountain, I was so excited that I survived the night. I decided to run down the mountain. I got lost so many times and got stuck in snow up till my waist. But, somehow I was still on survival mode and finally ended up getting back home.
Antonia: Did you want to quit? You almost died, what made you continue?
Sara: I had faced my two biggest fears of being alone in the dark on the mountain and being cold. Having faced these fears, I learned skills which I could use the next time. But, more importantly, I discovered powers I never knew I had. I was accustomed to regular routine life in the city. All my life, I limited myself to studying, becoming an engineer and then working and going home and that’s it. On that mountain I realized that there’s so much more to this routine life and so much more I wanted to discover about life and beyond the limits I had believed to be true. I wanted to experience and challenge myself to the point of being scared again and coming back to life. Feeling alive by awaking my true hidden powers. So, I called them back and said, “OK, I climbed Whitney, what’s next?”
Antonia: This was a two year process. Did you face fears where you felt it was probably enough and should stop?
Sara: I didn’t have the skills to do self rescue, climb glaciers and all other techniques they were teaching us. Again, while learning all this, it was scary and torturous. When it was over, I had an energy from going further beyond doing things I never thought I could do. It’s like, the more I learned and discovered about myself, the more I wanted to put them in use.
You know in everyday life, we stop ourselves. We limit ourselves from doing things we feel are beyond our capabilities. We imagine all kinds of tortures that could happen and never push ourselves to discover our hidden powers. Some of the things I had to face were way beyond anything I could have ever imagined would happen. I didn’t have thoughts going through my mind. I truly believe that this is what kept me going. When you stop imagining all the things that could go wrong, you awaken an energy and inner power in doing what needs to be done. Seeing myself doing things I never thought I could do was an awakening journey in discovering myself. Also, getting to know the universe and learning how to play with the universe, was more than mountaineering lessons, it was life lessons.
Antonia: What do you mean by knowing the universe?
Sara: From the first day, those two women sitting behind me talking about Mount Everest, was meant to be. This was something the universe wanted me to go through. I believe we all have our own journey on earth to learn new lessons. The universe speaks to us in different ways so we can discover and expand ourselves.
I’m not a very religious person, but I really think we are all in this together. I had to do this so that it helps other people. Other people are chosen to do things that will be helpful for me to go through my lessons and getting to know myself. And, realizing at the end that, I am everybody. That I am the world and the world is me.
Finding Purpose to Keep Going
Antonia: You mentioned that you did this to help other people, so let’s talk about it.
Sara: Well, I got to the point where the next project was climbing a mountain in Ecuador. My first time climbing a 90 degree ice wall in the middle of the night. The wind was so strong; it was pushing me to the right hand side. Keep in mind that I’m at 17,000 feet, I’m disoriented, I’m nauseous, I have a huge headache, I have a sore throat, I’m thirsty and I’m hungry. I look down to my right hand side with my head light and see a deep crevasse and huge icicles. In that moment, I completely forgot my nausea, headache, sore throat and climbed up so fast and sat on the edge. I was crying and talking to myself, “I’m risking my life. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m not going to continue. Who cares about Everest?” After this, it was over for me. I was done.
Shortly after I decided to quit, my friend introduced me to psychology professor Jeffrey Kottler who founded the organization “Empower Nepali Girls,” an organization which helps educate Nepali girls. When he told me the horrible stories about these girls’ lives, how they’re forced to early marriage and sex slavery, I was so moved, that I decided to start training again to climb Mount Everest. This time, I wouldn’t be climbing to sit on 29,000 feet. This time I’d be climbing Mount Everest to bring awareness and raise funds to help these girls have the opportunity for a better life.
You see, at the beginning I was torturing myself and risking my life for a personal achievement. For something I could check off a list. Something I could put on my resume and say good job. It was not a meaning purpose worth pursuing. It became meaningful when so many others could benefit from it.
Antonia: You prepared and practiced for two years to climb Mount Everest. At any point, did you have regrets?
Sara: Yes, every single day! (Laughing).
When I started training again, every time I was in the middle of one of my tortures and was ready to quit, I always asked myself, “Did you really give your 100%?” And my answer would be, “No, I gave 97%. Or, No, I gave 93%.” So, I would tell myself, “OK, give the other 3% and if you still want to go home, we’ll go home.” I’d be ok with letting go if I felt I had really given it my 100%. But not ok with just feeling sorry for myself. Sure enough, I would be able to get through it.
