Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mountain Anniversary

It was a year ago today that we summitted Kilimanjaro. We'd started climbing at 11 the previous night, hiking by headlamp up the trail. The little circle of light showed basically scree (loose rock,) which gave way to snowpack as we went higher. We talked quietly among ourselves, but mostly just put one foot in front of another. We summitted at sunrise, about 7 a.m., a glorious vista spread out before us. We were so high we could see the curve of the earth.

The summit of Kili is a tad over 19,000 feet. You don't NEED oxygen to be that high, but you sure notice that you don't have as much of it as you'd like. The thin air limited our pace, but the cold kept us moving. Too slow, and the cold became very uncomfortable. Too fast, and breathing was difficult. Our pace as we got near the top was about the pace you'd walk a labyrinth..deliberate, slow, steady. We took breaks to try to chew through frozen Clif bars, but soon had to be moving again.

Aristotle says virtue is in the mean between excess and deficit, between, in this case, being too cold and being too breathless. The mean is a prudential judgment that constitutes excellence for that time. I've been thinking lately of a friend who never takes chances, never reaches outside himself, has no one he trusts, and has never dared love--somewhere in his life he slowed down and froze into himself. Conversely, we all know stories of people who race breathless but cannot continue--Janis Joplin is one example, perhaps. The pilgrim's walk is also a mean, between "go as slow as you need to," and "don't stop," and invites us to see the excellence in the mean. That mean is also the pace at which contemplation occurs--or, in life generally, what some might call awareness.

Today a 4-mile hike on the rim trail of Lake Tahoe--a mere 7,000 feet or so up. No Clif bars, though--how ascetical! :-)

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