Friday, January 21, 2011

Discovering the Mystery of the Ascent

It’s 7am. I am tucked into my Mont Bell 0 degree bag, snow has been falling for most of the night, and everything I own is either on my body or frozen in a pile outside the warm sanctuary that is the tent. I know I have to get up.

“I like winter hiking, I like winter hiking, I…I’m so damn cold, this sucks!” This is a thought that runs through my head, often. Yet, I get up each day to below freezing temperatures and walk until my body is so sore, it doesn’t know what to do at the end of the day when I finally get to take off my pack.

Why am I doing this? Is it just to be with Pete? Is it just to lose weight?

Any long distance hiker gets to a point where they have to question what their purpose is.

I’ve successfully hiked close to 100 miles now, and one of the things that surprises me each time is how I feel about ascending the various peeks and summits we come across.

Each day there comes a point that I see yet another ascent rising up from the densely forested and sometimes snow drift laden trail, and I think, “No, not one more. I am sick of climbing.”

Physically, this is the most exhausting, difficult thing I have ever done. Walking up a hill was never so mentally challenging either until I willingly chose to strap a 40 pound pack to my back. I quietly curse Mother Nature for making so many hills each time I have to start a new one.

But, there is this moment…this moment as you start to see the end. When you think you might be getting to the top. Your legs are burning, you can barely look up past the next step to enjoy the view of the trail itself, but in the back of your mind and body you feel something kick in. It carries you the last few hundred vertical feet on pure adrenaline. Then, you turn the bend, clear the trees and are blessed with some of the most amazing views that nature has to offer. Each one is a little special, not just on its own merit but because you earn it with sweat and determination.

I don’t consider myself athletic. I’ve heard runner friends of mine talk about “second wind” or “breaking through”, but having finally felt it myself, the experience of pushing yourself that far beyond what you think you can do is almost beyond description. It’s a thrill I never thought I’d get to experience.

I don’t think any gym equipment could ever motivate me to do physically for myself what the last month has given me. The beauty and mystery that each summit holds hasn’t gotten old yet, and I sincerely hope it carries me much further since I have miles to go before I rest.


  1. Awesome that you are still hard at it. The best is still yet to come and while it will be hard it will definitely be worth it.

    We are all cheering for you!

    The Sheffield Gang

  2. I lived in Denver for six months. Five thousand feet above sea level. I returned to Baltimore at sea level for a couple of weeks. And for the first time time life, running was fun. There was more air than I could use. After doing ascents at altitude wearing an extra 40 pounds, flat land walking at sea level while weighing 30% less.. it feels like the body sings. The exercise that you take now is a gate you go through for your body to sing that song. Enjoy!

  3. Wow! I love reading about your adventure! Some day I'd love to do the same (except not in winter!) :)

  4. The snow can be very challenging at times, but the experiences are irreplaceable.