The Summit

It is there, looming somewhere above in the encompassing darkness. My headlamp can only unveil what lies 100 meters in front: more snow, getting steeper. Periodically, my head glances upwards; my eyes clawing at the darkness in need for at least the outline of Mt. Hood’s sweeping south face. Faint clouds linger in the darkness above, stars fight to be seen and provide some ambient light in the otherwise moonless night. It is 1:00am somewhere on the south slopes of Mt. Hood.

Our party has been moving for an hour, my best friend and a mutual friend of ours. For this hour, we have moved up the slopes seeing only what lies 100 meters ahead, knowing 4,000 feet higher lies a summit. We converse about matters of life on and off, enjoying the company of friends. We are on a mountain in the middle of the week, what more could we ask for.

I remain outwardly silent for the most part; inwardly sorting through a labyrinth of thoughts and emotions. Upon the slopes of this mountain, I unravel. The summit presses against me evicting all that I have tucked away. Then we stop.

Just over 8,000 feet we decide to turn around. I know I have enough to make it, I know. None of that matters though. We decided to turn around, we decided. We all had work or school earlier that day and didn’t arrive at Timberline Lodge until just before 11:00pm; we started upward just after midnight, exhausted. It doesn’t matter why we decided to turn around, we did.

Back at home, we cannot ask ourselves if we had made the right decision. We cannot speculate whether or not we could have made it. We cannot feel here what we were all feeling in that moment on the mountain. All we can do I stand by our decision and be thankful for a safe and exciting trip.

The summit had already done its job; I was beaten down to a clean slate. As we ventured down into the blackness, I lingered in empty silence, as I still do. The summit is not always the top of a mountain; it is the point on the mountain where you are your highest. Here, you do not feel, you simply are. The summit is where everything falls away.

I did not reach the summit in the terms traditionally applied to summiting a peak. In my heart, I was on the summit. I was looking up for a glimpse of the mountains summit all night, in reality, it was 100 meters ahead of me the entire time.

Cosmic Dreams

For three hours the only sound was the glacier beneath our feet and the occasional deep exhale. We had been moving since 10:00 PM the day before. It’s 1:00 AM somewhere on the col of Patience. Our headlamps only light 100 feet in either direction, the moonless sky exposes an array of stars beyond the comprehension of even the most capable imagination. Of the light from the billions of stars, I, a small human, shine a light deep into the vast darkness of our universe.

On one of trillions of planets, I am on earth standing at the foot of one mountain. That mountain is Cerro Tore. For three hours I have walked towards its looming headwall, unable to see its unfathomable mass. My partner and I gaze into to the encompassing darkness, humbled by how small we are. Although we stand within an amphitheater spreading millions of light-years, we have meaning and we have purpose. We are not simply on a stage; we are in our place. We are allowed to see the validity of the universe; the mountain is letting us in.

We have spent the last two weeks waiting out bad weather in El Chalten. We came to Patagonia with one objective: Cerro Torre. The whole trip seemed to be a loss: monster winds, rime ice, and snow for two weeks. Four days before we were scheduled to take the bus back to Santiago, the only weather window of the season opened. It was a three-day window; perfect.

There was not margin of error, we left that afternoon and we haven’t stopped since. We can’t. Our goal is to charge up a route attempted by a group of Italians years ago – directly up the center of Torre’s inconceivably massive face. The next five hours will be spent trying to beat the sun up the lower pitches to the headwall.

We take one last look at the sky and then at each other. We know each other too well. We know what needs to be done. We know each other’s every move. Trust is not a strong enough word for the bond between two climbing partners. We pick up our tools knowing that we are about to embark on the adventure that has consumed our dreams countless nights.  Under a cosmic sky we pursue cosmic dreams, together.

 

The Fleeting Glimpse

Life has a balance between dreams and reality. Reality being the status quo, dreams being a desired status quo. Balance lies in between reality and dreams.

Motivation is the fleeting glimmer connecting perceived reality to dreams. it is not something that is necessary understood: it is there or it is not. Searching for motivation is, in essence, chasing after the wind. Accepting motivation’s ghostly nature requires a certain amount of faith and a reasonable bout of patience. Motivation is the constant reminder that dreams are attainable, keeping us from the mundane. It is the darkness that allows us to see the stars.

