Kassandra Tuten

It looked much smaller from the base; the mountain that I was now strapped to the side of.

It was late May, and, although there remained feet of snow underneath us, the snowshoes slipped a little on the glistening, sunstruck snow as we continued to climb deeper into the clouds, the sun glistening on the all-white surface and our exposed skin.

The air was thick to me, making it much more difficult to breathe as the landscape ahead continued to reach higher and higher above.

“I’ve worn too much clothing,” I think to myself, trying to ignore the blisters forming on my left heel, and having now pulled my sweatshirt up around my neck, protecting my shoulders from the gleaming sun, but allowing my arms and core to breathe a little bit underneath my snowsuit. I’m sweating so much my hands, clasped firmly around my snow poles, are sweating, my arms quivering from the weight I’m putting into my forearms, begging, pleading with them to keep me safe in case my feet give way underneath.

I freeze somewhere around the middle of our climb, all of a sudden too terrified to move, my arms quaking harder than ever, and my feet stubbornly refusing to take even one more baby step.

I’m terrified; all of a sudden very aware of the fact that I, clumsy and awkward as I am, and never having climbed a mountain in my life, am standing, at this point, thousands upon thousands of feet from solid ground. The climb remaining appears impossible as I continue to struggle, my legs feeling heavier than lead. They are cemented to the firm yet sloshy mountainside. I have no faith in myself, in my abilities, in my snowshoes, in my poles, in my arms, my legs, my core, my body, the ground beneath my feet. I’m crying. Not sobbing, but just silently crying because I’m so frustrated with myself that I can’t just move one more inch; take one more step; make it to that bunch of trees just ahead. I’m embarrassed at my seeming lack of ability; at having to breathe so heavily; at sweating so heavily; at doubting myself so much; at my fear. I’m embarrassed, scared, and frustrated, and hot, and tired, and thirsty. I’m every emotion that I can possibly think of, but I’m not miserable. I’m excited to make it to the top, to conquer that fear that I have at this moment. I just need to will my feet to move, which seems like an impossible feat.

I take what feels like a million labored breaths, trying to calm myself down and find the courage to continue.

“You’re no quitter,” I tell myself, sometimes out loud. “It’s just snow. You can do this. It’s just snow.”

That mantra, “It’s just snow,” which, for some reason gave me comfort in the moment, and the realization that Rye would never put me in a situation that I couldn’t handle, gave me the courage to make it to the top.

“It’s just snow,” I repeated, now counting my steps. “It’ll all be worth it when you reach the top.”

“It’s just snow.”

And then we made it; our destination realized after what seemed like an eternity of climbing. It was magnificent.

Snow-capped, toothy mountains surrounded the slab of rock we were silently perched on, stretched as far as the eye could see. It was a place where the earth and the heavens met, as dark, stormy clouds gathered across the sky.

We heard thunderclaps off in the distance, so we began to make our descent, choosing a much more leisurely path down. (We both agreed we were happy we took the more challenging route up. It made the final summit that much more meaningful.)

We spent the next week exploring the heavenly mountain town that is McCall, Idaho, eating delicious foods at all the local restaurants, exploring the glorious views of Payette Lake and Ponderosa State Park, hunting for morel mushrooms (and subsequently cooking up our tasty morsels for a crowd of hungry students), toasting acquaintances at Ice Cream Alley, drinking deliciously overpriced margaritas, identifying all the western trees, watching a Grateful Dead tribute band in a local dive bar, and just enjoying each other’s company in a cozy cabin in the mountains.

It was a beautiful week, made all the sweeter by starting it off with the most challenging climb I’ve ever made in my 27 years. It was tough, but I’m sure it certainly won’t be my last. Sometimes, the greatest outcomes emerge from our greatest challenges.

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