When I was fifteen I took I NOLS course in Wyoming and hated nearly every day—in the beginning. I was skinny and short with bony hips that jutted out perfectly into the marginally-padded hip belt of my external frame hip pack. I got hip hickies within the first two days and had to cut giant doughnuts of Styrofoam out of my insulite pad to protect the scabs. This in turn made my feet get cold when I was sleeping, which was exacerbated by a leak in the tarp over my head in a rainstorm… It was miserable.
And then it was fine. Better than fine. It was phenomenal. I woke up on day nine to nothing but rain and was happy. It was just that simple. Had it gotten bad enough that it had to be good? Had I finally just given in to the experience? I have no idea.
Like an amnesiac lover I return to the high peaks every year and skeptically appraise their shadowy faces and hidden chimneys. Yesterday I did this on the southern flank of Flattop Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Sixteen years into a life in the mountains and I watch my reactions still. Others learn faster. But I keep going back. There was wind and snow and my hip hurt but I was there instead of rock climbing in Eldorado Canyon in the 70-degree weather in Boulder. And I’m going back tomorrow for more.