I gained the ridge in the setting sun. Slowly the full moon rose above the clouds to the east.
The wind had subsided, and I pulled my Black Diamond Megamid tent out of my pack, attempting to nail the stakes into a frozen crust of snow. Just as I got the corners down, a huge gust of wind came through and yanked them all out. I tackled the tent before it blew off the mountain and decided it was, indeed, a dumb place to try to sleep.
I put everything back in my pack and put my headlamp on to ski back down into the basin. I found a nice, flat spot, dug some snow out, and pitched my tent again. I was in Colorado’s American Basin, just below Handies Peak, the 14er that lies right on the Hardrock 100 course and a place I’ve run countless times. In the summer, my camp would be in a bog of trickling water and marsh marigolds. But today, in winter, it’s frozen solid.
I recently was talking to someone about connection to place. Or rather, we were talking about if it’s the people or the place itself that roots you. For me, it’s the place. Friends come and go, but the mountains out my door will always be there. And especially the nearby desert, the place I go to stitch together the fragments of my heart. But by way of these landscapes, we develop relationships with people who, too, are drawn to them. I think of the rivers and the stars that cover vast stretches of land, and much like a long thread connecting different pieces of fabric, these elements are what hold us together.
These stars, rivers, and mountains, with all their rocks and wildflowers, the canyons that have weathered countless storms, are the greatest endurance athletes we’ll ever meet. Far greater than any human or migratory bird, far greater than any of the biggest mechanized transport we can invent.
I like to ask friends when I’m out running and hiking, “If you could be a mountain, which mountain would you be?” People’s answers and reasoning are all unique, but everyone describes an inherent complexity to their favorite peak that can only be understood through repeatedly getting to know it.
As I sit in American Basin, which is not too far from my home in Silverton, Colorado, I recall some of the times I’ve run this mountain.
Once, I almost broke my hand when I tripped and fell super hard on it nine miles from my car on the backside of the mountain, only to have to outrun a thunderstorm going back up and over it.
I remember the string of headlamps from the Hardrock 100 last summer, slowly crawling their way to the top.
One time there were at least a couple dozen people on top, and I quickly got so annoyed by the fraternity boys’ loud music that I didn’t even tag the summit.
One of my first times on Handies, I chased Emelie Forsberg and Megan Kimmel up and down, learning quickly what running downhill really looked like.
I’ve made long runs on the peak and big loops through other basins and along the ridgelines that radiate from its summit.
I skied it another time last spring with a friend, but never before have I camped on it. Despite the cold and sleepless night, it felt like another stitch in getting to know the place. Suddenly I find myself comparing the mountain to some of the idiots I have dated. I laugh out loud to myself. I often wonder if I’ll ever find a partner, a guy that wants to genuinely get to know me and invest time in me, but despite some pockets of loneliness here and there, I recognize that the mountains will always be my partner, somehow knowing exactly when and what I need and I think that is enough.
I no longer believe in love, but I sure as hell believe in the love of a place.
Call for Comments
What mountain are you and why?