I remember hiking in my youth and I always enjoyed reaching the top of the hills, ridges, or whatever mountain the trail was taking us up. It always felt good. I don't know what it is about reaching that highest point—maybe it's a personal symbol of accomplishment like setting a goal and achieving it. Or maybe it reflects that feeling of being the victor, like standing on the Gold Medal podium. Or maybe it is just that feeling of solitude and being able to see everything from a new and distant perspective.
When I was around 14 years old I went on a three-day camping trip with my Boy Scout troop in the Cascade Mountains between Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass. The area is known as the Alpine Lakes, but specifically, we hiked to Marmot Lake and then Jade Lake. My buddy and I broke away from the group one of the afternoons and scaled one of the surrounding peaks. We had gone on numerous other hikes before, some of which greatly challenged us and also educated us on being safe, respectful and prepared in the wilderness. With these past experiences, the thought of scaling a steep, surrounding peak on our own without adult supervision was not a concern, at least not to us. One of the parents on the trip had a hissy fit over our perceived delinquency, but my dad put his trust in us, which was good enough for me.
Anyway, I remember the final 100 feet or so of the climb was an on-your-knees kind of scramble to navigate through bushes, trees and over protruding granite before the bird's eye view of the adjacent valley presented itself. Standing on a boulder outcrop with arms raised above steep mountain pitches on all sides, it felt good to be alive. I have never forgotten that moment. And that spiritual feeling has never left me.
Recently my wife, Hillary, and I had the opportunity to visit family in Lander, Wyoming. Lander is a fun little town with a population less than 8,000 situated on about three square miles of land, just east of the Wind River Mountain Range. It is a town with a Wild West feel, yet vibrant with arts and folks interested in exploring the outdoors, which includes rock climbing.
About thirty minutes south of town is Limestone Mountain, home of a popular sports climbing face, Wild Iris. From the parking lot, there is a rocky two-track toward the Wild Iris face. At one time you could drive it but that opportunity has long since passed. The tire tracks of old remain and have transformed into parallel trails. But with that said, the trails may be great for walking, but they are a bit challenging for rolling a wheelchair. Undeterred, Hillary and I continued on our joint-pursuit for adventure and made our way as far as we could. To simply say Hillary got a workout is an understatement. The terrain is uneven, the rocks are substantial, and the pitch is deceiving. But with that childhood drive of mine to reach the top, Hillary graciously pushed me on toward a nice high point along the ridge. Was it the highest point in all of Wyoming? No. Was it the highest point in our view? No. But was it enough to bring that memory and feeling above Jade Lake and Marmot Lake that I experienced nearly twenty-five years ago? Absolutely.
So what is it with me and my desire to scale the heights? Honestly, I really do not know the answer. Maybe it is just a subconscious thing and a drive to push on. We all have peaks and valleys in our lives. Atop the peaks we are in the light - there are no shadows. The valleys are our times of trouble. The trick, I guess, is to have the peaks outnumber the valleys. And to keep challenging ourselves to grow intellectually, compassionately, and spiritually.
When I'm on a peak I feel relaxed. Yes it might just be the higher altitude where the air is thinner, forcing me to take deep breaths, but I really believe there is more to it. Each of us work to conquer mountains on a daily basis. These mountains can be literal or metaphorical. And they can be very challenging obstacles. You are not alone. Keep pushing forward and you'll reach that peak you are striving for.
Oh, and maybe zip on a pair of our shoes to join you on your adventurous journey...