I woke up at 4:30am from a terrible night’s sleep. I had a splitting headache that started the previous afternoon and stayed with me throughout the night. I looked at my Garmin watch to see how I was doing. Big mistake. My Training Readiness Score is usually over 70 – even after a hard workout. Today, it was 1. I’m not exaggerating. The last time I saw a score like this, I had COVID. I’m usually not too bothered by altitude, but today was different. We were at 11,500′, and we would be climbing to just under 14,000′ for a long 10 hour+ day. Could I actually do this today?
I had been training for six months to be here, and the weather was perfect. I wasn’t nauseous, so I said a prayer, popped an Excedrine, and washed it down with a cup of coffee and a cold cream cheese bagel. The Almighty smiled on me. Seriously. By the time we reached the end of the steep snowfields to start our first pitch, I felt fine. I wasn’t at my best, but I was good enough!
I wasn’t nauseous, so I said a prayer, popped an Excedrine, and washed it down with a cup of coffee and a cold cream cheese bagel.
Tyler, our guide from Siera Mountain Center, Jake, and I started our first pitch at about 6:30am. We all feared the rock would be bitterly cold and miserable to climb on, but we had Goldie Locks temperatures the whole day. It was amazing. The climbing was as challenging as I expected – and more fun than I expected.
The Crux Pitch
For weeks before this trip, I was worried I wouldn’t have the stamina to make it through the crux pitch. The crux pitch on the North Arete is a long dihedral that forces you into awkward positions while you hand-jam and arm-jam your way up. It’s only 5.8, but it’s not the kind of 5.8 you climb in the gym. Altitude and fatigue matter. I felt like Jacob wrestling with God as I grunted and thrashed my way up the shoot in the most graceless way a human could climb. I was also starting to feel the altitude as we approached 13,000′, and I needed to stop several times along the route to catch my breath. Like Jacob, I was allowed to overcome, though the mountain was unmoved by all of my efforts. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but it felt so good to top out! I didn’t forget to thank God for letting me pass. He was still smiling, and so was I.
I felt like Jacob wrestling with God as I grunted and thrashed my way up the shoot in the most graceless way a human could climb.
The Summit Ridge
Once we reached the summit ridge, we followed it for quite a distance before we reached the summit block. The exposure of this section was fantastic, with sharp drops of 1,000’+ on each side. Views of the nearby mountains were also spectacular. There were at least ten peaks that Tyler and I could name between the two of us. I pictured my future self standing on those summits on a day like this – tracing the routes that I would likely follow in my mind. In the distance, the mighty jet-black hulk of Mount Goddard could easily be seen. Someday.
This is why I came. I had looked forward to this trip for six months with almost love-sick longing, and now I was here – in this place, in this moment. And it was everything I had hoped it would be. I know that altitude does not bring one closer to God, but it does something I can’t explain. For millennia, men have instinctively come to the mountains to find God. At one point, even Moses, Elijah, and Jesus did a meetup on a mountain – but it was probably on class 2 terrain :) My spirit tells me this is hallowed ground – a thin place between Heaven and Earth. I can sense His presence here as if He were roped up, climbing next to me. I’ll have to leave soon, but I won’t forget this brief moment of transcendence before I descend back to the lower regions where mortals live.
I know that altitude does not bring one closer to God, but it does something I can’t explain. For millennia, men have instinctively come to the mountain to find God.
Do Hard Things, Bryan!
I booked this trip a year ago, but as the trip grew closer, I had more and more reservations about it. In fact, when I left home to drive to the meetup, I wasn’t in the mood for it. The romance of picturing myself standing on that iconic summit block was replaced by anxiety and butterflies in my stomach. I’m 55. I’m no spring chicken. Maybe I was biting off more than I could chew on this one.
I’m 55. I’m no spring chicken. Maybe I was biting off more than I could chew on this one.
When I got back to camp, I was reminded yet again of the value of doing hard things. The suffering was no joke, but the prize made the suffering pale in comparison. I know this. I often tell people this. But that doesn’t make doing hard things any easier the next time. It always takes a leap of faith. I have to make myself do it with a lot of self-talk – and sometimes some prodding from the Almighty himself.
The last hard thing I did on the day of the climb was to take a dip in the partially frozen lake. Believe it or not, the science of cold exposure is quite strong. Andrew Huberman has a great video on this. Jake swam out to the middle of the lake, where he touched the big block of floating ice. He is an absolute stud. I only got in up to my neck. I think it was the coldest water I’ve ever been in. I could only take 10 seconds of it before I felt overwhelmed by the pain, but my achy body thanked me for it after I dried off.
I think that was the coldest water I’ve ever been in. I could only take 10 seconds of it before I felt overwhelmed by the pain…
If no one ever reads this post, I will probably reread it someday. When I do, I want to remind my future self of this: Do hard things, Bryan! You probably won’t regret it :)