I stood on the steep slope near Red banks of Mt Shasta, steadying myself with an ice axe. I caught my breath and looked out at the surreal view spread before me. I thought for a moment: “why the hell have I put myself through all this drudgery over the last couple days?”
I had been up from midnight, climbing through bitter cold, navigating steep snow slopes carrying a heavy backpack. I battled strong gusts of wind from time to time that sent chills down my spine. I was tired, fatigued, and probably a bit nauseous from high altitude coupled with the high risk exposure that climbing this south face of the mountain opened us up to. One wrong move and I could be tumbling down the slope, with my skill of ‘self-arrest’ severely put to test.
I let that sudden streak of thought quickly pass away though and immersed myself into the world that lay before me from that vantage point of more than 12,500 ft. I looked around, soaking in the beauty and admiring the unhindered view of the ground below.
Swath Of Green
The jungle of tall pine trees that we encountered while hiking up the mountain, now appeared to be just a swath of green from where I stood. The lofty Mt Eddy peak at 9000+ ft appeared down below. And the sweeping 180 degrees view of rolling hills set in the distant blue horizon of clear, morning sky were breathtaking.
The dawn was just breaking, casting a dazzling interplay of colors across the landscape. The snow-white and the azure sky seemed to meld together in one homogenous stroke of a paint brush on a large, white canvas, creating a distinct morning glow of the mountains. I wanted to soak in this brilliant view as much as I could for posterity.
Head Lamps On Helmets
The wind was getting stronger, the slope up was getting more treacherous and my toes (even though encased in mountaineering boots) were getting cold by the minutes. At that point, I decided to climb down. I knew very well that ‘getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory’ as Ed Viesturs put it. The journey down the slopes was equally exhilarating in this beautiful setting and it also gave me few opportunities to click pictures finally.
So, why do we climb mountains? Why do we hike up a hill for hours and hours together? Why slog with a 40 lbs backpack on a snow-slope, in the dead of the night? Why get up at midnight, put on a head-lamp on your helmet and trudge along for that elusive summit on a treacherous slope that hovers vertically 1000s of feet up, above your tiny, puny frame in comparison?
Experiencing The Climb Itself
I am reminded of a quote: “There’s no glory in climbing a mountain if all you want to do is to get to the top. It’s experiencing the climb itself — in all its moments of revelation, heartbreak and fatigue — that has to be the goal.”
Maybe climbing up a mountain gives us a perspective that we can’t seem to grasp from the flat world we inhabit in our day to day living.
Maybe trudging on snow for hours together and toiling through treacherous slopes in the process, teaches us to push through discomfort, fear, hazards and overcome our own self-imposed limitations.
Maybe the journey to a newer ground on a higher altitude elevates us both literally and metaphorically, providing us with a new pair of eyes to see things through. It renews our hopes, de-clutters our mind, and refreshes our spiritual existence. Or maybe we climb as George Mallory put it, “above all for the spirit of adventure to keep alive the soul of a man.”
To close, I am reminded of a few lines from my recently published book, “Years Spent: Exploring Poetry in Adventure, Life and Love” —
“ Niggling fear or the Raging fire
Whom should I choose?
I choose fear,
my life begins to shrink.
I choose fire
I expand beyond my proportion. “
So what would you choose for yourself — comfort or adventure?