I climbed Mt. St. Helens a few days ago. I’m not bragging, though; it’s not actually a technical climb like you might expect. Despite the snow-covered peak you see north of Portland, peeking (peaking?) out in the distance, you don’t need crampons, ice-picks, or any professional training. About all you need are hiking poles, gloves, and, of course, the desire to scramble up thousands of feet of rock.
(To be fair, it is fewer thousands of feet than it used to be. Given the various eruptions of the mountain over the years, the height of the mountain is considerably lower than it used to be. As my friend joked, “it’s like nature was doing us a solid.”
The climb took all day. At least for some of us: We encountered more than one person who said they reached the top in three hours, while we struggled to get there in five.
But it didn’t matter; I wasn’t racing. (I would say that the mountain isn’t going anywhere but in this case, that’s not quite accurate.)
We summitted successfully, enjoyed the fabulous views of the crater and the surrounding mountains, and generally just marveled at nature amid the pleasure of an experience earned.
On the way home, winding though the Lewis River valley on dark two-lane highways, my friend asked me, “so what was your favorite part of the day?”
I exhaled hard; this was not an easy decision. I replayed the events of the day: waking up at dawn, breakfast of oatmeal over a small camp stove, a few miles of a gorgeous evergreen forest, reaching the timberline, the rock scrabble, the steep ascents, shuffling through scree like the world’s largest sand dune, the killer views at the top, the agonizing descent on the same boulders, the amazing sunset, the gratitude at being on solid ground and in cool forest again.
I thought of all this and more. Finally, after a time, I said, “I think it was that time by the weather station that we all stopped and ate together.”
I was in a group of about a dozen, some of them friends, some of them I had just met that day. With all of us in various levels of fitness (one member of our party was prone to doing handstands) we were nonetheless sharing the exact same agonies. But sitting there, our bags propped up against the boulders, resting in the low-level fog that was enveloping the mountain, we sat and pulled out our food bags.
And we shared: mate was passed around, homemade baba ganoush was sampled, and other various fruits, veggies, and energy bars were spread around.
The views of Mt. St. Helens were epic, and amazingly worthwhile, but to me, it’s that moment at the top, sharing food and experiences with friends old and new, that will be the moment I take away with the greatest fondness.
And it reaffirmed for me that, while I love doing things like traveling, hiking, or even low-key events like trivia nights or potlucks, these events always take a backseat to my companions, the people I’m there with.
It’s an interesting irony: we get people together to do some incredible things and yet the highlight of the trip is something we technically could have done anywhere.
But of course, it’s often the existence of such events that allows us to get in touch with what’s really important. Once again, another opportunity to be grateful.
But enough about me. Have you felt similarly when having these kinds of adventure adventures?