University High School
Instructor: Peter Millett
There was nothing. No sound of cars. No synthetic light. No hum of people. Only the ridge of snow and rock, and us. Shivering in my thick layers of down and wool, I was locked in. I turned around to see the rest of my group, all doing the same as me. The wind was forceful and steady on the exposed ridge, throwing snow up into the low-hanging clouds. Although the sun was covered, the bright snow acted as a mirror, directing all the sun's light into our eyes. After a moment, our group of five continued the walk toward the rocky scramble that lay ahead. This was the last step to the summit — the crux. We marched forward in single file, with Davis, a Nepali, in front, as the rest of us carefully matching his footprints. This is what I focused on. The simplicity of matching my boots with the footsteps in the snow is all I had in my mind.
"Are we ready?" Davis said, turning his head to the group. His rosy cheeks lifted in an anticipating grin. It was easy to feel the group's shared excitement. Nobody needed to say anything.
We were ready.
Davis turned back around and started up the ridge. I followed him closely, placing my dirty yellow boots lined with crampons on the rock and trying my hardest to match the placement of his ice ax with mine. We each only had one ice ax, only for stability, and the other hand was free.
After continuing up, I took a moment to turn around and look just to see the progress we have made and was overwhelmed by the sights that flooded in. Mountain goats feeding on the alpine grass, patches of snow and their melt streams rushing in between rock, and the clouds rushing like an ocean current just above us. I dropped my knees onto the ridge to steady myself more, as I decided to take more time to watch this authentic environment play out. Even though I was on the hardest part of my alpine ascent, I had no thoughts. It was the antithesis of three days before when I was rushing to board a ferry and meticulously packing my backpack with all the gear I needed. All the stress of modern living had been blown away by the continuous mountain wind. After a minute or two, I slowly stood back up, careful to stay balanced against the wind and the slope. It was clear that we would enter the clouds, a part of the climb that had been discussed before as very dangerous. We would need to stay within 2 feet of each other to not lose our direction and fall. The group had strung out on the climb, and Davis and I waited at a natural flat spot. Davis wore an old black down jacket layered over several other clothes. The jacket was taped in many places where sharp rock or ice had torn the thin fabric shell.
We continued up after reconnecting with the rest of the team. The pitch began to mellow out, a sure sign we were close to the summit. The ridge was thinning out on the left, making the rushing brown waters of the Chilkat visible. After a few more minutes, the top of the worn wooden sign indicating the top of the ridge was visible. The summit was small and exposed, but that did not matter. I was amazed at the landscape surrounding us, and I was amazed at myself. For the first time, I was deeply close to authentic life. I couldn't help but ask myself why I had worried so much about such trivial things. By allowing myself to simplify my circumstance, the apparent meaninglessness of how we live every day has become apparat. I am a student, a son, and a brother, but the simplicity of this natural world has shown me that above all, I am a human.
It is living that frightens humans, the idea that our decisions and our life is ours to make it. A guided existence is the most comforting and reassuring danger. I had felt the world dissociate at that moment, recognizing that I have not been giving a purpose by the world — even though that may soothe me. I can make my choice and face my consequences; I can accomplish great things, and relish in victory; I can make serious mistakes and must deal with the pain. This is the essence of being a human — to live, and not merely exist.