I climbed a mountain once.
It happened once upon a time ago.
It was pretty epic.
I mean it was a mountain after all.
It was magical.
It was one of those ‘holy shit’ moments.
It was mystical.
One of those moments that you can look back on.
It was profound.
And say “Wow, I actually did that. I climbed a mountain.”
It was momentous.
What did I feel in that moment?
Pretty damn amazing! I mean I just climbed a f*cking mountain! And tired… pretty damn exhausted. My legs ached, I was covered in sweat, my lungs burned… And there was the world laying there at my feet. Mountain peaks in all directions.
I knew in that moment that I could do anything. Anything I set my mind to.
There was so many moments when I thought about giving up. Where the peak seemed so high. Down would have been easier than up. The bottom closer than the top.
Would I have been disappointed with myself if I had turned back? If I given up and let that mountain get the best of me?
I honestly can’t say. Perhaps not. Perhaps I would have been content with half-way. With almost reaching the top. I mean there’s nothing wrong with failure. It’s through failure that we learn. We learn our limits, or strengths and weaknesses, and what we can improve upon.
But that was not a moment for failure, for half-way, for almost the top.
I wouldn’t give up.
I remember sitting on a rock, taking a brief rest. A moment to catch my breath after a particularly hard stretch. A long uphill on broken stone steps.
I remember how far away the summit seemed. An unreachable goal.
I was only about half-way up. Probably less. Not even half-way. How will I ever reach my goal when I’m already spent before the half-way mark. Maybe I should just head back. Leave the mountains to the mountain-climber types. Those fit individuals with aluminium walking poles, camelbaks, and gore-tex jackets. Maybe the summit isn’t meant for some guy with only a water bottle and a tune in his head.
Then I listen to that tune. It had been running through my head for days.
“Oooh, Can you hear me now?”
“Yeeah, Am I coming through?”
“Are you hearing me, like I’m hearing you?”
I look up to where the summit lies.
“I see waves breaking forms on my horizons”
I see clouds breaking on the mountains.
“Yeah I’m shining”
It’s my moment to shine.
“Did I pass? Yeah it’s a test”
Was this just a test?
Would I pass?
“Are you hearing me, like I’m hearing you?”
“Now I think I see the light”
There’s something waiting for me on that mountain top.
I am meant to reach it.
“Lend me your hand”
I can feel something drawing me towards it.
“My heart and soul, they’re free”
I will reach it.
I pick myself up off the rock and push on. Upward.
My lungs ache, my legs burn.
Left. Right. Left. Right. Left.
I focus on the movement.
Just keep moving. Right. Left.
You can do this. Left. Right.
You are more powerful that you believe yourself to be. Right. Left.
You are capable of anything you set you mind to. You will succeed. Left. Right.
You are capable. Right. Left.
Don’t give up.
You will make it.
A moments rest. I’m running out of water. I have to ration. Only a mouthful.
I feel like Frodo climbing Mt. Doom. But with more sunshine and less lava.
I chuckle to myself.
If you can laugh, you can climb.
Left and right. Right and left.
Don’t stop moving. Just keep going.
Don’t stop moving. Just keep going.
This better be worth it.
I’ve lost all track of time. Minutes stretch on for hours. Hours for days. Keep moving.
It must be close to noon. The sun is so hot. There’s so little shade. What I wouldn’t give for some shade.
I stop in any shade I can find. A rare thing. It keeps me moving. I can’t stop in this sun. It’s too hot.
I stop thinking in terms of the summit. I think only in terms of the next patch of shade. The brief reprieve from the sun’s glare.
I look ahead from my shade patch. I see no shade ahead.
Maybe there is no more shade. Maybe this is my last reprieve. I will bake in the sun’s rays till the top.
But I have to keep going. Move.
Left and right. Right and left. Keep moving.
I am fortunate. There is more shade ahead.
Another brief reprieve. And onward I go.
I come to a point where there is nothing beside me but a sheer drop. How far, I don’t know. It’s a long way down. A rock wall to my left, a life ending drop to my right. I am gripped by fear.
I stay close to the wall, the path is only a couple feet wide. I fall to my knees.
I’m too afraid to stand.
I move forward on hands and knees.
The view from here is stunning, but I can’t focus on it. All I can see is the drop.
The path turns. It passes through a break in the rock. I’m away from the ledge. I can stand again.
I must be close now. That unreachable goal is now becoming something tangible.
I can smell the top from here. I can taste it. Keep moving.
I press on.
My mind is focused.
You’re almost there. You can do this.
You’re so close.
Any moment now and you’ll be there.
It’s so close.
Then suddenly, I’m on a ridge. It’s the top.
I’ve made it! I actually made it!
The ridge runs along the peak to where a small shelter has been built. It continues a little further to a long wooden pole erected towards the sky. I walk towards it.
Is that music I hear?
It sounds like a flute.
I must be losing my mind on account of exhaustion.
Wait. It is music.
As I approach the pole, I find the source of the tune.
I thought I was alone. Apparently I’m mistaken.
There is a man sitting next to the prayer pole. He is sitting cross-legged and shirtless, looking out on the mountain ranges. He is certainly Andean.
Held to his lips is a pan flute.
What is going on here?
I walk to the pole. He notices me. Our eyes make contact. We nod. No words spoken.
What is there to say? We both know why we’re here.
We are experiencing this moment. No words are required. They wouldn’t do justice to this moment.
No words could.
He resumes playing his instrument, and I survey the scene around me.
It is magnificent.
I feel as though I’m standing on top of the world. All that I knew, all that I was lies beneath me. I have risen above the din of the world to this place above the clouds.
They say that gods live on mountain tops, watching the world of men below. I feel like a god, like the master of all I survey, master of my own destiny.
I decide to savour this moment.
