For a guy who climbed to the top of Mount Everest with no oxygen last year, you’d think everything would be downhill from there.
“There’s always the expectation that when you achieve a monumental goal you’re going to have some life-changing moment,” Cory Richards, National Geographic adventure/expedition photographer, and alpine climber, told KVUE during South by Southwest. “And that doesn’t happen.”
There for an assignment for National Geographic, Richards said he was also there to rectify the effects his post-traumatic stress has had on his professional and personal life.
After Richards delivered one of the Keynote speeches during SXSW, he sat down with KVUE to talk more in-depth about the experiences that defined his professional and personal life.
Back in 2011, Richards was making his way back down Gasherbrum II, the 13th highest mountain in the world, when he and his team was hit by an avalanche.
Like a true photographer, he snapped a picture of his face the moment he was rescued.
"My point is that you can take a selfie and get on the cover of National Geographic," Richards told a crowded room during his SXSW Keynote speech.
His professional life then skyrocketed. But the experience of that near-fatal avalanche left him with a severe case of PTSD.
“My personal life just really unraveled from that point forward,” Richards said. “And my professional life skyrocketed. So I was living a dichotomy, and it was a pretty painful one for a long time.”
Later, he was invited to climb Mount Everest, but suffered a massive panic attack.
“That was sort of the first time that PTSD was presenting itself in a clinical sense,” Richards said. “That was the first time I was diagnosed with it.”
Four years later, he was offered a second chance at the tallest mountain in the world.
This time, he and his climbing partner, Adrian Ballinger, chronicled the entire thing on Snapchat with #EverestNoFilter.
“And then on summit day, Adrian ended up turning around about 1000 feet shy of the summit and I kept going,” Richards said.
Then, at the moment their followers were all waiting for, Richards pulled out his phone to snap when the unthinkable happened. His phone died.
He still got the photo, though.
His journey up the mountain was what he described as an attempt to “run from all my issues – my alcoholism, lying, cheating – all the stuff.”
“There’s only one place to go to actually deal with it, and that’s into it,” Richards said. “If you run from the things you’re afraid of, you’ll always be chased.”
He doesn’t feel like he’s being chased anymore. And although he knows it won’t be easy from here on out, he said that after reaching the top, it’s just a downhill slide from there.
“What you’re presented with at the top of Mount Everest is the realization that all of the hard work is below you.”
Go here to check out more of Richards' photos.