What I Did This Summer - Ginna Kelly, MAR '15

YDS students do a number of interesting things over the summer.  Over the course of the next few weeks, you’ll hear about some of what our amazing students have been up to.  Today’s entry comes from Ginna Kelly, MAR '15, who came to YDS from a distinguished career in environmental law alongside extensive work in ecological advocacy and the nonprofit world.  Today she'll tell you about the mountains she has climbed, and the transformative transcendence she has found.  Thanks Ginna!

                                   Above: Ginna Kelly, MAR '15 (center), climbing Gran Paradiso in Italy this summer.

This summer I climbed Gran Paradiso in the Alps, Italy’s tallest mountain peak, with a team from my non-profit Climb for Conservation, Inc.  It may not be immediately obvious why I’ve set out to climb some of the world’s highest mountain peaks.  Why not just run a 5k rather than climb the seven summits, an arduous and potentially deadly task?  

When you’re on a mountain peak it really comes down to the basics of life.  There is the mountain.  There you are.  There is God. 

At 20,000 feet, you are physically higher than at sea level and thus metaphorically closer to God.  The sheer size of an immense mountain demands you think about something beyond yourself.  It is a transcendent experience that opens you to a sense of the sacred. 

The raw, painful experiences of sleeping in below-freezing temperatures, exposing oneself to the dangers of falling into a crevasse, or being buried by an avalanche, are part of the wonder and terror that makes being a mountaineer satisfying.  

In 2010, I started Climb for Conservation, Inc. with the  mission “to climb mountains around the world to raise awareness and funds for critical conservation issues”, like the protection of endangered species.  In just a few years, we’ve summited Mt. Kilimanjaro – the tallest free-standing mountain in the world; trekked to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru; and attempted Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso with ice axes and crampons, all in the name of conservation.  Over 30 adventurists have joined our teams.  By the end of this year C4C will have donated close to $50,000 to save critically endangered African rhinos and elephants.  I hope that our grassroots organization will continue to grow and make a real difference for the environment, God’s creation.  

A mountaineer knows that a climb up a mountain can take many forms, physical or metaphysical.  Just as a mosque, temple, or church focuses the mind on God, so too can a mountain.  Climbing Italy’s Gran Paradiso this summer was a journey with God.  Each time I descend from a peak, I feel a renewed spiritual commitment to do more and be more.  Encountering the sacred in mountain landscapes is as much a pilgrimage as any other journey of devotion and contemplation.