In front of the pole is a ledge. There is a sort of outcropping thrusting itself out into the emptiness of the sky. I move towards it. Wow! It’s a long way down. If I were to fall my body would lie smashed upon the ruins below. Not a bad way to go, it would be pretty epic. But I’m not ready to go, there’s too much work to be done.
I sit as close to the edge as I feel comfortable with. The ground in front of me slopes slightly down towards the edge of the outcropping, The last point of ground before the empty air beyond. I sit here for a few minutes, savouring the view.
A thought strikes me. “What are you afraid of?” I mean look where you are, look how far you’ve come. What’s a few more feet?
I inch forward while seated. Move closer and stop. This is nice.
But what’s a few feet more?
I keep inching forward. And then I’m there. I’m sitting on the last piece of flat rock before the ground drops away to nothingness.
My heart is about to pound it’s way right out of my chest.
I close my eyes, my legs are crossed, my palms lay open upon my knees. I try to slow my heart. I focus on my breathing. I clear my mind. I feel calmness seeping in. I feel the entire world seeping in. All of creation is flowing through me. I am one with all things. I am we.
I open my eyes and all I see is sky and mountain. I can’t see the ground beneath me. It feels as though I’m flying. Like I’m hovering there in empty air. I am startled, surprised, scared, and overjoyed.
So many emotions all at once.
I am overcome with elation. My lips are curled into a smile, and laughter escapes them.
The feeling of fear from moments before has melted away.
I am one with all things.
I savour these moments a while longer, drinking up the emotions and thoughts that flow through me. Letting my soul drink deeply of the waters of life.
I am one with all things.
All flows through me.
And I flow through everything.
I am one with the divine will.
“I” is an illusion. A trick of ego.
We are truly all pieces of the same puzzle.
We are prismatic refractions of the divine being.
That which is all.
We are like light shining through a crystal, creating rainbow patterns on the earth.
All different, yet ultimately the same.
The children of light.
What is time in moments such as these?
When a single moment stretches on for eternity.
When we see reality in it’s truest shape.
Time is a river with no beginning and no end.
A continuum spanning from past, to present, to future, to past.
And I am swimming in it.
After the eons have passed, I return to the present moment.
My face is wet.
Have I been crying?
I can’t remember, it feels like it was ages ago.
A memory returns. I must go back.
I must return to the world below. There is much work to be done.
And my friends will be waiting for me.
It is time.
I inch back from the edge till I reach a point where it’s safe to stand up. When I turn around I see that others have made the climb as well, sitting in small groups, chatting and appreciating the view.
I walk past them. A woman speaks to me.
“Tu es loco! You’re crazy! I could never do that, I’m afraid of heights.”
I say, “So am I. But it’s about conquering our fears.”
As I walk past my Andean friend we both nod again. No words, none are required.
I look around one last time.
Taking in all I can of this place that changed my life.
Remembering the boy that climbed this mountain, and thinking about the man who will descend.
I turn and start walking.
I begin my decent, but with new vigour and energy.
This will be a piece of cake.
I begin at a brisk walk.
I had been watching our porters in the days leading up to today. They moved so quickly on the trails. Almost gliding over the downhills. They just used the momentum of going downhill, all they did was use their feet to stabilize themselves. I quickened my pace.
I let my momentum build. Instead of slamming down on my knees on every step, trying to control my speed to a level I felt comfortable with, I let go. I let my momentum set the pace.
I stop staring at me feet, watching my placement. I start looking ahead, first a step, then two and three. I knew ahead of time where my feet must go. I had already planned their placement several steps before. I trusted in their ability to land where they must.
I’m flying down the hill. I’m nearly sprinting. My mind finding the way, and my body following the commands. I couldn’t believe the speed I was travelling at. One slip and I would smash my face upon the stone steps. I would tumble down unable to stop my fall. I best not slip.
The truth is, I wasn’t really afraid of falling. I knew I could do this. I knew my feet would land where I willed them to. Failure was not an option, only success.
I moved like water. My mind seeing the path of least resistance before my feet arrived. I was flowing over the stones, side to side on the path, avoiding anything that might slow my journey.
I came across several people on the way back.
They all asked the same question.
“How much further is it?”
I gave each of them my honest opinion of their progress.
“You’re almost there.”
“You’re about half-way.”
“You’ve got quite a ways to go.”
“Is it worth it?” they asked.
“Absolutely.” I replied.
I remember the last people I came upon. They were barely past the base.
They looked like they were having a rough go of it.
“Are we almost there?”
It took me a moment to answer.
They obviously have no idea what they’ve got themselves into.
Do I dash their hopes and tell them how little progress they had made? How far their destination really was?
But then I remember how I must have looked at this stage in my journey.
How little progress I had made, and how tired I already felt.
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.
I wouldn’t lie, but I wouldn’t crush their dreams either.
“There’s a long ways to go,” I said. “But there are lots of beautiful views on the way. In fact there’s one not too much further ahead. Maybe stop there and see how you feel.”
Even if they didn’t make the summit, they would still have an epic experience from that point. And who knows, maybe with some perseverance they would make the top.
But that’s an answer I would never know.
I wish them luck and continue my mad dash down the mountain side.
It wasn’t too much longer before I reached the base.
I turned around and looked back at that mountain. I can see the summit. I was there. I made it.
There and back again. A human’s journey.
I give myself a moment to revel in it.
Then it’s off again, a mad dash through the ruins of Machu Picchu.
My friends are waiting for me.
I arrive just in time.
There’s a delicious meal and a bottle of Cusqueña waiting for me. 🙂
Our guide, the one who suggested the climb to me in the first place, asks me if I made it all the way to the top. I say that I did.
“Was it worth it?”
“It absolutely was.”
He smiles. “You are Andean.”
I nod, with a smile.