More than Mountaintops
A guide to appreciating the little steps along the way, rather than just the big finish:
As I reflect on the peaks I’ve climbed and places I’ve been, an interesting thought has come to me. The summit is always such an afterthought in my writing.
There’s only so many ways to describe a nice view — and they are nice views — because without the context leading up to them, summits honestly make for awful stories.
The things I carry with me, more than the peaks, are the moments leading up to them. I thought I’d try expressing that in a bit of a different way this week:
More than Mountaintops
The howling wind on Grizzly as we tried to make the peak,
The echoes up on Kelso that would copy all I speak.
Some friends who managed, hungover, to haul themselves up Grays,
The time we left the world behind, without a phone, for days.
Finding under orange leaves the wreckage of a plane,
Discovering how “Hidden Falls” had aptly earned its name.
The day I led the group astray, a route-finding mistake,
The way the snow felt underfoot, a clear reflecting lake.
Two backcountry skiers hunting powder in July,
A woman bearing ashes, honoring a friend who died.
Emerging from the dark and fog just at the break of day,
Reflecting on the people we encounter on the way.
While I may have set out here — in search of mountaintops:
We’re anchored in the moments that would make us think and stop.
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I Want to Hear from You
I hope you enjoyed this one. Do you have a favorite moment from a hike? Share it in the comments below!
Your descriptions always draw me in, so this was an unexpected treat! I’m wondering about the plane covered by orange leaves now...
Have you read Rebecca Solnit's essay on the "blue of longing"? It's from her book 'A Field Guide To Getting Lost', and it's been bouncing round my head for a decade now...
Her point about mountains and particularly summits: when they're seen from afar, with that amazing blue tint to them that's so evocative, they stir up all sorts of emotions within us, and we're usually too quick to boil all of them down into a single feeling - "I want to climb/crush/conquer that thing (because obviously that will feel AMAZING)". But we don't stop and enjoy the feeling of wanting to go there. We don't appreciate that delicious frustration of wanting to climb a mountain, as a feeling to enjoy in itself.
(And in my experience, getting to the top of a climb *never* feels as powerful and inspiring as *wanting* to get to the top, or the excitement of attempting to do it. It feels good! But it's never that massive dopamine-rush payoff that I feel like my brain is promising me when I look at a peak from afar.)
Solnit argues that learning to enjoy that desire to climb without immediately turning it into action has a profound effect on us, because that distant blue "is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in". It helps you deal with the immensity of life experiences we can never achieve. It helps us deal with regret, except in advance, because the feeling of wanting to do a thing is something to enjoy in itself, and if we *can't* do that thing, we can at least appreciate its call in a way that's meaningful and satisfying...
Okay. This is very metaphysical and woffly of me. I can recommend the essay - I just found it here: https://assets.website-files.com/5e9f1c5f2f493e99116fb917/5fa1fda56ee73d962e96afd2_solnit.pdf - and this is an overview of Solnit's argument, by Maria Popova at The Marginalian, formerly Brain Pickings: https://www.themarginalian.org/2014/08/20/rebecca-solnit-blue/
Also, I am indeed always this long-winded. *Always*. It's a huge problem. Sorry.