For the Girl Who Can’t Sit Still
By Heather MacFarlane
I’ve watched the full July moon traverse across the sky over the course of the night. Now, it’s early, early morning and the moon seeps into a deep fire-orange as it sinks below the horizon. I can see more stars now and I pick out the big and little dippers, the only constellations I can reliably find this time of year. I see the Milky Way, too. This is the first place I ever saw our galaxy, 16 years ago on a summer night like this. My mom pointed it out to me as she and my dad prepared to climb Adams—the very mountain I am on now. I was scared, then, because I didn’t realize why my parents were leaving me at camp (albeit with a family friend). This time I’m 19 years old and not scared, but exhilarated by the sky, inconceivably wide.
I suddenly realize that I’m having trouble seeing where I want to place my feet, that the darkness has been steadily creeping in as the moon set. I reach up and switch on my headlamp and then pause to look up the mountain at several other small circles of light; the climbers who’d gotten an even earlier start than I. This mountain is huge and the South Route, especially, has one of the finest slopes you can ask for. It’s 35 degree slope, broad and wide open with no crevasses. I’m climbing up the west end of the south face, grateful for every step carved out by the climbers ahead.
I sit down for a short rest around 4:30. Sunrise at 10,500 feet is incomparable and I soak in every bit of it, fully appreciating how much I’ve needed this. The horizon is a dramatic gradient of black to violent red and orange, lightening into a palate of pale pastels that illuminate the lush green farmland of the Hood River valley and silhouette Hood, looking as stoic and far-off as the Lonely Mountain. I stash my headlamp and start again the long process of one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again until I’ve climbed high into the sky. My lungs and legs protest, but it’s really of secondary importance at this point. I love pushing myself. I love forcing myself onwards, further, higher; I love feeling my legs and lungs become stronger every time I climb. I love feeling my confidence grow with every step. I feel the familiar crunch of the frozen snow under my crampons and plunge my ice axe into the slope for the next step up.
I find so much freedom in climbing. When I climb, I feel so strong, so whole and complete in a way I never do away from the mountains. I’ve always been a runner, but I run to run away: to escape, to feel the breeze pushing my hair back and me forward. I run when I feel cheap amoxil sale overwhelmed or weak. Being bipolar makes my thoughts race and my body restless and I’m afraid that if I sit still, my fears and insecurities will catch up with me. I climb to prove that I’m stronger than them. I climb because my fears don’t have the lung capacity to exert themselves two miles into the sky.
I reach the summit and inhale sharply at the vista laid out in front of me. It’s beautiful and different on every mountain. Here, the northwest volcanoes greet me and I recognize them as old friends. There’s Rainier, due north of me, St. Helens to the west and Mt. Hood to the south. I think back to my ascent of Hood a month earlier and grin, pleased that I’m even higher now. I’m lucky, I know, to have a body that I can push like this, that I am healthy and whole. It’s incredible up here. I pull some chocolate out of my pack to share with the two Indian climbers I met on the last 1,000 feet up. We laugh and talk about the gorgeous world.
I can be impulsive, rash, thoughtless. I can also be calculating and indecisive, and obnoxiously controlled. Climbing is the happy medium that allows me to shake all of this. Knowing that I am completely responsible for myself, and yet in so much danger, is the most freeing feeling in the world. I am acutely aware that the only thing standing between me and death is my own skill and confidence. Three thousand feet isn’t far to fall when death awaits you at the bottom. You can’t have that sort of pure death in a city. There’s no second-guessing or ambivalence. In the mountains, doubt is death.
“Tough gal,” people tell me when they realize I’m climbing solo. I enjoy being part of the catalyst for this change in thought: that women can climb, alone, and summit. I enjoy the conversations I have with climbers. I enjoy being able to share information about routes or camping spots and be trusted and valued. I love the pride I have in myself when I finish a climb; the perfectly contented feeling that comes only from pushing myself harder than I have before. After a climb, I don’t feel the need to run. The glow and inner calm I gain from a climb stay with me and I am solid, unbreakable. This isn’t to say I stop—no, I’m up dancing the next day, with a little more spring in my step than before. Climbing gives me more energy and more confidence. Climbing catapults me forward.
About the Author: Heather MacFarlane is a recent college graduate trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. She currently lives in Fairbanks, Alaska and works at a natural history museum cataloguing dinosaur tracks and skinning red squirrels for science! Follow her on Instagram: @heatherawrr.