Destination: St. Mary Peak, Bitterroot National Forrest, Above the center of the Three Posts
I am walking to the mountaintop. Yes, I’m walking but only after driving most of the way. I follow the zigzag path through trees struggling against rocky outcroppings and boulders that increase as I climb. At this elevation, the trees are stunted versions of the mighty ponderosa pines farther down the mountainside. The air grows thinner and my breathing more labored. Will the struggle be worth what I find at the top? My footsteps slow as the grade increases.
The trees become mere shrubs until I come to the last of them. Beyond this point, the rocky outcroppings and boulders have won. I trudge onward, my eyes on the path ahead. Occasionally I lift my gaze. Boulders and sky are all I can see as though it goes on like this forever. But I have been told the end will justify the means, that the climb will be rewarded.
No one is forcing me to make this journey. It would be easy to turn back and walk a path that offers no elevation gain, no stones which seem to be precisely positioned to catch the toes of my boots. Why did I pick the trail less traveled? Is the absence of companions along this way an indication that I have not chosen well? I settle down onto a boulder and sip from my water bottle. The only water I see around me is in the form of snow and ice in shadowed pockets.
I rise to my feet and look back down the trail from where I have come. It is a fight against my will to turn back uphill and resume the journey. What I see is in stark contrast to the promise I was given. I see no breathtaking panoramas, only the climb, rocks and sky. The temperature drops. The wind increases. I stop and pull a jacket from my backpack. Is it enough?
Approach to the Summit of St Mary Peak, Bitterroot National Forrest
I finally come to a place where the path disappears ahead of me as it begins to level out, but when I arrive the climb goes on, less steep, but it goes on. Resentment rises when I realize the deception. My legs and lungs burn with bitterness. The grade continues to diminish. Hope rises with the caution of a frightened chipmunk emerging from a hole after the fox has given up the chase. One foot in front of the other is all I can manage, or I would break into a run for the summit.
I stand on the highest point. I have earned the distinction of being on top of the world. At least from here, ten thousand feet seems to be as much. I can see into the canyons nearby. The mountainside is sheer to where stone meets forest and a lake shines at its center like a jewel. The peaks rise and fall into the distance until two thousand square miles of wilderness overwhelm me. The sun’s rays highlight the stone and glisten on ice in contrast to the dark crevices and deep shadows.
I recall the climb as if it were a distant memory and am reminded of the words of a wise man.
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
I feel as if I have just been born into a new world.
But the trail waits. The waning sun flirts with the most distant peaks. I will go back to my daily life with new hope for myself and the world from which I am inseparable. We must keep struggling and climbing until one day we reach that place of reward where beauty and peace stretch out in every direction like a sun-bathed mountain wilderness.
In remembrance of the victims of the recent Florida shootings.