Emily Brown: ‘I Turned to Face the Mountain’

By EMILY BROWN
Contributing Columnist

“I trust myself,” I whispered as I turned to face the mountain.

“I trust myself,” I said again, loudly enough that my friend could hear it this time. He helped me store all the extra weight from my pack as he waited for me to complete my ascent, because he had a sore Achilles and could not make the climb himself.

Looking back and smiling, I thanked him for letting me borrow his new pine-green sunglasses and tucked them into my chest strap. Heading uphill alone, all that was left between me, and my first 14,000-foot summit, was rock and scree.

And fear.

How high is that? Skydivers jump from 14,000 feet. The Smokies and Appalachians top out at less than 7,000 feet.

“Be here now.” I rolled these words around like hard candies over the taste buds of my mind as I ascended.

“Be here now.”

“Be here now.”

The repetition filled and cleared my mind, so I could let the pleasure of the present sweep over me as I confronted my first true boulder field. I wasn’t afraid. It was sweet. It was tempting. I had forgotten my friend’s sore ankle and all my other cares that had weighed me down in the world.

Testing my technical ability, I swiftly traversed the terrain.

Then came the mental checks:

Check your foot placement.

While shifting your handhold, are you sure it’s stable?

If not, readjust. If yes, make your move.

I urged myself to just go, reminding myself that I had taken all the precautions possible in my mind. Clear headed, I shifted all feelings of presence to my body. Knowing without a doubt that my hands and feet will get me where I need to go, I exhaled fear. It was freeing to begin letting go of the mental chatter and anxiety that has made a home in my lower brain.

I know all too well how that mental chatter can arise into a crippling sickness. So, as it faded from my all-consuming focus on the climb, I began to inhale confidence with each one of my breaths—true, physical breaths. No longer emotionally gasping for air due to unmet needs, I was able to let the air fill and leave my lungs as it wanted to.

High up in the Rocky Mountain sky, I relinquished control of my breath into a life-giving rhythm: an all-consuming inhale followed by an all-releasing exhale. Breathing became pleasure as movement became good-pain I could offer my body. I accepted that I was at the mercy of the mountain, yet we had a mutual sense of respect. Two separate forces of energy, each system working in harmony with another, I began to feel that trust I had promised myself at the outset.

As I climbed, I felt the strength of a growing bond, a trail of its own terrain, a lasso of light, connecting my physical body with the inner workings of my mind. My mind and matter were one cohesive unit; no longer at anxious arms with each other, each side set down their weapons and began to embrace.

I was taking completely embodied action for what felt like the first time in a long time.

What a joyous meditation in movement!

Every sense was unified in one purpose and one moment. There’s a clear-headedness that comes from embracing this kind of pain as pleasure. It’s a state of flow, one where the stars inside me align. If I unlinked the constellation for a second, thinking about something other than my present action, I would physically slip in the gravel.

Of course, I slipped sometimes. Each time I did slip, though, I would shake my legs out and repeat my mantras. Over and over.

“I trust myself.”

“I trust myself.”

“I trust myself.”

Then, I beamed straight back into the galaxy of complete presence and celebrated my own return.

On July 30, 2021, at 9:50 in the morning, I summited my first 14er, Mount Sneffels (via Yankee Boy Basin and Lavender Couloir).

Standing at 14,150 feet, with the entire San Juan range in view, I stared off in every direction, fully absorbing this point in time into myself. With overwhelming gratitude, I thanked the universe, the mountain, life’s timing and my body.

Life that high revealed stunning blue glacial lakes, rocky ridge lines, and huge pine forests where the individually colored trees blended to create a crashing wave of emerald.

And among the vast natural beauty of Mother Earth, there was little me with my head in that rarefied, clarifying atmosphere for a few unforgettable moments.

I’m not a technical climber. I’m not a world-class mountaineer. I’m not someone with fifty-something peaks already in their bag.

I’m simply a girl with an undying love for adventure who is learning to trust herself.

.

.

EMILY BROWN is a University of Michigan creative writing student and journalist who is combining her love of travel, the natural world and meeting a wide diversity of people into a vocational pursuit of storytelling with a healing purpose. Although she is young, she already has spent a decade earning various certifications in wilderness skills and she is an experienced leader of backpacking trips for young people in wilderness areas. A true story about how she inspired her father, Howard Brown, a Stage IV cancer survivor, to make it to the top of a peak in the Caribbean will appear soon in Howard’s memoir, Shining Brightly. This is Emily’s first column to appear in ReadTheSpirit magazine. Watch for her byline in the future!

.