An Unlikely Mountain Climber

If someone had said to me only five years ago, “Let’s go climb three miles up a mountain in the snow,” I would have laughed heartily, flipped him off gleefully, and went on my merry way. But there, on the third day of our trip, I found myself doing just that. I suppose it began with what might be considered a misunderstanding. Two people, while making their profiles both marked the box that said that they liked hiking. However, that word, “hiking,” has many different connotations. For the woman, “hiking” meant something along the lines of “a nice jaunt through the forest occasionally, preferably with a picnic lunch at the end.” For the man it meant something like, “hauling ass up steep mountains, the more perilous the better.” You can see where the misunderstanding comes from. However, as it has been said, love will make you do crazy things. But I don’t just mean love of each other, which was certainly my motivation at the beginning, but love of the thing itself. It is amazing to me, but I have actually begun to fall in love with the feeling that I get from the hard work and rewards of a really good climb. However, at times, the fact that this relationship I have with climbing mountains can be a love-hate relationship is exposed.

Our hike up to Prospect Peak started off in a fairly innocuous manner. The trail was easy to follow and it climbed gradually. But then we came upon the snow and it began to completely obscure the path. Of course, there are reflectors on the trees to show you the way, but, as previously stated, Adam needs no such silly things. Doing some quick calculations based on the sun, he decided on a path for us that may or may not have been the actual trail. As if reading my mind, Adam assured me that the mountain was fairly uniform and it didn’t much matter which way we went up. So up we went, into the snow. Now, to be fair, Adam had warned me that there could be as much as 10 feet of snow on the mountain still. But I chose to practice denial and believed that we would find no more than a quaint dusting, a few little piles here and there melting swiftly in the midday sun. This, I would find, was not to be.

Soon I found myself slogging erratically and oafishly through the snow. As I have made it clear in other posts, my experience with snow is quite limited and therefore my movement through it is nothing less than completely graceless. You know how Frankenstein walks in the old movies? That’s how I look walking through the snow. So I continued to flounder up the mountain cursing because, if I may be permitted to whine for just a moment, walking in the snow is hard. Then about halfway up the mountain Adam stopped to check in with me. “I’m as tuckered as a hobbit on the way to Mordor,” I claimed. He gave me that look that he gives me when I wear my Hogwarts Ravenclaw beanie, shook his head, and continued to walk swiftly and sprightly upwards.

With what seemed to be the final amount of energy my body was willing to expend that day, I finally made it to the summit where, if I hadn’t had the food in my pack, Adam would have already lunched and taken a nap. It has been well over two years since I have been as exhausted as I was when we reached the top. I plopped down in a daze and looked out at the panorama before us. From the top we could see Lassen again, but also Shasta which always has this faint otherworldly glow. Off in the distance were the Warner mountains, where we would head next, and scattered here and there a bevy of lakes gleaming icy blue in the faint sun. My test came when Adam pointed out the west peak of Prospect Peak and said that people could drive up that one. Same view, much less work. And honestly, I just don’t feel like it would be the same. As irritated as I was with the snow and my own incompetence, I knew that I wouldn’t have traded the experience for an easy drive up. Perhaps I may have assented to a drive down, though.

I peered over the steep edge, unwilling to begin my descent. Countless times I found myself toppling over and sliding involuntarily for ten or fifteen feet, my fingers clutching at the snow. Adam, on the other hand, would come to a steep section and slide gracefully down on his feet. Next came the rock piles. When snow starts to melt over piles of big rocks, danger is afoot. The first time I plunged my leg up to my thigh into a rock pile, I stood paralyzed, wondering what the hell I was supposed to do next. Adam told me to outstretch my free leg and roll out of the hole. I imagined my whole body falling into a deep abyss. Although that did not happen, I kept waiting for the next time that I would thrust my leg into a rock pile and come out with my tibia poking through my skin.

In the end, I did come out of the wild whole and, after taking off my wet shoes and plopping down in the shade to read, feeling pretty good. So although a matter of connotation may have made me a climber of mountains, I have come to realize that it is quite another matter that keeps me so.

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