Some people climb only for the summit, while others climb to good health, and perhaps another group would define their experience as spiritual. One thing all of these alpinists are sure to have in common with non-mountaineers, is that they are quite often misunderstood.
It isn’t often my schedule allows for a whimsical adventure these days, but a week from last Friday things seemed to unpredictably align. It was the clearing of cold skies that revealed our world’s second greatest source of light in all of its full glory. With one glance at our moon in the crisp, night air I was drawn to the mountain like water to parched lips. Desiring a shared experience, however, holds the potential to thwart the greatest of conditions.
Even in silence an adventure is radically altered by having fellowship. Knowing that someone next to you is too considering the stars above, rock below and the eventual coming of a new day tends to more deeply shed light on your own thought to the matter. Traveling alone, on the other hand, has oft led my thinking to that of home only, and where there are moments of awe, they are brief, and lead to a greater longing to celebrate communally. Trudging alone through difficult circumstances does hold its merits, admittedly, and I’m the better for it the times I’ve chosen such a road. All that to say, on this particular night, with only a few hours notice, my dear friend Tyler Green had opted to take to the timberline with me, and for that I am grateful.
My sight was originally set on Mount hood with the hope of getting some new split board gear out, but I eventually relented to Tyler’s request to tackle Mount Saint Helens. With little more than the 1,000 feet of snow clinging to her upper reaches, I stowed the board back in my closet and set off minimally. During the approach Tyler had commented that Helens, the smallest of the cascade range’s major volcanoes, with her clean line of high marked snow, resembled Kilimanjaro, the world’s largest volcano. And so in the silence, broken only by an occasional sniffle and the white noise of boots stomping across basalt, I began to wonder what things were like in Africa, and whether or not anyone wondered about America’s little volatile volcano while we were on it?
To our good fortune and health the only explosion we saw that night and day remained in the sky. The last thin strip of earth came to a halt around 7,500 feet at the same time color began to fill the eastern horizon again. Sitting on this transition from ash to ice we raced to put on our crampons, because today we were climbing to race the sunrise to the summit. The wondrous colors of the sky intensified with every passing moment, displaying an array of streaking reds and oranges across a momentary gradient of dark blue to black. There on the other end the moon now hung low. We climbed on with our backs to dawn’s transformation, despite the heavens calling us to gaze at its abundant beauty in a state of repentance. In the end we called it a stalemate.