Outward Bound

by susankda

On a cold and moon bathed night while attempting to hike through a snowy pass in the Colorado Rockies, sometime between midnight and sunrise, I experienced both the depths of despair and the heights of elation. Hip deep in snow with a seventy-pound pack on my back, I found myself doubting my ability to move ahead. The gravity of my situation seemed almost pathetic to me. Only one month earlier, hadn’t I been sitting safely in my Connecticut home feeling as though my life was speeding by and I hadn’t lived it yet? Hadn’t I complained to anyone who would listen that I had no direction? Who could have guessed that within a few weeks, that direction would be so obvious; to get out of the hole I was in, or die trying. It was that simple.

Back at home; before I signed up for this life and death moment, I had been coping with the fact that the guy I lived with for three years had left me for a woman who he said was, “more interesting.” That was over a year ago and still, each and every morning as I awoke, I felt the hollow ache of loneliness in my gut. I decided that it was time to take drastic measures. It was time to become interesting, so I signed up to do something I never would have done before. I would risk my life in the Colorado Rockies in the Outward Bound month long survival training program. Without thinking twice I sent my check, bought my gear, even though I didn’t know what half of it was used for, and flew out to the mountains. How hard could it be to be interesting?

Holding my ice axe with hands that burned with the beginnings of frostbite, I pierced the ice in front of me so that I could pull my numb and exhausted body out of the hole, only to find that the weight of me would collapse into the snow once again just three feet ahead. This was my progress that morning. Sweating in the frozen air, struggling to keep myself in a positive frame of mind, I had only hours to make it through the mountain pass before the temperatures rose and the chance of avalanche increased dramatically.

I remembered that my Outward Bound Instructor had said, “It’s a matter of will power; your body will do what your mind tells it to do.” Of course I knew that, but the saying took on a whole new dimension up there above the tree line, under the vastness of that ultra marine sky, where there was only my fellow climbers, each of us dealing with our own holes in the snow, struggling to move forward. Coming to this mountain range, putting myself in danger, was my own choice and now that I saw the full impact of my decision, I knew that although I was not alone, it would be up to me to make sure that I made it home again.

Every move we made on that midnight hike through the pass would affect the whole group. We had to be efficient and smart. We had to move quietly, so as not to disturb the snow with any sound waves that might trigger a deadly avalanche. We had to help each other by not becoming a burden, by not giving up.

One step at a time I pulled myself forward until we reached firmer snow, a sheet of ice where we used the ice axe again to move ourselves along, being sure not to scream out if we suddenly slipped and began to tumble downhill. We had been trained just days earlier, in the lower areas of the mountain, at basecamp, where the late June snow was barely a foot deep, to use our ice axe in case we were falling out of control. Since my whole life had been about falling out of control up until then, the idea of using the ice axe didn’t scare me but rather, it seemed like a wonderful way to get my footing once again.

Down at the basecamp, playing around, laughing with my fellow survival-training classmates, life was not so serious and the ice axe lessons had seemed too grim, but tonight I understood. I hadn’t really been living at all, just passing the time. There in the bitter air, as I stood at the top of the pass, trembling, elated to have made it, I embraced my companions.

Together we looked up at the sky full of stars and realized we had arrived at our beginning. We were invincible.