Can you imagine climbing the tallest mountain in Poland, in wintery weather, while only wearing a pair of shorts and hiking boots? We didn’t think it was possible, so we took the Laughing Lion team to Poland to meet with Wim Hof and experience one of his winter experiences. Our goal was to test out our dry bag, and more importantly, to test out our bodies to see how far we could push ourselves. Needless to say it was an experience of a lifetime, and our dry bag held up amazingly well in the harsh conditions.
Whipping winds filled with ice and snow, -15 degrees Fahrenheit, and a windchill of -31 degrees Fahrenheit…it should never have been possible. How did we do it?
Who Is Wim Hof?
“Q: Name three people you’ve learned from in the last year?”
A: “Wim Hof…” ~ Jack Dorsey, founder of Square and co-founder of Twitter
Wim Hof is an amazing human being, and without hyperbole, just being around Wim can make you feel great. Wim became famous in the 1990’s from a series of stunts. He seemed to be impervious to the cold. Nothing could stop him. He was soon dubbed the Iceman.
In the process, he set 21 Guinness World Records, and soon had a large following. His list of feats is nothing but remarkable, and he sounds like a modern day superhero.
Running a marathon in the Arctic Circle with only sandals and shorts? Yes, Wim has done it.
Swim under ice for over 120 meters in swim trunks with only a single breath? Yes, Wim has accomplished it.
Standing in a pool of ice for almost two hours without hypothermia kicking in? Yes, Wim has achieved it.
His skills are not limited to just the cold. He ran a marathon in Namibia without drinking a single drop of water.
Through the power of his mental focus and breathing, he found a way to perfectly regulate his body. He says this ability is inside every person. We all can do it. But it isn’t just mere words, he has perfected his method, and now teaches people to regulate their bodies in less than a week. Can he do it? We found out this past December.
After landing in Prague, our group is transported to a little village on the border of Poland and the Czech Republic. Staying at a lodge near the base of Mount Sněžka, we will be transformed in less than a week. With a late arrival caused by snowy conditions, we are all tired when we arrive around 11:00PM. There are about 60 people this week, and we are split into three groups. Our group was led by the amazing team of Daniel Kluken and Joren De Bruin. Our leaders told us to grab some sleep because we had an early morning with a lot of training ahead of us.
The next morning started with instruction in the breathing technique, and that was followed by multiple cold exposure activities. Cold exposure is one of the pivotal tenants of the Wim Hof Method, and Poland provided icy waters for us to test ourselves. The water temperature averaged between 34-37 degrees Fahrenheit. The first morning we could barely put our hands in the water, but with our training, we were able to submerge our bodies (up to our neck) by the first evening. It is amazing how quick this method can re-train the body. A mere few hours, and we overcame a big mental obstacle.
Cold exposure, breathing, and a little bit of yoga filled our days. That doesn’t mean it was boring or repetitive. While we covered the same macro-themes every day, the individual activities were different and became more challenging as we progressed through the program. Between sessions, we were able to talk with all of our wonderful fellow students. With over 21 nationalities and multiple faiths represented, the retreat was filled with interesting people from all over the globe. Additionally, Wim Hof held unofficial “office hours” at the lodge. 90% of the time, he was seated at one of the sofas where anyone could sit down and talk with him. Guitar in hand, dog by his side, he was ready to answer any questions and provide clarification on anything that was difficult for us.
After a few days of training, we had an open Q&A with Wim. This was our final night before we attempted the mountain, and Wim was an open book. For about two hours, he discussed his life, his mission, and answered any and all questions. One of the most important topics he discussed was his Mount Everest expedition. Wim attempted to climb Mount Everest in only a pair of shorts and hiking boots. He got very close to the top, but he had to turn around when his body began to fail him. This was one of his big lessons for the evening. We might do crazy things, but you must listen to your body because there will always be a point of no return. He told us that he could have pushed himself to the top, and he would’ve made it. The only problem was that he didn’t know if he could make it back down from the top. Always listen to yourself.
With this in mind, we were pumped for our climb the next morning. Snow was in the forecast.
Up the Mountain
“Mother Nature is a mirror. She shows us our true selves.” ~Wim Hof
With excitement in the air, we all met in the lodge’s lobby. There was a definite buzz and energy in the air. This was our final exam. After a week of training and pushing our body and mind to our limits, we were now ready to go up the mountain. Wim says that Mother Nature is a mirror because when we face her we will see our true selves. When you get pushed to the brink, you find out what you are truly made of.
The Laughing Lion dry bag was packed with warm clothes, some water, a little bit of food and money. We took a group picture before hopping on the bus. On the bus we were briefed by our instructors. We were first warned about the snowy weather and that it could quickly shift. Our plan was to hike continuously as one group up the mountain. At the top there is a lookout station where we will change into our warm clothing before heading back down the mountain. They estimated it would take us three to three and a half hours to get to the top. With a clear mind, we headed up the mountain as one group with one purpose…get to the top.
One of the most difficult things was keeping focused. Three hours is a long time to keep a clear head, but like meditation, each time you start to wonder, you must return to the breath. Wim’s breathing technique is remarkable. Here we were, in Poland, in December, snow falling on our bodies and it melted away. Back home, if the heat is below 65 degrees, we would be shivering. In a single week, his teachings had altered our mind and body.
About 90 minutes into the trek, the wind and weather intensified as we increased our elevation. The wind blasted one side of the group, and with little communication, we rotated from an “inside” to an “outside” position to protect ourselves. It was as if we were a single organism with a single purpose.
Because of the weather, our pace was much slower than estimated, and about three hours into our trek we were struck by utter chaos. We made a turn, and we were caught in a severe white out. The winds picked up and were in excess of 70MPH. Visibility was less than ten meters. This would be bad enough if he were fully clothed, but remember, just a pair of shorts and hiking boots. This could mean trouble.
Our instructors yelled at us to keep our focus. Don’t let your mind wonder, this is life and death. Stay focused! We were about 80% of the way up the mountain, but like Wim warned us the previous night, sometimes you have to throw in the towel. The instructors knew, but we didn’t know, that there was a little ski lodge just up ahead. With piercing winds and ice shards hitting us, we marched the final 150-200 meters into a white cloud. Those were a rough 200 meters, but we made it to shelter.
Wim was right. Mother Nature is a mirror. I didn’t need to make it to the top of the mountain because I already broke through that mental barrier. Being at the brink and keeping focused was the ultimate thrill. We soon found out that those were the roughest weather conditions that the instructors had ever seen on the mountain. At dinner that night, one instructor told the whole group that after facing that chaos, he knew we could climb Kilimanjaro in a pair of shorts.
After spending an amazing week with Wim Hof, we found out that everyone can benefit from his teachings. He screams health, happiness and love for all, and without a doubt, he has a lasting influence on every person that he meets.
We highly recommend his method, and if possible, you should try to meet him in person. He is currently on a North America tour where he is conducting one day seminars with large groups of people. Whatever the price, it will be worth it.
As Wim always says, “BREATHE!”