For Brian Dickinson, "Faith" Truly Did Move Mountains
When I asked Brian Dickinson to interview for THREAD MB, I followed my initial request up with another. “Could you also contribute a signed copy of your book 'Blind Descent' in which we could raffle off to raise money for widows and their children,” I asked. Sure enough, Brian agreed.
A few days later, a gold envelope arrived containing Brian’s book. Scribbled on the inside cover was a note. It read, “Faith can move mountains!” No doubt, the profoundness of his words goes well beyond a cliched saying as, for Brian, his own faith actually did move mountains. It also saved his life and is, most assuredly, saving many others through the inspirational tale that “Blind Descent” holds.
You see, Brian accomplished what few people would ever do; he climbed Mount Everest. Yes, others have done the same but not in the manner Brian did. Brian summited without a Sherpa due to unexpected circumstances which forced his Sherpa to turn back. Leaving Brian to contemplate failure or success, Brian continued forward and made his way to the top. “It felt surreal and deafeningly quiet.”
After notifying the rest of his team that all of their hard work had not been for naught, Brian began descending back down the the mountain. This former US Navy Rescue Swimmer was “coming home,” having proven that neither land nor sea could stop him. Then, suddenly, the worst possible circumstance that could ever happen under Brian’s present conditions, occurred. Brian went blind.
Fully “snow blind” and still very much “alone,” Brian needed to exchange his usual means of vision for one made up of experience, intelligence, and faith. His determination to live coupled with his passionate belief that God stood by his side, always, would, inevitably, guide Brian back to safety. He would rejoin his team and his family once again. A month and a half later, he would regain his normal sight as well.
The entire experience, however, would have him seeing more clearly than he ever before, and the lessons he learned through it all, he now shares with you in this candid interview below.
What is your personal mantra?
"Live life to its fullest. Every day is an opportunity to be amazing."
Share your background with us?
I grew up in southern Oregon and was always outdoors looking for adventures -- hiking, biking, rafting. I served six years in the US Navy as a Special Operations Air Rescue Swimmer, with two tours to the Gulf for Operation Southern Watch. I really got into climbing after my wife, JoAnna, and I moved to the Pacific Northwest for graduate school in 2001. From there, I made a goal to climb the highest peaks of the seven continents.
Your story, which you've captured in your book "Blind Descent," is riveting? Please encapsulate it for us here, including why you decided to continue climbing Mount Everest when your Sherpa could no longer do so.
In the mountains, especially in the death zone (above 26,000’), you make decisions which can be life or death but you make them with the information you have at the time. I weighed out three things -- the weather; how I was feeling; and, most importantly, how Pasang (my Sherpa) was feeling. The weather and I were fine and Pasang said he was fine and would wait down at the balcony (27,500’). He eventually ended up heading back down to high camp and I continued up, not ever imagining I’d go blind and be in more of a survival situation than I already was in just climbing Everest.
What did you learn about yourself most of all in surviving this experience?
I learned that, through faith and focus, you can truly get through any dire situation. I had to dig deep and never give up, putting one foot in front of the other. It would have been easy and very peaceful to just close my eyes and pass away on the mountain, but I never let that option enter into my head.
What did you learn about God that others, today, fail to understand?
During my blind descent, I felt a continued presence around me. I didn’t overthink it but I knew that I was not alone. The presence kept me company and then went away as soon as Pasang hugged me down at high camp -- seven hours after I was on the summit. I am blessed to travel and tell my story to people around the world. People everywhere are going through their own blind descents in life and it’s easy to try to figure things out alone. When you give it all to God, it releases the burden and shows Him that you fully trust Him to guide you down the mountain. I reached this point when I ran out of oxygen and surrendered to Him on the side of the mountain.
Would you make that climb all over again, exactly as you did it already?
This is a tough question since the outcome of an almost impossible survival scenario has helped reach so many others in need. I wouldn’t wish my circumstance on my worst enemy and I would never want to have to go through it again, but going through it established a bigger purpose for my life than I ever realized.
How did you stay calm throughout the entire experience?
My military experience as an Air Rescue Swimmer helped me stay calm since my training was about never panicking and dealing with the situation at hand. Faith and focus kept me alive as I placed one deliberate step in front of the other. There were plenty of times during my descent that emotions, fatigue and panic tried to creep in but my awareness was heightened and I kept pushing those life threatening emotions away until I was finally safe at high camp.
What's most important to you in life?
Faith and family are my biggest priorities. We live for a larger purpose and it’s important to keep things in perspective. We are put on this earth for many reasons and our time here is very temporary. Remaining consistent in our behaviors is vital to positively influencing our families for generations to come.
What one piece of advice would you give to others contemplating climbing their own Mount Everests?
Everyone has their own metaphorical Everest and they are just as hard as what I went through, because they are unique to each individual. Faith and focus got me down the mountain and I believe it can get others through their tough times. We live in a world of constant distractions of things that don’t matter. Developing a baseline of priorities is the first step to ensure you have something to come back to often to align the direction of your life. When you have this baseline you can more easily gain perspective during tough times, realizing that some of the things pushing you off balance may not be that important in the long run.
Do you support or are you actively involved in a particular social cause? Please explain.
I visit orphanages around the world during my trips or even during trips with my family. My wife and daughter also did a missions trip in Swaziland this past summer. So rather than one social cause, I tend to look at the world as more of an open book of situational opportunities.
When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as an authentic person who lived an adventurous life without sacrificing morals or values. Someone who consistently gave credit to Christ for his opportunities and successes. Also someone who was fun and left a positive imprint on those he met.
Needless-to-say, whether you are, currently, facing your own “Blind Descents” or not, I urge you to read Brian’s book. It’s moving, exciting, and will, undoubtedly, leave a lasting impression that may help you overcome your own worst nightmares if, per chance, they find you throughout the course of your life. As Brian will attest to, “It is better to be prepared than not.” Faith may move mountains but “preparedness” shows God that you are willing to do your part.
Many thanks to Brian Dickinson for making this interview possible