Taking What I Learned at Legacy Outdoor Adventures Into the Peruvian Andes

Part 1 of 3

Something I learned in Legacy Outdoor Adventures is that our lives are made up of many journeys.  There are enumerable stories unfolding inside us and in our lives. In January 2016 I was skating on thin ice-cracking ice.  I was addicted to Xanax,  at risk of failing out of school, at odds with all the supportive healthy influences in my life, anxious, depressed, and suicidal.  I was 18 years old.  After watching a couple of close friends pass away within that year I was starting to realize I needed to change something.  I had been unsuccessfully trying to cut the hard drugs out of my life for the past 6 months yet I was still finding myself in hospital emergency rooms and in the back of police cars. That February, at my parents and therapists, behest, I made the decision to try Legacy.  

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Here I am nearing the summit of Chair Peak in the Snoqualamie pass area of Washington. – February 2023.

My name is Nick Nasca and today my life is something that I never could have imagined. I am 25 years old, living, working, and finishing my undergraduate degree in Bend, Oregon. I found a love for the outdoors during my time in the Utah high desert and I have kept it alive.  Even more, I have become a prolific adventurer and this summer with some support from the LOA Fund I am leading a climbing expedition in the Peruvian Andes and sharing the story here.  I will share more on the LOA Fund and the life-changing work they do later, and by that time I hope the reason we are sharing this story, and the power of wilderness therapy have become evident.

 After 11 weeks, when I left Legacy I went to a sober living house in Northern Utah.  My passion for rock climbing (which I found in my 5th week at Legacy) became my lifeline in early recovery. Yet, I didn’t know how much of a journey I still had in front of me.  Legacy helped me understand my addiction, and identify the issues underlying it; but as many in recovery know, those behaviors we have that led us to use can be lifelong battles.  In recovery, though I have had ups and downs, always through the tough times I have been able to keep myself healthy and safe, maintain and respect the relationships that I value, and abstain from serious self-sabotage.  My relationship to the outdoors, which I found at Legacy is the reason for that.  All my journeys post legacy, have led to the next, and given me something at their close. I feel I’ve had a blessed life since graduating in May of 2016. 

Still, it is after treatment that we have to take everything we learned and go to war with it against the worst versions of ourselves.  It is after treatment that we are filled with so much anxiety over if our beloved family member has found the tools they need to achieve sobriety.  It has been in the 7 years post-treatment that I have taken my experience at Legacy and translated it into a happier and healthier life.  I don’t feel we get to hear about this part of the story very often and I hope to share a picture of how some of the deepest healing has unfolded slowly and over a long course for me.  In sharing this I wish to provide some hope for those in similar stages of their journey, or those currently supporting family members struggling with mental health and addiction. Between now and September I will share the exciting story of a climbing expedition in Peru, alongside the story of my journey at Legacy and my process of integrating everything I learned there into my life afterward.  I will write 2 more blog posts and share 6 videos via the Legacy website and social media pages.  So without further ado, I would like to share a little bit about our upcoming adventure with you.  My climbing partner Mike Buyaskas and I will be climbing high-altitude mountains of steep rock, ice, and snow in a range named La Cordillera Blanca, in the Peruvian Andes. We will be attempting something that hasn’t been done before: a big mountain link-up, climbing 8 peaks including 4 of Peru’s highest peaks, and the mountain which was the inspiration for the Paramount Pictures logo.  It will be somewhat of an ultra-mountaineer-a-thon if you would. We will leave on June 18th for Lima and plan to be in the mountains until August 18th.  We will stash 4 resupplies at strategic locations along our intended route which will allow us to do the climb in one continuous push.  We believe it will take 30 days give or take 7 days of waiting out unfavorable weather in our tent.

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Artesonraju (on the left) will be the 5th mountain we attempt on our route.It served as the inspiration for this iteration of the Paramount pictures logo (On the right). The Prominent stepped ridgeline in the photo on the left will be a part of our traverse. By my calculations we should be standing on the Summit of Artesonraju sometime between July 22nd and July 25th.

 In nature and high adventure climbing, I find my mind is still, I am absorbed in the moment and suspended in a peaceful sense of detachment from myself.  In Legacy I learned to use this mindfulness to see a reflection of myself in my experiences with nature.  When climbing a mountain your mistakes are amplified and the mountain delivers swift natural consequences to any lapse of judgment, will, or character.  It is an environment where you’re highly motivated to be the best version of yourself, not only for yourself but for the well-being of your partner too.  The motivation to be better for the man I’m sharing the rope with has led to me overturning long-standing patterns of unhealthy behaviors and thoughts on more than one occasion.  The urgency that mountain environments call for has helped me re-route many pesky neural pathways.  To know myself better and respect myself better is now a gift I walk down the mountain with after every climb regardless of its success. I’ve found that when I apply what I learn about myself through these experiences to my everyday life I am able to show up for myself and the people I love more, and in a more genuine manner. I would like to share with you now a short story of the first time I ever walked to the top of a big snowy mountain. 

In my third week at Legacy we summited Mt Ellen* of the Henry Mountains above the San Rafael Swell.  My field guide, Andres, was from Peru and he told me that In his culture the mountains are sacred and when you climb one you should bring an intention up to the top with you.  He said the mountain is alive and if you pay close attention you can hear it speak to you.  Any professional mountain climber will tell you Andres is right, the mountains are alive and they will speak to you.  On that day in the Henrys I kept asking Mt Ellen* if I would stay sober when I left Legacy.  We were trudging through waist deep snow

nearly the whole way until we reached the summit ridgeline where we found harder, more supportive snow. My legs and lungs were suffering from the work and my face was suffering from the wind. I wasn’t sure If I could go on any longer.  Finally, exasperated, instead of asking Ellen If I would stay

*The Paiute name for Mount Ellen was Un tar re. It was also referred to as First Mountain. 

Sober I declared that Indeed I would.  At that moment the wind died down and we enjoyed a summit so calm and peaceful that Andres even led us in a meditation on top of it.  I have looked back on this day at countless moments in my life when I needed to summon that same strength, and I know this Summer In Peru I will be speaking to and learning from the mountains Mike and I climb just like Andres taught me.

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 What I have found through legacy and continued to develop after legacy is a way of understanding myself and my relationship to the world through experiences in nature and adventure.  And when I have trusted myself after legacy. This way of knowing myself has propelled me forward in so many different ways.  I wish that everyone struggling with their mental health could have access to the same experience.  If you’re reading this it is likely that a mental health issue is affecting or has affected you or someone you love. You may understand how challenging it can be to afford effective treatment and enact meaningful change. The LOA fund is a Non-profit organization who provides financial support to qualified families and young adults seeking Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare treatment for mental health or addiction.  With the help of the Loa fund and the generosity of those who support it, a lot of families have been able to afford treatment and a lot of lives have been changed.  I have seen it firsthand on more than one occasion. To be sponsored on my climb this summer by an organization whose mission I believe in so deeply is such a wonderful honor.  I encourage everyone reading this to take a moment now, after you finish to visit loafund.com, read the testimonials, and consider donating.  I look forward to sharing more stories with you.

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