Me and the Mountain

Yesterday I climbed a mountain. I almost didn’t do it because I looked it up online and saw that it was only 5km and thought, bah! that’s a waste of time!  It was much harder than I thought it was going to be. It also took much longer than I expected it to and afterwards I felt kind of dumb for thinking that it would be easy and I was glad I hadn’t expressed any of this to anyone before I went and did the climb.

I’d climbed Mt Walsh when I was in grade 10 back in 1992 and I can’t recall it being as hard as it was yesterday. I’m not sure the school would have had us scurrying up sheer rock faces and lowering ourselves into short ravines, only to climb back up the other side across obstacles and slippery rock faces, all without any kind of climbing or safety equipment or really any discernible skill. But hey, it was the nineties and everyone was still clambering their way back to sanity after suffering through the eighties and those horrendous hair-dos. Who knows and who cares, I certainly don’t.  It was really the only useful thing I did at high school (apart from learning how to type). Mr Goodall taught us how to rock climb and abseil and I’ve never forgotten that. Those climbing lessons have come in handy so many times. “Three points of contact Jenny! he shouted at me. “Don’t let go until you know where you’re going to contact next and pay attention to where you’re going. Make sure the path you’ve picked up the rock face isn’t impassable. Geoff! Don’t grab vegetation. Katrina, what are you doing, you’re dangling in mid-air. What’s Chris doing over there? Ohhhh, come on! Don’t climb trees, Chris! What just happened? Ohhhh,quick, get the stretcher. Keith’s broken his leg!” Keith really did break his leg, but I don’t think he fell off the mountain. I think he just tripped over his own feet walking to the toilet.

As I started to ascend the mountain, gunfire from the nearby rifle range (where we’d camped in year 10) echoed off the bluffs. The higher I went the more I began to imagine that the sound would loose an avalanche of ancient rock that would crush and cover me and that my car would sit alone, abandoned and dusty in a carpark in the middle of nowhere. Rusty it would become throughout the years until it would be hauled away by the big flood of 2035. All of this brought on by my recent reading of The Outsider by Stephen King. This kind of thing is the reason why I had to tone down my reading of books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My imagination has a “slight” tendency to run away with me. It’s been doing this since I was a little kid.

The mountain was awesome! I got a bit scared when I got to the rope because I wasn’t sure if I could get up that section of the rock face, let alone get back down it and I almost turned around and went back. I said outloud, “No, that’s just being a pussy.” And I made myself do it. It really wasn’t that scary and neither was coming down.

There were a couple of worse sections up the mountain a bit further and I was ever so thankful for my extra, extra long legs and arms. See, the thing is: I’m actually quite afraid of heights and I knew it would be a bit scary doing this climb by myself because I only had myself to rely on. I’ve just finished reading Write Way Home by Hedley Derenzie, and on the mountain I thought of what she said about no one coming for me, because nobody would be coming for me if I got stuck, so I simply had to make it work. I don’t know if I would have pushed myself so hard if I knew that the cool guy I’m married to could come and rescue me if I got into trouble.

Climbing this mountain also made me recognise how important the effort I put into training is. I don’t like weight training that much, because mostly I think, what’s the point of even bothering with this? and it’s a massive effort to force myself to do it every second day. I particularly hate shoulder presses, but it’s the strength I’ve built by doing shoulder presses that allowed me to hoist myself easily up sections of the mountain that maybe once I wouldn’t have been able to climb. It’s the squats and hundreds of ab exercises I do every week that gave me the stability to get down the mountain in one piece (even though I fell over once) and it’s the general tenacity with which I approach my sometimes extreme training regime that allows me to do things like climb mountains on my own and force myself through fears that at some point in the past would have most definitely held me back.

I love it when I can see how all the the little things I do come together in a way that I never actually thought of, creating synergies where none previously existed. I’ll never be someone who is the best at one thing (certainly not shoulder press), but that’s ok because I’m not seeking perfection or the calibre of excellence in anything I do. Rather, I’m active in the pursuit of living a life that matters; a life spent adventuring and climbing mountains both real and figurative. A life where nobody is coming for me, so it’s up to me to embrace fear, discomfort and adversity and get on with being the person I set out to be; someone who never gives in, albeit someone who might have the tendency to underestimate mountains.

“In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac