My feet feel like they could fall off. The whole front part of my right foot has blisters deep inside the skin, most likely from a simple sock with some wrinkles in it. My toe is infected, and my fingers look like a rat gnawed at them for a good while.
Why you ask? Because I enjoyed the great outdoors. I left the confines of civilization and spent a week in the Wind Rivers region on western Wyoming.
The first day was a long 10 mile trudge with 50 pound packs to set ourselves up for a pass attempt the next day. The mosquitoes were awful, but the rain kept the temperature down so we could wear our clothes with impunity. The next day we attacked the ridge in the bitter cold bite of the extreme wind. Warmed by the sight of a beautiful teenage hiker girl in tight shorts, I ignored my pack and just powered on over to the valley beyond. The rock of the Wind Rivers is mostly granite carved by tremendous glaciers, leaving massive Cirques with thousand foot cliffs. The valley was filled with lakes, trees, and spectacular views of the surrounding cliffs.
My brother Ed recently had become quite fond of rock climbing and bouldering, so we spent a lot of time on boulders practicing moves. Despite slipping and scrapping both his shins bloody on the first rock he tried, he has never been one to heed caution and climbed every rock in sight on almost every day on the trip.
The fourth day was to take us up onto an 8 mile hike along a 12,000 foot ridge, the Lizards Peak trail. This wouldn’t be a problem if the clouds hadn’t been as black as tar, and we donned rain gear and sucked up the hail and water that the sky sent our way. We wandered into a random campsite on the other side, at the base of Lizards Peak. The peak rises 2000 feet of vertical as granite wall a quarter mile away. Its imposing presence made it hard to concentrate on much else.
The rain stopped, and for the rest of the trip the sky was spotless. We tried to climb Lizards peak, but we decided that the slanted slate walkway of 5 feet across strewn with loose pieces of rock that dropped into 1000 feet of death was just too much for one day. We settled with lunch looking at a massive glacier, one of the largest in the contigious US, although apparently not famous enough for me to remember its name.
Today we were going to take an easy day and just hike into the famous Cirque of the Towers, one of the most well known mountainous rock climbing areas in the US. Instead we hiked 14 miles out to the car and took a day early in getting home. The first sentence my brother said when we reached the car was, “Can I put on Chemical Brothers?”
One of my friends asked me why I climbed mountains or went hiking. He didn’t see the point. I can’t explain to him why it is spiritual to me, an atheist. I can’t explain to him how I feel like a god when I step out onto that pinnacle of rock that looks down on everything in sight. I can’t tell him that getting away from other people into a place where your very survival depends on smart behavior is invigorating. I can’t explain to him that when you are backpacking your friend isn’t the one who doesn’t stab you in the back. In the wilderness your friend is the one who gives you his shirt when you get wet and start to get cold. In the wilderness your friend is the one who carries your bed on his back because you are carrying his food. In the wilderness your friend is the one who guarantees your survival, where you depend on people with immediate consequences.
In the wilderness everything is more real. I felt alive.