“I piss on you all, from a considerable height.” (Louis-Ferdinand Celine)
The photo to the left is of one of the hardest walks we ever did, somewhere in Italy. It is not that it is a great distance or steep climb – most of us could accomplish this and recover quickly. The problem was this: I placed an orange arrow at the very top of the mountain we had to ascend. Though hard to see, it is Rifugio Lagazuoi, seen above. It is a mountain hotel, where we would be staying in that night. We could see it, and over the entire walk that followed, it never left our sight. It also never seemed to get bigger. This is what made the hike so difficult, a psychological sense that we were not making any progress.
As the photo to the right indicates, we did eventually make it to our destination.
I wish at the outset here to separate myself from men and women who climb mountains. Maybe in another life I will deal with ropes and gadgets designed to suspend people at high altitude, as from the Half Dome or North Face. I have climbed, that is, jumped from rock to rock on minor hills and mountains, pulling myself up, losing fingernails, and I must say it was invigorating. Now, at age 71, I stay on trails. I have never used a rope, helmet, harness in any “mountain climbing” sense, and a carabiner only to suspend a water bottle from my belt or bird feeder from a wire on our property. You magnificent people who do that, go away. This is not written for you, who might echo Monseur Celine above about our efforts.
This essay is about climbing, but only in the “unrelenting uphill” sense. Yesterday my wife and I set out to do a very manageable feat, climb Mt. Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s more achievable “fourteeners.” We didn’t even set out to climb it, and skipped the last 200 feet, so our our vertical rise is a lousy 2,191 feet as opposed to summiting after climbing over rocks and boulders for the last 200 feet. She wanted to see how difficult the stream crossing was … the hike starts out with a mild one-mile descent to a creek, and then the climbing begins. We got there, and more out of denial of aging and without words, kept going until we reached the saddle, the place where we look down on the other side. From there, people tackle the final 200 feet. Today, the spirit did not move us so.
We do not “climb” mountains. We walk uphill for prolonged periods, but on trails provided by generations before us. We are not of the class that uses helmets and harnesses. I wish for no pretension. The walking is hard for beginners, ascents that are “f****** unrelenting”, as I told a daughter in a cell phone call from a trip up Mt. Baldy in the Bridger Range of Montana. (It is not unusual at high elevations to have cell reception.) In those days our vertical ascents were often in the 3-4,000 range. Mt. Blackmore, in the Gallatins, was 3,500. Baldy, Saddle Peaks, in the Bridgers, were 3,500 plus. Today we look on Bierstdadt, at 2,100 plus as a challenge. Elephant Head in the Absorokas was 3,500 feet, the last 1,500 on talus slope, often on all fours. That was tough.
My first experience at climbing was in my early thirties, Granite Peak, the highest mountain in Montana. Seen to the left and from the north, its beauty is stunning. Most people approach it from the south, arriving at a high point and crossing the jagged ridge to the left. For reasons that I do not recall, the four in our party that day opted to approach from the north, by means of Mystic, Crystal and Avalanche Lakes, the latter two seen in the photo. While it seems an easier hike, that route required crossing a large boulder field, not an easy task, and costing me a fingernail (I placed my hand in a crack in a boulder, and as I pulled myself up, my weight caused the crack to close on my fingers.)
At that time Granite Peak had a snow bridge that had to be crossed before the final ascent, seen to the right. The orange arrow indicates the point at which I stopped and waited for Steve (not our writer here), who crossed the bridge and attempted to climb the peak. He only made it fifty feet or so, as the final ascent up Granite is a technical challenge, requiring ropes and hooks, helmets and more courage than I possessed.
The trip back to our base camp was in part a treat. We glissaded down a glacier, sliding on our rain jackets. It was a scary proposition for me until I learned that I had excellent control using my feet. You can see that glacier right under the “U” in the two peaks in the photo left and above. In those days I carried a small metal cup that hooked to my belt, as as we traveled that day I was able to sip the ice cold water of runoff … delightful. That night, back at our base camp (after again crossing the boulder field), we were greeted by a mountain storm, perhaps two inches of hail piled around our tent. It was on this trip that I learned the meaning of tired, and of exertion. Those who climb mountains for real know of this, and I experienced for the first time on this trip, physically challenged to the point where I wanted to quit, having no option but to keep going. I was exhausted, but to quit was impossible. This is the essence of what mountain climbers do. In my next life, I am going to climb mountains, not duck around at their base. I have not done enough of what really matters. I know this.
