The past month has been a whirlwind as usual, especially with the holidays. I’m not a holiday person, per se, but I’m usually finishing my annual film tour around the same time so there is still a transition for me. I made it back to Utah a few days before Xmas. It was perfect timing to disappear for a few days and decompress. On Christmas day I awoke early, before sunrise, and began the 3.4 mile trek to the summit of Grandeur Peak. This is a classic Wasatch hike that begins in Millcreek Canyon and takes a little less than two hours one way. I first did this hike when I moved to Salt Lake, around the time I was in junior high school. It is still one of my favorite mountain journeys in the area.
It was the perfect cold crisp December day I was hoping for and no crowds. I was the only one on the trail at around 7 am, trekking up the firm dirt trail covered in the remnants of old snow and leaves. There is something very unique about the woods and mountains. I have a feeling that I don’t have any place else in the world. It is a calm tempered by vigilance — especially when you can only see as far as the headlamp is shining. The sentiment has a life of its own. It is raw and stripped down, something I need to feel occasionally.
By the time I reached the main set of switchbacks the dim sky was beginning to change hue. The sun had yet to crest the high ridge lines to the east. I was eager to pick up the pace so I could summit and enjoy the warm rays by myself, far from the city and alone.
The altitude gain was noticeable. I had been in the Midwest of the United States only a week before, so my fitness was lacking but I didn’t care. Getting to the top as fast as I could was all I could think about.
I was only a short distance from the pinnacle when the glowing ball of fire peeked from between two peaks over my left shoulder. The slippery snow beneath my boots was both challenging and perfect. It added to the constant teasing of the trail to finish.
The final turn of the trail led me to a familiar spot. For a moment I was sixteen years old again. The rocks and trees timeless and unchanged from my memory. The pile of hard stone, where I always sit, was still there as always, inviting me to rest. I shed my sweater, the last heavy layer of warmth, as the sun took over and warmed me.
The silent city below me was the only reminder I needed to feel the peace and quiet I was seeking. One minute of pure quiet can recharge a soul instantly. My curiosity kicked in and I wandered around the small space where I was sitting in search of a small rock. I collect one every time I reach the top of a hike or a cool place that I’ve visited. It has become a ritual of sorts. Once I get back home I date and label these rocks with a marker to remind me of the day. Ethically it probably isn’t the best habit, taking rocks, but I’ve long justified my collection of metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary collectables.
While I was searching around for the perfect memento I noticed a small plastic bag beneath a couple of larger stones. The removal of the football-sized rocks revealed a bag full of small notebooks. I sat back down on my original mountain roost, where I had first arrived, to thumb through these mini novels of previous summit seekers. Each page was a glimpse into a different day, a previous year or personal memoir. The experience captured my attention for a good fifteen minutes. Each note was inspiring simply because people took the time to share a thought or two about why they had come here themselves. That meant something for me to see. I’m really not sure why — it just did.
The descent down the snowy trails was part skiing part sledding as I alternated from foot sliding to ass sliding. I laughed my way through the winding white pathways until the trail cleared and became dirt again. Then I ran. That’s a ritual too, running parts of the trail back to the bottom. There is no reason for doing this other than it has become part of what I do.
I’m not sure what the best part of hiking is. Is it the hike? Reaching the summit? The view?
For me, I don’t really know if one thing makes it amazing. And even if I could pinpoint one or two things, I probably wouldn’t take the time to fixate my endeavors on those things. I’m more in search of how I feel once it is all over and done with. What happens between the time I take my first step forward and my last step down is only a bonus.