After so many years living and working in the alpine I’ve learned a few things about enjoying my time in the mountains. Each day working above the trees, I see numerous hikers pass by with their heads to the ground, pushing for the summit through lightning and rain. They often ask me about weather, distance to the summit, elevation gain, etc, to which I politely tell them what I know. But everything they’re asking for is plain to see, if only they were looking. The summit is right there above us, and the weather is all around. On the summit the elevation will be slightly higher, and the weather will be a bit colder, windier, and more likely to see lightning. If there’s one thing I’d like to communicate to hikers it’s “Look up! The hike is the fun part.” The summit is nothing but a pile of rocks. You spend all day hiking for a few minutes on the summit, where you might see some other mountains off in the distance. How could the mountains in the distance be more interesting than the one right under your feet? Enjoy the hike, see the tundra and talus, the cliffs and gendarme that point toward the top. The journey is so much more than the destination. It’s a shallow pursuit to climb only for the summit and the vague idea of a mountain conquered. Come to the mountains for adventure and beauty; if it was possible to conquer we wouldn’t call it wilderness.
The best place to enjoy a mountain is from a high glacial basin, a roaring spring creek, or a quiet campsite near the edge of tree-line. Enjoying a mountain is harder than climbing it, because it is uneventful and intangible. There may never be a moment you could describe to a friend that would impress them with your daring or prowess, no statistical accomplishment to check from your list, just a beautiful place free from obligations.
The most common question I’m asked while constructing or maintaining trail in the alpine is “How many peaks have you done?” which is a difficult question to answer. I’ve seen many peaks, from the Alps to the Himalaya, and forgotten a lot of summits along the way. What I remember are the stories of terrifying rock fall, close calls with lightning, beautiful campsites, run-ins with bears and mountain lions, crumbling icefalls, knife edge traverses, and wild dangerous spectacular places. The summits were just stopping points along the way.
All photos copyright Eli Allan, and available upon request.