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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

On Mountain Hiking

If any of you have ever happened to flippantly flip through Dante's immortal piece, "The Divine Comedy," past everyone's favorite part through hell or the Inferno into the lesser known stage of what is called the Purgatorio or what the Catholics refer to as Purgatory, you may be able to fathom what climbing a mountain is all about. For in this fine piece of literature, everyone in Purgatory is climbing a mountain; A brutal, gut-wrenching, breath-robbing, muscle-throbbing monster of a mountain. Everyone in Purgatory is ascending. Some take this mountain in stages. Some even in single steps. While others attempt to rush up it torturing every particle of their spirit's fiber. But all seek to climb above the less glorious place that they had fallen into. And so bear momentarily the consequences of their own sins only to emerge into the glory of their own belief. Some of you may or may not agree with the theology there, but regardless of dogma, my illustration is just merely to depict what a serious and naturally sacred concept mountian climbing can be.
Why a mountain? I tell you that within each of our lives we are ever ascending or descending. A person is never really stagnate. Though it, without a doubt, appears that we are. Most of our lives are wrapped up in such trivial ideologies, mundane concepts, and empty actions that we would seem as though lodged in concrete. In fact, half this world's ambitions is to make us feel as though we are as stationary as concrete. All the years of my schooling are dedicated to me finding a job, a career, a concrete pool to plant myself in. All the nation's education is designed for this concretism. To wrap something safe around oneself to make one feel secure. Real learning is something less stable. But most of us do not have the guts for that kind of discovery. So we shroud ourselves in the job, the spouse, the house, our peers, or our regular sitcom shows, really wondering if we are really getting anywhere at all. The most tempting lie to believe and the easiest that I find myself being fooled by is that there is really no such thing as change in this world. We are who we are and that's final. Such a belief both the cynic and the skeptic rally together and hail as their motto.
But upon seeing a mountain....something special, if not altogether magical occurs to the viewer. Especially, if he be man. For in this brief moment where the eye meets the pinnacle of the peak, the viewer can feel the tug of something moving, something striving within the veins of his own flowing blood. He becomes aware of the movement of everything around him and in him and he wishes to take part in this striving. And to actually, for once, feel as though he is getting somewhere. And not go dizzily around in circles, what he is used to, but upwards further and further into the sky. He wants to know that such a thing is possible. Regardless of the toil, the sweat, and the blood. What man has not looked at a mountain and said to oneself, "I will climb that mountain. I will know what the land looks like from the top. I will get as close as I can to the clouds." And so he embarks towards the top.
As did I huffing up the first 7 miles of Pike's Peak with my backpack strapped to my back. Thinking about all those dead souls that Dante wrote about climbing through every hardship over that mountain towards Paradiso and closer to God. Why, would I think such somber thoughts? But it's about the only thoughts my brain could produce with no one there to talk to and sweat pouring out of me. I did not wait very long to be acclimated, for after only one night at 6,000 ft, the present altitude of Colorado Springs; waking up that morning with a slight head ache, I rushed up the first slopes of the mountain anyways. I reached the halfway point early that afternoon. And found a little cabin where a nice couple lived who pretty much ran the little cabin for hikers such as myself. They gave information, leased mattresses and sold food and drink for those passing through going up or down the mountain. I stopped only to find out that they were serving all-you-can eat spaghetti that night, so it didn't take much to convince me to stay around this cabin for the evening. I set up my tent in a nearby little meadow where the fir trees split up and allowed one to see the moon at night. Besides I was now at an altitude of 10,000 ft and I wasn't in any hurry. I needed more time to acclimate correctly. And now a few words on altitude. The highest point in my home state of Alabama is slightly over a trifling 2,000ft above the sea level. For some reasons we in Alabama consider it okay to call such a mole hill a mountain. As we do, we call it Mt. Cheaha. Now shifting over to the west and towards the Rockies. Just the town that I was in prior to hitting this trail, Colorado Springs, is already 3 times the height of our highest point in Alabama, and that's not even a mountain, but a town. There are 54 peaks that are above 14,000 ft in Colorado. Pike's Peak was one of these and the most famous. Now, you can probably guess that the air is going to be a bit different in Colorado than in Alabama. And that a person coming from such a low-lying area to a high one could have quite a change in their breathing rate for the air is much thinner in CO and we from the south have an abundance of thickness in the air. Because of the transition, altitude sickness is a comman plight in Colorado. Especially in tourist seasons when bus loads of lowlanders come soaring up mountain sides expecting their lungs to work the same here than back home. They emerge from their buses, cars, and planes, dizzy and staggering wondering what in the world they ate. Now, for those of us hikers, such an epidemic can be very dangerous. Mainly because you go a little bit higher than most tourists and you use your lungs to get there. My brother had it pretty bad in Tibet. The both of us hiked through the Himalayas towards the base camp of Mt. Everest. Of course, we were passing through ground that was over 18,000ft. An altitude of land that the average American has never seen with their eyes much less stood on top of. Needless, to say my brother threw up most of his food and water for a day but was then over it. We both had headaches and we both found it hard to sleep and a little difficult to breath. But these are completely normal at such an altitude. All in all, I think that i am one of the best at adjusting to high altitude. I also have climbed Mt. Olympus in Greece which meant a steep 9,000 foot climb from sea level to the top and not many hikes are that fast ascending which is a great opportunity for altitude sickness to linger. I climbed it even without the slightest headache. So, I took it that like sea-sickness, some people get it and some people don't. I was one of the fortunate there, and after this trek, I still believe the same. Because some folks are so afflicted with it that they begin to hallucinate and see things. And if you are a lone hiker such an occurance can prove fatal.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jovan said...

God has given you a tolerance for high altitudes. You should be a professional mountian hiker. Better yet maybe you should take up rock climbing.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Brett said...

... or better yet, you could get some airline to pay you to be an in-flight mechanic. i'm sure there is much money to be made in that capacity. many times in my short life, i've been made to wait on the runway or inside the airport while they made repairs to the plane on which we were flying. if delta airlines could hire a mechanic as gifted in the area of altitude acclimation as you seem to be, i'm sure they would surpass all other airlines. delta would rock.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Jesi said...

I was hoping to have some sort of mountain experience on my recent vacation, but all I got was a tourist town full of pancake houses.

7:55 PM  

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