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Why Do I Climb

I stare out the window and listen to the sounds of birds, but my mind cannot seem to rest in this moment. My thoughts are far away from here, meandering along all the possible futures that are possible from this particular crossroad. I have a vision, but I am standing at am impass in my decision making. Things that once seemed clearly laid before me, now seem foggy and nondescript. I am lost.

This summer has been filled with nonstop adventures into the mountains, both for work and for play. Back to back trips have given me the ability to pack for a 6 day backcountry adventure in under an hour; food and all. I have dialed in my routine for a one day turnaround with a specific schedule for unpacking, doing laundry, food shopping, and repacking. Then, while in the mountains, there is a constant mind chatter about hazard assessment, safety systems, pacing, time management, client care, and everything else, which has somehow numbed me to the deeper thoughts that point at who I am as a person and what it is I am pursuing. I have lost a part of myself in the months I've spent sleeping in a tent the size of a coffin on the flanks of Mt. Baker; and I feel ashamed.

To work and live on a mountain as magnificent as Mount Baker, I cannot grasp what has brought me to feel ungrateful for it. Maybe it is the repitition and monotony of it all, or maybe it is that my back is starting to break down from the heavy loads; Maybe it's the lack of sleep due to long days spent on my feet and in the pouring rain, or maybe it's the friends I've lost this summer to the mountains that I haven't had the time to grieve properly. Whatever the reasoning, this piece of writing is the my first attempt at trying to set things right.

On every trip this summer, I tell my students the importance of reflection, and how time spent in the mountains becomes increasingly more valuable the more we are able to reflect upon the experience and learn from it. This reflection can take the form of constructive criticism on managing risks, or it could be about a lesson that was learned somewhere along the way. The point of it, if nothing else, is to commit the experience to a deeper level of memory. It seems so easy, but when time is not created to reflect, then we tend to forget the experience altogether; or rather it blends one adventure into the next. I admit, that I did not heed my own advice. I have deprived myself of time to reflect and it has scarred me in a way I cannot yet fully express.

One thing though that I have returned to over and over again, is the question, "Why do I climb?" And my answer has changed every time I ask it.

It has changed through my development as a climber, my explorations to new and different types of climbing, my forever evolving perception of risk, and through the sheer amount of time I have devoted to climbing and teaching climbing over the past nine years. This question remains a constant in my life, even though the answer is always changing. It is an important one to address on a very transparent and serious level with yourself, because in all reality, the consequences of something going wrong could cost your life. And that alone, may very well be the biggest realization that has sunk in for me in the last two years.

When I first got into rock climbing, I heard all the accident reports and read 'Accidents in North American Mountaineering', but none of the names written about were people I knew. I had this perception that the people that died in the mountains did not know what they were doing and therefore made poor decisions or rather did not make a decision at all. But now that I have been a part of this community for over nine years, I have begun to realize that the mountains have a way of being unpredictable and stoic, and that even well trained, well prepared, and intelligent people, lose their lives to the mountains. Nothing is certain, and maybe that is why we go there in the first place...

That's what is so intriguing about life in the mountains. Everything is always changing and it keeps us alert and on our toes. It also means that anything can happen at any time, good or bad. There is a level of unknown that makes mountain climbing just as spiritual as it is physical and mental. And those of us who are sick with this addiction of mountain climbing, must cast ourselves into unknown territory in order to find what we are looking for. And for me, that is a deeper understanding of who I am at the core of my being.

I climb because it brings me into the present moment; because I cannot hide from my fears and insecurities, but instead I must face them head on. I must find my breath and move confidently with calculated footing and an awareness of my position relative to everything around me. Everything I do in the mountains is a conscious decision and I move deliberately nomatter the medium. I recognize my mental state and notice when I am struggling. I make decisions based on all the variables both extrinsic, intrinsic, objective, and subjective, and either push myself or decide to pull back. Because my perception of being a good climber, is living to climb another day. The medicine of the mountains is worth nothing to me when I am stressed and scared for my life for hours on end. I have had those moments, and I know that the only growth that comes from experiences like that is to avoid ever putting myself in that situation again. I know that mountain climbing, for me, will never be a game of trying to be better than my comrades. It will always be about the community that we build through struggle and the witnessing of magical moments and vistas. It will be about the physical action of moving through terrain and getting to push my body in a way that is beautiful, verging on animalistic. I find value in the mindspace that is created when I am surrounded by nature's chorus of groaning glaciers, crashing icefall, singing birds, rushing waterfalls, creaking timber, the squeak of a pika, the whistle of a marmot, the sound of the wind, and the pitter patter of raindrops. This life in the mountains is the one I choose, but I am learning to be a more conscious climber.

Becoming more conscious, has involved reconnecting with the reasons why I climb. There is no place in the mountains for ego, nomatter who you are. The mountains do not care about what you've done or who you are. The mountains may mean the world to me, but I mean nothing to them. I am but a human, with only one life to live. I must savor my time here on earth cultivating compassionate relationships with the people and the world around me. I must be present for it all. Because after all, it is up to me to create meaning for myself.

Thank you for tuning in to my personal debrief. Pouring out these thoughts has allowed me to better understand the scars that have imprinted upon my psyche this summer. I encourage you all to continue to reflect, whether day to day, or week to week. It is a powerful tool that can help you live a more intentional life.

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About Me.

Lover of mountains, rocks, deserts, trees, ice waterfalls, glaciers, steep snow chutes, facing my fears, long days on foot, and feeling small.

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