There and Back Again

I am outdoorsy.
I love day hiking, mountain biking, camping, and pretty much anything else that gets me away from humans and their concrete for a while.

It’s not just about being an active person though, ya know?
Though I have always been soothed by nature, I find it absolutely vital since I developed PTSD. The activity is secondary to the location. It’s spiritual. I feel the presence of my Gods amongst the trees. I can almost make out their words in the silence and stillness of the forest floor.
I am at peace in the woods.

So naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to experience backpacking for the first time, when a good buddy invited me along for two nights and three days in the Trinity Alps.

The entire trip was incredible, but this story is about one experience in particular. Well, one PEBBLE, if you really want to boil it down.
We’ll come back to that.

After a grueling hike in, and setting up base camp the first day, it was decided the next morning he would show me a few neat spots on our way up to “the lakes”. At which, he would fish, whilst I natured in whatever manner I saw fit. (Most likely rock-hop around the shore and just enjoy the scenic solitude.)

So we packed our day bags and headed in… and up.

Already gorgeous country, I was pleasantly surprised to find it’s beauty increase the deeper and higher we marched. Soft forest floor and gentle streams fell away to granite slopes and waterfalls. Evergreen canopies opened up, revealing breathtaking mountain peaks.

One peak in particular struck me. It was stunning. Literally. I was stunned that we had such magnificent peaks this close to my home, and I never knew.

My eyes were drawn to the great and ominous monolith the entire time we hiked. Guiding us ever deeper into the backcountry like a beacon.

Eventually, we crested the final ridge into the “Alpine” valley proper, revealing the fabled mountain lakes, and was not at all disappointed by their beauty.

As I stood in awe, slowly taking it all in, it suddenly occurred to me, that the base of the peak I had been admiring all morning, was now immediately to my left.
“Holy shit.” I thought. “It’s RIGHT THERE!”

I can’t fully describe the feeling that washed over me other than, I was suddenly and completely compelled to be on it’s peak. Every fiber of my being yearned to be at the top of this mountain. I MUST get up there.

Understand please, that I am not naïve. I recognize my own inexperience and only basic, theoretical knowledge of mountaineering. I am wholly aware of the recklessness of this undertaking, yet am undeterred. I am as steadfast as the mountain itself in my need to see it’s peak.

So I thanked my buddy for his concerns, and help route planning, filled my water bottle one last time in the lake…
and Hobbit-ed up.

At first, it was light rock hopping on granite boulders, and light bushwhacking through dense, but short brush, with an occasional vertical foot or two climb. Already sore from the previous day’s hike in, progress was slow and tedious, yet driven.

About forty five minutes up, I took my first real break, and enjoyed the view of the shrinking lakes. After this, everything got more… severe.

Vertical climbs where higher, brush was thicker and taller, washouts and loose rocks threatened injury or worse everywhere. The flora made for a bear’s paradise, with wild blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries running rampant. Complete with cool springs and pools coming straight out of the rocks. Amazing, but worrisome. So I made sure to make extra noise as I bushwhacked.

As I approached the top, every single muscle in my body wanted to cramp up. My head pounded, sweat poured out of every pore, and I ached absolutely everywhere. I had scratches, blisters and bruises from my hands to my feet, and every bit of exposed skin felt scorched in the sun. Breaks came often.
…but I pressed on.

When I finally crested the ridge, it was surreal.

I looked down the cliff on the other side.

And wept.

The feeling was akin to watching the doctor immediately place my newborn daughter on my wife’s chest after giving birth to her, and knowing they are both going to be okay.
Flooded with euphoric relief.
In that moment, the universe is utterly perfect, and ALL is well.

I stayed up there for quite a while. I thanked the mountain. I thanked my Gods. I built my own little cairn at the top of the world. I ate my trail lunch, and enjoyed the view before starting my descent with newfound vigor.

Wait! This is a story about a pebble right?

I took this stone from the peak of my mountain as a reminder that-
You are never so alive as when you take your life into your own hands.
And sometimes, when you attempt crazy things…
You succeed.

I am capable of conquering MOUNTAINS if I try.


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