When the world is heavy with lows, go high on a mountain.
The year of the pandemic will not soon be forgotten. 2020 – Clear vision for some. Intense grief for others. Nothing short of confusion and doubt layered with a significant dose of anxiety. And while a virus out of our control like wildfire across the world, one Friday in October stood out from the others. And the three of us decided unanimously, albeit impulsively, to tackle the 2000 foot elevation gain to the summit of Mt. Rose.
Mt. Rose, boasting a height of 10,785 feet, is a towering beauty. She unashamedly guards the nearby city of Reno and all of Washoe County. This particular season had been a dry one for this area and the landscape was nearly as parched as the spirit of each and every American.
We started our ascent mid-day and upward, still upward, we eagerly walked. Out West, the scenery changes from every angle you turn your head. It creates for one a new perspective in more ways than one. And as my father shared when we told him our plans for the day, “That’ll clear the cobwebs in your mind.” He was correct, and that it did.
I believe it’s a natural human tendency to long for escape. Many will and have debated the cause of such feeling, but my belief is that our spirit longs to leave our body as it will do someday for eternity. Because of this, some of us are driven to our own personal “elsewheres” from renovating houses to writing songs to climbing the sheer, rugged face of El Capitan. But whatever your elsewhere is, feeling that pull is just one part of being human.
While nature provides a sense of escape and thrill from our present circumstances, it is juxtaposed by an ever-present, delicate touch to humanity’s ache for nurture. I can’t explain it. I only believe it’s just the way He created it. The human healer in our group, my brother-in-law, the nurse practitioner, was our trusted guide as he was the only one who had formally completed this hike. As we meandered up the side of the mountain and passed the meadow area, a peaceful portion with the still waters of Psalms, we arrived at a partially-frozen waterfall.
We stopped to admire the falls that were delicately transitioning from one season to another, not shocked or worried because of the change around them, but rather accepting the reality of what always comes to be. This focal point of nature was merely following suit along with the shorter days, the hibernation of life around it and the quiet hush of winter that was enveloping it slowly.
And from there, we began the most challenging portion of the 11.5 mile hike. My breath was labored, my muscles fatigued, and many rests accompanied me along the way. I believe humanity longs to thrive, not just merely survive like the last remaining flowers of the season, shivering alone at the mercy of the wind. We long to trek upward, toward something yet unseen to tackle a not-yet-realized goal. Despite hopeless moments and discouragement, we each desire to live. We wind our own way up metaphoric mountains, lungs gasping for air and a heart pumping blood to every portion of our bodies. The difficulty of it all cultivates the mentality that as we trek upward, despite our falls or stops, we still press onward. After seasons of disappointment, missed opportunities, broken relationships and grief over loss in the world around us humanity continues to arise and unearth new levels of tenacity. Although we stop to rest when we feel we have nothing left to give, we once again pick up our pack and continue onward. We don’t quit. We refuse to let the mountain have its way or steal the strength we have left to give. We press on.
This is a driving force for my love of outdoor adventure: the cultivation of the spirit that presses on, no matter how hard the journey, how steep the grade and how dark the night may be. The spirit that refuses to give up, no matter how gut-wrenching the pain, and sometimes, with the acceptance that some pathways must be traveled alone. But we press on.
Mt. Rose looks down from her tower on those who come closer, rewarding those who are willing to risk something for the reward of her summit. She tried and tested us, a faithful tutor instructing us in the duality of courage and humility in one afternoon adventure there and back. The intense incline, in the middle of the hike, was the portion that humbled my bold spirit and reminded me how much work I have yet to do.
The harsh, naked, and awe-inspiring reality of nature is intoxicating, and once you’ve tasted the wild, you’re drawn to follow with each step. Various experiences on the trail have taught me that as I venture into a future yet unknown, I continue to learn lessons on the mountain. Lessons of survival, preparation, trust, of my God-bestowed capabilities and the determination to not let fear be my master. An ascent slowly unravels my addictions, my insecurities and acceptance of my imperfections. Time on the mountain teaches one to move forward at just the right pace, heed the call of the “elsewhere” and trust in the promise of who we can become. And all the while, we remember that hope and faith reside in the promise of another spring.