I watch on social media as girls raise their hands above their heads on mountain tops. Grinning from ear-to-ear you can hear them proclaim "I did it!"
I do the same often. Smile big for the camera, get excited for the summit, for mile 20, for reaching the alpine lake.
Once the summit is reached we have to turn around and make it back to the car. This is always the hard part for me, a skier at heart who always expects the down to be easier.
In a way I think that we should be taking photos lying on the ground in the parking lot, on top of our bed with a dirt sock line around our ankles, or at the crux of the day shaking in fear—tears rolling down our cheeks. I sure feel more accomplished once I've made it passed the crux, down the mountain and back home.
But, that isn't beautiful, inspirational or appealing to today's audience so instead we pose at the top of the mountain, the shore of that alpine lake or on that cruxy move—confident as can be (*cough* bullshit)—and feel so accomplished.
What you don't see though is what it takes to get there. The fear that these individuals encountered, the doubt that the couldn't go any further, the thirst, the hunger, the bonk.
This summer I climbed the CMC route on Mt. Moran in Grand Teton National Park. Moran is fairly iconic, requiring you to paddle a canoe up string lake, portage to Leigh lake, paddle across Leigh lake and then embark on the 5,728 vertical foot climb.
I would consider myself an average climber. With the ability to (sometimes) lead a 5.9 and manage (with lots of flailing) a 5.11 on top rope. But, that's at a crag.
On the side of Moran's CMC route, the low angle face staring at me, I was mocked by my fear, "You can definitely just walk up me with your sticky approach shoes," but then I looked down at the consequence, the glacier, the rock field, the bottomless canyon and the confidence that I had in my ability to even walk was overcome by fear.
This wasn't a crag. This was exposure. This was the mountains. Even in 4th class terrain I begged to simul-climb with my partner for a piece of mind. Anything to ease the mental fear, fear that fatigued my entire body.
Moments when I let my mind wander elsewhere I felt breath come and go easily, but these moments were far and few. For the majority of the 10 hour climb my mouth was dry, my hands shaking and my body engulfed in terror. The fear gauge was in the red.
Mt. Moran's summit again put the mountains into perspective... It's not easy to reach the summit. It takes focus and drive and good partners. It takes someone who can harness fear and focus on the task at hand. I am forever impressed by those with the ability to be ignorant to fear. Impressed and jealous because holy shit am I gripped.
Each person deals with fear differently and I perhaps have lots of room for growth. For now, I have fear to gauge my limits and fear to push my limits.
Just know that these photos you see, it took a lot to get there and even more to get back home.