On Climbing a Mountain
People have often asked me, What’s it like to climb a mountain? Here’s what happened at Mt. Rainier—from my book Don’t Let Me Go.
You have the ability to grow bigger and stronger. You work, you train, you focus. You run when you’re tired. You pack when you’re aching. Then one day you’re ready. You shower and shave and brush your teeth. You buy some new water bottles and some black underwear (or blue). You fly to the right state, take the rental car to the trailhead. You skip the sandwich this time and you begin to ascend for a different reason now—the promise of ice cream no longer a necessary enticement. You push into the wind and the snow, pulling yourself and your nose, coated in 40 SPF sunscreen, up the ice. You climb all night—even though you want to rest—and by daybreak you summit. You stand at the very top, or somewhere pretty close—nothing higher for a thousand miles. The sun rises and wants to know what you are doing up here, so high, so dangerous. Below, the birds shake their heads and call you crazy. You hope someone is down there, perhaps by that lake that is glimmering cobalt blue and looks no larger than a thimble (although you know it is). You hope that someone is taking a photograph that will wind up on a calendar or a place mat in a restaurant, or on a coffee mug or key chain. Then, there you’ll be, all over the country (and especially in the Seattle area) hanging on walls, lying on dinner tables, hanging from a trucker’s belt loop, so tiny and insignificant that not even the world’s most powerful microscope can prove that you really are standing there. But you are. And you will stand there in complete and utter awe because you’ve never seen anything so expansive. The only things that even comes remotely close to describing the sight are those three dots at the end of a sentence that indicate, that even though the sentence must end (because of paper and ink and those sorts of constraint), the idea behind the sentence just keeps going and going….
Then, just when you feel like you are absolutely the highest thing on earth, forgetting about the Himalayans and the Andes for a moment, God looks down and says, “Oh, there you are. I knew you would make it. Would you care to dance?” That’s when you throw your head back, raise your arms upward, as if stretching, and your feet will begin to move.
That’s what it’s like at the end of a climb.