Dec 2, 2016
By Thea Wingert
Adventure Hiking in the Majestic Rocky Mountains
I can’t say for sure when the first time I laid eyes on them was, but the Rocky Mountains have always featured in my life. They grace the provincial flag, appear on the currency, were a frequent locale for family vacations and could be perceptible from a distance on a clear day from my prairie home. Their seemingly effortless dominance over the landscape and tendency to be draped in clouds inspired a sense of wonder in me like nothing else. I recall one camping trip where my father and I rode an ATV up the side of a mountain. Fluffy white clouds lingered around the mountain’s neighboring peaks so I asked him if he would drive me to the top. Once there, I thought I might be able to stretch my arms up and climb on top of one. Then I would be free to see the world as clouds may float away to wherever they please.
Since then, I have chased the top of mountains and I still recall the joy of one of my first Rocky Mountain summits. My friends and I had headed to the mountains for a camping trip as a sort of sendoff before my upcoming semester abroad in France. Fall was fast approaching and cold hung in the air as we set out that morning. With daylight working against us, the more experienced hikers in the group urged me to begin our climb post haste. With that we winded our way through thick spruce forest, passing the time with laughter and small talk. My lungs and legs grew tired as it took hours to break tree line and make our way up the long scree slope toward the ridge where the summit lied.
The skeleton of an ill-conceived tourist attraction proved to be a welcome place to take a break before the summit push. Inside the abandoned tea house we lit a fire and talked about our dreams for the future. Staring into the flames we agreed that we all saw more hard won summits and even greater adventures in our futures. Inspired, I scribbled “On this peak, we are free” on a beam near the roof of this incomplete structure. Sensing some urgency to make the most of the daylight, we continued up the steep, rocky slope and reached the spiny ridge that would take us to the summit.
I hesitated at the sight of the ridge. On one side of it, the world seemed to drop off into infinity. A fall in that direction would certainly mean an untimely end. Even still, as dangerous as it was, the desire to stand on a peak and reach for the clouds pulled me slowly over the ridge. Taking a cue from one of the more experienced hikers in the group, I dropped to my knees and inched along the narrow ledge toward what I hoped was the finish line.
A cairn marked a small rocky outcrop which made up the summit that could barely fit all of us and a friend stretched out his hand, helping me to my feet. As the group arrived we carefully embraced each other, thrilled for having made it to the top of this mountain. From this perch, towns were reduced to specks, highways were all but lines drawn in the sand and the place from where we started our hike seemed like another universe. Nearby peaks stood in solidarity with us, but the clouds were so distant and served as a reminder that as far as we had gone, there was so much more ahead of us. In this moment I realized that we had each only begun to climb our mountains and that our potential was as endless as the blue sky that stretched before us. More summits and passport stamps awaited us, as well as love and heartbreak. We would learn, grow, build careers and families, form new friendships and carve out little portions of the world to call home. All of this was clear to me from where we stood. At that moment, on that peak, we had never been freer.
Years later, I still find my freedom in the mountains. There is freedom in breathing thin, lightly spruce-scented high elevation air. There is freedom in knowing that putting one foot in front of the other is all it takes to reach your goals. And above all else, there is freedom to be found in standing on a peak and looking out above the rest of the world.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence 2016 Travel Writing Award and tell your story.
About the Author
Thea is an experienced traveler and has been collecting summits and passport stamps for as long as she can remember, who blogs at Zen Travellers. Her home is near the Canadian Rocky Mountains which provides plenty of diversions between international adventures.