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Climbing A Mile Into The Sky

May 13, 2016

8750 feet above sea level. The top of that small mountain to the right is over a mile in the sky. The snow covered one to the left is Mt Timpanogos. The kind of round one to the right is simply called Big Baldy. 

This is the mountain that I’m going to climb over the next two days. To be perfectly honest, I’m not going to climb 8,750 feet. My house sits at about 4500 feet above sea level. So, I’ll do 3/4 of a mile up and 3/4 of a mile down. But, the 4200 feet up and down over the next two days will still do a number on my aching knees. We do this hike every May. And every May I look forward to it and dread it.

There was a newstory yesterday that announced for the first time in two years, climbers had summited Mt Everest. We have had our own two year drought. Or rather, a non-drought. The last two years we’ve made it up to the meadows, but been thwarted by rain and sleet from attempting the summit. 

Our journey takes us first up Grove Creek Canyon.

The trail clings to the side of the mountain for about 2 miles, and has an elevation rise of about 1500 feet. We’ll stop at a natural spring for dinner. Then, we’ll push on for another couple of miles and camp in the meadow “above the G.” Tomorrow morning, we’ll have breakfast, hike for another mile where we’ll drop our packs and then summit Baldy. We’ll then come down, get our pack and descend through Battle Creek Canyon. Over 8,000 feet of total elevation change. 

Last year we got snowed out. (It is not uncommon to get snow in the Utah mountains in May.) The previous year it was sleet. This year there is 0% chance of rain, so it looks like the weather won’t be a problem. Why are we going? Not for the reason you might think.

George Mallory, was a mountain climber. He might have been the first man to scale Mt Everest. We’ll never know since he died on the mountain in 1924. But, whether he died descending from a triumphant success, or died while on what was his third attempt, only the mountain knows. You may not know the name George Mallory, but you’ve undoubtably heard his words. When asked by a New York Times reporter why he was risking his life to attempt to scale Everest, he famously and succinctly replied, 

Because it’s there.

It’s hard to find a more accurate and economical phrase to describe not just mountaineering, but any endeavor that doesn’t yield immediate tangible results. 

But we are not climbing Baldy, “Because it’s there.” 

Last year, when chilling rain kept us from making it further than the springs, I walked beside my 12 year old son. He was cold. He was scared of heights. He had a miserable experience. His twin brother, while a faster hiker, had no better an experience. I still remember trying to get them to set up their sleeping bags in the tent while I boiled water for our freeze dried dinners. 

Do you have your gear out yet?

No. (With a lot of crying)

Why not? You’ve had plenty of time!

(More crying) My fingers are too stiff to unbuckle the straps.

As a dad,I felt terrible. And as boys, they were ready to leave. I explained that it was just as quick to go down Battle Creek as it was to go back the way we’d come up Grove Creek. My sons reluctantly agreed to keep going since there was really no choice. I never thought they’d get back on this mountain. 

This year, they are both 13. They are excited to attempt the hike today and tomorrow. They have overcome their fear and their memories of a terrible experience last year, to try again. 

That’s why we do this. 

It doesn’t matter to me if I never climb another mountain. But, seeing my sons accept challenges, things that scared them a year ago, that is why I do this. 

We will be climbing a mountain not because it’s there, but because we can. (I’ll let you know how my knees do.)

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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