Sydney "Blissful" Ross | Interview
Sydney Ross is a sophomore at East Tennessee State University. She is pursuing a degree in Anthropology and International Affairs and a “life degree” in adventuring. Sydney has summited the highest point in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, has trekked in the Himalayas, explored Iceland, and volunteered at the Himalayans Children’s Care Home in Pokhara, Nepal. Sydney has travelled the world, seeking adventure, sharing stories, and falling in love with the world and its people.
While Sydney is currently seeking adventure in her education here in East Tennessee, she is falling in love with the mountains of Appalachia and spending time admiring the world around her. Sydney is a Roan Scholar and has given a talk at the IdeAcademy 2017.
As a kickoff to the Explorer series on Adventurous Andrew, we decided that Sydney’s story is one of compassion, hope, encouragement, and of course adventure. Sydney’s story is one that has made a great impact from the first time I met her in class. Below is our interview with Sydney.
So Sydney, where does your love for adventure come from?
“I grew up reading about great explorers like Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin in National Geographic magazines and watching my personal hero, Bear Grylls, on the Discovery Channel almost every single day, and I knew that I wanted to be like them. Also, Appalachia has instilled in me a great love of nature and of being outdoors, I guess that aspect of me has never really changed.”
Out of all the places you have been, where would you say you have been the happiest?
“I would have to say that I was the happiest on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It was absolutely freezing, and we could barely breathe, but when we stood on the summit I had the biggest grin plastered on my face because I had finally done something that I had dreamed of doing for years and this was my first big adventure.”
Where would you choose to go back to?
“I really want to go back to Nepal and try for Everest Base Camp again, trekking, this time, along a route that allows for better acclimation – I especially don’t want to repeat the mistakes from my first trek…”
This past summer you traveled to Nepal to trek to the base camp of Mount Everest, can you describe your experience?
“This was my first ever solo-trip and I was 50% ecstatic and 50% terrified. After thirty-something hours of flights, layovers, and transfers I finally arrived in Kathmandu, which was probably the most chaotic city I have ever been in. It was insane and I couldn’t wait to be out of the city and in the mountains. Where I felt the most at home.
I trekked for a total of five days in the Himalayas and I even got to see the summit of Mount Everest and it made me so emotional that I was tearing up just looking at it. Originally, the plan was to trek for a total of eleven days, reaching the Base Camp of Mount Everest and coming back the way we arrived, but I did not make it that far.
From the first moment we arrived on the mountain, via twelve-passenger airplane, I felt horrible. I was constantly dizzy, breathless, and I couldn’t keep and food or water down – all of these things should have been major red flags, but I convinced myself and my team that I was fine and trekked on. My moment of acceptance came at 13,000 feet when I was passing out and my guide had to lock arms with me to keep me from falling off of the cliff we were walking beside. A Sherpa diagnosed me with severe altitude sickness and my guide called in a helicopter to evacuate me from the mountain.
The day after being evacuated, I was told that I would have to wait another day to go back to Kathmandu because the airport was too busy due to a storm the day before, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I spoke with several different people and managed to talk my way into a free helicopter ride down to Kathmandu (this was the most satisfying part of my experience there).”
You didn’t let your sickness keep you from the second part of your journey, can you describe your volunteer experience?
“Yeah, I spent maybe another day or two in Kathmandu until I felt well enough to head to Pokhara to begin my six-week volunteer job at the Himalayans Children’s Care Home. After a twelve-hour bus ride, I finally got there and was greeted by seventy smiling faces and a million questions. (They asked me if I personally knew Justin Bieber or Demi Lovato and they were really disappointed to find out that I didn’t.)
When I arrived at the home there were ten other volunteers from across the globe, and I didn’t know it then, but they would become some of my closest friends. We helped prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the day and walked some of the kids to their schoolhouse across town. While the kids were at school, we would walk around town, visit the local shops and restaurants, or just lounge around at the home. It was such a unique experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
What was your favorite part of the trip?
“My favorite part of the trip was being able to meet so many wonderful people from around the globe, including all of the kids I worked with. I made long lasting friendships with the people I met and volunteered with during my stay there and those relationships are invaluable.”
I think we have a good guess, but what was your least favorite part of the trip?
“My least favorite part of the trip was getting altitude sickness. I had such high expectations of myself and of the climb, and when things didn’t turn out the way I had planned, it was really disheartening. Although, there was definitely a silver lining to that situation because it taught me to relinquish control of my situation when I need to. Control is hard to come by, especially when you are travelling solo, so you just have to learn to roll with the punches and make the best of your situation.”
What did you learn from your time at the base of Everest?
“I learned that we, trekkers, are not as “in control” of our situation as we think we are. The mountain decides whether or not you make it to the top, and you can’t really fight her on that. Having altitude sickness really humbled me and allowed me to develop a deeper respect for the mountains and what they are capable of.”
Do you have plans to go back and attempt a second trek?
“I do have plans to go back, hopefully in the near future. I’ve done a lot of research on alternate routes that allow for better acclimation, so I will be trekking along one of those for sure. The Himalayas are so beautiful that it’s kind of hard to stay away, even when you’ve had a bad experience there.”
During your six-week volunteering experience, what made the biggest impact on you?
“Seeing how grateful the children were when I gave them such small gifts like school supplies, trinkets, and some of my clothes that I brought with me, really left an impact on me. I realized just how much I take for granted at home and now I am more appreciative of all of the blessings I have received and continue to receive every day.”
What is your favorite piece of gear and what’s the story behind it?
“My favorite piece of gear is my handy-dandy backpack. It’s a North Face Aleia 32L daypack that was given to me, by my parents, three years ago. It has been with me from Puerto Rico to Iceland and it is still in perfect condition after three years of travelling and misadventures.”
What is your next adventure?
“My family and I are planning a three-week road trip across America for this summer. I love travelling abroad and experiencing foreign cultures, but I have not seen that much of my own country, so I am really looking forward to that!”
How can readers keep up with you?
They can follow me on Instagram at @sydney_ross, on Twitter at @sydneyemerson. I also gave a fifteen-minute talk with the IdeAcademy sponsored by Eastman in September. You can find the talk at ideacademy.com/talks-2017/.
Thank you to Sydney for sharing her story about her trek in the Himalayas and the reason why she gets out and explores the world in which we share. I encourage everyone to give her a follow and watch her talk with the IdeAcademy.