We always came back to the mountain, and the mountain was always waiting.
With her broken paths and torn underground, dense fog listened - and the wind called back.
Tiny buds of color sprout along the hillside and tress wrestle their roots deep.
Where she is perched above, and where I dream to go.
The mountain was always waiting.
/ / / /
It’s difficult to ignore her, and I find myself in tears marveling at her massive beauty when she comes out from behind the clouds. Mt. Rainier or “Tahoma” towers at 14,411ft and is easily Washington’s most sought after landmark. Growing up I visited the park multiple times a year and began hiking more seriously around the age of seventeen. I made the decision to climb the mountain in 2015, with a summit goal by my twenty-fifth birthday. My mother missed the summit by three hundred feet when she was twenty-three - but in my book she made it, not to mention she climbed Baker and Adams that same Summer. I wanted to follow her legacy up there.
Once there was a solid plan for my summit attempt training began, and I realized my dream of standing on top was not fueled by the desire to prove I could do it. Rather, I saw it as preparation for all the mountains I would encounter in life. If I was going to make it to the top I could only bring myself, there was no space in my pack for doubt. I just needed myself, and with each step and inhale I would name a burden - with every exhale I would release, leaving it on the mountain - to stay.
August 7th 2015
I left home at 4:30am and my dear friend Steve drove me to Paradise (5,400ft). Steve didn’t complain once that I played the same song over, and over, and over. Hans Zimmer’s score from Interstellar was my jam that morning and to this day I’m convinced it’s the only reason I didn’t jump out of the car and run back.
Once I started hiking to Camp Muir my mom’s voice echoed in my memory, “pace yourself Bug”. That “night”, and by night I mean 5pm, I snuggled myself into my sleeping bag at Camp Muir (10,080ft) and cried. I cried silently until I finally slept, only to be awakened by the sound of rock shredding off of a nearby cliff, barreling down into what they call the “beehive”. I cried more. At 10:30pm a flashlight in the face woke me and I began layering my clothing on, choked down some oatmeal and made one final stop at the “bathroom”. I shed my final tears alone in the dark and I prayed, “God, I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m too afraid, the others don’t need me, and I’d be perfectly fine trying again next year”. I’m reminded of Psalms 121 at that moment.
“I lift my eyes to the mountain, where does my help come from? My help comes from The Lord, maker of heaven and earth”
I walked out of that bathroom and roped on to my team. Doubt was the first thing I left behind. My doubt lives at Camp Muir - and my pack is lighter.
Counting sets of “fifty”, I placed one foot in front of the other matching my breath to every step. And hour after hour I tackled each demon that threatened my journey - to the peak. I left my fear of life’s uncertainties at the Disappointment Cleaver (10,500ft). When walking over snow ladders suspended over crevasses, I repeated the mantra from the Little Train That Could, “I think I can, I think I can” I walked, climbed, crawled, over rock and released my many burdens; to prove something to myself.
If I can make it to the top, I can handle anything life throws at me.
I summited the morning of August 8th 2015, and proved to myself that I’m capable of conquering any challenge. When my boots landed on the official highest point called “Columbia Crest”, my first emotion was disbelief. I did it, I really did it. I was standing on the peak that captured my heart as a child. I stared at the blue sky trying to escape through the whipping clouds and just sobbed - I didn’t want to go down. I wanted to stay up there and savior the moment. My name is now in the “summit book” that is chained to a boulder. I and left words for my mother, father, and now husband, Scott. I also left any doubts about my ability to face life’s toughest challenges - and then I began my descent.
My journey was full of drama and challenges as many of my close friends know. The man roped behind me suffered from altitude poisoning, which placed him and the rest of us in harm’s way. I consider myself blessed to have met this man, he pushed me to my limit and I think my encouraging words helped him off of the mountain alive.
To quickly summarize for you, a typical summit attempt should take around five to seven hours. We took nine and a half. A descent back to Muir should take four to five hours. We took seven. Once back at camp Muir, I face planted onto the floor of the ranger station. The ranger radioed down to find my mother and Scott at Paradise. I knew my mom would be close to cardiac arrest at this point and I was frantic to begin my final push down. After hallucinating twice (not that rare), and getting lost due to exhaustion I found myself at Pebble Creek (7,200ft). It was now 9:30pm and there in the darkening light I saw Scott standing there - waiting for me. He had hiked up to that point two times that day, looking for me. He changed my socks, forced Gatorade into my system and told me to keep moving. We hit a thick fog and lost power to my headlamp. My mother being the woman she is, had given Scott her phone to use as a backup light. I challenged Scott’s directional ability the entire time, he said he wanted to stuff a sock in my mouth. I wouldn’t blame him, I was absolutely delirious.
I’ll never forget the sight of the Paradise lodge that night. I saw my mother’s silhouette surrounded by yellow and orange light. I yelled out to her so she would know I was okay, “Oh! thank God!” she called back. She took my face and practically screamed, “I am so proud of you”.
/ / / /
Everyone has a “Summit”. I would so love for you to find yours and tackle it full on. Reach for the top of dreams you have and in that process release the heavy burdens that are a disservice to your life.
The way is small and narrow, and only you can fit up the path. Your burdens can’t come with you, I’m sorry, I know it’s painful.
It’s one step, matched to one breath - a thousand times over.