I can’t be angry in the mountains.
There is just something magical that fills the deepest part of my being, as I take step after step, completely removed from everything behind me. Even as things on the trail don’t go as planned, for some reason, when I am I the wilderness, I am able to embrace each moment as it comes, and continue moving forward.
I was on a hike with a friend. It was going to be my third attempt at Mt Washington, in the Olympic National Forest. I’d turned back once before due to time constraints, and turned back the second time because we couldn’t find the correct route. This third attempt was going to be it. I was sure of it. I’d remembered where we went wrong the time before, and felt confident that I would be able to find my way up the mountain.
The week leading up to the hike had been rough. Not rough in the sense that everything was going wrong, but rough in the sense that I was tired. Tired to the core of my being. I just wanted sleep, and rest, and roughly five million cups of coffee. Good coffee.
I am not typically an angry person. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anger that I need to work through. Since losing my daughter in May of 2016, sometimes I just get angry. And despite how many times I work through that anger, it always surfaces itself again eventually. Sometimes the spans of time between bouts of anger are short, sometimes they are remarkably far apart. Regardless, eventually that anger resurfaces, and I find myself in a dark mental state. If the anger catches me off guard, it can be very difficult to work through. Not that it is easy to work through any other time, but for some reason getting caught off guard puts me in a more significant disadvantage, putting me in a mental state that is more likely to spiral out of control. The fight out of that darkness is always a harder fight.
I can’t be angry when I’m in the mountains.
The mountains challenge me mentally and physically, and it is a challenge that I greatly welcome. On my third attempt my Mt Washington, my lungs burned. I found myself huffing and puffing as I tried to hike and talk to my friend simultaneously. It humbled me.
We climbed and climbed, the trail was steep, and with every gasp for air, it felt as though my soul was being revived. Despite my exhaustion, I was being restored. Despite my fatigue, I was being energized.
We kept losing the trail, finding it again, and losing the trail again. Eventually we got to a point, and we had absolutely no idea where the trail went. We knew we had just been on it, but we couldn’t see where it continued. A giant rock face was right in front of us, and we knew we needed to get up it, but we just couldn’t figure out how.
We sat down, had a snack, and assessed our options. We ended up turning back, and heading down the mountain.
We continued to laugh our way down the mountain, chatting as we had done before. I still couldn’t believe that I had “failed” a third time. According to my Instagram feed, the route shouldn’t be that difficult to find. Oh, social media, and how it manipulates our perception.
When I got home that night, I scoured the internet until I knew exactly where that route was, and how to get up the mountain. I looked back over the pictures I’d taken, and compared them to the route maps. I figured out exactly where we had gone wrong and analyzed exactly how I would avoid the same mistakes in the future. My 4th attempt WILL be successful. Unless it isn’t. In which case I will try it a fifth time, and a sixth time, or however many times it takes to make it to the top. Maybe success isn’t actually measured by summits – maybe it is measured by something else.
If I had encountered a situation like that in my everyday life, I would have been frustrated beyond all shadow of a doubt. I would have felt annoyed. Defeated. However, when I got back to my car, and on the hour and a half drive home, I felt refreshed. Revived. Grateful. And determined.
Sure, I wish I would have made it all the way to the top. But defeat in the mountains is a different kind of defeat.
It is more of a challenge than an expression of insufficiency.
It provides a chance for growth and learning, rather than a sense of lowered self-worth.
That’s how it is when I am angry, too. As soon as I am on the trail, I find myself completely unable to maintain any level of anger. It is as if I put on a pair of glasses that completely changes my perception of my circumstances. I feel so tiny and insignificant compared to the colossal mountains before me, which results in an adjusted perspective to my own circumstances. An adjustment to my perspective in turn results to an adjustment to my attitude. And no matter my mental state each moment leading up to the trail, I always, 100% of the time, come off the trail a better person.
I just can’t help it.
I can’t stay angry in the mountains.