I haven't posted on this blog for a long time, but my thoughts are still reeling about my experience last Saturday and so I have decided to write about it here.
I have stood at the top of Mt Bierstadt, Grays, Torries, Quandry, Mt Massive, Evans, Sherman and Holy Cross but they can not compare to the experience of Longs Peak.
Sunrise on the Boulder Fields.
The trip up was long and arduous. But it was nothing compared to the trip down. Down the home stretch was by far the scariest part for me although their were other spots that caused momentary lapses into panic. It is the most extreme thing I have ever done. We started just before 2am and finished 19 hours later. While this must be one of the slowest times on record it is no small accomplishment for me. But this is not a blog post about the play by play of the hike. For that I have borrowed other peoples videos below.
This post is about what the experience has taught me. I wish I could remember it in every detail. It took more of me than I even knew I had.
It has taught me that I can do things that scare me, the futility of panic, the power of focus, the serenity of motion and the need to simplify.
My ankles are blistered. My knees, wrists and hands are scraped and bruised. I feel tested and proud of each of these minor injuries they will heal and fade but for now they show me proof that I was there. I have some photo's too but none can do justice to the experience. They do not tell the story of having no sleep due to pre-hike jitters or of the fatigued muscles in your legs, arms and back. They can not show the pounding your feet have taken or the chilled to the bone feeling you have when you break to eat a few bites of some high energy food at sunrise. You are sweaty and almost immediately cold but you must eat. Your body tells you. The message is clear. You have pushed hard enough and now it's time to refuel.
You are literally and figuratively miles away from it all. You don't think about paying the mortgage. You think about the mountain. You don't think about next year or even tomorrow. You think about were to put your foot. You don't worry about yesterday. You focus on what is in front of you. The goal is out there clear in your mind; to reach the top and get back down in one piece, but your attention is given only to the next two, three or four feet.
In those moments of panic when you think "maybe I can't do this" the simplicity of the situation saves you from your own self-doubt. You have to figure out how to move and so you do. You can't stop. You can't give up. There is no place to comfortably wait for your helicopter rescue and no one is going to carry you down. You swallow the fear because you must. You re-evaluate the spot you think you can not navigate. You check all the angles again until you tentatively make a move. You don't think beyond that tricky point you must navigate because that is all there is until you move. After that you think about and make the next move. You are calmed by finding a good hand hold or reaching a spot large enough to stand, rest and regroup for a moment, and then you move on. You think "I can do this". My hand goes here my foot goes there. I pull my self up this way or lower myself that way."
It is mentally challenging, physically challenging an emotionally challenging but as difficult as Longs Peak is, it is also simple.
We live in a world that is evermore distracting. A world where we are accessible to friends, family and work 24/7 via our cell phones and computers. A world where multi-tasking is revered as the must have skill on every job application and marketing messages invade every corner of our lives. But I propose that we could all use a little more focus and simplicity. For my part I would love to shut out some of the noise and distractions in my own life. Not only the external things but my interanl thoughts that distract me from my goals. The thoughts that question my efforts and slow me down or convince me to stop altogether. I am not terribly good at focusing but Longs Peak has tought me that I am at least capable of it.
This mountain demands your complete attention. I have a grapefruit sized bruise on my hip to to remind me of what happens with one split second of loosing focus. Thankfully, I suppose, everyday life does not send us tumbling down a mountain when we get distracted from our goals but I am reminded that there are consequences to all of our actions. And I hope that I will improve my ability to focus on the things that matter and tune out more and more of the noise. Perhaps we would be better suited if our lives didn't afford us with so many opportunities to give up or quit. We need to learn to be as unyielding as the mountain toward the things that matter to us. To quite our fears and move ahead.
The home stretch.
But I want this experience to be more than a metaphor. I need to not make light of the experience any more than I need to glorify it. I don't want to be humbled by it or revered for it. I merely want to be changed by it. To be better for it. To be more because of it.
In one months time I will have spent 50 years on this planet. It is the time in your life when you ask yourself what have I done and what do I still want to do. In all likelihood more of my life is behind me than ahead of me and I feel the need to be more efficient, productive and decisive. I will try to employ the lessons of Longs Peak.
Keep it Simple.
As amazing as the experience was I am troubled by these burning questions. If I had known what I was getting myself into, would I still have gone? Would I have let the fear disable me from going? What have I already missed because of my fears and mis-givings and will I choose more boldly in the future?
I don't know the answers and I guess that it doesn't really matter because we never know what is around the next corner we just choose to go or not. Chris Guillebeau from The Art of Nonconformity has written this piece called The Quest. It is a lovely explanation of why we choose to go.
Most people may not understand the call of Longs Peak but for those of us who delight in hiking adventures this is one that should not be missed. It was truly a great adventure.
If hiking is not in your blood I hope that adventure is. It is the spicy delicious part of life.
"Adventure is only a state of mind. Adventure is stretching yourself; mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability."
(I would add stretching yourself creatively and emotionally to the list as well.)
There is very little chance that I will every climb this summit again. Even so I don't think this mountain is finished with me. Years from now I will remember, and I hope, live my life just a little more fully because of it.
It is in me now. The experience is tucked away in some private and special place in my psyche. And I ask myself what is my next adventure.
Something a little less death defying?
My your life be filled with adventures.
As I mentioned before none of these videos are mine but I am thankful to the folks who shot them. They help me to remember what an amazing experience it was. I watch them and smile when I think, "I remember that rock and yes I did climb along right there."
(But yes I did do this.)
Behind the Keyhole
The Narrows and the homestretch
The whole enchilada
A place I will never sit again. (?)