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A frosty mountain wind nips at my limbs and draws chills up and down my skin.  Great white clouds race each other in the world’s bluest sky, as they cast shadows and gilded rays of light across a dappling stream.  Wind strewn wrinkles ripple across the water and throw off gemstone winks, and a bolt of sudden flashing sunshine thaws my face.  The sun spills across a colorful swooping landscape, revealing dry, soft earth spread with bright yellow-green grasses. 

My vision hugs the swelling curves of the land and follows them to the distant rocky summits.  The mountain peaks, speckled with crisp white snow, float in hazy low clouds, and the terse air is revitalizing and fresh.  Beside a lone guanaco perched precariously on the cliffs and a small flock of flamingos fishing in the stream, I am alone.

I walk along the stream, leaving traces of my footsteps in the dusty prairie dirt.  A noisy tumult of wings and water disturbs the silence, as the birds take off in a flurry of white and pink.  Tranquility returns as fast as it departed, and I follow the translucent little waves towards the mountains with the wind at my back.

The short, soft grass gradually gets tougher and thicker to match its soil, and I begin to feel the ground’s pressure against my feet.  I start leaning forward as I walk to stay balanced and put my hands out to brush the shrubs and pull at branches.  Looking up, I see a marbled gray and tan rock wall.  The surface is worn and smooth, but scarred with deep cuts and lines.  I feel the warmth of the stone in the late morning sun while testing for handholds, and then hoist myself up.  I press against the wall six or seven feet above the ground and smell the baked dirt, feeling warmth from the earth filling up my insides and defrosting my fingers.  I see a patch of grass frayed over the top of the rock face and climb towards it, running my fingers through the blades of grass before pulling myself over.

Uneven hard ground peppered with rocks meets my precarious footsteps, and the soles of my shoes seem too thin.  I scale another wall, but this time the combined heat from the earth on my stomach and the sun on my back is not as comforting.  The clouds from earlier have departed, and a glaring white-hot sun has replaced them.  Soon I miss the heat, however, as I climb higher and higher and the air becomes thin and brisk.  I shiver in my clothes, wet with sweat, and stop to catch my breath.

Stung, I jump away.  The rock I leaned against was ice cold.  The sun has moved on to shine another place, and the whole side of the mountain is dark and exaggerated in shadow.  There is very little shrubbery left, only vast and unbounded crags of rock and grit.  The incline of the rock faces impairs my visibility, and I climb blindly, hoping I am not stranded with no way up, or down.  I crawl hesitantly across some dubious rocks, and my foot kicks out from underneath me. 

I hang, my head bowed and my fingers clenched, and carefully find my footing to climb.  My feet resting on somewhat flat rock, I lean against the mountain and cling to its formidable mass.  I take a deep breath, but the air is caught in my throat, and I cough.  I cautiously pull away from the mountain and gaze down from my overhang. 

I spot the stream winding through the valley like a crystalized snake and cutting through the golden-green steppe below.  The grasses and shrubs, crosshatches that texture and shade the landscape, add richness to the light brown earth that rolls through the valley and swings around the mountains.  The sun has dimmed, and dusk colored clouds reflect across the pale water, purple ghosts rippling in the wind.  The distant mountains have been carved from the color orange with deep maroon crescents, and the sky has erupted in swirling pink and purple feathered veils. 

As I turn back towards the mountain, I exhale smoke and rub my hands together.  Snow envelopes nearby boulders and rock faces, taunting me with its blunt divergence and frosty effect on the thin atmosphere.  I beat my hands against my thighs to force blood into them, and stretch my frozen fingers across the rocky mountain wall.  I heave myself up, ignoring the aching pain in my legs and shoulders, and the lack of feeling in my hands.  My teeth start to chatter, but I’m too close now to turn back.

The higher I climb, the slower my progress becomes.  But I can see the summit, the crest of this jagged rock, plunging at the sky like a massive serrated knife.  It feels as though hours must be going by, but the valley’s orange and violet glow still has not ebbed, nor has the horizon’s spark been extinguished by the night. 

I slowly and painfully pull myself above the final ledge, with only just enough light to make out my hands, bruised and battered.  I crawl on all fours like an animal, my hands and knees cut and bleeding, but force my body up into a staggering standing position, gasping for breath.  I’m here.  This is it.  I challenged the mountain, and I won.

Posted Jan 21, 2012 at 8:04pm

Comments (1)

  • Migs said:
    Amazing :) Feb 03
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