For me to be fully content, I need to be on a mountain. I need to be watching birds float on the air currents above a valley. I need to smell the pine trees. Mountains have a certain smell that only appears when you’re perched precariously on a slope with the wind biting your nose and all you want is to curl up in your sleeping bag with hot chocolate, but you still have three more miles to go so you can’t even think about stopping, and must trudge on, one foot in front of the other, over and over, until suddenly you’re not moving uphill anymore. The wind is whipping and it’s a lot colder than it was two minutes ago, but you’ve made it to the top. You can see only mountains and snow and lakes for miles in any direction, and it’s beautiful, it’s grand, it’s wild. It’s something you’ve dreamed of day in and day out since you first clambered to the top of a mountain. Now, you can’t think of anything but getting out there again. You desperately want to trudge uphill for three hours, pushing your body to go just one step further. You’re hooked on the adrenaline rush that only comes when you’re almost at the top, and you practically run the final 100 feet to the peak every time.
Maybe only weird nature adrenaline junkies do that. I know I do. And backpacking for the first time in Swan Valley made me want to attempt snow camping. Hiking up a mountain covered in a foot of snow that was only supposed to have “a light dusting” made my nature geek come out. I couldn’t be happier fighting to make a trail in the snow, stepping in the footprints of the guy right in front of me because if I didn’t, I’d surely slip, slide right down the mountain. I’d be a human snowball. Who wouldn’t want to create little balls of ice between your ankle and the inside of the boot from snow and pressure that you can’t get out? Who wouldn’t want to have a snowball fight on a glacial moraine in October, where, if you look left, you see a valley between two mountains covered with trees and happiness, and if you look right, you see more mountains to explore, more places to climb, more bits of nature to wonder over? Who wouldn’t want to be happy?
I have just entered college, and getting older is stressful. Suddenly, I must take care of myself. I worry about what I’m doing for my summer. Find a job to gain experience, or go home to be with my friends one last time? I worry about my classes. What am I even trying to do with my life? Should I get a haircut before or after I go home? But in nature, I don’t worry. I climb until I can climb no more, and then I look around. I see where I’m at. I decide where to go next.
On a mountain, it’s easy. The path is there for you. You take it, you see where it goes, you end up somewhere amazing and remote. You’re away from people, you’re away from society, you’re away from your stress. Hike to relax. Climb a mountain to see a better view of the world. And maybe, if you climb high enough or hike long enough, you might see home. You might see the reason you’re here. You might find happiness. You might find peace. You might find true freedom. Or, you might find the trail.
The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project provides the opportunity to find the trail. It expands Wilderness areas, and I urge the Montana congressional delegation to support this effort.
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