It was the summer of 2013. I was eighteen years old, way in over my head and way above my gear. The humid West Virginia air was stifling, but I could care less. I was going to climb my project regardless. One move away from finishing the crux I felt my feet slip off of the polished sandstone. I instinctively held my breath and further wedged my fingers into the small crack, if I fell here would I hit the ground? Inside was pride, not fear as it should have been. My feet slipped again. I held on. I was climbing for me, but also for credit, for my ego. I screamed a little and lunged for the jug. I latched it.
The different ways in which adventure delivers happiness over the course of a person’s life has always intrigued me. When I first began climbing I wanted to climb hard. Of course I appreciated the people, the places, the experiences; but overall I was looking for approval from those in the climbing community that I looked up to. I thought the best way to do that was by climbing difficult- even dangerous routes. As an over-stoked teenager it wasn’t difficult to be bold and stupid, and I found enjoyment in my rash and silly pursuit. I remember the way holds felt on the crux of a climb, and the exhilaration of releasing a victory yell after clipping the chains of a project. I remember how excited I was to tell others of my climbs.
Eventually I moved westwards. I became attracted to the romanticism of wind-swept summits and hardened climbers fighting for them. I traded out bloody fingertips and sore forearms for blistered feet and rubbery legs. I spent hours upon hours trudging up snow and ice in the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes. I was endlessly searching for a peak that would explain to me what I was doing with my life. I told myself that I enjoyed the mountains- that I went there for their beauty, their company, and their lessons. However I know now that my intentions were much more poignant: I went to the mountains to fight. I struggled relentlessly, and I needed that struggle as an outlet for everything I didn’t feel like dealing with in the world beneath the clouds and the wind and the snow. I remember staring at my boots as they moved along in agony. I remember the way that tears would sting my cheeks as they froze in harsh winter winds. I remember the triumph of a battle well won, and the burning of those that were lost.
As time went on I noticed my memories of my days in the hills changing. It became more and more difficult for me to remember the views, the struggles, the triumphs. I instead remember moments like Maud and I laughing uncontrollably while hanging against the cold granite. Her toes were pressed into my armpits. She would lead the next pitch if we could get her feet working again. I remember the look on Alan’s face after we had been blown across the glacier whilst inside of our tent. We were upside down and tangled amongst our climbing gear. Disbelief, fear, and happiness- I can see it as if it were a photograph. I remember collapsing into Ross’s arms at the top of the Grand Teton and hugging him like there was no tomorrow. I remember the way Jessica yipped and howled when she got to the summit of our first virgin peak, and the overwhelming smile that sound brought upon my lips.
I remember people. I can hardly recall summits or sunsets or pains, but people- their faces, sounds, sensations- I cherish.
Around a year ago, deep in the forests of northern Patagonia, Alan was artfully chopping an onion at our basecamp with a Swiss Army knife. He had kicked me out of the “kitchen” due to my proclivity for knocking things over. Soon he handed me a bowl of pasta, it was astonishingly good. He told me he had thought hard about the things one could do to become a better expedition partner, and being a decent backcountry cook was his most recent goal. I thought that was a wonderful pursuit. If people are at the heart of my experience being in the mountains, what better way to share an experience than with food?
Fast forward six months later and I am in the Bugaboos. My friend Jessica and I popped onto the summit of Crescent Tower to find a bright-eyed, psyched, red-bearded Canadian. We talked about teaming up to climb a peak together, and soon he was treating us to a delicious rehydrated dinner of Shepard’s Pie back at camp. The sun was playing with the clouds above as it sunk closer to the horizon, shining intermittent streams of light upon our puffy jackets. We were sharing seconds and stories and whiskey and laughs. I believe that most any reason people adventure is valid, but for me, I remember, this is what it’s all about.