What’s Your Mountain Pass?

Persistence by Philip Graves

About two and a half years ago, I found myself climbing one of the tallest mountain passes in the Contiguous United States: Muir Pass, at 11,995 feet. And I was HUNGRY.

I had been out trekking on this trail for about 15 days without coming across a road or town, and I was running low on food. I was cold, I was tired, and my SOS device had run out of battery. But I had 26 miles to go before my next resupply, so there wasn’t really much of an option except to keep walking.

I had woken up at 3am that morning. It was important to get up early, because there was still a lot of snow on the pass, (even in June), and I wanted to make sure that I could make it over while the snow crust was still hard and stable. I ate my last handful of ant-infested trail mix and began the long, 4000ish foot ascent.

As I increased my elevation, the tree line started withering away. The rocky terrain and the constant presence of snow was inhospitable to any kind of plant life, and more importantly,it was inhospitable for me. With every step, I could feel my breaths becoming shallower, my stamina decreasing with the lack of oxygen as I got above 11,000 feet. The world at that elevation looked alien, a bare, rocky landscape of ice and stone.

As starkly beautiful as the landscape may have been, I began to hate it as I trudged through post holes and crept anxiously over ice bridges. On the final climb, I could see the famous Muir hut at the top of the pass, but every step felt like an extreme effort. Finally, at almost 12,000 feet, I reached the hut, rested for a moment, and slowly made my descent down into Evolution Valley.

I winded my way down into the pristine valley below, drained but relieved that my ordeal at elevation was over for that particular day. I won’t go too much into what happened after that. Down a winding stair, and a couple of creek crossings, and it was evening. I settled down and collapsed into sleep – with my stomach still empty – but with the eager expectation of a food supply the next day. And then I would climb another mountain pass the day after that.

As I’ve been aging into full adulthood, I’m starting to realize that a lot of my days are like these mountain passes. They’re not as spectacular, nor are they as memorable. But like hiking in the Sierra Nevada, you climb a (sort of) pass every day.

I’ve always known that being an adult would be challenging. But I’ll admit I’m surprised at the apparent ceaselessness of the challenge, the slow but constant grinding much like the glacial retreat that carved the valleys the Sierra Nevada. I just live each day in hope that, like the glacial sculpting that created the beautiful mountains and valleys of California, the steady, penetrating grind of adult life will eventually shape me into the kind of man I want to be.

So my question for y’all is, what’s your mountain pass? What are the daily challenges you struggle with and conquer? I look forward to your emails and comments.


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