Finishing a course is usually a mixed blessing for me. Life is decidedly simpler in the mountains or out at the crag. The simpleness of living and working is one of the reasons that I truly enjoy what I do. Sure re-rations might be late or students might get hurt or misbehave or weather might come in and lay its own plan on us, but the beauty of working in these often remote and harsh environments is that unlike in the front-country nothing distracts me from them.
Finishing a course means the ability to distract. This little silver box that I sit in front of and endlessly stare at is one of the biggest. Conversations, work, relationships and projects, these are all things from which I distract myself. The color of the sky, the taste of a meal, the soreness after a workout, the taking care of someone, these things and the feelings they elicit, are what I want to focus on, but with so much more stimuli in my life, some things fall by the wayside.
In the front-country there are more ways out of things, so many easily accessible distractions. In the backcountry when things don’t go as planned, I have to deal. It is there, in my face and pretty darn real. Whether it is a sudden storm preventing us from climbing over a pass or a solid snow pack that forces us to hike 19 miles to get our re-ration, we just have to do it. I can’t sit and find distraction by writing or surfing the web. I can’t find distraction in watching a marathon of CSI or Law and Order: SVU. I can’t find distraction in playing frisbee with Emma or taking her for a walk. I can’t find distraction in climbing. When things go other than how I had anticipated, it doesn’t matter where I am, there is less room for distraction.
It can get pretty simple, but that is where the beauty and comfort lie. When I cut away the clutter, the things that distract, I focus more regardless of the task. When I am out in the mountains, life goes on elsewhere. People are living lives, wars are being waged, hearts are being broken, and love is being made. When I am out in the mountains those things slip away, are packed away in the box. Yeah, I still need to pay the bills, I still need to buy my mother a birthday present, get my oil changed and work for world peace. Those things don’t matter though because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I can do about it. It slips away.
Things have to be dealt with in the mountains. Whether it is a thunderstorm as I top out on a peak, a pack washed downstream or a tent shredded by a windstorm, there is no easy way out, no productive procrastination. The consequences of inaction can quite often be real and immediate.
It is often said that things are so much simpler in the wilderness. Most folks think that this simplicity lies in a lack of material possessions or lack of electronic communication oriented gadgets. I disagree with that assessment. Those electronic gadgets are replaced by high tech fabrics and aluminum alloys. The material possessions are just different, that is all. We have so much gear and so much food. A 30 day mountaineering course is logistically intensive. It is not as though we walk into the mountains naked and with only a knife. I believe that the simplicity of the wilderness lies not in what we have, but in how we think, how we make decisions and what is important. Priorities change. For my part, my mind is uncluttered. Thoughts of places, events, and people not relevant to the current time or place have slipped away. I am in the present and unlike in the front-country, consequences of inaction are often quite apparent to my well focused eye.
As long as I continue to work and spend my free time exploring rocks, mountains and wilderness, I will cherish the simpleness it brings. The simplicity of a way of thinking, a clarity of mind. I will cherish the time without outside, unimportant distractions.