Yes, I’ll Get Out There Again. For Now, I’m Learning to Wait
I used to dislike the view of mountains I couldn’t climb. Driving past unknown peaks and unexplored canyons sometimes made me inexplicably sad. It’s usually because I know I won’t return, and the depths and beauty of that region will remain a mystery to me. My favorite views are ones that I know deeply. I love the sense of intimacy that comes with looking at a mountain I’ve climbed or lake I’ve plunged into. Every time I come back from a trip, I’m motivated to explore the wildlife in my own backyard.
From my neighborhood in Oceanside, California, I’m able to see Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio when the skies are clear. After a storm, the mountains shine white with snow, taunting me to come play. This year the first clear spring day came during the statewide shutdown caused by the coronavirus. When I first saw the mountain ranges, glee was quickly replaced with sadness. The trails are closed, and a trip to the mountains isn’t exactly essential travel.
The sight of snow is always exciting for a lifelong Californian. My neck cranes instinctively whenever I spot a snowy peak in the window. Staring at thousands of feet of immense, white mountains my mind frantically searches for the next time I can get outdoors. I often feel the need to have the next trip planned before I leave the Sierra Nevada or San Bernardino mountain ranges. However, I lived in San Diego for three years before venturing to the surrounding wilderness for the first time. In the summer of 2018, my then coworker (and now lifetime adventure partner) asked if I would want to climb Mount San Jacinto, one of Southern California’s few 10,000+ foot peaks. We drove and hiked through the night, summiting shortly after sunrise. The dawn illuminated a wild, mountainous, and breathtaking piece of California I had never seen.
The next weekend, we summited Mount San Gorgonio, and my adventurous spirit had finally found a home. We finished the fall of 2018 summiting Mount Whitney and Mount Baldy with a few side trips to Joshua Tree sprinkled in as well. Each trip to the mountains gave me a deeper appreciation for the state I call home. On the trail, I had found my body capable of way more than I had previously thought. Whenever the cars on the road began to thin out and jagged peaks came into view, I knew type two fun was on its way.
After summiting Whitney, I grew an appetite for discomfort. These mountains, which had been standing next to me for years, were showing me how strong I was. Over the summer, I tried my hand at alpine climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry route finding. I climbed a few Cascade volcanos, The Grand Teton, and capped the summer with my first thru-hike. At the end of the John Muir Trail, I stood on top of Mount Whitney once again.
Post-trail life led me back to Oceanside, just north of San Diego. I battled post-trail depression, as the days at home slipped past quickly without anything accomplished. On the trail, each day was an interminable battle between my body and my mind and I struggled to adjust to a predictable routine. Eventually I found a job, and settled back into the life of a weekend warrior. One blue-skied day in December, I walked outside and immediately stopped cold in my tracks. Two snowy mountain ranges, clear as could be, were off in the distance. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio were welcoming me back into the Southern California wilderness. Two years previously, I had no idea those mountains existed. One year before, I had hiked them for the first time in order to train for Mount Whitney. And now, here they stand, taunting me to come back home.
Over the winter, I escaped to Idyllwild to snowshoe, hike, or simply enjoy the pace of a trail town. On any clear day, I could catch a glimpse of those mountains as I prepared for a run or walk around the neighborhood. I looked forward to the long winter in the mountains, and planned for many snowy summits.
And then, the pandemic changed life as we know it. I’m fighting the urge to plan trips for “when this is over,” and committing to socially distancing as long as it takes. During an early April week of rainstorms, I stayed inside cozied up in my living room tent. Then, the San Diego skies cleared and those mountains appeared again, with more snow than I have ever seen. A wave of gratitude hit me, without the urge to jump in my car. I was simply happy to see the view.
My time in nature has taught me to accept the conditions of a given day, week, or even months. The Sierra Nevada Range doesn’t care if it’s your last night on the JMT, there’ll be a windstorm no matter your plans. Just because those mountains are currently snowcapped and enticing doesn’t mean I have to go climb and hike then and there. Staying in one spot has taught me to appreciate nature beyond the desire to explore. On my daily walks around the neighborhood, I’m beginning to greet those mountains as any other friend. Maybe I won’t be able to visit them this season, but as all good friends are, they’ll still be there after the snow.
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