It was trips like that that gave me the bug. I wanted to be in the mountains, maybe not scaling the high peaks, but at the very least, going on long treks and testing my endurance.
On my office wall I keep a photo of Steve, which I framed while I was still grieving his death. It was a photo I took of him in Yellowstone, on the Blacktail Deer trail in the northern section of the park. Amateur photographer that I was, I took the shot because I thought it appropriate that Steve be seen next to a lone tree, somehow symbolic of his status in life. He was not a loner, but was a man who did many things in solitude because no one cared to join him … except me when I could. He would often go on long backpacks by himself, the group of friends he and I knew more inclined to boats and beer. Around the photo I wrote down every trip he and I did together. Steve died by his own hand in 1998. I was devastated.
My hiking partner is now my wife, and we have many trips ahead – if I ultimately take the vaccine. I see little alternative if we are to continue to be hiking buddies. Of course we are slowing down in our seventies – I was surprised to find that our hikes in Montana were far more difficult than those in Colorado, given its famous “fourteeners”. Granite Peak above, the highest in Montana, is 12,799. It is a grueling ascent from all directions. Mt. Elbert in Colorado, the state’s highest at 14,440 feet, is a much easier climb, a “walk-up,” as we say. The vertical ascent is 4,390 feet, and there are two false summits before arriving at the top. It’s a long day, but not technical in any way. The times we have climbed it (twice) have seen many people on the trail, most annoying those damned young kids passing us and wearing sneakers.
If by chance you are in Montana, I suggest a hike to Pine Creek Lake, not a mountain, but a five-mile 3,500-foot climb along a creek to a beautiful waterfall and lake. It was an annual event in our group of friends in Bozeman. It is accessed via Highway 89 through Paradise Valley and Livingston.
If you are in Colorado and are interested in climbing a “fourteener,” Bierstadt is accessed via Guanella Pass off Highway 285. The photo to the right was taken yesterday from the parking lot. You walk through a long and somewhat flat trail through willows, and no surprise, it is not unusual to see goats and moose. Although it appears a mild hike, and by fourteener standards it is, be prepared for a very steep ascent as you climb the mountain just under the orange arrow. Because it is several miles distant, the photo does not show the difficulty. And, as always in Colorado, start out early to avoid afternoon showers, perhaps lightning as well.
Our first trip up Bierstadt was in 2011, on a weekend. On arriving at the summit, I counted 130 other people there, with us having the honor of being the oldest. There was a pug running around up there, though I assume he made the trip in someone’s backpack. But that told me the hike was both popular and manageable by all ages and species.
As I mentioned above, we are uphill walkers, not mountain climbers. The key to it all is a manageable pace with few rest stops. I know if I attempt to speed up a climb, I am often winded, and at the end of the day, far more tired than I would be if I simply managed a slower pace and kept it up.
I invite everyone to enjoy the outdoors as we have done our entire adult lives. Being “in shape” is a gradual thing, so that if you don’t feel quite ready, proceed in small increments, gradually building up endurance, until you are ready for more challenging hikes. That process can take a few years, but they will be fun years. The key to enjoying the mountains is being in shape and able to enjoy them. If you are fatigued and dreading the return trip, you are probably overextended.
19 thoughts on ““… from a considerable height.””
Mark, I hiked part of Beer City back in Oct, 2017. We were visiting a pal in Denver who suggested we do it as it is the “easy” 14-er. As can be typical in the Front Range for October, we arrived to high 70s and sun, and after two days, awoke to snow! So, Bierstadt it was. We walked across the duckboards (?) and began the climb, but time was short due to a delayed departure, so we only went part-way up. Still, it was an amazing day for us.
