Life in Missoula, Montana.
In the last year, I’ve climbed ten different mountains. I’ve learned some things about myself and a lot about mountains. I’ve found that most mountains don’t let you just stroll to the top. No, you have to earn the top and most peaks make you work for it. They do this in a number of ways. They hit you with snow, wind, rain, and sleet. Trails are choked with deadfall. They offer you terrain so steep that muscles burn and you struggle for air. You sweat, you strain. One step, then another. How about some self-doubt? Are you a quitter? The mountain wants to know.
A mountain can turn you around, confuse you. If it doesn’t want you on its flanks, it can shrug you off like a dog with a tick. Sometimes you have to bushwhack through dense forest that slams your shins and grabs at your clothes. If you get overconfident, think you’re prepared and fit and raring to go, some mountains throw in additional obstacles. Snow so deep that the trail disappears. Trail signs that underestimate distances. Scree fields. False summits. A mountain makes you work, to struggle. It decides if you’re worthy.
Even for those who persevere, the summit can be a triumph or it can be the mountain’s final lesson. Fog, snow, or low clouds can rob you of your scenic payoff. Beautiful summit view denied. The mountain has decided that if you want that nice bonus, you’ll have to go through it all again. That’s right, you’ll have to work for it, and the mountain has decided you’re only half done. I believe that mountains want respect. They punish those who aren’t prepared, people who don’t bother to bring the right gear, or the right attitude. Some are fairly forgiving, while others really make you pay. And pay.
You don’t conquer a mountain. Instead a mountain decides whether or not it allows you to get to the top. It decides how many obstacles to put in your way.
Most of the mountains I’ve climbed are relatively small, 7,000 to 10,000 feet. Not the high Andes or the Himalayas by any means. The consequences are not as severe, though the lessons are the same. A mountain can make you struggle, or a mountain can kill you. Bring the right attitude and be prepared and maybe, just maybe, it will let you see the top.