Eyes on the Ground

We’ll do an easy one.

Those were the words used to describe plans for a low-key mountain adventure and the intent to climb one of Colorado’s 14ers.  Believe it or not, there are easier 14,000 foot mountains than others, but those difficulty ratings depend on ideal conditions.

In 25 degree whiteout weather with 50 mph winds, however, nothing is easy.  At elevation, oxygen levels are much lower than at sea level where my red-blood-cell-depleted body makes its home.  It doesn’t matter how frequently you venture to these environments, unless you remain there, the effects of acclimation are always temporary.

In those conditions, the only thing that matters is now. Not the false summit. Not the place you made camp last night. Not the top of the mountain. Just now.

Your feet are heavy from stomping around in snowshoes or microspikes. The wind is blowing so fiercely toward you that your field of vision diminishes to the one-inch slit you’ve managed to leave after pulling every available drawstring on your layers.  You go to take a sip of water from your Camelbak only to find the tube is frozen solid.

Looking to the top of the mountain won’t help you.

It’s invisible anyway, but even if it weren’t, staring at it will only make you trip over something. The path up is pockmarked with post holes where previous hikers have punched through the powder. Boulders hide just beneath the white, waiting to trip you or break a toe. No, up won’t help. You have to keep your eyes on the ground.

It’s sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but sometimes the best way to get somewhere is to decide to go there… and then forget about it entirely. I believe in direction over destination, and once you’ve chosen which direction you want to go (in this case, up), the rest is just the work we have to do along the way.

So why keep your eyes on the ground?

Because with one eye on your destination, you only have one eye left to watch the path that’ll get you there.

Happy climbing, both physically and metaphorically.

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