Mt. Hood summits and inspires
Early Sunday morning while you were sleeping, your spirit had joined with mine. You were climbing Mount Hood with me, encouraging and propelling me.
Our guides woke us (not that we were sleeping) at 11:00 p.m. Saturday night for breakfast. At midnight we began our ascent. The night was clear and dark. A fingernail moon lent little light. There were more stars than Portland ever dreamed of.
I was focused and strong. It wasn’t a gentle start. Nothing gentle about it ever. The first step was up, as were each of all the rest. My headlamp showed the snow at my feet. The only other sights besides the stars were the headlamps of those behind me and those ahead when they might turn their heads.
We snaked up quietly like a ghost might. My thoughts were simple. “One step at a time. Beautiful family and friends are carrying me now. They are lifting me now. They are counting on me now. I will do this now. Now is my journey.” And so went my mantra hour after hour.
At times I stumbled. My pole might slip. My knee would turn out against my will. Locking my knee for a moment of rest with each step. I went on. Steeper and steeper as we went. Time stood still. Not outside of myself, but perhaps outside of this world, I was in a singularly spectacular strange new world. Just visiting, I knew, but for now this was all of my past and all of my future, and of course my only present.
As we approached the famous Hogback at 10,700 feet I struggled badly. My body faltered and feet staggered. One more step…one more step…and then we were there: the Hogsback. It’s flat for the most part. Rest. And the guide began his sobering talk of the dangers of the final ascent. We were now at the base of the summit. There it was – 500 feet above us. Straight up. “If you thought the last section was steep or difficult,” he said, and then he pointed up where the tiniest light of a solo climber’s headlamp glowed, “you do not want to go there. We will be roped up and we will climb the rest of the way with ice axes.” And he held his ice axe up next to his head and made the movement of slamming it into the ice wall. There will be no resting, no food, no water for an hour or an hour and a half. Your safety and your team’s safety depends on you. If you go from here and decide you cannot make it, your entire team will turn back. If you thought the last section was steep or difficult don’t go there.”
I looked around. No one said a word. I raised my hand. “I thought it was very difficult,” I said. “Thank you,” he said. “You should think about stopping here. You have worked hard and done well. You are here which is no small feat. It takes courage to say no to this dream of the summit.”
I stood up, smiled big, looked around at the guides and the remaining 12 other climbers, held my hands up to the sky. “I feel good. I feel successful. As far as I am concerned I am at the top of the mountain. I shouldn’t and don’t need to go further. I am at the top..”
So with 500 feet to get to the summit, I ended my ascent, knowing I had succeeded. I was spent totally. This was the right decision. We took pictures, we hugged. Nine climbers and their guides continued on. Four of us, with two guides began the steep descent. It was hours back down. Slow and uneventful but for the view of the sun rising, casting shadows revealing the intimacy we were blessed to share with the mountain.
At the bottom now. It was grueling. I was spent. As my friend and I walked out of historic Timberline Lodge the following morning I thought about Nancy. How she had struggled and fought her Mountain Cancer for 12 full years. Finally at a plateau, she was spent. She said, “My body cannot do this anymore.” At that moment she shifted her goal from survival to comfort.” She had not failed. She had succeeded in both of her goals. Not that my mountain was anything like hers, but in an instant I felt a special connection with her.
For those of you who asked me to carry names of loved ones to the top, I did that. I was fully aware of the wonderful spirits whose names were in my care. Together, we made it, as far as I was concerned, to the top of the Mountain.”
Congratulations to the 15 climbers and 7 guides who climbed Mt. Hood to rid the world of breast cancer. Thank you for inspiriting, believing and fighting.
Special thanks to our partners, Timberline Mountain Guides.