High On A Mountain Top

2007-07-28FlatTops 044

Today started off with hail.  Then rain.  Then something like snow.

The plan.  An off-trail route.  From the South Fork Lakes.  Up an alpine valley.  Over a ridge.  Across the great divide.  And eventually link up with Lizard Head Trail.  I knew this connection may not be possible.  But that is what makes an adventure an adventure.  After spending half the day climbing through wet marshes, solid granite rock faces, and large boulder fields, I finally reached the top of what I thought was my ridge.  When I peered over the top, my excitement was short-lived.  In place of my expected trail was a 1000 foot vertical drop.   Impassable.  I studied my map and compass.  This was not my ridge.  I was not where I thought I was.

Not the first time I’ve been off course.  Surely not the last.  But I was on top of the Continental Divide.  On the northern edge of world-renowned climbing destination, Cirque Of The Towers.  A beautiful sight to behold.  Magical.  I took in the majesty of the Cirque and the endless views of the Wind River Mountains.   But one thing rang true in the back of my mind.  I had a lot of backtracking to do.  For some reason, I just don’t like going backwards.  In life.  And in the backcountry.  It seems to me that you should always be moving forward.  Not back where you started from.

I needed a new plan.  I could hike back to camp.  Some 2000 feet of descending back to square one.  Admitting defeat.  Or I could traverse this ridge.  Cling to the edge of this rock in the sky.  And possibly, maybe, hopefully, with any luck, drop down to an area my map shows as Shadow Lake Basin.  This of course was completely uncertain.   Requiring both ascending and descending.  Over boulder fields, scree fields, and talus slopes.  But I would be moving forward!

I made up my mind to give it a shot.  And to head back if it got “too dangerous.”  I say “too dangerous” because, well, it’s all dangerous.  To some extent.  Backpacking is dangerous.  Climbing mountains is dangerous.  Going solo is dangerous.  Hell, driving here is dangerous!  But there is a point when risk outweighs gain.  And I feel I am a pretty good judge at knowing where that line is for me.

Another hour later, I arrived at the “new” ridge across the cirque.  I kept my fingers crossed as I looked over the other side.  Another steep drop off.  Sketchy.  But do-able.  There were ledges, cracks in the rock.  Spots where I would need to lower my pack down ahead of me.  But the lake basin was breathtakingly gorgeous!  Three nice alpine lakes in a row.  Emerald Green.  Perfect little spruce trees framing the third one.  A perfect camp with sprawling views.  2000 feet below.  I could pick my camp spot from here.  Home.  So I spent the next hour or so rock hopping, boulder climbing, scree scaling, tundra sliding, until finally arriving at my new destination.

The feeling inside of me while taking those final steps to the water’s edge were simply indescribable.  Failure had been turned into success.  Adversity into possibility.  A dead-end into a mere detour.  Perhaps I won’t be able to describe this experience fully, but after a day of uncertainty and clinging on to mountain sides, to finally accomplish my goal was cause for celebration.  As I strolled along these beautiful lakes, happy to be on flat ground again, about every song with the word Celebration rang through my mind.  You know what songs those are.  The cheesiest ones!  I sang my way back to camp with a feeling of victory.  This was to be my last night in this wilderness.  And what a grand entrance I had made.  Dropping down from a ridge that looks completely impassable from where I now sit.

It’s amazing what pops into your head at the end of a really good trip.  Grand thoughts!  Memories of childhood.  Family Thanksgivings.  My sweetheart.  Old friends.  Friends I haven’t talked to in ages.  Friends who have passed away.  It’s as if my life flashes before my eyes.  All of it.  Every little detail.  And it’s all quite beautiful really.  To have this experience of a Life Celebration.  It’s the kind of perspective on life that only peak experiences like this one can provide.  A feeling of pure ecstasy.  A high as high as I’ll ever know.  High on a mountain top.

“High on a mountain top.  Warm breeze blowing low.  Wonderin’ where the years of my life have gone.”  - Ola Belle Reed


Mother Nature provides.

She will take care of you.

Treat her with respect.

Ask her to show you the way.

And she will guide you.

But if you treat Mother Nature as something to be conquered.

Something to be tamed.

She does know how to fight back.

And she will.

But treat her with love.

Treading lightly on her soil.

Careful not to step on her flowering gardens.

And she will treat you with love as well.

And show you marvels beyond your wildest dreams.


- Scott Stillman.  If you would like to SUBSCRIBE to my blog, you can do so in the upper right hand corner of this page.  Thanks for reading.


High On A Mountain Top — 9 Comments

  1. What a delightful and nourishing recounting of what happens on the trail when you are alone in charint gyour course. And I am grateful for being able to share vicariously in your victorious experiences. Thank you.

  2. I love your views of nature. Wish I were young enough to enjoy them as you do, And thanks for sharing your wonderful trips.

  3. I KNOW I felt what you felt ~ even if it was just the tiniest bit. You say it so well. I read it over and over just so I could keep celebrating with you! Well done, Scott.

  4. Hi Scott! I really enjoy reading about your hiking adventures . I find myself looking at your photos and feeling the peace of nature. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  5. Hi scott! I really enjoy reading about your hiking adventures. The pictures take me away to a very peaceful state of mind. Thanks for sharing places I will never get to see in person.

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