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Dumb Luck and Wonder
It surprises me a little, looking back, that my parents let me go. I was only twelve, and Hood Mountain was on private land at the time. We didn’t have permission to hike there, much less stay overnight on the peak. But we got the go-ahead anyway.

By some standards, the adventure wasn’t a very big deal, but it has proven to be a turning point for me. The climb itself certainly wasn’t anything special. Hood is 2733 feet above sea level, but it’s a nice, steady grade to the top. Sustained exertion is actually one of the chief rewards of hiking, especially once it’s over. It brings a sense of mastery, even triumph, that comes with the completion of any physical test. There is also the thrill of exploration, of picking your way, pursuing those choices, and ending up in a place very few have had the luck to find. These are among the highest joys that climbing and backpacking have to offer.

But not the highest. The morning after our climb, while my best pals Andy and Walt slept on the hard ground in their flannel-lined sleeping bags, I got up to watch the sunrise. Hood is one of the tallest peaks in the Mayacamas Mountains. It commands a view along the soft outcroppings of the range as it diminishes southward toward San Francisco Bay. On this morning, the coastal fog had flowed up the Valley of the Moon to press against the hills on their west side — just as the first light of dawn touched them from the east. There was a breathless, windless silence, punctuated only by a few tentative birdcalls. Below me the shadows on the hills were blue, shading to earthy purple. The eastern sky was aglow, and the rising sun frosted the rumpled cloud tops with a rosey warmth that receded southward as far as I could see. It was the most beauty I have ever taken in, before or since.

That moment, which seemed to have been created especially for me, has proven to be a seminal experience in my life. Two years later, the three of us (along with Andy’s dad) were standing outside the stone hut on top of Mt. Whitney. We had put in the effort once again (to 14,496 feet this time), we had come to terms with the mountain, and it had revealed its wonders.

Since then, I have spent parts of almost every summer searching for the same kind of awe I felt that morning as a youth. I found it coming in the high back door of the Pioneer Basin, in descending between Scylla and Charybdis into the Enchanted Gorge, and in hunkering down among the Ram Lakes as lightning and thunder resounded along the jagged eastern crest of the Sierra. On one trip I was hiking alone, lost and exhausted, trying to find a way over the White Divide that wasn’t there. By dumb luck, I stumbled on a rock and water dreamscape atop the ridge that I doubt anyone had ever been stupid enough to discover. I am moved even now thinking of the stark, otherworldly beauty I came upon that day.

I think those kinds of extreme experiences are behind me now, even though they are still vivid in my mind. But I know that the beauty and the remoteness are always there. The circumstances might be more modest, as they were on Hood Mountain, but I think I will always be receptive whenever a moment and nature intersect to summon those feelings of awe. Maybe I have my parents to thank for that, and maybe dumb luck, too. I’ll always be grateful for both.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee