When I am far from the mountains, I can close my eyes, and see their mighty walls towering high above. My eyes gaze upwards, until I cannot bend my head back enough to see the point at which the summits meet the sky. A blanket of snow drapes over each precipice and peak, as cornices hug the highest shelves and threaten to collapse into swift and sudden avalanches. The sun hits the mountainside with a beautiful alpine glow, highlighting natureâ€™s rocky statues and leaving the deep cracks and caves and canyons in a mysterious darkness. With eyes closed, I can trace the outline of the most familiar peaks with my index finger â€" dipping and raising my imaginary pencil with every changing feature.
When I am in the mountains, I need not dream about them, but they somehow still manage to invade my dreams. The line between dream and reality may fade into oblivion, but the line to the summit is clear as day. I hike over that final summit ridge and see, with a sense of relief, that I can go no higher. I have been here many, many times before. The view expands to peaks a hundred miles away and swirls around me as though, for just a moment, I am at the center of the universe. I relish in the sunshine at the top, the stillness of the wind, and the awe and excitement of the views around me. Eventually, though, I look below â€" I look to where I have come from â€" and I am quickly reminded of the minuteness of me.
I am just a tiny ant crawling up a massive anthill and thoughts of being at the centre of the universe are rendered tenuous and void considering how quickly my existence could be erased. Threats of a boulder cascading down a steep rock face, a storm blowing in without notice, or a fall despite the most careful footing are ever-present and inevitable when a climber sets foot on a mountainâ€™s mighty slopes.
Upon reaching the bottom, knees and toes aching from the impact, I whisper a thank you to...what? I do not know, exactly. Perhaps I sense the urge to thank the mountain for the chance to step upon it, and climb its shoulder all the way to the top. I thank my body for staying strong, for persevering, and bringing me back to the place I started. I think I also thank God that I am still alive.
After a successful ascent the prospect of climbing again becomes an order too tall to even attempt. The mountain, and its inherent threats, have frayed the nerves I worked so hard to build up. My gear is dirty and needs washing and repair. My body is tired, bruised, and sore. And so I spend my days below the towering peaks â€" taking awe in their splendour and steadfast presence, their immovability and their domination of the landscape. For a time the mountains stand in the background; they are a perfect canvas, though secondary to the immediacy of my day-to-day life. I take a fleeting look at them every once in awhile, always admiring them for their magnificence, but maintaining my distance nonetheless.
Inevitably the moment arrives where I take a glance upwards and a shiver goes through my spine. I start looking for routes up the mountainâ€™s mighty face instead of looking at it as only a piece of art. I take one look at my boots â€" worn, faded, scratched, and... beckoning me to put them on yet again!
There is something I am seeking that can only be found on a mountaintop. I find it there and I lose it again when I descend. But I can always find it so long as I am willing to climb.
I fill my lungs with a deep, deep breath, take one last look at the summit, then take my first step towards the top once more.