Panic coursed through my veins, throbbing in such a way for me to realize that my body was telling me I was making a mistake. Arms aching, feet numb, physically exhausted, and ego diminished, I bit back frustrated tears and lurched my body the final ten feet to the snow covered col, collapsing where my cousin was waiting for me.
“It’s about time you got up here”, he remarked, visible unshaken by the strenuous slog that got us here. He took the time before me response to nibble at a Cliff bar, while his fearless canines rolled around in the snow, unaware of the potential peril present a mere eight feet in either direction. We were at around 14,000 ft, approximately 3,500ft from where we parked the car, with 2,000’+ drops on either side of a fairly precarious shoulder of Mt. Evans.
The words stung, as if I had wrapped my hands around hot coals, refusing to let go until the pain reached my very core. How could he say that? Could he not see that the effort of the last push nearly did me in. We had spent about 6 hours on the mountain already, a laughably trivial amount of time by any mountaineering standards, but to my underprepared self, it was six hours of mental anguish and hell. Other climbers passed us regularly, adjourned with what most would refer to as the proper equipment: mountaineering boots, crampons, gaiters, ice axes, and GPS units. I, on the other hand, was wearing leather hiking boots, neoprene athletic shorts, and a long sleeve cotton fraternity shirt. My only saving grace was the trekking poles my cousin had let me borrow earlier that morning. If you enjoy 6 miles of postholing up to your thighs, I recommend my setup.
“At…least…I…made….it”, I squeaked out between haggard breaths. I felt every cigarette I had abused my body with previously threaten to expel itself however possible from my body. The elevation, to a flatlander such as myself, only exacerbated my ailments.
Despite the diparency between us and the rest of the mountaineers that day, my overly optimistic party decided to ascend regardless. Now a mere 150 foot slosh and scramble from the top, the ultimate goal was within reach. After taking a much shorter breather than I would have preferred, we lurched the remaining 150 feet and I promptly planted my foot atop the tallest rock formation on the summit. In that brief moment, every pain melted away like butter on a hot day. The fear, and anxiety I had developed halfway up the route was replaced with an unexplainable awe that mellowed my very being, as if passively pacifying every negative thought that might emerge. For that moment, I was on top of the world, both metaphorically and somewhat literally. It was a sense of nirvana that prior to that moment, I had never experienced, but I imagine it is much like a runner’s high. You have to push yourself to your nearly breaking point, but the metaphysical euphoria when that line is walked, and your ultimate goal met, is one of tranquility, and disbelief.
Every man, or woman, has an imaginary line. A line where effort meets exhaustion, where safety meets danger, and where the possible meets the impossible. For seasoned mountaineers, this line is tangible, its the line you don’t want to cross, as it means climbing outside your means, putting you and your team at substantial risk, due to either their exhaustion, or preparedness. For life, this line is more difficult to assess, but equally as important.
There is no better metaphor for personal development and growth than mountain climbing. In order to be successful, you must plan accordingly, be diligent about preparing yourself physically, as well as mentally, and approach the problem with a plan, not haphazard intuition. Even then, when preparedness is met, there exists another dimension, one of perseverance and mental rigidity. All the training in the world cannot prepare you for this facet of climbing (and for that matter, life). It is only through trial and error, and maybe most importantly failure, do you develop the wherewithal necessary to accomplish a task as daunting as climbing a 14,000’ peak in shorts with, as unfortunate as it was at the time, smoker’s lungs. On this particular day, I was poorly prepared, had little to no plan, and was met with success only because of that perseverance. That intangible aspect of life, developed through discipline and hardship. Where it came from, I still don’t know. But I do know that this mountain served as a turning point in my life, a spiritual breaking point if you will, where the impossible became possible, not through sheer luck, but through grit and untapped determination. It has sense served a point of purpose in my life, given me direction, and the effort necessary to progress as a climber, and most importantly as a man.
To conclude, go climb a mountain, it’ll be good for you. Just wear pants, especially if there is 3 feet of snow.