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“Most of us are forgetting that from the beginning of our life, we are approaching death. Life is absurd. But you can fill it with ideas, with enthusiasm. You can fill your life with joy.” —Reinhold Messner, “14 Peaks”
Wednesday nights at the Bondi Beach Backpackers hostel in Sydney, Australia, tend to be a little slow. Nicholas C. Ige ’25 and I opted to spend the warm evening outside, lounging in the courtyard alongside other guests similarly worn out from a full day of surfing. Despite the lack of commotion, I was treated to a now familiar but nevertheless delightful sight when a few of our recent acquaintances in the hostel asked Nick about his life, unsuspecting of the mythic stories awaiting them.
The spectacle began when Nick offered our companions a swig from his bottle of Konyagi. They are first surprised to learn that Konyagi is a local liquor of Tanzania, but they’re even more surprised when Nick explains he was there only the week prior to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Their bewilderment and wonder only increases when they find out Nick is a Harvard student studying Neuroscience and an army veteran road-tripping along Australia’s coast after climbing the country’s tallest mountain. Not to mention Nick is also a psychedelic enthusiast, savant of consciousness and spirituality, and the meanest surfer Bondi Beach has ever seen.
After taking a moment to digest photos of Nick on deployment in Afghanistan and at Kilimanjaro’s snowy peak, they’re not quite as shocked when he tells them about his plan to become an astronaut one day.
* * *
“No such thing as too many shakas or too many good friends. Good thing I have an abundance of both.” —Nicholas C. Ige ’25
As I reflect now on that night, it seems to so perfectly capture the essence of my time in Australia with Nick. After a few more hours of boisterous discussion with friends made only 24 hours before, our little band of travelers capped off the evening with a quick dip in the ocean, carousing and cavorting as though we had known each other for years. “Happy accidents” and “wholesome hedonism,” as Nick likes to say, were the norm of our stay.
Accidents — some happy, others not so much — have been a consistent theme for Nick since the last installment of my column in November. We made it to Australia, but far less has gone according to the original plan of summiting the tallest mountain on each continent than expected.
To my great personal disappointment — not to mention Nick’s — Kevin Fischetto ’26 sustained an injury while training for their climbing journey. Forced to forgo his winter break travel, the fellow veteran, adventurer, and Nick’s partner in crime has been supporting from the sidelines while embarking on his own journey toward recovery.
So what remains of this project, once centered entirely around friendship?
Perhaps Eli, Nick’s guide in Tanzania, with whom he still exchanges pictures of family and life back home, will tell you that friendship was still very much at the center of Nick’s winter. Yosra and Bo, patrons of a tiny bar in a tiny town along the Australian coast with whom Nick effortlessly struck up conversation, might tell you something similar. In fact, Cybil, Ben, Carly, Lucie, Jacob, Travis, and the dozens of other kind souls Nick touched over break may all be in agreement that friendship finds the man wherever he wanders.
* * *
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” —Mark Twain
In February, I asked Nick to sit down and share details from the first leg of his trip with me. He invited me to flip through his camera roll with him in the “war room” — a small space in the Science Center basement where Nick studies with, of course, his friends. For a few hours, Nick relived the ascent once more with me, swimming through snapshots of peace, quiet, and life at 19,000 feet in our little underground bastion of memory.
The adventure officially began on Dec. 21, when Nick’s flight from Boston touched down in the Kilimanjaro International Airport. The next day, Nick left base camp to begin his ascent. The weight of the journey, however, set in far before he even reached the mountain.
“It’s weird because I’ve spent the majority of my adult life getting off random planes in random countries. I almost have this nostalgic feel,” Nick shared. “I thought my mind would switch into work, but it didn’t. It was like starting off a new adventure where I wasn’t going to war, going to battle. I’m just like, ‘Oh, I’m doing this thing for my own personal mental health.’”
For himself, but also the thousands of veterans who eschew higher education after their service — a reality Nick wants to fight, particularly on social media. Partnered with a supplement brand and featured on several high-profile military community accounts, Nick takes to Instagram to share photos and videos of his veteran experience at Harvard. His following has nearly doubled since he first undertook the project, surpassing more than 7,000 users.
But social media was far from accessible on Kilimanjaro. Walk, eat, sleep, repeat — by the fourth day, mountain life was reduced to basic functions. Hiking was so simple it almost reminded Nick of deployment, where he was entirely removed from the overwhelming decisions of the civilian world, let alone Harvard’s campus.
“Coming home from that, and then having to deal with ‘Where are we going for dinner?’” Nick expressed, pausing to look up from a picture of sunrise on the mountainside. “Every single person [at Harvard] probably has a different goal, and has a different idea of how they’re going to achieve that goal. It’s very complex.”
The album Nick prepared for me also included photos of his tours in Afghanistan, right alongside those from his winter trek. Nick turned his attention back to the sunrise.
“In moments like this, at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning, life is simple.”
* * *
“‘We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!’” —J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit”
Hidden among the clouds, blissfully sitting three miles above the earth in Nick’s photos, is immense pain.
The trek is just getting started, and the summit push is far less friendly than the first few days on the trail would lead you to believe. But Nick isn’t finished showing me his camera roll — pain is only part of the story.
How do we view his mission, then, which is so many things at once? With the grace of a few month’s distance, it seems the trip cannot be presented as anything other than a beautiful assemblage — one of pain, but also friendship, discipline, spontaneity, and a love for life and everything in it. If there is one thing I’ve learned from Nick Ige, perhaps these things are not quite as disparate as one would expect.
—Staff writer Charles W. McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column “Dagger and Book” explores the artistic experience of Nick’s mountain climbing adventure.
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