When I was climbing Cho Oyu, The sixth highest mountain in the world, there were moments where I was crying and crawling on the snow ground. I would tell myself, “One step at a time. One step at a time.” Then, I would remember the promise I made to those girls. I was setting an example to inspire them to go through their hardships. If I gave up and quit, when they would look in my eyes, this is the message I’d be giving them. So, this gave me the strength to continue and be able to show them that any hardship could be overcome by taking one step at a time.
Antonia: The day of the earth quake! It hit with a magnitude of 7.8 and killed nearly 10,000 people. It triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest while you were climbing. What happened?
Sara: I was on the 30 feet ice wall climbing a ladder with a 200 feet drop below.
With a little more left to climb, the whole wall started moving left to right, left to right, left to right. A big chuck of ice fell on my left side. It sounded like a plane taking off right next to my ear. There was debris in the air, I lost visibility and couldn’t see anything. I managed to climb up on the edge, dig my feet in the ice with my crampons and wrap the rope around my hands. This whole thing lasted two to three minutes and everything went quiet. I walked over to the other climbers and started crying. We waited for two nights till the helicopter came to rescue us and took us to the base camp. Everything was destroyed and crashed. Tents, cameras, food scattered all over and worst of all, I heard that twenty people had died. It all seemed like a bad dream and I would wake up and I’d be climbing. I was numb and devastated.
After a few more nights, a helicopter took us to the village and from there we went to Kathmandu where I visited the girls supported through Empower Nepali Girls. They were standing in a pile of rebel that was once their home. They had no food, no water, no blankets or pillows, no sanitation products and slept on a pile of dirt. Together with the other climbers, we went out and got whatever we could find. It wasn’t enough, there were so many of them. Through the organization, we send bags of medication; we got some volunteer doctors to go and other necessities.
When I got back home, I held fund raisers to help build back the schools and homes. I first set off to climb Everest to raise funds to put these girls in school. Now, there were no schools for them to go to. I know there’s nothing we can do about nature but, it was very frustrating that they had to go through all this. But, what’s amazing about these people is how resilient, humble, kind, strong and happy they are. They never complained and I knew that they would get through this and come out stronger. The $29,000 I raised before the climb will send 200 girls to school next year. I’m really happy about that.
A Life-Changing Experience
Antonia: You did this in hopes of changing other people’s lives for the better. Has it changed your life?
Sara: The whole two years of mountain climbing has made me discover myself as a person and a hidden dimension within myself. Being with those girls has made me appreciate everything and every moment in my life. As long as I have a pillow, a blanket and hot food, I’ll always be happy. Appreciating every single moment of my life and living it fully no matter what happens. Because making up stories in our heads and making interpretations about every little ‘bad’ thing that happens into a big drama completely destroys our lives. If we appreciate everything that happens and trust that the universe gives us what we need so we can discover all the wonderful and amazing things we are meant to do, we would celebrate and live fully every moment.
Antonia: Does our mind, the stories in our heads and interpretations control the way we live?
Sara: We are very powerful and we don’t know how powerful we are. In anything we do, our limitations depend on 90% mind and 10% physical. When I woke up on ice and it was windy and cold, I had a sore throat and headache and I had to climb for 20 hours, sure I had to be physically fit. But, if my mind was full of negative thoughts and stories, not matter how fit I was, I wouldn’t have made it. So, my mind needs to be fresh, awake and present. It gets energy and vitality when it’s empty of all negative stories. Whatever we do in our daily lives, 90% is influenced by our mind which is guided by our emotions. We give all our power to our emotions and stay stuck in our circumstances. But, our circumstances are outside of us and our interpretation is what gives them importance to control our lives. If we pay attention to this and realize this, we can actually use our minds to get past these things and discover the powers we have that are being hidden by our stories.
Antonia: What is the most important thing in life?
Sara: Giving! Giving and contributing!
When I get the sense that I am everyone and am ALL ONE, that I am Iranian, that I am American, that I am Nepalese, that I am Canadian and I am from everywhere, it brings so much peace to the equation. We are always in a rush to get someplace and we want to be first. I always remind myself that it really doesn’t matter, “If you’re supposed to get there, you will. If not, it doesn’t matter.” The sense of peacefulness and sense of happiness that comes from giving, gives you a sense of being. When I’m contributing to others, the ‘Me’ that wants to be first, that wants to be somebody, that wants to put a check mark on a list is no longer there. My “true being” in peace and joy comes to life. The “true being” that allows me to be connected with the world, with everyone and nature. When you feel All One with the universe, you no longer have the need to protect the “ME” and there’s a whole other dimension and freedom and way of living that takes place. You feel complete and fulfilled.
How about you? Are you climbing your own Everest in life right now? Look deeper, what hidden power is the universe trying to make you discover?