Why am I doing this?? I asked as I searched for a path up the steep mountain slope. The 14,150 foot summit of Mt. Sneffels was only a 1.2 miles from the trail head, but it was scary steep and covered with loose rocks that seem to give way as soon as you set foot on them.
It was anything but easy and I had similar questioning thoughts the last time I climbed a fourteener. As I took a break, I remembered that I’m on vacation. Several miles away, I had a large beautiful camp site next to a crystal clear mountain stream. I could be stretched out in my reclining camp chair napping peacefully in the sun.
Instead, I’m up here breathing hard, with a heavy pack and trying to climb up this mountain without falling. Geez, I could take it easier on myself, ya think???
After a while my pack began to annoy me. It seemed heavier with every step and it felt heavier than it should be. It only had two bottles of water, a bag of almonds, granola bars, first aid kit and a DLSR. Yet, it felt like I was carrying a week’s worth of supplies.
The summit loomed ahead and was close enough to not give up, but not close enough to quickly walk up. Each step required a test for solid ground with my trekking poles. I made my way up in short increments and a few times found myself in a seemingly no win situation. I couldn’t step forward because the rocks were so loose and I couldn’t step backward, well because I’d fall for sure. Now I know what a cat feels like when it climbs a tree!
As I made my way up in short increments, I encountered fellow hikers returning from the summit. Each one had two things to say: 1) awesome view, worth the trip 2) it’s slick up there and glad to be headed down.
After two hours I reached the top and enjoyed the amazing, breathtaking view composed of jagged peaks set against a blue sky. Some peaks looked like they were carved and others looked like they just fell into place. I could see forever in all directions and felt like I was on top of the world. It was a relief to just sit and soak in the view.
The most memorable part of sitting on top was the incredible deafening sound of silence. It was quite peaceful and in some ways a little eerie.
When it came time to leave, I peered down that steep, rocky, slope and wondered how I’d get down without falling. I watched a couple of hikers slide along on their butt, using their trekking poles to keep them from sliding too far. Everyone that I had passed had dirty pants and it was easy to see why.
Going up was hard, but going down brought it’s own challenges. At times I felt like the entire slope would just slide off and take me with it. After some closer than I’d like to admit slides, I managed to pick my way down without falling. I totally understood what others had said: amazing view and glad to be off that slope.
So why did I push myself to climb Mt. Sneffels instead of napping at my peaceful camp? I admire Sir Edmund Hillary, my cat is named after him, but my answer is much more than “because it’s there”.
For me, being on that mountain forces me to face my inner self and accomplish things I’d never otherwise do. It’s about being totally in the moment, for better or worse, and moving out of that moment to the next one.
It’s about looking at something that appears impossible and finding out it’s not. It’s where I find myself and what I’m truly capable of. For me that is what it’s all about.
Contributed by Phil Johnsey: www.theworldaccording2phil.com
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