“Mountain peaks are special places that can build energy in whomever sits on them.” – James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy
“The eternal present is the space within which your whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant. Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.” – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
Living your life completely in the present moment is a lot easier said than done. To dwell constantly on the details or events of the past, or to look forward relentlessly towards the future seems to be the pretty common human condition. It seems that either the present moment is not how we wish it was because something happened in the past that made it the way it is, or that the past was so much brighter than this moment, we just wish we could have those times back. Or on the flip-side, we can’t wait for what will happen to us, we just wish it was the future already, christmas can’t come soon enough, and this moment is just one to be endured on the way towards that rosy future. Then again, perhaps we are anxiously worrying about the future because we don’t know what will happen and don’t feel like we have enough control, and so can’t be happy right now because of our self-induced stress and tension. But to be present in the now is the teaching of virtually all the spiritual traditions, and it makes perfect sense, because it is indeed true that nothing ever happens any other time but right now, so why not embrace the only time which actually is?
For the past few weeks I have been trying to find a place to live in Silverton while camping out of my car in a nearby valley. With the constant logistical challenges of daily afternoon and evening rain, trying to store food in a cooler, cook stoves breaking, varmint invasions, and not enough money for the amount of eating out and drinking I found myself doing just for the luxury of being indoors, I slowly began to lose my acceptance of the present moment, which I found more and more uncomfortable by the day. I found myself yearning for a future in which I had a roof over my head and a kitchen in which I could cook food, or sometimes spent time dreaming about the past, when I actually had a home and all the material possessions which make our little human nests so comfortable and convenient. The blissful joy of not having a true care in the world, no matter what was actually happening to me, which I carried within myself upon coming back from Asia slowly evaporated, but I was not present enough to watch it happen, rather, it just happened, and I was left frustrated.
But then I did find a home, a large and comfortable home which is exceedingly cheap to rent, does not have a leaky roof, and has a plentiful kitchen and even a refrigerator. The inconveniences of weeks past were now solved, but the undiscriminating joy and bliss had not returned, because I did not realize that they had even left. Granted, I was not unhappy, had not reverted to my old mr. grumpy pants ways, it’s just that something minor had been misplaced without knowing it. Luckily I have learned to listen well enough to the voice in my head which often seems, and very likely is not, my own voice, which was pretty emphatically saying, “Go backpacking!” So into the wild I went…
The Weminuche Wilderness is Colorado’s largest and contains the most visually striking and jagged collection of mountains in the state. The depths of solitude that can be gained deep in the Needle Mountains, the heart of this stunning land, are unrivaled in my mind. The Ute Indians used to wander these lands in the summers before gold was discovered here, and the residual energy, the connection with the land and the One, lingers to this day. Nobody who has seen these peaks and walked the pathways between them could fail to feel the resonant power, the deep underlying vibration, the presence of the Great Spirit manifested…
I had experienced the power of the Weminuche before, and have been called there numerous times in my life. When I was nine my parents took me on my first backpacking trip. We stepped off the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and hiked up into Chicago Basin, famous home of the three most remote 14ers in the state. On that trip we only summited one of our intended targets – Windom Peak – in the late afternoon and were subsequently shaken to our cores as we endured a horrific high altitude lightning storm, crouched amongst the rocks in the rain and hail, crying in fear. These mountains taught me a lesson that day about respect and humility amongst powers larger than yourself that I have not forgotten.
Another trip I ventured with my high-school friend Adam into the same basin to climb the same peaks, and although we were again treated to incredible electric energy, the lesson this time had to do with altitude sickness, which we both endured while camping above 12,000 feet. We had climbed too high too fast, and learned another important lesson, this time about knowing yourself. The greatest feats and accomplishments are possible to anyone who seeks them, but only those who truly know themselves will come anywhere close to touching their dreams.
The last time I journeyed into the Weminuche a few years ago was to attempt a traverse of the entire wilderness via the Continental Divide Trail, a span of close to 100 miles. WIth packs loaded to a crippling weight with equipment and food for ten days, I was almost immediately hampered by difficulties in my then untrained legs. IT band syndrome, a tightening of the IT band which runs along the outside of each leg, is not a threatening injury in and of itself, but it can be extremely painful, especially where it manifests in the knees. I hobbled along gimpily for 60+ miles, refusing to give in to the inevitable, before poor planning and equipment failure doomed the trip to an unplanned exit and a couple days of hitch-hiking to regain the stashed car. This time the lesson was a particularly painful one, but I did not fail to grasp that without proper preparation, every venture will end up doomed.
