Mountains of Respect
As I near the summit of a high peak with the wind howling, I am reminded of the importance of respecting these mountains. I think too often nature is approached with a nonchalance which gets people into trouble.
Respect is different than fear. There are times I have been terrified in the mountains, such as when I was on a 13,000-foot ridge when a lightning storm moved in and made my hair stand on end. But most of the time I am not afraid. And I try never to lose my respect. I remind myself on each and every downhill to watch my step. I check the sky for thunderclouds before going above tree line.
It struck me a few nights ago that what I am doing is difficult. I was camped near a high-altitude lake with lightning flashing around me. The wind was so strong I was afraid my tent would be blown to shreds. I let down the hiking poles which hold up my tent and slept in the equivalent of a bivey sack.
This reminded me of the struggles I had on my first backpacking trip. Over the years I have come to take these difficult moments while hiking for granted. After completing one 300-mile thru-hike, I started to assume that I could do these kinds of things. But last night reminded me that I am at the mercy of nature. Nothing is certain. I have to remember never to lose my respect for the power of nature.
That particular windy night also reminded me why tramilies become so special on the trail. I was blessed that night by having someone camped next to me with whom I had spent a few days hiking. Sharing that cold, windy night together reminded me of how much easier it can be to get through difficult moments when you share them with someone else. Too often we are taught we have to be tough, buck up and suffer alone. But on the trail it is so obvious that we are all sharing in certain struggles. In a raging rainstorm we all get wet and cold. We all share hiker hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. It is the sharing of these difficultiess, as well as the sharing of the success and beauty of a hard climb, that causes bonds to form similar to those formed by soldiers on the battlefield. These bonds, formed from a place of vulnerability, go deep and often last for a lifetime.
I have come to see that one of the special things about trail angels is that they reach out and help me in a time of need. It is my vulnerability they see and respond to. They know they are important in my life.
I have great respect and gratitude for the lessons that nature continually offers to me. And I am especially thankful for the connections with so many wonderful people that it brings into my life.