Slaying the White Elephant

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 39.46655°N / 106.48224°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 10, 2012
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer

White Elephant

Mt. of the Holy Cross

I can no longer tell you where my heart for the mountains lies. Is it in the smitten flame once burning bright now relegated to a wisp of smoke; or is it the broken bone finally healed and longing to carry the weight of the world once again? I sit here in contemplation of daring dreams that once catered to an overt confidence; and also of memories, both real and pretend, which cling to a captivated and self-conscious awareness. And can I remind you of the incessant drumming of footsteps upon the earth, those that are barely noticeable in times of wonder and those that drag and stumble when the days are long?

I remember how the world smelled when I was a boy: dried grasses head high and dusty gravel roads and the desperate Orchard Creek winding its way over mossy rock toward Lake Ontario. With all of its glory the great lake crept out to the horizon, and the wet rocks it left behind along the shore smelled like rusted cans. In those days life was as simple as a rock skipping over a mirrored sunset, and Mom calling us in for dinner. As we washed the dirt from our faces, only the smiles and laughter of youthful naivete interrupted our benign existence. And then, like clockwork, the big maples would awaken and transform our streets into a parade of color: burnt pumpkin, hawkweed, canary, daffodil, and smoked syrup. The apples would fall, we would wrap our bodies in flannel, and, fast-forwarding through the long months of New York winters, we would dream again of spring. Thus, as each year passed and with it another hope banished or wish left unfulfilled, I awoke in a cold cabin near the end of Tigiwon Road in the heart of the Holy Cross Wilderness, wondering if I'd have the strength to endure another desperate spring.

In the mind of the intellectual, life eventually becomes less meaningful, as the struggle between acceptance and expectation wages constantly, until inevitably all that remains is an innate desire to live. In April of 2009, I made my way up to Half Moon Pass, down into the Cross Creek basin, and up the north ridge of Mt. of the Holy Cross. When my body failed 1,000 feet from the summit, my entire being sank into the snow, mind...body...soul...and I realized the mountain doesn't care about me; and I prayed for strength and found none; and I learned that the only person I can depend upon is me; and I quit my job days later. And in the three years that have passed since that moment, fond memories, like friendships, have faded; and the sweet smells of summer and the brilliant colors of autumn have vanished. Worst of all, I have forgotten how to laugh and to love and to care about anything.

As the white elephant mocked me, I vanished and left the world to itself. I walked many miles searching for meaning, not knowing whether to give in to the depths of my pain or to shake my fist one more time. The summits I attained included Mt. Emptiness, Mt. Loneliness, and Mt. Despair. And then my wife cried for me, desperate to help me find salvation. I drove into the broken horizon and found myself camped below Mt. Hope. For the first time in many springs I saw my shadow on the ground and realized I am real. I exist. I matter. And I climbed and climbed and ran home to open arms and a setting summer sun. And as the aspens yellow and the wind blows cool, life embraces me, and yesterday is a new day just as today, and I accept a new job in Washington DC--far from the Colorado mountains that I've come to accept and ultimately to love--and dream again of the coming spring.

And then I slay the white elephant.

Alone, I glide up the trail to Halfmoon Pass, race into Cross Creek, and sprint up the north ridge of Mt. of the Holy Cross, slowing only to prevent my heart from exploding. I rest and make conversation for 30 minutes on the summit and run back down, laughing to myself the entire way. This was never my intention, to race across the sacred mountain, but the farther I traveled and the further my retribution the more intent I became until I crested Halfmoon pass, in a sprint, and raised my arms in glorious victory. My white elephant is dead! I have killed her!

"And the gods go on, in spite of themselves; and the human road stretches out before us; and we walk, like wounded children, waiting for the strength to run." - Clive Barker, the last lines of Galilee.


08:00 am: Leave TH
11:30 am: Summit
12:00 pm: Leave summit
14:40 pm: Arrive TH

12 miles
5,600 feet elevation
6 hours, 40 minutes round trip including rests
2 liters of water

2009 Trip Report: Failure, in Many Ways, Equals Success

Climbing Holy Cross
Taking a Breather on the North Ridge

Holy Cross Ridge
Holy Cross Ridge and Beyond, taken from the Summit at 14,005 feet


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-4 of 4
Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - Sep 11, 2012 5:07 pm - Voted 10/10


Your writing is intense. Good luck in D.C.! -Sarah

Pete Castricone

Pete Castricone - Sep 11, 2012 5:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Pete

Thanks, Sarah!


BobSmith - Sep 11, 2012 6:31 pm - Voted 10/10

A few years ago...

I met a Colorado hiker while hiking to a summit in the Great Smokies. He had climbed most of the 14ers and I asked him which one was his favorite. Without pause he stated that Mount of the Holy Cross was at the top of his list. Just his all-around favorite hiking/backpacking area in general.

Pete Castricone

Pete Castricone - Sep 13, 2012 10:42 am - Hasn't voted

Re: A few years ago...

My 1st time was a giant wallow through deep snow. The 2nd, a blur. Still, I did take the time to recognize that this is a beautiful mountain and wilderness area. Cheers!

Viewing: 1-4 of 4