It is a humbling experience preparing for one of the “Seven Summits,” especially Denali. The Great One. A daunting, cold, inhospitable environment awaits us. Today, we fly in to the Kahiltna Glacier on the lower reaches of the massif and will have 13,000 ft. of trail to break and elevation to gain over the coming weeks. We are going to be the first ones on the mountain, even before the National Park Service climbing rangers head up to establish their camps. This makes it feel like a real expedition; wild and uncertain.
One of the things the mountains always teach us is that we are very, very small. The iPhone 6 Plus, Teslas, nuclear missiles and a complicated, deified economy swirl around mountains like a porous fabric–permeable yet fundamentally material aspects of our culture. While these social items and values we swath ourselves in surround us and our lives, mountains tower above. They are great reminders of the majesty of Earth and its ambivalence to the swirling.
On the eve of a big expedition there are some ups and downs. Laughs and beers, solitude and silent reflection. A lot could go wrong. There obviously is a lot of subjective and objective risk out there. But isn’t that the point? To “cast off the lines” and hurl into the unknown as Mark Twain said? It isn’t about the summit. It isn’t even about us. It is about the human condition, our search for meaning on this planet we call home and about our own abilities to hunker down, weather the storm and work as a tribe. It is about surviving and learning and at the end of the day it is about understanding just a little bit more. I will leave you with the words of Edmund Hillary:
It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.