Don’t Look Down

We’re off this week, spending time with our (growing) families. That in mind, we’ll be posting some of our fave stories once a day for the rest of the year. Happy Holidays to everyone, thank you all for being part of this Adventure Journal, um, adventure with us. We couldn’t do this without you. Get out there, have some fun, we’ll see you in the new year. – Ed.

One October back in the day, I was on Mt. Hood for a Salomon ski introduction, the Scream I think it was, and the skis were turning well but we were getting bored running laps on autumn groomers and someone had the idea to hike to the summit, so we threw the sticks over our shoulders and started booting.

I didn’t think twice about the relative magnitude of what we were doing, whether it was stout or mellow, impressive, or an easy day. The summit was right there, it was a bluebird day, and the snow was firm but grippy – so we just started walking.

Climbing Mt. Hood is a big deal to a lot of people. They gird up with all manner of gear, because it can be capricious and extremely dangerous, storms rolling in from the coast and socking it in with high winds and heavy snow for days on end. There had been many dramas on the route we were booting and numerous deaths. In saying that we hoofed it without packs or crampons or even water, I don’t mean to sound blasé, or make myself seem badass (because I’m not), or dismissive of hazards. Rather, it’s to point out an approach that has served me well in situations where it’s easy to get haired out or locked with fear.

It’s simply to take one step at a time and, just as important, sometimes look no farther than the next step. The mind is a funny thing, easily swayed by visuals, by sweeping vistas, by rocks and crevasses and the knowledge of objective dangers. But just because you’re in a place with dangers doesn’t mean you’re in danger. I’ve seen people hop out of the chopper for the first heli-skiing run of their lives and become fraught with anxiety, overwhelmed by the view, the magnitude of it all, even though the slope below them was 35 degrees. Keeping your focus on what’s right in front of you breaks the task down into manageable chunks.

I figured, hey, the ascent looks straightforward. The summer-baked snowpack was bomproof, rendering transceivers unnecessary. The surface was soft enough to kick steps all the way to the top, and I wouldn’t have used crampons even if I had them. We could see the lifts from the entire route; if I got overly tired or thirsty or decided it was too steep or hard, I could just turn around. Why wouldn’t I go for the summit?

So, I put my head down and kicked steps. There were a few crevasses and a big bergschrund – lions and tigers and bears, oh my! – but the route was obvious, not technical, and nothing reared its head in warning.

Eventually, we ran out of mountain, put our skis on, and turned around. I was conscious of the schrund, which had swallowed and killed falling climbers, but focus was on the next turn or two. The snow was chalky and the pitch, while steep, was uncomplicated. I just took it one left and right at a time until I was away from the hazard, then let it rip.

I dunno, maybe it sounds like a silly story, or so simplistic as to be self-evident, but I can remember many sleepless nights before big objectives, tossing and turning with anxiety that almost always turned out to be misplaced. When I adopted the “one step at a time” approach, everything became a lot more manageable. There will always be legitimately dicey moments in the mountains; why let your brain create them when they don’t exist?

Photo by Adam Clark

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