03 Sep Elusive Wisdom

I spent part of my Labor Day in solitude backpacking and climbing a 14er near Aspen, Colorado.  Not many people climb 14ers by themselves, but I cherish the self-reliant aspects of being miles from civilization.  Part of the reason for the trip was forced solitude and introspection.  I7 wanted to see what I would think about when I completely cleared my head… if I could completely clear my head!

Like leadership at times, solo backpacking can be intensely lonely.  My mind wandered all over my to-do list, but I spent a lot of time wondering why I chose to be uncomfortable as I pushed myself physically.   The escape from civilization seems to be the only way to gain perspective on the human condition; which includes my own condition – mental, emotional and physical.  I believe when we’re cold, wet, tired and hungry, our true character emerges.  I wasn’t cold, wet or hungry, but I certainly exhausted myself climbing.  I had taken the wrong route up a draw in the basin, and had to traverse of steep slope above cliffs that contained scree, talus, and boulders.  It added about ninety minutes to the climb, and my bruises, blisters and cuts serve as testament to the rookie mistake.

I was exhausted, and had to remind myself of my motives.  I definitely wanted to make up for not summiting earlier this season because of a sprained knee and bad weather.  Climbing a 14er had also become a ritual for my birthday month.  If I can keep climbing these mountains, then I can kid myself into thinking I’m not getting too old!  Part of what kept coming into my head during the ascent was a quote.  It was a passage in the book “Lost Horizon” by James Hilton – a book based on a quest for something quite elusive – agelessness.  Hilton famously wrote, “Perhaps the exhaustion of the passion is the beginning of wisdom.”  Was I still passionate about climbing these mountains, and accepting of the inherent risks?  Climbing always leaves an impression for days in the form of various aches and pains.  Would the interpretation of Hilton’s quote say that wisdom arrives when age and the mountains finally conspire to make one quit climbing?

The mountains provide a needed escape, and perspective, on civilization.  And I realize that civilization provides the needed perspective on the solitude of the wilderness.  In striving for balance, what occurred to me was I need both perspectives for the wisdom I seek.  I can’t imagine not having the deep introspection that comes from solitude, and I can’t imagine being completely alone and away from family for an extended period.  The “aha” on the balanced perspective meant I was indeed successful at clearing my head.  A mark of wisdom?

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