|The author on the summit of Mt. Hood.|
by Richard Schuler
The telescope on the back porch of the Mazama Lodge points directly at the summit of Mount Hood. You can watch climbers pursuing the summit. They seem as tiny black dots with legs. Just dark figures moving imperceptibly slow on a triangle of snow. One morning in early June, I watched such a group for a few minutes, and then I stepped back to the lodge to refill my coffee cup, and talk with friends. After a few minutes, I went back to the telescope. My eyes took a second to find the proper distance from the lens, but then there it was: the white triangle of Mt. Hood with the bright blue sky behind it, and the black dots of climbers. If I strained, I could see their microscopic feet taking one step after another. Upward, they went. The mountain was so huge, how could they even imagine such a task?
The cook rang the iron triangle and people came running. That sound meant, hot eggs, sausage, pancakes and fruit, but in the back of my mind, I thought about that climbing team. They should have been approaching the Old Chute. How terrified I was, when I looked up that wall of ice for the first time. Inside my rented mountain boots, I was shaken. I looked for any toehold, no matter how small. I struck the ice axe hard, and I struck it harder. Up I went. Soon, there was nothing to cling to, and I held on with the fangs on the front of my crampons and wondered if I had fastened them right. How far could a person slide under those circumstances, I wondered, five hundred feet, a thousand feet? It was far enough to die, that’s for sure. Three people on a rope climbed below me. They looked up with hopeful eyes, as if to say: keep going, don’t let me down, while one person urged me on from above. When I came to the top, it was by sliding on my belly, not striding like a lord.
When my plate was empty I hurried back to the telescope and searched for the climbing team. The face of Mt. Hood was empty. I looked left, and then right, even panned the telescope a bit, but could not find them. As far down the mountain as the trees allowed, I searched. Nothing. A movement at the top drew my eye, and there they were. The little team made it. They stood in a row, shoulder to shoulder, close enough to hold hands. Was one of them waving? As ridiculous as it felt, I waved back. Their triumph was my triumph. In a way, we were connected.
A second ring of the triangle drew my attention away from the mountain. This time, it was to announce jobs for the day. Mine was to build a traffic island in the drive behind the lodge. The first thing we did was to dismantle a border. The island had a row of stones perfectly aligned, forming a nearly perfect oval. It looked artificial because neatly defined border is the product of a human mind. Lines of contour on a topographic map, the boundaries of a national park, or a nation itself, are all imaginary. In nature, things blend into each other. Climb to the top of Mt. Hood and you will see it flow into Mt. Rainer, Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters. Climb as part of a team and you will feel your connection to others. This is why we do it. We climb, not just for that one moment on the summit, when the world slopes away in all directions, and the peaks all look like frozen waves, but to be a part of a team. It is as John Muir told us many years ago, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” I invite you to make this your mantra the next time you climb. It could be me on your belay rope, or I could be holding you. Are you ready? Climb on.