The year was 1988. I boarded a plane in New York bound for Seattle. I was going to climb my first real mountain, the kind that needed headlamps and dehydrated food pouches, crampons and gaiters. Mount Rainier, at 14, 410 feet is the fifth highest peak in the United States and I was on my way to the top.
Being a novice climber, a one-day school of mountaineering was mandatory. I learned how to conserve oxygen at high altitudes and effectively use crampons, metal spikes strapped to the bottom of boots to insure secure trekking on ice.
Is there such a thing as a secure trek on ice?
We simulated rope travel. After leaving base camp at 10,000 feet we would make our ascent harnessed together in groups of four. Climbers die every year by falling to their death or landing in a crevasse. An ice-ax arrest was paramount before attempting the climb.
If one of the climbers you were roped to were to tumble down the mountainside they needed to call for an arrest to alert the other three climbers they were falling. Chances are the falling climber would take you along with them.
Once a fall was established, by either a cry for help or by your body sliding down the mountain, the ice axe was to be plunged into the snow taking care to avoid any of your vital organs or limbs. The ice ax arrest is a highly technical and physically acrobatic maneuver that I prayed I would not need on the mountain.
After a crash course in mountaineering our ascent began at dawn the next morning. The trek started easy enough. Rolling green hills and lush meadows covered the lower mountain slopes in late August. The sun soon gave way to a soft morning drizzle, common in the Northwest.
As we reached higher altitudes the wind picked up speed. A once innocent drizzle began to rage to a blinding snow. The climb was no longer rolling but steep. The overnight gear and protective layers weighed heavy on my back. I kept thinking how would I ever get off the mountain? There seemed to be no strategy for manuevering the treacherous trek back down.
My mind raced eons ahead of my body. Although we were climbing up I could not figure any way back down. Was anyone as panicked as me? I had no way to know. The climbers ahead were blurs in the snow.
When it seemed that every nerve bundle in my body was ready to unravel, a deep stillness descended. There was a voice. Whether it was inside of me or somewhere outside is hard to tell but it said, “Follow the step in front of you. That is all you need to do. Just take one step.”
That much I could do. I could take one step.
I did not realize it at the time but it was the first time a mountain ever spoke to me.
excerpt from the forthcoming A Feminine Path to Enlightenment...and so the book opens