I had decided to hike in the alps but after making the decision I gave it astonishing little thought. I was already on my way to France when Daniel called. “We will be crossing two glaciers,” he said. “I think you might need a jacket.”
It was the middle of July and hot. The notion of actually getting too cold seemed a preposterous idea. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll bring a jacket.”
Arriving in Paris it was raining and gloomy and I wore the jacket nearly nonstop (and Paris has no glaciers).
After a delightful week in Paris, Daniel and I boarded a train and headed off to Mont Blanc. In no time we were surrounded by snow-capped mountains and landed in a tiny town high in the alps. We had a quick sandwich and headed up the mountain.
The hiking was much more difficult than I imagined it would be.
When I first mentioned to Daniel that we might try to keep the weight we carried in our packs to a minimum, he was of the “more weight just makes for a better work-out” school of thought. I thought this sounded sensible. Our conversion was rapid and dramatic.
Within the first day we shed clothing (a Danish teenager received a “Minnesota” t-shirt and was delighted), equipment (a young Italian girl was astonished and thrilled by the gift of Daniel’s binoculars), and anything made of paper. We combed through our belongings. Do we need to carry tweezers to the mountain top? Certainly not. Still our packs felt like nearly unbearable burdens as we made our way up over the mountain passes in the high altitude. More than anything I cursed the machine that I write this on today. (Small! Did I really imagine this was a small computer?!)
Pausing by the side of the trail and gasping for air, I marveled at the herd of lithe Europeans on sinewy haunches as they scampered to the mountain top. I checked their feet and the tops of their heads as they passed for hooves or horns.
And I thought about the things I choose to carry.
Hiking high into the mountains has made me examine closely the things I carry with me through life. Every unnecessary thing weighs more. Vanity weighs more when I am in high altitude. Resentments are a nearly unbearable weight. “Please, thank you,” and a smiled greeting lighten the load immeasurably.
Daniel and I met a delightful Spanish couple on our ascent and, while we did not share a common language, we encouraged one another through the tough spots and urged one another on. After a particularly taxing day of uphill climbs we shared a carafe of wine on the top of the mountain and the Spanish woman described how she and her husband had climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I asked how she had managed it. She answered, “Piano, piano.” Softly, softly.
The next day it rained and we had our steepest climb yet. Taking one step after another, I monitored my breath so I had enough to take me to the next step— and then one more. I had time, walking this way, to see every mountain flower covered in misty rain. I had time to feel my body carry me upward and feel the miracle of every muscle as it pulled me to the next step. Breathe, step, breathe, step. I was no longer straining to see the top of the mountain. It was enough to breathe and step.
Till next time,