Often the deeper meanings of our activities are not apparent to those around us and, sometimes, even to ourselves.  But on a recent climb, the motivations for my actions, and those of my friends, were very clear.

We just climbed Mount Rainier (14,410 feet) by the Emmons-Winthrop route.  In a previous blog, I shared the Best Moments and the Scariest from our trip.

Sure, we were there to have fun and climb the mountain.  But this journey was more weighty and meaningful than any other I have done in my 30 years of climbing.  Part of the reason we were on Rainier was to remember, honor and commemorate a previous ascent of the mountain with my old climbing friend, Mike Price.  After a huge crevasse fall through a hidden snowbridge, Mike passed away while 80-feet deep inside the Emmons Glacier, with me next to him, trying to save him.

For over 20 years, I have felt Mike’s presence and memory in many things I have done, especially in the mountains.  Considering that it took my friend’s life and nearly mine as well, climbing Rainier again felt risky to me… like a big commitment with an unknown outcome – just like all adventures. It will take some time for me to digest all that happened there, and what it means.  While that process unfolds, I wanted to share a few snippets.  Here are the Most Important Moments:

  • Deciding to Return to Rainier at all.
  • While loading our backpacks in the White River Campground parking lot, flashing back 20 years  and recalling precisely where Mike and I parked our rental car while preparing our own loads.
  • Seeing the exact spot where the snowbridge collapsed beneath us in The Corridor section of the Emmons Glacier. This was difficult for me to see.
  • Taking those last few steps to the summit on July 31, 2012.  The previous time I was atop that majestic volcano, Mike and I stood smiling, thrilled and proud with our arms comfortably over each other’s shoulder.  Last week, I plodded ever so slowly up those last few feet, memories flooding my heart, tears filling my eyes.  Watchful as ever, my four partners walked closely behind.

Jim's shadow falls on the icy skin of the glacier at dawn

I feel as if I returned to the dragon’s lair, and with four friends there to back me up, I walked straight back inside.  I did not slay any mighty beast though.  Instead, I gently put my hand on its icy skin and simply let it know that I was there.  That though I was scared and scarred, I came back to see the snow covered dragon once again, to respectfully stand in each other’s presence, and to remember days and a friend long gone.

I was not sure what would happen on this trip.  I worried that I was not strong enough or brave enough to attempt this challenge.  A small part of me did not want to go.  But I went anyways.  I experienced elation and uncertainty.  I felt the volcanic soil’s warmth and the icy glacier’s cold.  I stood on the summit with my teammates to celebrate the power and beauty of the mountains.

I think my old friend Mike would approve.