Reverb 14 | December 4 | Do Over

Do Over: Hindsight is the one thing we never benefit from in the present.  Is there one moment you wish that you could do-over?

I can count the number of times I have been in, on, or around mountains probably on one hand; definitely on one and half. Minnesota is home to a lush forest that blankets much of the eastern and northern parts of the state, comfortably tucking the Boundary Waters and the Mississippi River under its canopy. As you move west towards our friendly neighbors, the Dakotas, that forest gives way to unending prairie, home to corn fields and wind farms. Flat land. And as one who was born and raised here and continues to live here (my only other place of residence being Fargo, North Dakota) I can pretty confidently admit to being a Flat Lander.

This summer, a family vacation brought us to Estes Park, Colorado, rested under the watchful eye of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. To oversimplify the obvious, we just do not have geography like that in Minnesota and I was in complete awe of the sheer size of these mountains.

Obviously, Aaron and I felt compelled to get to the top of one of them. Though our foolhardy, adventuresome selves said, “Long’s Peak!” our Flat Lander brains said, “Well, perhaps something a bit more humble?” We agreed that it would be thrilling to get above the treeline (at around 10,500 feet), so we settled on the 12,000 foot peak of Flattop Mountain.

We paired this summit hike with a hike to a backcountry camping site, where we spent the night in the park, which would end up totaling about a 12 mile day– our longest backpacking hike yet! We got up early, packed all of our camping stuff, and drove to the trailhead. We told a park ranger about our plans to summit Flattop with every piece of our camping gear, come back down, and continue on for 5-6 more miles to our campsite. She looked at us as if our heads were on fire at that very moment.

But we are nothing if not stubborn, and once my husband decides we can and will do something, he will stop at nothing to achieve our goal.

The beginning of the summit hike was spectacular– the views we had of the lakes and moraines that pepper the lower parts of the park were unmatched by any other hike we had done. As we continued to climb, we did notice the air cool a bit, but it was refreshing and we periodically stopped to let the cool air relieve some of the heat trapped between our packs and our bodies, and we marveled at the spots of snow that lingered on the mountain’s edge into August.

We excitedly approached the treeline, above which very little vegetation grows. the comfort and sense of protection provided by the forest gives way to a harsh, rocky landscape and a whipping wind. It was around here that we first started to see oncoming hikers on their descent. My thought at seeing the first group was, “Wow! They must have gotten an early start!” As the following groups began crossing us on their way down, I started noting their clothing: puffy vests or jackets, wind-stopping pants, hats and gloves. I looked down at my own wardrobe: khaki shorts and a cotton long-sleeved running shirt. I pulled my rain jacket out of my pack and zipped it all the way to my nose.

Aaron and I are not scientists, but we are not idiots either, so I am (at times) exceedingly shocked that we were unable to put two and two together when planning this trip and the gear/clothing we might need. It seems, now, to be very obvious that if you are planning on traveling to a place where the trees do not grow, that place might be cold enough to warrant something other than khaki shorts and a rain jacket.

It was insensibly cold. And even more insensibly windy on the side of that mountain.

But we are nothing if not stubborn, and once my husband decides we can and will do something, he will stop at nothing to achieve our goal.

The trail was narrow and rocky. The wind had essentially made a sail out of my pack. My thighs were stinging from the cold. But up and up and up we went as people dressed practically in full-on snow gear came down. For every time I said I was cold or tired or cranky Aaron would say, “Oh, we’re fine” or the especially motivating, “What? Do you want to quit?”

We made it to the peak of Flattop Mountain. 12,324 feet above sea level. Approximately 1,800 feet above where things cease to be able to live. 4.5 miles from the trailhead.

And it was spectacularly worth it. The 360 degree views of the mountain range were stunning. Below us we could see several of the places we had visited in the days before, beyond us we could see deep into the unforgiving mountain range.

mountain

I once believed that completing strenuous hikes and mountain summits was a matter of overcoming the landscape to be successful. It was an exercise in conquering difficult terrain. I think that was a misunderstanding borne of my inexperience and youth.

We are but guests on this planet, and achieving great things on it’s exotic and wild landscapes, be they the tropical trails along an island’s violent coast or the rocky and wind-whipped tops of mountains, is not accomplished because we have overpowered the earth. There is a verse in the book of Genesis which is perhaps one of the verses of the Bible that offends me most, which is this:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

The idea that we have dominion over this land and every creeping thing that creepeth upon it has led to terrible destruction of forests, redirection of rivers, misuse of water, the extinction of valuable species, and the total pollution of nearly everything we touch. Let us make no mistake: we are powerless over the mountain and the mountain will always win. I would never “do-over” this experience if it cost me that lesson learned and remembered.

But, on this day, I would have worn pants.

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