Perhaps it’s the swamp water, bayou blood running through my veins, but whenever I see a mountain I immediately think two things: God, that’s big… I’ve got to climb it.
Only, I see them all the time: great masses of granite, heights, and slopes, often appearing from little hills and the gentle incline of the streets. They aren’t real mountains or real challenges, but something within me screams against all logic that I have something to prove.
Maybe it’s because I was raised at sea-level, but often I see more mountains to climb than there really are.
The top of the trail holds a beautiful lake, a final stop surrounded on three sides by mountains. I had finished the hike I had planned, yet my eyes naturally float to the peak of Mt. Evans dusted with snow and gleaming in the sunlight. It dares me, dares me to climb the rest of it. I am so close.
A small trail slithers left from the lake edge. I cannot see where it goes, but I can see the ant-sized specks moving along the ridge high above, winding their way to the summit.
I follow the trail through a mess of bushes until it disappears in a gravel scree, a slide of rocks leading straight up the cliff face. I pause looking intently at the stones, crags, and boulders before me: If this is the path, it is certainly steep.
Ten feet up the rubble—the incline shifts. The gentle but challenging 45-degree angle becomes a stifling +60-degree angle. My hands naturally move forward.
At first, I steady myself upon the slippery stones beneath my feet. Almost unnoticeably, my hands begin to bear a little more weight. But, I’m not turning back now.
Half an hour in, feeling sore and tight, I straighten my back. A strong pull grips my shoulders, ripping me backwards. The reality strikes me quickly, and I panic. For a split-second, I dangle…
I throw myself face-first onto the mountain, grasping and flailing for anything to stabilize me. The quartz glimmers in the grey and brown stones—mere inches from my face.
I take a deep breath and exhale slowly. I didn’t fall. I didn’t fall. I didn’t fall… No matter how many times I repeat it, it doesn’t stop my heart from racing. But, I’ve got to keep going.
In no way am I hiking now. No… Now I’m climbing. I keep my chest as close to the mountain as possible; my weight is distributed between my fingers, hands, and feet. I feel like a spider creeping along the side of a building. Any time I lean back—even slightly—I nearly peel off into the great distance below.
I do the mental math—the tense pro-con decision-making which occurs when I suspect I’ve made a mistake, but correcting it seems so much more complicated than moving forward. I am ⅔ up the side of this mountain, and I am pretty sure that this is not an actual trail. I might be closer to the crest than the valley—yet, I have no idea how that is supposed to help me. But how can I turn back now?
A deep breath. My slow, calculated, careful movements continue.
Until, they don’t.
Behind me, open air. In front, a wall of granite stood perpendicular to the ground. Impenetrable and unclimbable. To my left and right: similar, impossible stone walls… I’ve climbed myself into a dead-end.
Halfway up this incline, I had realized that I was not where I needed to be. I was nearly certain—no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise—that I had taken a wrong turn and was no longer on the trail. Yet, here I am. I had persisted to the point of no further options: Just me, the long drop, and the wall of stone.
Carefully holding a boulder, I turn. I look down… and way down… and, Oh hell. I’m really, really high up here.
A couple hundred feet below me a small winding path crosses the gravel incline I had just traversed. The trail, far below, gently wound up the side of the mountain. Switchbacks slowly, incrementally moving to the peak’s ridge. It practically looked easy.
I knew it as I climbed; I knew it in my bones. But, admitting I was wrong? Admitting I had taken a wrong turn? Never.
As my back rested precariously against the mountain, I said a silent prayer. Something about safety. Something about the beauty of creation. And then—more honestly—something about my own stupid stubbornness.
I could have walked up the mountain. I could have taken time to enjoy the scenery, perhaps taken breaks and breathed in the rushing mountain wind. I could have, but I didn’t.
Instead, I took on a mountain—despite the lack of safety precautions. I grit my teeth and stubbornly fought, scraped, and climbed up a path—despite the fact that I knew I had taken a wrong turn. I struggled up the gravel and boulders, trapping myself in an impossible dead-end situation—despite the fact that there was a better, easier path I could have taken.
In the end I had to climb, carefully, slowly, and dangerously down from my dead-end to the actual trail. I’m not sure what I proved in taking the hard way up the mountain, but the mountain seemed easier to conquer than the stubbornness which brought me there.
Perhaps it’s because I was raised at sea-level—or maybe it’s just because I’m more stubborn than I’d care to admit—but, I probably make most of the mountains that I climb.