And so, with no concrete destination in mind, only a set period of time I intended to wander for, I contemplated the fact that I had never yet had a “successful” multi-day trip into this heart of the wild, and yet had perhaps learned more from my previous failures here than any other range of mountains. Knowing that I needed this journey by myself I was eager to see what I would find, and yet simultaneously felt the loneliness of being by myself, like somehow this would all be a waste if I could not share it with someone else. As I wandered by places which I had visited before on my previous excursions I couldn’t help but be pulled far back into the past, re-living parts of my past which do not actually inform who I am or what I am doing today. My mood was a bit somber and depressed. I was certainly not inhabiting the Now.
On the advice of my new roommate I decided to cross a high pass above Vallecito Lake on an old mining trail which is not found on any of the maps. From the crest I gained incredible views of the eastern end of the Grenadier Range. The Guardian, Mt. Silex, and Storm King Peak – with their dark, steep walls of compressed quartzite – immediately inspired my desires for remote summits and adventures. They seemed to glow with an energetic light of their own when compared to the millions of other peaks within view, and so my destination was set, and I trudged up Stormy Gulch to a beautiful meadow where I set up my camp. For the next couple days I sat alone in this meadow, enjoying the company of a friendly and curious Doe, meditating peacefully by my campfire, watching the stars and the weather change overhead. By day I climbed these massive hulking sentinel spirits above me by the most beautiful routes I could discern, and over the course of these days I not only realized what I had misplaced, but I found that the stillness, the presence, the One, was still waiting for me in that peaceful place, and I sank into the beautiful connection…
On the third day I had summited Storm King Peak by one of the most aesthetic and fun ridge climbs I had ever done, and sat on the summit, buzzing in the glow. I looked over to Peak Nine, which I intended to traverse over to the summit of along the ridge and noticed that it looked like it would be a real adventure, but did not think too much more about it. Upon reaching its base, I began to climb upward, but pretty quickly noticed that the rock had changed, even though it was connected to the other neighboring peaks by a continuous ridge. The rock was fractured and loose, and stacked into precarious formations that did not inspire confidence. I debated whether to continue on or retreat, but reasoned that it was bound to get better, and climbing downward would be scarier than climbing up. So I went on, and things did not get any better. I now had my sights set on the summit purely for the desire to encounter the “normal” route of this horrific peak so that my climb back down would be easier and hopefully more solid. But the ridge kept getting steeper and no more solid. Soon I was close to the top, within spitting distance practically, but after climbing up a long corner I encountered a short overhanging bulge which I had not noticed from below. The rock was shattered and broken. I felt around for hand holds and foot holds, and although the moves were well within my realm of ability, the uncertainty of the loose rock was not to be discounted. Without much thought I prepared to bust the moves onto the summit, when I heard a voice in my head, a voice which must have been my own, but most certainly did not sound like my own. It said, “Wow, you must really not value your life much these days.” That stopped me dead still. I looked around. The exposure was huge. The position was precarious. The peak was a crumbling pile in the middle of nowhere that mattered nothing. I really do value my life these days, perhaps more than ever before. I knew in an instant that what I was doing was pointless and unnecessary. I did not want to climb down what I had already climbed up, but how could I discount the warning I had just heard? So down I went, slowly and carefully. Ironically I stumbled upon a cairn only a couple hundred feet below where I was, and followed it up an easier way to the summit, where I again thought about the voice.
Accomplishment wise, this trip was my first real “success” in the Weminuche. Luckily, I did not need to experience failure to learn another very very important lesson. In this case, failing to learn the lesson in the moment that it was presented to me would have ended in a much larger failure. The Connection is Real. We are all connected to a higher consciousness which has access to far more knowledge than we are capable of understanding. It can, and will, help you! But of course you need to be listening, you need to be silent and present enough to hear what it says, and you have to believe that it is real, not just automatically and skeptically denounce what you are told. I do not think that the voice in my head was my own, as my own voice had reasoned out a justification for continuing upwards about twenty times already on that ridge. I think that a very prescient piece of knowledge was passed down to me, and in a way and a moment when I would actually listen. What would have happened had I not gone down? I am thankful that I chose to listen! I was called into the wilderness to learn and to experience a very powerful lesson, and then I was also taught that lesson by the one love. It was a lesson that I already knew, yet in some settings or circumstances, things have more power to affect a person than in others. In my case, it took the setting of being high on the mountain for the lesson to resonate with me as loudly as it needed to. Some may call what I do dangerous, and other may say that I get lucky when I “tempt fate,” but I see this experience as neither of those things. On the contrary, I see it as me consciously following my destiny and reaping the rewards by doing so. Everything happened exactly as it was meant to on that day, as it had already been written before it happened. Life is a magical mystery unfolding in front of you, but you have to be willing to accept the story. For me right now it just feels charmed and beautiful, and I revel in its magic!