Where there’s an almost equal amount of air above and beneath you. Where the breeze blows up, sending cold drafts up your shorts or shirt. Where the wind and ice howl one day and the sun shines melty-hot the next. What looks fortress-like and impenetrable from far off. Where the sound of a chirping songbird or a thumping grouse makes you think, sheesh, there’s life up here? Where the view is far enough for you to be reminded of how little you are and how big Earth is.
I can’t live without these high and mighty sentinels. Oh, the hyperbole, you think, and you’re probably right. Perhaps I could survive without time spent with big views, but would I want to?
When I was a kid, my family took the great American family road trip, a loop through the American west from our Minnesota home. I don’t remember the kind of car we drove (a station wagon of some sort, of course) or how many times my brother and I fought in the backseat (multiple times per day) or all the places we went (I remember the presidents’ carved heads.) or how many times we successfully begged my parents to stop for ice cream (I doubt very many.).
But, I can recall this: my dad driving, a curve in the road, and suddenly my mom screaming, “Stop the car! Stop the car!” There was a big, big view of Wyoming’s Teton Mountains and my mother wanted us to see it. Fifteen or so years later and six months after my father passed away, Mom and I returned to the same damn spot in front of the same damn view. To cry, to heal. Because that’s what mountains help you do.
And, besides, does our planet not need them, something to stand guard over wild landscapes?
I spent the summer of 2012 chasing mountains and other high places. (Click on any photo for a fill-your-screen view.)
Wheeler Peak in Nevada, in May. I don’t summit, can’t. A bitter wind being chased by a snow-bearing cold front makes conditions dangerous for my sparsely dressed self. When I can’t stand the cold anymore, I sprint down to this lake and wait for Bryon Powell, who has appropriate attire (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Bryon Powell turns 34 atop a ridgeline in the Oquirrh Mountains, Utah. Just us and the butterflies (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Rim-to-river-to-rim running in Arizona’s Grand Canyon on a hot June Saturday. The lemonade at Phantom Ranch tastes so good (Matt Vukin photo credit).
A convention of runners on Jupiter Peak, Utah. Oh am I sick with a summer cold and slow this morning! The beauty carries you when your legs are leaden (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Evening on California’s Emigrant Pass (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Vince Heyd and I’s Notch Mountain circumnavigation in the Uinta Mountains of Utah ends with a breathless-at-11,000-feet sprint through hail (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Here’s Triple Divide Pass in Montana and one of 343 photos I take while transecting Glacier National Park on an eight-day backpacking trip. Every day a big pass. Hours over treeline. Chirping marmots. Summer sun. The brilliant company of friends (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Torched legs after a time trial up and down Kendall Mountain, at the edge of Silverton, Colorado (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Geoffrey and Paige Dunmore handily handle Handies Peak, Colorado (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
We can’t find the hematite in Hematite Gulch, Colorado, but we do find a helluva lot of flowers (Bryon Powell photo credit).
Nature’s technicolor at 13,000 feet. Bryon Powell on Grant-Swamp Pass, Colorado (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Vince Heyd and I self-portrait ourselves atop Mount Timpanogos, Utah (Vince Heyd photo credit).
Early morning, dead legs, and not enough oxygen. But still my heart soars. Colorado’s high point, Mount Elbert (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Mount Massive, Colorado is massive (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Chasing sunset up and down Mount Elbert, Colorado. Mount Elbert, again. I lose the race and finish in the almost black. No flashlight. No moon. Groping the ground with my feet, trusting proprioception. Warm breeze flows through the trees. Chocolate milk waits in the car (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Linda Barton protects Jon Webb about 4,000 feet above Chamonix, France. This run wins the prize for the least amount of distance covered in the most amount of time: six hours, 17.5 miles. A lot of vertical. One beautiful pastry at a refuge. No regrets (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Gina Lucrezi, Ashley Arnold, and Jon Webb above Chamonix, France. Everyone except Jon is hungover. Beer then champagne. At 2 am the night before. Seeping out of our skin as we sweat the uphill. Yes, I should know better by now and, yes, it is worth it (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Matt Vukin, Lone Peak, Utah (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).
Utah’s Mount Raymond makes for perfect post workday highpointing (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit).