Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.12300°N / 118.567°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 8, 2005
You arrive in the dark. It seems it is always this way. The cold scent of unseen pines makes you wary, uncertain. Why? You do not know. You have a sense of being observed. The air, too, is unsettled. It cannot decide which direction to go. Enough of this. Sleep comes many times, only to slip away. Eyes burn. You press a little button and a pale green glow erupts from your wrist. There are numbers there, numbers which, in better times, would inform you how much longer you must endure. But now they are as illegible as they are irrelevant. You ask yourself, “Am I ready?” You do not bother to wait for an answer. You eat. You dress. You step outside. The darkness is now perfect. The wind has reached a verdict, and blows steadily and firmly away from your destination. This raises new questions. What is this wind, anyway? The mind whirs and prattles: Grids of hexahedral voxels, regular up high, then morphing into a three-dimensional mosaic wrapped around the imaginary surface upon which you stand appear as glowing lines of light in the darkness. The rule of law is established in cryptic runes written in curly letters, upside down triangles, and lines denoting relationships between the parts. And above this law stands the single imperative to exert minimum effort. Therein lies the crux. How can this be relaxation, when the sound in your ears is so terrible? Yet you are sympathetic. You acknowledge that you, too, seek rest. Because of this, you are compelled to press on. Where did all this restlessness come from? Why has the peace from the beginning not prevailed? You would like to know, but the inventions of reason shed no light on this most fundamental question. It is fitting that it is dark. But you know that soon the sun will rise to reveal a more profound darkness. It is this darkness that you are challenged to navigate blind. There is nothing for it. The sun does indeed rise, but it yields no warmth. You heft a sack containing all you imagine you will need to your shoulders and step into the wind. It flings tiny crystals of frozen water into your face. You pay it no mind. It may pass. It may grow stronger. Whatever it may do, you shall carry on. Ascent is easier than descent. While you are climbing you may imagine that the future lies before you, and this brings with it hope. Not so the descent. Then all is fact, and the facts are whatever they are, but above all they are immutable. You cannot wish them to be otherwise. If you are pleased with the facts, then count yourself lucky. If not, wait. New facts will emerge. Perhaps these will be more to your liking. The difficulties begin almost immediately. Chaotic heaps of dirty white mush strewn all about confound the simplest movement. Between them lies traps of water, mud and the tangled wreckage of young trees ripped apart before their prime. Sharp metal points affixed to the feet do much to ease the struggle, yet they cannot mitigate the loss of direction and the constant effort to regain the path. Gazing up between the trees you catch glimpses of the future. You imagine it shall be easier up there, for you shall be among the stones, where the flensing elements have pared the surface down to its geological essence. The promise of a better life lends the present much-needed inspiration. But as the time and place draws near, the promise is revealed to have been illusion. The great release that precipitated all has swept through time in one unbroken causal chain to culminate here in tremendous urgency. The vapors gather transmontane, and in their gathering evict all that preceded. And it is this dire mass, wailing indignation, that is heaved bodily over the crest to slump in tumult down. It has no will to resist; indeed, it responds to the slightest provocation with abrupt alterations of direction and speed. As you ascend its behavior becomes more arbitrary and forceful. You no longer wonder why you came. This is not because your questions have been answered, but because you have forgotten. Mists descend to engulf the summits, depriving you of landmarks. This, too, is a matter of indifference. You trust in the knowledge that all options before you have been narrowed to equivalence. You remain uninformed of their relative tedium and danger, but by now you are accustomed to ignorance. Cold is your sole companion: cold and the horde of dogs that streams down from above. They race onward, shoulder to shoulder, nose to tail, as far as you can see. The boiling sea of rippling fur parts just before your leading foot, and closes up at your heel. They run without yelp or growl. Only the dry scratch of nail on stone breaks their vow of silence. They run grim-faced, mouths closed, eyes focused on the infinite. They pour out of the opacity ahead and disappear into the abyss behind. Just as soon as you take note of this they are gone. You sit down on a rock to take stock of the situation. There is no reason for there to be so many dogs. You suppose it to be a sign, yet this perceptual trope appears to signify nothing. A trial, perhaps, but conducted by whom? You do not believe in the gods of Odysseus, though you begin to suspect there may be a parallel. You feel you did nothing special when confronted with their preposterous presence. Is this success or failure? You leave the question aside and focus on the breath. Each exhalation billows white, fouls your eyesight, then is ripped from your face and flung back over your shoulder. The wind increases until even the in-breath comes hard. You begin to asphyxiate. Deep inside the animal panics, but you bide your time. The animal howls, “Betrayed! I suffer and yet you do nothing!” The wind weakens. Breath returns. The animal quiets. Without warning you believe she is near. It makes no sense that she should appear in this inhospitable place, for she is fond of soft warm breezes. Despite this, you search for her. You are not troubled by the fact that you don’t know what to look for. Indeed, you have never met her. You do not even know her name, nor have you invented one. You have glimpsed her in the grace of a hip, a bounce, a curve, a fleeting glance; but she is always gone before you act. Now your very being is action. You are driven helpless, like the wind. You yield only at the end, like the gliding ice. You break like the scattered remains of plutons at your feet. You act because that is the only means of affirming life at your disposal, yet even this is distant and impersonal. You might as well be the wind, a river, or a stone. Into this vortex is drawn a pale longing. Pale like dawn. The longing swirls around inside until it assumes the obscene form of a tornado; wriggling and probing, and all the while hurling the flotsam of the heart helter skelter. The funnel penetrates the ground beneath your feet. You shift them in the sand to improve circulation. The funnel dispels and then reforms. It reaches into the darkness that is the essence of all that you believe you see. It meets vacuum with vacuum and thence dies without revealing anything new. You are tired. Her presence fades. You are still alone. Your hands, which stood ready to caress her, to sift through her hair, to murmur greetings, are stiff and painful. You stuff them into pockets, stand up, and walk into the fog. You do so without drama. Sand shifts beneath your weight. The stones offer firmer footing. Soon both yield once again to crisp white snow. You walk by feel. Outcroppings of dark bone provide vague beacons, but do they herald danger or safe passage? You do not know. A silent partner emerges, and guides your feet. You trust this guide. It slows your pace. All is grey save for a gathering of rock above. You pause to ascertain its meaning. Your guide knows, though it cannot tell you. You allow it to move your feet once more, this time to the left and up. You touch the stone and look back. The pale grey ice curls into a snarl that hangs miraculously above a void. Your tracks lead up to it, then turn and follow it at a respectful distance to where you stand now. Nothing more than that. You follow the cold wet rock from here on out. A dark pinnacle emerges from the murk. This, you somehow know, is your destination. Not a final destination, but sufficient for the day. There is little rest here. To the left, a precipice, to the right, the void. Forward lies death and backward lies continuity with all that has come before. You act. You simply act.


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Misha - Sep 8, 2005 11:48 am - Hasn't voted

Trip Report Comment

Great piece of writing, Steve!


soslaw - Sep 9, 2005 3:58 pm - Hasn't voted

Trip Report Comment

Just another good reason why I spend so much time on SP. The mountains in their darker moments do evoke an existential challenge and everything that that conjures until the quietude of acceptance arrives. We just get on with it.

Well done, Steve.

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