This was a lovely post, btw. To be still walking in nature at 71 says a great deal. Congrats!
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Would you like to do The Camino? Spain is currently open with no requirements whatsoever.
Basque country near France border to Western Coast of Spain.
650 miles overland.
Its one of those epic treks of a lifetime.
On foot? Yes, on foot. I think its mostly overland and not Alpine.
Think of it as a human physiological “reset”.
What else anyone got going?? Work?? Lol 🙂
I would like to do that, I would like to climb Kilimanjaro, do the coast of Portugal, maybe the Toure de Monte Blanche again (sp) but I cannot deny the aging process. It is happening even as I run from it. It is so slow and trickling that we do not often acknowledge it, but now and again I run up against where I am versus where I was. Granite Peak, even without the ascension to the top, no way. I think we can do Pine Creek Lake again, maybe this August. But at a certain point I have to acknowledge, Father Time, you got me, man.
Do I contract again, or say F It and go solo…that is the question.
Company, and good company, is what makes a trek 🙂
You know that.
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El Camino is a religious pilgrimage for some, and I know Martin Sheen made that movie. We talked to one guy who did it, his most prominent memory wineries that had spigots on posts to refill water bottles. Man, if I did that, no way would I carry on. Alcohol and hiking are not compatible for me. Anyway, too long, too hot, too old, me, that is.,
Most people balk at a 650 mile trek.
Yet their $15.99 cheap ass Walmart shoes carry them 650 miles or more.
Its all mental, less physical.
If one has a spiritual event, great…why the Hell not?!?! 🙂
Better than watching TeeVee 🙂
We live in the mountains for a reason … I do not like flat, I do not like heat. So too my wife … so we “climb” mountains, which is refreshing, tiring, even exhausting, and invigorating at once. Some German people we met on a tram in Northern Italy suggested we avoid the Black Forest and do a walk through German wine country. It is flat, hot, and I cannot drink while exerting … very unappealing. This as you suggest is a 650 mile journey. It’s a massive time commitment, and what, pray tell do we do if on day one we decide we’d rather be in the Alps?
So Mark you’re ready to get the shot to keep on travelling around the world and go hiking? No fight, just surrender?
I travelled a lot in the past, I had my experiences, I enjoyed them a lot, now I’m done for good. I’m 50.
Should I get vaxxed to get on a plane and go somewhere in the world to see the local vaxxed zombies?
Not a chance.
I’m no longer giving my money to anyone supporting this madness, I actually hope the entire world finally collapses.
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Yeah… Um… What the fuck just happened here? The most bizarre throwaway line I’ve ever read on this blog, and that’s saying something. Thanks Anna for calling out the elephant.
And vaccination is not yet a prerequisite for international travel guys. It’s unlikely to ever be. Don’t give up. Just recognise the hard sell for what it is: an offer, one full of sound and fury maybe, but not one with any persuasive force.
I am waiting to see how it affects people who have done it, for real. The Spanish guys say that he graphene will light up with 5G and people will start dying off. I find that hard to swallow, simple mass murder can be achieved in so many other ways. More likely we are robotic, and will be tracked at all times, even our spending just the result of a scan of our bodies. If vaccination is not a requirement for international travel, I will avoid it. If it is, I’ve got a problem, step-daughter in Africa now buying a place in France … wife needs to see her, and I cannot just say to wife hey, our traveling days are done. She did the shots, and has been totally unaffected, so far … Understand? If we were not international travelers, there would be no issue. It is an internal conflict, so don’t preach. You say you’re giving it all up at age fifty? That was the age when I came alive. These prospects are not easy decisions.
The only thing I’ve definitely given up at 50 is the idea that mankind is an intelligent species that has anything good to offer to this planet.
And quite honestly, reading your comment I’m surprised our civilization has lasted this long.
Ban me if you will. Good luck.
Banning is such humiliation and insult. Why would I do that to you? Because we are not seeing eye-to-eye?
Some soft-sell propaganda from the NY Times this morning, explaining why formerly “vaccine-hesitant” folks have been brought into the fold:
“1. Seeing that millions of other Americans have been safely vaccinated.
