I’m taking a break from the mind-bending stuff to post on one of my favorite subjects: mountains. It’s inspired by a post on Ailsa’s blog. The theme is mountains. I’ve been a climber for quite a long time. I have had such joyful experiences in the mountains. Some have been scary, some miserable even, but all have made me feel more alive. For that I am sincerely grateful. I think mountains are the most spectacular aspect of Earth’s surface.
First I’ll give kudos to the mountains nearest home in Oregon. These are the Cascades. Mount Hood, which I’ve climbed about 10 times, is closest. But Mount St Helens, the famous volcano that exploded in 1980, is close-by too. And Rainier, the iconic Washington mountain I’ve climbed twice, is only a few hour’s drive from home. Mt Adams, also in Washington, is even closer.
Mountains don’t have to be high to be awesome. Though I have climbed mountains up to 22,000 feet in elevation, the hardest one I ever climbed is just over 6000 feet. It’s called Pioneer Peak, and is located in Alaska. It took us 22 hours non-stop to climb this peak’s toughest face. You start at about 10 feet above sea level. Only two of the three of us made it to the top. The only one of us with a wife and kid ultimately lost his nerve and froze just before the final pitch. We picked him up on the way down. The descent was hairy. We slid down waterfalls, getting soaked. We came upon cliffs we didn’t know were there and had to rappel. Near the end, we bushwacked for hours, going over invisible droppoffs in the thick brush, grabbing at alder branches to soften the landing.
Sometimes river crossings on the approach to mountains are much more dangerous than the climb. One time in Oregon’s Wallowas I was swept away and just barely escaped drowning by grabbing hold of a branch. In Alaska on the return from a peak we got separated in the dark. I had a bear following me for awhile, trying to cross a stream. I kept going upstream and he (on the opposite bank) kept following me. My friend Bob got swept downstream and ended up dragging himself out. He was so cold he lay down and was about to fall asleep when he heard our shouts searching for him. He hadn’t showed up at the truck.
My favorites are mountains that aren’t at all planned, and whose name I don’t know. One time in Northern California’s Marble Mountains we were camped, enjoying some whiskey. Half-lit, the pair of us decided to climb the peak across the lake from us. We named it Irish Peak, and it was so fun! By the time we got to the hard stuff we had sobered up enough. Ascending a ridge, it looked like we would have to turn around because of sheer cliffs. We didn’t have a rope. But we found a natural tunnel through the ridge that took us to the other side, which was easier and covered with an ice-field. I had to go #2 very badly, and ended up squatting and dropping the bomb down a deep crevasse.
I would love one day to live right in the mountains, though I think my attitude towards them would be different in some ways. It would be more mature, more intimate, less like they’re my playground. I think my respect for their power would inevitably deepen. Many people across the world, but especially Asia, have a spiritual connection with mountains. They simply could not conceive of living anywhere else. Perhaps I would grow to be like this if I lived in such places.
Tune in for the second part of this tomorrow. By the way, if you are interested in any of these images, whether for a web use or just to hang on your wall, let me know and I’ll make sure you get the higher resolution versions. These versions are much to small to use, and are copyrighted. Thanks for your interest and cooperation.