Once You Reach the Top of Mt. Everest, There’s Nowhere to Go But Down

In a personal piece at National Geographic, photographer and explorer Cory Richards shares stories of some of his past climbs and magazine assignments in Pakistan, the Russian Arctic, and Angola—accompanied by stunning adventure photography— alongside candid thoughts on his struggles with PTSD, alcoholism, and infidelity.

“In the field, I felt so connected to everything. But then I’d come home and I felt so disconnected,” he writes. For a time, the mountains were the only place where he felt secure, where he had an identity. And while his professional climbing career took off, his personal life unraveled.

In May 2016, on a trip with climbing partner Adrian Ballinger, he reached the summit of Mt. Everest:

The lessons started to pile onto me at that point, and in the months following. I thought Everest would be some cathartic act; it would puncture the darkness that I was in, solve the PTSD, and somehow vanquish my guilt. I thought it would be a sort of phoenix-rising moment.

What I found instead was that I had literally run to the highest point on the planet to escape my truth, and I couldn’t bury it any more. Allegorically, Everest is the point from which all else flows—at least that’s what I see there—and it’s from there that I had to go downhill and into all the things that I had to face.

Read the story

Illustration by Kate Gavino