It is all so difficult, so taxing to realize where motivation lies and how it drives us to reach our goals. To obtain a genuine amount of motivation is a relenting task; a daunting feat of the mind. Insofar, motivation is meant to disturb, it is meant to drive one from a life of conformity – a life void of meaning. Humans have a natural tendency to desire a life of self-defined extravagance; yet, humans are also plagued by the inability to commit to the conditions that would lead them to such a life. Humans, naturally, desire to conform.

My dreams and my reality are at a point where they could intertwine; it doesn’t take much. One successful expedition, one unsurmountable summit is all it would take to loft me into the world of my dreams. I spend my days writing about mountains and dreams of climbing them, what I consistently avoid is what is going on inside my own head. Each day I walk through life with a war raging within my mind: my dreams battle with reality. I sit back as if it is a stage, watching to see the outcome; who will win in this battle royal of normality vs. my dream scape hyper-normality.

The truth is, I know who will win. If I continue to sit back and watch, normality will take over and my dreams will forever remain dreams. The battle is in my mind; it is within myself. Whichever side I chose to embrace will win. If I truly desire to obtain my dreams, then I must allow them to take hold of me. I must let my dreams consume me and define who I am and what I do. If my dreams are the path that I am supposed to follow, then it is the path that I shall walk. Dreams should only remain dreams for a little while. Eventually, you need to turn them into your reality.

 

Savage Dreams

They are the things that keep me up at night. Honestly, they terrify me; they consume me, drive me. They are not comforting, but unsettling. Their inner sanctum shrouded with suffering and fear. To most, this is the description of a nightmare; to me, this is the essence of my dreams.

I dream of mountains. Mountains that ravage you. Mountains that debilitate your mind before you can reach its looming flanks. Mountains that break down your body and amplify every weakness until they destroys you. Some would ask why dream of these things? Why suffer?

To me, the mountain is the ultimate dream, the ultimate objective. When your body has been demolished and your mind broken, you are open; here you can be pure. You are humbled at the foot of a great creation. Your mind has been opened and the wisdom of the mountain may flow in. You understand that you are small; yet, you have a place.

Here you are broken and can see into yourself. You see your flaws and how they destroyed you. More importantly, you see your strengths and how they drive you.

Climbing mountains terrifies me because I know that I am weak. I know that I will be destroyed. The mountains of my dreams slowly dissolve the barriers I have built up in my mind. The barriers I placed to protect myself from change; barriers that keep me comfortable.

The truth is, I’m not comfortable. I am afraid. This is why I climb mountains: because I am afraid. Mountains break down my fear. They show me who I am inside, behind all my barriers. They humble me and put me in my place. They drive me. They grind in my strengths and grind out my weaknesses.

Mountains are teachers. Mountains are sanctuaries for those of us who are hurting and afraid. Mountains are great cathedrals carved in rock and ice that speak to the soul. Mountains are the essence of my dreams.

Coming Up

There is a little bit of a give and take with travel and adventure writing: to write, you need to experience life; experiencing life makes you, well, busy. Which is okay long as you have an outline and a plan for the things you would like to write. Alas, I have said plan!

I watched a great video of filmmaker Mathieu Le Lay scrambling around in the alps (check out the video here). He talked about how working on personal projects helps him reconnect and expand creativity. I’m trying to do the same.

Plans always have a better chance of succeeding when you share your plan with others. So, here is my plan and what I’m working on.

Gear Reviews:

I got quite a bit of new gear for trips I took over the summer and for trips I plan on taking in the coming months. I have also been sent some gear to review on said trips. Here is what is in line to be reviewed.

  • Hedgehog Tactical First Aid Kits – Hedgehog Tactical sent me one of their unique first aid kit that I have been able to put through the ringer over the last two months.
  • Mountain Hardwear Hueco 35 – The new crag pack that spent four weeks in constant use and has taken the beating quite well.
  • La Sportiva Xplorer – Six days in the alpine of Washington and two solid days of (attempted) peak bagging in the Oregon Cascades all synthetic approach shoes have some awesome features worth raving about.
  • Mammut 10.2 Gravity Dry 70m – Some may say a rope is a rope, this is not your ordinary rope.

Stories:

I went on a six day climbing trip to Leavenworth Washington in early September, which has produced several essays and numerous photographs. Much more on this trip will be coming within the next few weeks.

Thank you all for reading. Get out there and breath the mountain air.