2. Hearing pro-vaccine messages from doctors, friends and relatives.
3. Learning that not being vaccinated will prevent people from doing some things.”
The Times proceeds with the soft-sell, showing us how, in spite of the “debate”, common sense returns to some…..and even how this happens in a “non-partisan” way, and across cultural divides! Yay!
“There is now a roiling debate over vaccine mandates, with some hospitals, colleges, cruise-ship companies and others implementing them — and some state legislators trying to ban mandates. The Kaiser poll suggests that these requirements can influence a meaningful number of skeptics to get shots, sometimes just for logistical reasons.”
“Hearing that the travel quarantine restrictions would be lifted for those people that are vaccinated was a major reason for my change of thought.” — a 43-year-old Black Democratic man in Virginia
“To see events or visit some restaurants, it was easier to be vaccinated.” — a 39-year-old white independent man in New Jersey
“Bahamas trip required a COVID shot.” — a 43-year-old Hispanic independent man in Pennsylvania
And in other important related news, the Times informs us that:
“-Indonesia is the pandemic’s new epicenter, with the highest count of new infections.
-After Los Angeles County reinstated indoor mask requirements, the sheriff said the rules were “not backed by science” and refused to enforce them.
-The American tennis star Coco Gauff tested positive and will not participate in the Tokyo Ol…”
My dilemma: I have 26 years with my partner, not just husband and wife, but a life of devotion to one another. I know there is a tendency to romanticize ordinary relationships, and that most couples simply tolerate one another. Ours is not like that, and that is all I can say. I do not want to give that up for sake of stubbornness. And yet I know the vaccine is the overall objective of the fake pandemic, something so important to the rulers that they are pushing it not just with great force, but with a mighty push using everything they own, the media, the stars, science, and social coercion. What to do? What to fucking do?
There is no actual problem here. Man himself causes the problems by respecting the artificial title of ________ (fill in the blank). No (fake/man-made) rule could be formed without respect for the title — the skill never needs the title to create action. No title can stop a man from acting, unless man believes in the title and its imaginary power and authority. In reality, most of our “problems” would not exist if man didn’t respect the false (man-made) law behind the title. And behind each title is “the lawmaker,” or a false God. A hierarchy built upon belief and fancy titles. No title, no (artificial) problem.
Man-made problems are designed to distract us from respecting truth (perfection, which can never be “fixed” with more lies) and laws of nature (God). See how the lies are stacked high, now reaching to the edge of “space.” However, the converse is always true: Truth can remedy/eliminate lies.
Mark, I feel you. The controllers are fabricating a life in which basic freedom (in the sense of interacting with the world at large) is impossible. If I remain true to myself, and insist on my natural right to freedom, and my natural right to protect the health of myself and loved ones, and to stand outside the pen of medical tyranny…I have been quarantined.
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do anybody here know anybody who died due to the vaccine? I don’t. I know lot’s of people who got the second jab and all complaint that the second was worse than the first so maybe the first was to trap the people into the second one. Yet still all side effects they have are not different to other vaccines. Some get weak, get some muscle pain, get dizzy, get some fever and lie in bed for a day or two. That’s the usual side effects of getting a mildly poison jab. The body has to get rid of the poison which causes some symptoms, then there is the pychosomatic head factor. I don’t think this vaccine is more dangerous than others. Graphene, nano particles, etc. may be just rumors spread on purpose. Also they always serve fear on both sides. I don’t know any country where they really force people to vaccinate themselves. All I read there is rumors and gossip. What to do Mark? Don’t fear and be patient. The next hoax is about environment. In Germany they recently opened some dams flooding some small towns claiming some people died due to heavy rain caused of course by climate changes. In reality the opened the dams after the rain and flooded valleys on purpose causing lots of damage and exaggerating it vastly on media. The usual. The corona narrative is on both sides now focusing on the coming election. They also make politicians look like idiots now. I don’t get it yet. Remember the mantra of public relations: you can fool a lot of people for a long time. Let’s focus on those people.