This is the second of two parts on mountains, inspired by the theme post on Where’s my Backpack. I have a ton of mountain images, and quite a few stories as well. So I split the theme into two posts. Check the first one out too.
I fell in love with mountains when I was young and we started to go camping in the Appalachians of Virginia. Like many kids I loved climbing around on rocks. I still remember a favorite rock in the park near where I grew up. I called it the Big Rock (I know, original). We played for hours in the woods around that rock, using it as a sort of base. Not many years ago, I returned to that place and walked through the park. It was strange revisiting all of my childhood haunts.
On my first trip west, at the age of 12, we visited my uncle in Colorado (he was stationed at Colorado Springs in the Air Force). As we approached the Front Range, in a bus on the plains of eastern Colorado, I remember my first view of truly big mountains. I thought they were clouds. Then when I realized what they were I was just floored. I was hooked. Right then I knew most of my life would be spent around big mountains.
Right after I got my license some friends all piled in my Pontiac and we went camping in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. It was freezing cold, and we climbed up through the woods in an out-of-the-way part of the park. We camped up on a ridge, and I had to stay up and keep the fire going to avoid freezing to death. Our gear was pretty sad. Next day we found the trail and climbed up a mountain called Old Rag. Those familiar with Shenandoah probably know of this peak. We did it from the opposite side, away from Skyline Drive. It was really my first climb. It was the first time where the entire goal of the trip was to stand upon the summit of a mountain; the first of many to come.
I learned on that trip that you really have to WANT to make the summit in order to be successful. That drive for the summit has stayed with me all my life. In younger years that drive almost cost me my life on several occasions. It is good that the Lord looks after the young and foolish to some extent. I’m smart enough to know I’ve used up my second chances, and I’m much more likely to turn around in unsuitable conditions now.
The environment around mountains is special. The plants, trees, wild animals, all of it really, is perfectly suited to living in a harsh climate. All climbers and hikers should feel humble in the presence of these beings who are much more at home here than humans could ever be.
Descending on snow is always so much fun. One time coming off of Oregon’s South Sister, we foot-glissaded (sliding upright on your feet) down a steep slope. One after the other, the four of us slid down. I was last and after each guy went down, he disappeared from view and after 5 or 10 seconds I heard a distant shout/scream. I didn’t see any choice but to follow, and we all ended up crashing together in a heap at the bottom, laughing our butts off.
Another time in Alaska a friend and I got caught in a “wet slide”, which is a relatively slow-moving avalanche that happens when the snow is soft and the weather warm. We were in a chute, and at first it was fun, like being on a big conveyor belt. But then it sped up and we saw that we would end up going over a huge cliff if we didn’t get out. We both were able to grab hold of little bushes on the edge of the chute and drag ourselves out of the slide. We got separated doing so, and it was an hour or so later that I found my friend. We were both afraid the other hadn’t made it.
Mountains come in all shapes and sizes, from huge pieces of the seafloor that have been uplifted miles into the sky (as in the Himalaya) to tropical Karst mountains (above) to volcanoes whether snow-covered or steaming. Some mountains are old and eroded while others are young, jagged, and still rising.
Of course mountain weather can be dangerous. It’s always a good idea to consider turning around no matter how close to the summit you are if the weather turns nasty, because it can change much more rapidly than you think. One time climbing in California we were very close to the top of a peak in the White Mountains after a long slog, including deep snow. A storm was moving in as we approached the summit, and we weren’t willing to turn around when we had already worked so hard. But the moment we summited, the storm hit. As we scrambled off the peak, I looked over and saw my friend’s hair standing completely straight away from his head. I heard a loud buzzing and felt electricity in my hands and feet. The peak was struck spectacularly by lightning only a few minutes after we got off the summit.
As I said in part I, I would love to live right up in the mountains one day. The people I’ve met who have mountains in their blood are some of the finest salt-of-the-earth people in the world. They work hard, they have faces as weathered as mine, and they are reserved yet very warm and welcoming, like me.
Many of these stories and pictures are from much younger days. My climbs are few and far between now, sad to say. I’m still healthy and strong enough to climb of course, but the crazy stuff is behind me. This post has reminded me to get back up there into the mountains I love, and soon!
By the way, please contact me if you are interested in any of these pictures. I’ll make sure you get the high resolution versions, or can also ship fully mounted and framed pieces. These versions are much too small to use. Also, they are copyrighted. Thanks for your interest and cooperation.