Mount Lady Washington: a wind swept spirit
Hiking in early winter, each step is a meditation. If you get lost in your thoughts, snow and ice on the trail remind you of the need for groundedness. So choosing your way becomes your focus.
I stop periodically, to get my bearings, drink water, notice subtle beauty, like the rich green of the trees among the snowy boulders. Basho’s haiku rings in my mind at each resting place:
Do not follow the ancient masters, seek what they sought.
I’m seeking perspective, and acceptance, following the trail I took to scatter my father’s ashes on Long’s Peak. I return every year, to remember, and to continue the journey of letting go. Grief is such a complex feeling, mixing stinging loss with love, disappointment with longing, and memories layered with their own emotions pouring forth from the strange void where the familiar outline has dissolved. These five years later, I understand the mountain stream, which is only frozen on the surface; underneath, the water flows, life continues.
The temple bell stops.
But the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
For me, the bell keeps sounding from the stream gurgling low, from my boots crunching up the snowy trail, from the morning sun breaking over the peaks. I will not climb Long’s Peak today; I am choosing my own way, another path without a trail. Beside Long’s Peak is Mount Lady Washington, a 13,281′ class 3 scrambler, which is mountaineer lingo for a huge pile of boulders high above treeline.
The way begins the same, but diverges without a sign to guide you. Here you can follow in the footsteps of others to Long’s Peak summit and Mount Meeker beyond, to Chasm Lake just below, or to Storm or Battle mountains. But all you know about the way to Lady Washington is what you see here – her peak is just above this pointed sign post. That’s the Lady, and around here, they call her Martha. Aside from that, you’re on your own.
Winter seclusion –
sitting propped against
the same worn post.
This is what I am learning from returning each year. Reading carved signs and following official trails is not hard, whether in the mountains or in life. The sanctioned path makes things easier for everyone. But we often grow the most, create personal meaning, when we find our own way, instead of sitting propped against the same worn post, waiting for life to happen…or wishing it was still happening as it used to. We have to continue, go beyond the marked trail and find our own summit, on our own mountain. Maybe it’s not learning so much as remembering, and accepting.
In this mortal frame of mine
which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices
there is something,
and this something is called a wind-swept spirit….
What I remembered as I left the boulder field at Martha’s feet:
Even with 40-50mph winds, if you stay just below the ridgeline you’re climbing, the sun is warm and encouraging
1500 vertical feet takes longer than you think
I’m a better climber on natural rocks than in a gym
Being alone on a mountain is exhilarating solitude
There’s more world for me to explore out there
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
This is what I came here for. This is the perspective of Long’s Peak that you can only get by climbing up beside the peak, not onto it. It is massive, covered in hanging waterfalls of ice, the diamond face so sheer no snow can cling to it.
Just left is Mount Meeker, with the incredible Ship’s Prow sailing out of the stone mountain toward me, as if crossing Chasm Lake.
I understand Basho’s words as I stand here on the summit:
Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.
What I learned from my father, I bring to my journey. So when I trust myself, I trust the teaching I received, and the judgment I was given space to practice. My father echos through me like the temple bell that never truly stops ringing.
The world seems to unfold before me, and I realize – it doesn’t just seem to, it truly does. All I need to do is remember that, and walk out into it. Follow the echo of the temple bell.
all corners of this