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Higher Ground This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   I do not claim to understand the forces that draw meto the lofty summits of mountains. Perhaps the blood of my fathercourses through my veins and entices me to seek the high, lonesomeplaces. I have spent much of my life exploring the San Juan mountains ofsouthwestern Colorado with my father, who is my high-altitude companionand friend. Every journey we have taken is important, but my mind oftenreturns to a climb we made two years ago in the Lizard Head Wildernessnear Telluride. Wilson Peak is a beautiful 14,000-foot mountain withsymmetry and surrounding aspens that make it one of the mostphotographed peaks in the area. As we drove through the aspens andpines, we glimpsed the beautiful peak standing above the others. In thelightly falling rain the road became slick and our truck's tires spun asthe road grew steeper. I wondered if this was our induction into thewilderness.

Our plan was to camp at the ruins of an old mininghotel near the base. On the grueling uphill march, I felt like amule carrying a load of rocks as I stumbled over boulders. After twohours of brutal climbing carrying 50-pound packs, we finally reached ourcampsite and the rain subsided. We removed our packs and were soonengulfed in a dense fog.

The hotel once housed silver miners, butthe ruins were now the home of a family of creatures known as marmots. Ihave en-countered these rodents on many of our mountain adventures, andoften felt a special connection to them. The little creatures,like myself, seek the rocky slopes and high altitudes of the RockyMountains. There were perhaps five in this family, and they hadobviously inhabited the old hotel for years. One big, fluffy fellowseemed the appointed sentinel, standing atop the crumbling rock wallsand observing our every move. I reached my hand within two feet of himand he barked a shrill "hello," or perhaps he meant "backoff."

After pitching our tent, we cooked our evening meal. Ibegan to feel lightheaded from the the altitude. As darkness quicklysurrounded us, I crawled into the tent for some much-needed rest. Soon Iheard my father scurrying around, and stuck my head out to see himholding a boulder above his head, searching the wet ground intensely.Sleepily I asked, "What in the world are you doing?" He saidthe hotel was also the home of a family of huge mice! One had beentrying to crawl up the side of the tent. I doubted his sanity until Isaw the little rodent crawling up his pant leg while he kicked andhopped wildly. All the commotion scared the intruders away, though, andwe never saw them again.

Morning dawned bright and clear, and forthe first time we were able to view the awesome Wilson Peak less thantwo miles away. Little did we know we would be threatened by snowfields, steep mud slopes and vertical rock walls.

After crossinga 400-meter snow field, we made our way to the first ridge. There was atrail, but it was faint from the winter snows. We followed the ridge foran hour and came to a group of climbers who had approached from anotherroute. They were obviously intimidated, as we were, by the huge rockwall standing between the ridge and the summit.

Knowing thathesitation would only feed our fear, my father and I passed the groupand went on to the wall. With years of climbing experience, my fatherchose the route. Vertical climbing requires intense concentration and Iwas determined that mine would not falter. Looking down was not anoption, because I knew the vertical rock face ended abruptly in a ravine300 feet below. As we climbed steadily, I began to feel confident. Itwas by far the most challenging peak I had ever attempted, but myinhibitions faded with every upward move. Rocks tumbled andrattled far below us, reminding us of the mountain's indifference tohuman goals.

The summit lay 200 meters from the top of the hugewall and was an easy walk compared to the work we had just done. Weproudly congratulated each other on our success. At the top we atesandwiches and drank Gatorade to replenish our tired and batteredbodies. We had climbed many peaks, but this was the first time I hadclimbed a "fourteener." My father had climbed many 14,000-footpeaks, and it seemed fitting that my introduction into the world of highaltitude climbing was under his guidance.

The descent seemed easycompared to the vigorous climb, but one more adventure was in store.Caught up in the excitement of the ascent, I had forgotten about thelong, steep snowfield we would have to cross on our return. As we nearedthe edge I began to dread the drudgery of tromping through knee-deepsnow for an hour. Nearing the first bend, my father turned and said,"Should we add to the adventure?" Not understanding, I watchedas he sat down on the steep slope. With his feet hanging off the snowcornice he gave a shove and went speeding down the steep slope.Glissading is an adrenaline-filled adventure we had done many times, butI had not thought of doing it here because the slope was so steep andlong. I listened with a smile as my father whooped and hollered, and Icould hardly wait for my turn!

I believe all perceptions areunique to the individual and our experiences and personalities make uswho we are. Each time I climb a mountain, it takes all my courage andstrength to get to the top, and I feel the truth of my own being for abrief moment. Every journey I have made with my father will remain in myheart forever. Wilson Peak in the Lizard Head Wilderness elevated mysoul to higher ground.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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