Sep 5, 2011

Climbing a mountain...

Several weeks ago (already!!!!) I went to Canmore for a yoga retreat hosted by a friend.  I posted about some of the goings on before but I still wanted to say a little about climbing the mountain.

It was on the itinerary- this hike.  I was fully aware that this would be happening.  Aware in the way that you know what the words mean.  Just not what they mean exactly.  On the itinerary was a note to dress in layers for the hike and be prepared for all weather.  Here I am without such said outdoor mountaineering layers, but I figured that I could just see what the weather was before we left, and dress accordingly.  No biggie, right?  We'll see how the logic born of my innocence comes back to haunt me!

Lunches and water bottles packed, weather checked and convoy arranged, we headed out to a trail somewhere near Spray Lakes.  The drive itself took us through some stunning scenery and we parked at one of many nondescript dip-to-the-side parking spots along the lake.  To the left was the lake- that special glacier blue that never fails to take my breath away!  To the right a mountain loomed overhead, covered with thick, impassable brush.  I took in the scenery and tried to discern where along the lake the trail would lead.  No matter where we went, the sights were guaranteed to be stunning!

Imagine my surprise when we were led across the road into what I had previously assessed as impassable brush and vegetation.  It was agreed that we would hike the first portion in silence, contemplatively.  Reverently too, I thought-  impossible not to in a place like this. Once we crossed the road, the trail became apparent and we were off!

The first 5 minutes or so were lovely.  All up, of course, but the trail was comfortable to walk on. We were surrounded by interesting sights and a deep silence that made me feel my smallness magnified.  Yet not in a daunting way; there was a strange power in that feeling.  I may be small, but I am here.  I may be small, but I make ripples in the world.  I may be small, but I am climbing this mountain.

After the first 5 minutes the trail got tougher and a dim realization started to filter through haze to conscious thought.  I am not climbing this mountain with normal people.  I am climbing this mountain with what could possibly be described as centaur-people cleverly disguised as normal people.  I recalled an earlier conversation where one of the members talked of her love of climbing mountain trails and how she made a bit of a competition with herself to make sure no one passed her on her hikes.  I began to struggle, and fell behind a bit.  Okay.  I realized I would have to take this at my own pace and not try to keep up with the centaur-people.  Nor did I want to spoil their enjoyment of the climb with worry for me.  A mental battle ensued amongst myself for awhile...  I trudged along, alternating between feelings of scorn for myself for not being able to hike up a mountain as quickly as the others and a determination to be forgiving of my self and my inexperience.

I am not sure how much longer we had been hiking, but at this point I was quite far behind and had been passed by a few other groups.  Maybe mere minutes, or quite possibly it was decades but I realized that I might not make it all the way to the top!  I sat down to rest.  And the inner dialog stopped.  I became aware of where I was.  I really started to take in the magnificence of this half-mounted mountain.  And a curious sense of peace settled over me along with the depth of the solitude there on the mountainside.  I started to 'get' why people were passionate about this sport.  I started to sense the great truths that live among those silent, solitary trees.

I sat and closed my eyes.  I listened to the call of birds in the distance, the gentle rustling of a breeze in the canopy, the lulling drone of insects going about their work.  I realized then and there that I might not make it to the top.  That I might not see the rest of my group until they were on their descent and in a weird twist had caught up to me!  And I realized that it did not matter one way or the other.  I would make it. Or I would not.  And the point was not that accomplishment or failure.  The point of climbing on this mountain was much higher than it's summit. The point was this feeling of peace.  This quiet acceptance of myself- as a person with strengths and weaknesses, gifts and deficits.  This understanding that this moment alone, separated from the group, was itself a gift as I would not otherwise have had the solitude to just 'be'.

The view from the first 'plateau'.  Our vehicles are by the lake!

The view from 'my' spot.  How can a mere picture capture the majesty?

A member of the humming chorus.

This is me- reunited with my group and acutely aware that I do not love climbing mountains.  I did realize, however, that I love being on mountains!

 In the end, I made it to the top. And it was wonderful.  But not as uplifting as that moment half-way to the top when I wrestled with myself and won.

The alpine meadow at the summit of our climb.  A sunny place for a meal and community.

One last note should you feel the need to find your spot of peace on a mountainside.  Wear layers.  In any weather.  You climb.  You sweat.  You turn a corner and are blasted with a chill mountain breeze.  You turn a corner and find yourself in a sheltered sunny meadow. You need layers- probably the expensive kinds with high tech fabrics.  Not jeans, tank top and hoodie.  And you might want better shoes than round-heeled shape-ups...

And one more last note.  My companions were not really centaurs- just regular humans with more mountain experience than I.

And a for real last note.  It hurts just as much to come down a mountain as it does to go up it.  


  1. Ah - I love this post! What an experience your retreat turned out to be. That's something I'd like to do sometime.
    Having been on my own personal 'journey' over recent months, I've climbed my own 'mountain' figuratively speaking and reached some of the same conclusions. Life truly is amazing and we are all such an important part of it and so very powerful in our own being...keep climbing!

  2. Lovely blog! But I kept thinking of you alone and perhaps a bear approaching you!

  3. Loved it Jayme!!!! So beautiful, even if it was quite the hike.


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