That morning, we woke, rolled out of bed, and climbed a fourteen-thousand foot mountain.
The taste of wood-stove coffee still filled my mouth as we walked up the dawn-bright mountain road towards the trailhead, though sleep still hung from my shoulders like a blanket, making me stumble under the weight of my pack. We passed the parking-lot, a dusty stretch of road that hung precariously above the thin creek, and watched the other hikers unfolding themselves from their cars, groaning and shaking the stiffness from their limbs. I smiled to myself as their conversation fell away to the silence of the mountain, listening to the birds and the trickle of the water that replaced it. Strange to think, less than an hour ago I was in bed. But here I was, picking my way up the mountainside in the early morning sun, feeling the warm glow drive off the last of the night-time’s chill.
We reached the mineshaft that hunkered in the base of Mt. Sherman and picked our way past the abandoned wrecks of dead iron and dried wood that dotted the mountainside. I stared at them, their black-red iron shells already deeply hot from the sun, and thought about the crews that must’ve had to haul them all up from the town beneath. Easy enough for us, I thought. All we had were our packs and boots. I was distantly grateful.
As we passed the mine, I breathed the cold mountain air, each step into the sky clearing my head and shaking the sleep from my shoulders. We climbed higher and higher, and what seemed like further away from the problems that had kept me from sleeping the night before. I could almost feel them falling away, one by one—there was no room for them. I was full up trying to find footing on a scree-field, or choosing the best step to take to get up the side of a boulder that was twice the size of me. The higher I got, the less room there was, until I was empty of thought and full of nothing but the heat from the rough white rocks and the sharp hum of the insects nearby.
Then, at last, we reached the crest of the ridgeline. I remember seeing it from beneath, how far off it seemed, and keeping my head to the warm rocks, step after step. Then I cleared a big stone spur, and suddenly the whole of the Rocky Mountains seemed to fall away beneath me as the valley floor spread out miles below.
We climbed along the ridge, gripping the sun-hot stone against the gusts of wind that rode across the mountaintops and threatened to take us along. We were well above the yurt. We were well above the trees, leaving nothing between us and the sweet cold air. We were well above everything I had ever known, looking down on the thin shining ribbon of the creek, the thick black forest, the trail—everything.
It was a hard climb, clinging to the spine of the mountain. Now, instead of car repairs or bills or finding a new job, my mind was filled with the giddy fears of slipping, tripping, or being blown away out across the valley below. A grin was plastered to my face. Every time the wind would pick up, I would laugh.
Then, finally, the ridgeline flattened and we were there. I looked around from the top of Mt. Sherman, and saw nothing but the bleached white rock tumbling away before us in every direction as the wind crashed through the empty sky.
Oh, Hell, I thought. It was all I could think, before I was filled with the sun and the wind and the mountain beneath my feet, driving away every last scrap of thought from my mind and filling it with wonder. It was almost as if I could see the last of my worries falling down the mountainside beneath me.
I watched it all go, out across the mountaintops. All my worries, all the things that kept me up at night—all of them, tumbling away. Smaller and smaller they grew, until, from where I stood, they didn’t seem like much at all. I looked around from the mountaintop, and all I could see were other peaks, disappearing to the North and South. From here, looking at all of this, my problems seemed small indeed.