Roger Marolt: The natural birth of a forest Pharisee
Summiting a fourteener is humbling. The perspective of looking across the vastness of land surrounding you diminishes your human presence to the significance of a speck of dust rising above a stampede of wild horses. You stand before the expanse tired and weak. No one can live here.
Survival is revealed as the solitary goal. We must eat, drink, be sheltered and loved. That’s it. Unrelated stresses are artificial. The proof is what the sum of our struggles will amount to in the end, which is obvious from14,000 feet.
Love and friendship; cultivating these things is the simple formula for a life worth living. They say we climb mountains because they are there, but the truth is simpler: We climb them because we are here, and we need this experience. It is nature’s reset button, the breaker to be flipped for restoring energy to life.
Too soon you will settle again onto flat ground and be trampled under iron shod hooves rounding the perpetual corners of progress’ concentric circles. But, for this moment you are at peace, one with Grandmother Nature, the one who precedes her famous daughter, the influencer whom the masses are familiar with.
Overwhelmed with humility considering these things and countless others that I could not express in words if I was granted the next million years and barrels of ink in which to dip my pen to try, I felt changed.
As I shouldered my pack to begin my descent into the material world which I would never view the same, an older man I had passed on the way up crested the peak. “Hmm,” I contemplated. “I didn’t think he would make it. … He doesn’t look to be fit enough. He probably began when it was still dark.”
It is a funny thing coming off a high mountain that one’s chest begins to expand. Of course it is the thickening air that the body has been deprived of that is being hungrily absorbed. But, it’s more than that, too.
It’s forgivable to feel pride along with new found humility gained in summiting a big mountain. It takes strength, fitness and determination. It is not undertaken on a whim. You must train. It requires planning. You need to thoughtfully pack basic survival gear, food and water. You wake at the break of dawn to arrive at the base before the daily thunderstorms begin to form. It’s not for the average person.
I continued down the mountain, smiling and giving encouragement to those still on the way up. What could it hurt? Billowing gray clouds were forming in earnest and would soon be producing lightning, hail and wind that would turn them around. It would be a blessing in disguise as there was not much chance of them summitting if they were only this far up at this point in the day. They were surely suffering, and the weather would provide a good excuse to turn back.
Near the valley floor we passed campers barely awake, sitting around their stoves waiting for coffee to percolate and the griddle getting hot enough to fry bacon and pancakes. Surely they realize we have just come off the mountain, having made the top while they were still cozy in their sleeping bags. Maybe they are planning a simple day hike or a lazy afternoon on the banks of that pond down the way for some bait fishing. I wave to make sure they see me.
Driving back to town we pass trailheads where people are piling out of shiny cars in clean clothes to do easy hikes to popular lakes. I hate to think of the crowds there. There are gaggles of cyclists on the road, too, pedaling the same old routes they do multiple times weekly. It is nothing but the mundane in motion.
The endorphins must be kicking in, because I’m feeling better and better about myself. Summitting seems not so much a mere activity, but a legitimate accomplishment, something worthy of the Instagram post the app’s inventors envisioned to inspire and advance the human spirit.
In the center of town amid the bustling masses scurrying about creating nothing more than what is really just the ordinary grind in holiday weekend quantities, I eat my pizza and wistfully think, “If they only knew.” Hopefully my dirty hiking boots, sweat-soaked cap and mud-splattered legs offer clues about the spiritual experience I had. I am a better person for it.*
* (Actually, a superior human being.)
Roger Marolt knows funny things happen to a person above 14,000 feet. Email at email@example.com.
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