Mountain Climbing: It’s not just a metaphor

There are many things I’ve learned from climbing mountains. I expected the challenges, but I never imagined the lasting impact it would have on my thinking, and how I do other things.

Sometimes the shifts are big, like a new perception of what’s really life threatening and what just feels that way. Sometimes they are small things like recognizing that if you stare at your feet the whole time you miss a lot of scenery.

It’s the foot staring I was thinking about yesterday as I was climbing Mt. St. Helens with a group of seven other Mazamas. Now, this was the fifth time I’ve reached the summit of Mt. St. Helens, and it’s the first mountain I climbed, so I know the mountain, and the route, pretty well. But I keep going back because it’s different every time. And really, how cool is it to be on a live volcano?!

Didn’t your mom teach you staring is rude?

On the climb, I repeatedly noticed that I was staring at my feet. Occasionally I’d throw in a little variety and stare at the feet of the person in front of me.*

Shannon on St. Helens Summit

Standing near the rim of Mt. St. Helens

Now the ground does hold it’s own interest. The snow sparkles and glitters in the illumination of your headlamp, and you do need to watch your step, but there’s no need to stare, head down, step after step after step.

So yesterday, when I noticed that I was getting really familiar with the tops of my boots again, I’d use that as a reminder to take a moment and look around.

When I did, I was treated over and over to gorgeous views, intricate ice and snow formations, a brilliant sunrise. The kind of stuff that makes this crazy hobby that requires getting up in the middle of the night, driving many miles to walk for hours in the freezing cold, totally addictive.

* We usually travel in single file either because of the narrowness of the trail or to take advantage of steps kicked into the snow or ice by the people in front of you. If you’re at the end of a line of good step kickers, going up a steep snowy slope can be as easy as walking up stairs!

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