18 September 2011

mountain, take 2

On Thursday, on my lunch hour, I went to rei and bought a base layer.

When I got back to work, one of my coworkers caught sight of the price tag and said, "You spent $70 on a shirt? Bring it back, right now! Bring it directly back to the store!"

"No!" I said. "I need it! I should have waited for a sale, but I need it now."

"Bring it back!" she repeated. "It's too much!"


Yesterday, I climbed a mountain.

This mountain:

i don't have a good, non-clouded photo of this mountain.

Standing at the top, in the possibly-60 mph wind that threw frost at me, wearing six layers of clothing including a down vest under my rain coat (I look like a puffalump in the photos), I thought to myself, "That was the best $70 I've ever spent."

Except maybe for the $70 that I spent on my mid-weight layer

Except maybe for the $70 that I spent on my hiking poles.

Except maybe for the $70 that I spent on my zip off hiking pants. (Remember how I hate zip off hiking pants? Remember how I have hated them as far back as 2007? Yes, I now own them. I own them now only because they were the only pair of hiking pants that I could find that 1. fit, and 2. came in long. They are pretty awesome in terms of functionality, but I think I would like them better without that annoying zipper on my leg, to say nothing of how much better they would look with no zipper.)


I climbed this same mountain two years ago this weekend. I was the only person in this weekend's group who had climbed it before, and so periodically someone would ask me a question about the route. I could answer them until we got to the last 1.1 miles and 1500 feet of elevation gain, and then I just said, "I think I was pretty much delirious on this part last time. It's kind of a blank."

part of the last part, looking down.

This trip was remarkably different. I was tired, sure. My legs are stiff today.

But when I got to the top of the mountain yesterday, I realized that I had not once had to count my steps. I could think about things other than putting one foot in front of the other as I climbed, things like life and the view and my future. I stopped periodically to look around and breathe, but I never had to stop. When we got to the top, I could have kept going, if I had to (which is not to say that I wanted to).


We backpacked in and camped the night before above a pretty alpine lake, where it got very cold, very fast when the sun went down, and we could not have a campfire, because we were camping in an alpine forest wilderness area. By 8:30 pm, we were all cozy in our sleeping bags with hot water bottles. Literally: water bottles filled with hot water.

At the end of summer, the alpine forest was dusty and dry, and the wind blew all night, rustling the rain flies on the tents, keeping us awake, and covering us and our belongings in a fine coating of dust.

We began climbing late, and the mountain was clouded over. The guidebook says not to summit the mountain if it is clouded over, due to the possibility of "near-blizzard" conditions at the top. We set off anyway, hoping the clouds would clear.

We walked along a long, gentle plateau above the lake, and then began climbing up and up, through trees and then between snow fields. At State of Happiness's highest lake at the bottom of a glacier, we looked up at the steep trail disappearing into the clouds, consulted some hikers coming down ("There's just an ice storm for about the last fifteen minutes."), loaded up our layers of warm clothes, and decided to go for it anyway.

After over an hour of steady, impossibly steep climbing, we stood victorious at the crater, buffered by the wall of rocks. To get to the true summit, we had to walk around the crater, exposing ourselves to the ferocity of the wind. We walked as far from the edge as we could.

note: this is not me. also note: rocks covered in ice that is flying at them and us.

It was a different mountain entirely from last time, when I climbed in jeans and a t-shirt, without poles, and could see most of the western half of State of Happiness down below. This time, there was nothing but white to see.

on a mountain, not an airplane: a break in the clouds

Climbing the same mountain two years apart with such different results is very, very gratifying, even if you can't see a thing.

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