Climbing 14ers is less about conquering the landscape and more about knowing myself. It’s about facing my fears and doubts, my disappointments and failures. It’s about stepping into and embracing the qualities that define me as a person. The high country is a medium, a canvas on which I can explore the depths of my heart, and my soul. That I do so alone with such regularity is the natural parallel to the life I live- and love. While I value my many communities, those whom I love and who love me, when the setting sun dips below the amber horizon, we walk alone, each of us. We have to begin there. If I can’t be alone with myself, if I can’t forgive myself my inadequacies, if I can’t say at the end of the day “I’m a badass, and I love myself,” then all else is superficial. I am the only person who can’t walk away from me. The relationship we maintain with ourselves is the most important one. I am the seed of my own life, and you the seed of yours. To live a healthy, meaningful life, we must cultivate that seed. Deep, raw relationship is both secondary and tantamount to the human experience. Only once we have found that in ourselves can we find it in others.
I was feeling summit fever all the way from Durango yesterday. Since I was down to just 14 peaks left of the 58 fourteeners here in Colorado, it was slim pickings for a route that I could tackle with a little snow and no ice axe. Of the ones I hadn’t yet climbed, there were really only two that I was comfortable even considering. I waffled back and forth most of the day yesterday before finally committing to Castle and Conundrum around 9p. Given the 6-hour drive from Durango to Aspen, I gave myself enough time for a 2-hour cat nap before my alarm buzzed. Typical. But I hadn’t driven 250 miles for nothing, so I got moving.
The weather was projected to be a clear, beautiful 60*. (And it was.) I left the car around 545a. No rush, especially with such a positive outlook. I could’ve left earlier, but I just would’ve been colder for longer. What kinda sense does that make? Besides, I wanted to give the snow a chance to soften a little bit.
While there were definitely some dicy sections where I was stoked to have my microspikes, the vast majority of the 15-mile route was quite straightforward, and even pleasant. What an unexpected gift to be able to bag two more before calling it quits this season.
I stood atop Castle Peak alone, taking in the warm sun, clear sky and endless mountain views. I feel so much love and gratitude for this wild, untamed landscape. And for the privilege to be able to enjoy it in the way that I have. I sat up there longer than I have on any other summit. I balked at the thought of leaving, not knowing when I might next visit the high country, trying desperately to experience every view and aspect, every distant peak, the reds, greens and yellows- trying desperately to experience the beat of my own bursting heart. And as I enjoyed that sense of fullness, I also felt the weight of my own mortality, my own insignificance, as I looked out over a landscape that will be here long after I’m gone. I don’t know where that heightened awareness came from, but I know that I loved it. And then Creed (yes, everyone’s favorite band to hate) burst into song on my iPod. Hearing “Higher” begin to play in that moment, I felt stoked, inspired even. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. Judge away, folks. Judge away.
Well, two more down means just 12 to go. Of those dozen high peaks, almost all of them are classified Class III+ and characterized by shisty rock. (Little Bear, Culebra, Wilson Peak, Mt. Wilson, El Diente, Snowmass, Maroon, North Maroon, Windom, Sunlight, Eolus, North Eolus.) Should be a fun couple months next summer. Can’t wait.
I’ll finish with something a good friend recently said when I described my plans for the week: “Ah!!!! You are continuing to live the coolest life!” So true, though certainly not without its own challenges and inconveniences. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m livin’ the dream.