09 Aug No View from the Top

I put Mount of the Holy Cross on my calendar a year ago, and I recently climbed it with my son and son-in-law.

Mount of the Holy Cross is an iconic Colorado 14er. That is, it’s a mountain with an elevation over 14,000 feet, and occasionally has snow in crevices on the side of the mountain that displays a distinctive cross. It’s a tough climb, because it’s long, and because there is a ridge to climb and descend before the actual ascent to the summit.

I had three goals for the trip: Get to the top, get my son-in-law to the top because he had never climbed a 14er, and get home safely without even a sprained ankle. Check, check, and check. Unlike when I spend time alone on the trail, what I am writing right now didn’t “come to me.”

At the top, we were engulfed in a sweeping cloud. It wasn’t stormy, raining, misty or even particularly windy. In fact, it was surprisingly warm. From the reaction of other climbers on the mountain, I could tell most of them were deeply disappointed that there was no view. Nada, zip, zero. At times, I don’t think the visibility was more than fifty yards.

What surprised me is that I could have cared less about the view. Sure, a view would have been spectacular. I’ve heard that Mount of the Holy Cross boasts one of the best viewing platforms of any of Colorado’s 54, 14ers.

What I realized more than ever is that I don’t climb for the view, but for the climb. I climb for the route selection, and the logistics of packing the right stuff based on the weather.  I climb for the map reading, and knowing I am in good enough shape to make the climb. I climb for the never-ending pursuit for the right combination of socks and boots that will not produce a hot-spot or blister. I climb because I know every ascent is its own journey of self discovery, and I know it will be for those I bring along. I climb to know that I can still do what I did last year. I climb to see how fast I can be, and I do keep track of how many people I pass along the way and how many people pass me (and I note the few that are older than me). I climb because I consider fitness and exercise marks of self discipline for me. I climb to get to the top before 9:00 am knowing most people below me just don’t know how hard they can push themselves.

Absent from my list is the view. The view is so temporary, and it seems I am never able to really take it all in and burn it into my memory. The sky, the clouds, the light, the scenery – the view is 360 degrees of overwhelming; and it turns out that it’s the least significant part of climbing the mountain for me. The mountain and the trail to the top is the teacher. The summit is just the place you rest before your next lesson.

Article first published as No View from the Top on Technorati.

  • Sy
    Posted at 12:25h, 09 August Reply

    Nice article, Jan. I was ignorant of Holy Cross being a 14er but certainly can relate to your reasons for climbing and fitness with preparation being an indicator of self discipline. We’ll have to chat about your ride up Evans soon.

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