“You cannot fall here, you cannot fall here.” I repeat this in my head as I traverse along a steep slope at 10,000 feet on Mt Hood. Plunging my ice axe and kicking my crampons with the purpose of someone who is trying to avoid death, which to me seems about right in my current situation. A few hundred feet below me is a sulfur fuming, rocky outcropping. Evidence that Mt. Hood is still very much a volcano, and would be down to roast me. Luckily, my feet have been numb for the past few hours, so I am able to kick into the slope without much regard for my toes. This explains the frostbite I would find later.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” This quote by T.S. Elliot resonates strongly with me, and to some degree I would like to think explains some of my trips into the mountains. I have never attempted to summit a mountain like Mt. Hood, and while I strongly believe there is a fine line between acceptable risk and being a dumbass, at some point I feel the need to step towards uncertainty. After all, uncertainty is one of the foundations of adventure right? If the outcome of an adventure was always certain, and a safe return guaranteed where would the excitement be? Sorry mom. On this particular day we headed out into what we considered the unknown, and were rewarded with a glorious summit above a sea of clouds.
In retrospect, climbing Mt. Hood was by no means “going too far,” but more importantly, we were willing to take that risk. Naturally, after a successful trip I tend to raise the bar for what I consider pushing it too far. Luck, skill, overconfidence, call it what you will, but I am pretty sure no one ever beat a hard level in a video game and thought, “Sweet! I wonder what easier shit I can beat!” Nope, typically you prance your way to the next level and get your ass kicked. In my case the next level was Mt. Rainier, where at 13,000 feet, in a storm, ass thoroughly kicked, I came to the realization that just maybe we had pushed it too far.
T.S. Elliot might have been onto something, but I’d be willing to bet when he made that bold statement he wasn’t on a mountain that was trying to eat him. However, the dude lived in a time when the common cold killed people on the regular, so I can cut him some slack. One thing that has not changed is that we all have an untapped potential in life, whether that’s in the mountains or not. The only way we can truly reach this potential is with the willingness to step outside comfort zones, take a leap, and even risk going too far. Only then can we see how far we can go.