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.