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MIT student blogger Nisha D. '21

The View is Worth It by Nisha D. '21

but you have to make the climb yourself to find out

My boyfriend and I made an impromptu trip to Montana over the weekend. It’s a funny story that honestly deserves its own blog post, but even more honestly, probably won’t get one because I don’t have the time.

Anyways, we had two motivations for this trip, and one of them was hiking the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park. This is one of the most famous hiking trails in the country for its scenic vistas, so as somebody who loves hiking, I was stoked. I coerced my boyfriend to wake up at 3 AM so we could get to the parking lot by 6:45 to ensure a spot because AllTrails said that it was sometimes filled up by 7. And even on three hours of sleep, the scenery at Glacier National Park almost brought me to tears. Pictures nor words cannot describe how glorious it is. It has definitely surpassed Switzerland for me as the most beautiful place on Earth, and that’s really saying something because I still haven’t shut up about my trip to Switzerland, and it was a whole year ago.

The Highline Trail itself is a pretty standard hike, and has maybe 1000 feet of elevation gain over 7 miles. However, there’s an offshoot of the trail – the Garden Wall Trail – that takes you up to a ridge to look out over Grinnell Glacier, one of the few01 climate change has killed most of them :( glaciers left in the park. All the blog posts I read about the hike prior to the weekend firmly endorsed doing this particular offshoot because “the views are worth it”. The catch, though, is that it’s ridiculously hard – it has ~1000 feet of elevation gain over a MILE of hiking. If you are a hiker, you’ll know that that’s quite hard. If you’re not a hiker, imagine climbing 100 stories of stairs, which the internet tells me is about 2100 stairs, but the stairs are real steep bois, like the ones in the Green Building.

I insisted to my boyfriend that I wanted to do this part of the hike. He pointed out that it was stupidly hard, and I said that I wanted to do it anyways because the internet said the view was worth it.

So we slapped it onto our itinerary and started hiking at 7 AM. Hiking the first part of the Highline Trail in the morning was spectacular, and the views…the views. I really have no words. The weather was perfect, there were cool streams of glacier water to splash on your sweaty face, and there were no bears to be seen.

I sort of realized the actual ridiculousness of the Garden Wall Trail when it came into view, and I could see people very high up on a tiny trail cut into the side of this massive stone face. It looked very steep. I started to get apprehensive.

When we reached the trailhead, I fully realized how awful this was going to be. And I was right. It didn’t even start off okay. I fully thought that I wasn’t going to make it, and had to stop every 100 feet or so. I consider myself a decent hiker, so I was determined to make it, but I really, really wanted to just stop and go back down at some points. Plus, I had to put in extra effort not to fall, because the trail itself is a four foot wide ledge on the side of a very high rock wall.

Strava tells me that I hiked most of this hike at an average pace of 2.6-2.8 mph. This section of the trail, however, slowed me down to a crawl of 1.3 mph. It took me about 45 minutes.

This was by far the hardest physical exercise that I’ve ever done in my entire life, and I honestly thought nothing could top running a half marathon02 unfortunately I don't think I have the mental fortitude to do a full one . I think that I am reasonably in shape and the lower half of my body in particular is strong from fencing and running. Even so, this singular mile of this hike literally broke me and my will to live for 45 long minutes.

As I struggled upwards, I occasionally ‘took breaks’ by standing to the side so people coming down the trail could pass. They probably saw me in total disarray, panting heavily and sweating all the water out of my body, and some would smile encouragingly at me and say things along the lines of, “<some generic encouragement>! The view is worth it!”

I remember thinking to myself that the view better fucking be worth it, because I was just about ready to turn around and go back down to nice flat ground and a luxurious six foot wide trail.

When we finally got to the top, I was ready to just lay down on the ground and die, but my boyfriend insisted that we do the extra 200 feet climb to see the *full* view of the glacier. It sort of felt like a freemium model. So we did, and we finally got the whole view of the entirety of Grinnell Glacier.

Now let me be clear: this is indeed a glorious view.

grinnell glacier

side a: grinnell glacier in all its (climate change shrunk) glory, you can see the path it took as dragged itself across the earth and left those lakes behind

lake mcdonald peeking out between two mountains

side b: lake mcdonald peeking out between two mountains

In particular, being higher than a glacier is kind of a cool feeling. So I sat down, caught my breath, pulled out my sandwich, and tried to appreciate the view that I had worked so hard for.

