"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lessons from 12,000 Feet

Yesterday, Shelley and I hiked in the Maroon Bells wilderness area near Aspen, Colorado.  The Bells are supposedly the most photographed mountains in the U.S., and I can see why.

We chose a ten mile, round-trip hike up to Buckskin Pass.  The trailhead was at 9,580 feet, which is about the highest I had previously ever hiked up to (in the Tetons last summer).  From there, we climbed to a thrilling 12,462 feet at the pass - a new record for me!  Shelley's been to over 20,000 feet and is a true mountaineer.  She was an encouraging, gentle guide!  I'm so glad to be following in her bootsteps.

The Maroon Bells from the lake near the trailhead

Woot woot!  So excited to start!
On this beautiful, steady, uphill hike, I noticed many trail metaphors for life.  I began this blog over a year ago to write about such observations - connections between wild nature and everyday life - but haven't posted an entry like that for awhile.  This trail was a patient teacher for me, and I was reminded of some important life lessons.

Mostly, I saw parallels between reaching a goal on the trail and reaching a goal in life.  We set out to reach Buckskin Pass, but I honestly wasn't sure if I would make it.  I didn't know how my body would adjust to the altitude, and I didn't know if my legs would carry me on such a long, steady uphill climb - through the snow, no less.  (Armed with my new inhaler, I hoped at least my lungs may finally be up to the task!)

So the first lesson is this:

Set your goal, and hold it with an open hand.

I was careful how I spoke about our trek from the beginning.  I didn't want to say, "I will get to Buckskin Pass," because as mentioned above, I knew that there were many factors that may cause me to turn around.  But I also didn't want to say, "I won't get to Buckskin Pass," because I didn't want to sell myself short.  So I said, "Let's aim for Buckskin Pass, see how far we get, and enjoy every moment along the way."

Along the trail, near the beginning
As we hiked, I kept looking ahead, wondering which dip between which huge peaks was Buckskin.  Although we could figure out the general direction using our topo map, we couldn't see it until about 3/4 of the way into our hike.  It was hidden by many towering ranges.  I always marvel at the mountains' ability to keep some of their secrets hidden; they reveal wonders one at a time, presenting them to you in pieces as you travel.  I always try to imagine what the trail will look like to get there, and it's always so much different, and so much better, than what I concoct in my mind.

So the next lesson I learned was this:

Trust that your goal still lies ahead of you, even when you can't see it, and you don't know exactly how to get there.

The snow getting deep, and the trail getting steep
When we finally rounded the bend that at last gave us a view of the pass, I found it both exciting and daunting.  Now that I could actually see the goal, I was at the same time encouraged to keep going, and overwhelmed by the sight of the steep switchbacks near the top.  I couldn't believe we still had so much elevation to gain after walking straight uphill for almost four hours!

As we continued our hike, I was often surprised at the turns the trail took.  Now having the pass in sight high above, I knew which direction it would take to get there, but hiking straight up to it would be way too steep - we would have slid right back down the mountain.  So we had to follow the winding trail, even when it meant our bodies were facing geographically away from our goal.  I kept saying things like, "What?  The trail goes this way?"

And I was reminded how often life has taken me in a seemingly opposite direction of where I thought I was going, only to find out after that I was still on my way all along.  So the final lesson I learned on this trail was:

Keep following your path.  Trust that all of the unexpected turns are part of the journey, and there for your own good.

View from the top!

Shelley celebrating

I couldn't be happier

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