Thoughts from the edge
If you’ve never done it, it’s easy. All you have to do is wake up one day and decide, “This isn’t enough.” You may be on a nice smooth path and abruptly decide it leads nowhere.
Then, like a caterpillar transforming, you seek complete metamorphosis. Your wife won’t understand. Your employer may fire you. You risk losing everything. But you instinctively want to fly instead of clawing around like worm-like larva. If you’re male, it’s natural. If you’re female, you can delight in the fact that many male butterflies get hit by speeding trucks.
I’ve been trail running for years and recently decided I was bored. I’ve raced hundreds of times the last 15 years and it just stopped being enough. Maybe it was the tiresome terrain of dirt-road “trail races” that finally got to me. Or the monotony of race preparations. Suddenly I was deep in the doldrums, and sought desperately to inject fresh life into living.
Then one day, as if the cocoon cracked open, I was camped at 13,000 feet watching the sunrise on El Diente at 14,159 feet. An old friend, Dennis Webb, was snoring in a tent nearby. Dennis was managing his own crisis by climbing the 100 tallest peaks in Colorado. He was guiding me to the summit of three 14ers, El Diente, Wilson Peak and Mount Wilson in trade for my partnership on Gladstone, which at 13,913 feet was less tall, but somewhat technical and a climb you shouldn’t do alone.
We backpacked several miles and summited Wilson Peak the first day, then camped on a saddle. A band of marmots took every chance they could to steal food at camp. They chewed holes in our packs and gear.
They ate hot-dog juice in the dirt though I threatened them with an ice axe. They, too, wanted something new, regardless of risk.
The next day, as we gazed up the bottom of a deep cleft couloir on El Diente, I remembered that I hadn’t climbed something this steep in 15 years. When I saw Dennis scrambling to gain footing on the steep-pitched, rock-hard snow with his ice axe, fear crept over me.
I traversed east seeking stable rock, but found myself exposed over a 200-foot drop. I topped it and reconnected with the couloir and Dennis higher up, but loose gravel, rocks and icy snow surrounded us. Large rocks rolled down the couloir below us as we climbed side by side, trying not to kill each other. We finally picked our way up the ridge to the top of the peak.