But I didn’t feel the sense of thunderstruck awe that I expected to. I was hot, sweaty, burnt out, exhausted, and the mosquitoes kept trying (and succeeding) to bite me through my leggings despite the copious amounts of bug spray that I kept reapplying. I honestly think I appreciate the pictures I took more than I appreciated the actual view in front of my eyes, just because how shitty I felt as I was trying to appreciate it.

So – was the view worth it? The answer is that I don’t really know. Maybe if I had enjoyed the climb more, it would have netted to a positive experience. But I think it totaled to be mostly neutral in the end. Maybe even slightly negative. Honestly, I think I enjoyed the rest of the hike – reasonable inclines with stunning views all throughout – more than I did this particular segment that I was so adamant on doing. But at least I get to say that I completed the really hard hike…

Maybe you’ve caught on to the heavy handed analogy I’m trying to make by now. This particular anecdote perfectly encapsulates my fear of making irreversible decisions about my future.

People who know me, both in person and from the blogs, might have noticed that I’ve been struggling with the grad school vs. industry conundrum for a while. Let me start by saying that I literally cannot even make this decision yet, because I neither have a full time job offer nor a graduate school acceptance in hand. My stress is all purely theoretical, and therefore somewhat unfounded. Just the thought of having to make this decision is what is stressing me out. But just humor me for a second.

There are five possible outcomes for my senior year:

  1. I get into graduate school AND get a full time job offer and have to choose between the two.
  2. I get into graduate school and don’t get a full time job offer.
  3. I get a full time job offer and don’t get into graduate school.
  4. I get neither a full time job offer nor a spot in the graduate program.
  5. I do something different altogether.

I imagine if I ran 100 simulations of my life, how these options would be distributed would turn out something like this.

pie chart of options for life

yes i know pie charts are shitty and these numbers are mildly arbitrary…shh

These numbers are mostly based off of how confident I am in myself. I think that I could get a job offer if I really, really tried hard; I think that getting into grad school is definitely less than a 20% likelihood.

The option that I am bracing myself for, however, is the best case scenario. My brain is constantly screaming in fear of having to make a decision between two very good options my life could take. As you can see from the chart, I’m fairly confident that this won’t actually pan out. In ~2/3 of the simulations, my choice is already made for me. But I have an overactive imagination.

I sort of see accepting a full time job offer as the regular part of the aforementioned hike. The benefits that come with it are amazing, and I get to take it easy. The probability of me enjoying my life is quite high.

I see accepting a position in a graduate program, however, as the really difficult climb. It takes a long time, and if you don’t enjoy the actual process of reaching your goal, then you might just be burnt out and sad by the time you reach it.

The problem that I’m struggling with, I think, is that people might tell me that the view will be worth it from the top of the grad school climb. But I won’t ever really know that for myself unless I do it myself. And on a larger level, I fear what happened to me on the hike: making the climb, and then being too tired and frustrated to enjoy the view.

I think that I have to be really, really sure that if I do commit to making the climb, I have to be positive that I’ll enjoy it to some extent, because otherwise it just won’t be worth it. And I think I could enjoy it, and I’m still giving myself space to figure that out. Having more data with which to make this decision will hopefully make it easier to make, if I ever have to.

That’s about all I have to say on this thought exercise. Sometimes I take a step back from my whirring brain and wonder why I’m like this at all, because the stars would really have to be aligned for both of these paths to be available to me.

I think it’s because for the first time in my life, I might actually have an important decision that have to make. I’ve only ever wanted to go to MIT for college, so I didn’t really have to make a choice there. I’ve never gotten more than one job offer at a time, so have never had to choose between multiple. I felt the pressure of succeeding monetarily too hard to consider other majors deeply. But here, I could have two amazing options for how my life could go, and to do one, I would have to abandon the other.

I’m almost hoping that I don’t have a choice.

  1. climate change has killed most of them :( back to text
  2. unfortunately I don't think I have the mental fortitude to do a full one back to text