A rope makes for a stiff pillow. Skins ice up. If it’s sunny on the glacier, the roof of my mouth could burn. Alder grabbing at the skis on a heavy pack. Creek crossings in ski boots mean frozen liners the next morning. The stove starts, but won’t go full power. Summits are high points geographically, but the time spent to get to and onto them are the high points in my life. In the mountains, I find the concentration and purity of purpose to feel secure. The peaks hold solitude to meditate on life’s mysteries.
The people that frequent them are the kindest, most endearing souls. And when the tiredness and lunacy start to rev up, even the mascots on a box of cream cheese can make for thirty minutes of laughter. When we climb, we get to survey the world while it truly dwarfs us. Seething masses of geology and water, held in temporary forms until they erode away, giant waves becoming flattened by each particle of rock carried down a stream – they hold such easy ability to keep us humble. Tiny. Permeated by wonder. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I don’t think it right to call a mountain a canvas – we don’t affect them emotionally, and the marks we make on them are usually for the worse. Arena seems better, because when we go to these places, it is the climber that comes home so changed. It’s this possibility that I keep coming back to, the ability to fire ourselves in their crucible and come away that much more clean, simple, pure.
Atop one summit this year, the thunderheads built, but didn’t do anything more than threaten and look on. Winged ants flew everywhere. It was still. Peaceful. A quiet serenity pervaded the
whole scene, the largeness of space and the towers punctuating it. Perhaps it is the lightnessthat comes with the shedding of cares. Perhaps, it’s truly fresh each time, if one is open to receive it. But in that exposed place, so naked to the volatility of nature and everything that could possibly go wrong on the rocky descent and in the woods alone, the clarity enveloped me. Maybe it’s something hokey, or maybe it’s the endorphins talking. But there was a burbling geyser of joy to just be there, winged ants and all. Joy to be able to feel that joy. To live out the life I have, I am given, I make.
The mountains demand focus. Held to a sheer wall by an axe and some crampons, I get to be right there, right then. Nothing else exists, or needs to. Skiing down, the world is just that little sphere of joy and concentration. Such luminous existence is hard for me to find in town. The last short walk to the summit is my favourite part of a climb. Cruxes are interesting, and route finding proves to be the worthy challenge. But the last few steps when you haven’t achieved
For more mountain adventures: and insights, check out David’s blog at www.skinningwithbearspray.com or follow him on Instagram at @davidpowdersteele
David grew up in Kalispell near the mountains of Montana, an area that he still makes his playground. In winter, his life consists of ski touring, snow camping, and coaching skiing.
Ski mountaineering follows in the spring, usually running into July. David started skiing at three years old, competed in moguls during high school, and still enjoys playing on the piste and terrain park alongside his uphill projects.
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