Floating through the air at 5am…slivers of light piercing the cumulus and reaching my skin.
I wondered… How do we actually fly? How are we really being propelled through the sky in this tiny piece of metal?
I sat in the back of the bitty four-seater Bonanza, a tiny plane only 2 years older then myself. I had been invited on a journey to climb the Grand Teton, one of North America’s most iconic mountains.
Mick, our guide, connected his ipod to the circuitry and through my headphones played John Denver’s “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane.” How appropriate. And simultaneously, somewhere in my psyche the thought passed through me, “Am I going to die on this trip?”
What I didn’t realize then was that yes…a part of me would.
Flying has always been a mystical experience for me. I enter the bardo—the place in between worlds—neither here nor there, looking down upon the landscape and seeing it from a perspective that many will never have the opportunity to see.
As we pierced through the clouds Mt. Rainer seared it’s beauty into the grey matter of my brain so I would never forget it’s majesty, presence and healing power.
Four hours later we landed on a teeny landing strip in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
After Peter (our third team member), Mick and I ate some lunch at the Lotus Café we headed to the grocery store to purchase our supplies for the next 3 nights where we would be camping in the mountains. Weight is always a consideration—whatever we’re taking in we have to carry.
There is a fine art to packing a backpack for a climbing trip. This is an art form I am not versed in at all. All I know is that you’re only allowed one pair of underwear for four days in the mountains—at least that’s Mick’s rules.
We reached camp by dark, hung up our food so the bears wouldn’t be tempted, set up our tent and went to bed. Unfortunately sharing a tent with two snoring men and falling asleep aren’t copacetic with me. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep.
The next day we arrived at the extremely rocky base camp. It was like a minefield of stone rubble everywhere—much too high for any vegetation to grow.
Hours later we would awaken in the darkness to begin our ascent. What I didn’t fully realize at the time was that this journey was more about going inwards then upwards.
THE FIRST STEP
Nothing prepares you for certain life changing experiences.
Granted I had probably not done the adequate physical training to attempt this climb but there was a determination within me that made up for the lack of solid physical preparation.
I also hadn’t done much research about the area or what to expect. Sometimes I go with the flow too much—what I hadn’t realized is that we were going to be rock climbing up the mountain, not just hiking.
From our base camp at 10,900 feet I could already feel the effects of altitude, harder to breathe and walk, slight headache and nausea.
We climbed in the early hours of the morning until the slightest sliver of daylight began to wake up the sky. The crest of the moon hung like an emblem of hope and inspiration. We trudged onwards; across some slick ice before beginning to rock climb up and up and up.
I’m a relatively new climber. I would consider myself a beginner with perhaps some natural inclination for how to move across a rock face. I don’t feel comfortable on exposed pieces of sheer rock, dangling like a flimsy little human thousands of feet above the ground.
Vulnerable. Exposed. Insignificant.
…stay tuned for PART 2!