I pull myself up the last pitch to the top of the Grand Teton. Eleven hours after our start this morning, exhaustion engulfs me and I rest. My eyes take in the powerful view around me, but it is overwhelming. So I focus on the things I can control in this moment. I remove my tight purple climbing shoes and allow my cramped toes a brief release. Then I move on to my granola bar. I slowly unwrap the packaging and take a few bites, noticing that Charlie has already finished his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and is antsy to get moving down the mountain. Finally, I am able to lift my eyes, fully breathing in the world below me: the lush Jackson valley, the Idaho crop circles that are usually only visible from a plane, the endless chain of peaks, glaciers, and hidden alpine lakes. It is a masterpiece. I note my discomfort as the fine details of the landscape disappear. There are no fungi, bacteria, or soil organisms down there. There are no wildflowers. There are no snakes, birds, or rodents. But the human influence is strong. I can see the roads, the airplane trails in the sky. I hear the fifty or so other people struggling to reach the top of the Grand as well. I wonder how many people have breathed in this same worldview and how many have ignored it.
I am often confronted with the difficulty of explaining my major, Earth Systems Science. But it seems so natural when I think of standing on top of the Grand. Above the LCL (lifting condensation level) of the clouds, I could see the connectivity of the world; that each element (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere) blends with the next (that the divisions and categories are man-made). If one wants to know the earth as it is, one must be aware of the entirety. I could not imagine myself choosing to value one part over the others. How could I pick a specialized study as was asked of me, when that choice would skew my perception to something I could never trust? From atop the Grand, with a view that both expands one’s vision of the world and shrinks it, I felt renewed passion for my chosen major. Especially with the human piece more pronounced in my mind than ever before.
It was time to move down the mountain when we noticed large storm clouds in the distance. With care, we managed two repels and a lot of scrambling down boulder fields, placing feet precisely so as to not disrupt the loose rock that can kill a hiker down slope. We made it back to the lower saddle as the rain started. We filled our water bottles with glacial melt and looked down the large canyon that promised another 4 hours of hiking ahead. The wet rock presented further challenge to my tired feet and dizzy mind. But it was a relief to be able to see parts of the trail that were not visible during the morning hike. 16.5 hours after the start of the day, we made it back to the cars. And reentered the human world of comfort and categories.
|View from the top of Grand Teton|