For once, dear readers, I'm going to take a departure from my normal, journal-style writing; I'm going to tell you a tale instead - a tale wound through with joy, wonder, awe, triumph, tragedy, hope and bitter, bitter failure.
It starts with two men. These two men are not extraordinary in any particular fashion, although they both have their strengths, as all men do. And, of course, they both have their weaknesses. These two men are similar enough in their ways to survive the isolation and intensity that any great journey involves, yet their differences - whilst setting them apart as any difference would - seem to augment the relationship in unexpected ways. Where one does not know, the other speaks for him. Where one finds beauty, the other appreciates from a distance so as not to disturb. Where one is weak, the other is strong. They call themselves friends, these two men, but that's not all there is; the word kin would suffice, or maybe it wouldn't - there's so much that's hard to understand with these two men. Regardless, their bond is firm and has driven them to embark on a Long Road yet again, this time one that starts in swamp but finds them now amongst the high peaks.
In many ways, this is the culmination of their quest, if so poetic a word might be used when discussing these two men - this mountain is what they set out for. There will be other things to tempt them along the way, as these are two men whose fate it is to be easily tempted, but the mountain is why they embarked in the first place. Their history together tells of wild places, cold and desolate, but this is where they find their wonder and fulfilment, and it seems they are only truly happy when they reach the furthest reaches of the world. Thus they are here for the mountain, to test her traps and uncover her beauty, and the set of their jaws tell you that they will not leave until they're done.
Their clothing and packs speak of a past spent exploring the edges of the world - but today there is something about their poise. They are tense, with anticipation more than concern, and their eyes are set with looks, not grim exactly, but determined. They set out on the path, starting gently but soon pressing forward, into the silent hills and aching valleys of the mountain.The men’s laughter echoes along the way, because humour is one of the most tightly knotted threads binding these two men together, but underneath it all sits... a desire maybe? A drive perhaps. But whatever it is it pushes the two men to move onwards, into the chilling embrace of the mountain.
They cross high passes, the soles of their well worn boots trampling snow that crackles and sparkles in the sunlight, looking for all the world like diamonds scattered across billowing sheets of the whitest Egyptian cotton. They move through sylvan forests, whose snow-laden branches cast an ethereal glow that brings life to the tracks and trails they move along. Ancient, ruined relics of past travellers are treated with as much respect as the two men can muster, a sort of grudging acknowledgment, and a pause in the words that usually flow between them, as the mountain breeze skips between the pines. They stare out over far-off ranges edged in white, grey clouds falling over them like a funeral shroud, infusing the scene with a melancholy that takes the wind out of their lungs. But always, always, the two men move forward.
Their progress is not entirely unhindered however. Several times the men forge ahead, only to be pushed back by some extremity of nature or unexpected end. Deep snow swallows the two men up to their waists, forcing freezing water into their clothes and whispers that this path is not theirs. Twisting pathways appear where they should not and strange tracks in the frozen ground cause the two men to ponder who, or what, they might be sharing this mountain with. The sun constantly caresses the two and, despite the cold, the men break into a sweat that freezes the instant that it leaves their skin. The two men are not the sort who believe in myth or superstition, but to those that might it would seem that the mountain wants to impress that she does not enjoy the company of these men and is making every effort to scratch them off, as a wolf would a tick.
But the two men endure, as they always have, and follow routes that climb ever higher and thin the air so much the men can taste their own blood in their mouths. Suddenly, a final climb brings them their reward - they finally espy an ending, at least enough of an ending to leave them sated - for the moment, at least. A lonely little cabin, abandoned to the whims of the snow and ice, leers at the two men from its perch only a few hundred feet from where they stand. For those watching closely, a change creeps over the two men like a shadow - it's barely noticeable, more an alteration in bearing than any sort of posturing, but it's there all the same. Weakness was mentioned all too briefly earlier in this story and it's this weakness, a weakness for a challenge, that will be the cause of much loss for the two.
The men wait quietly, breathing fast but steady as they consider the contest that the little cabin has issued. Without anything more than a nod passing between them, they set out - perhaps it's arrogance, perhaps it's foolishness that drives them on, but it's not long before the two men realise that the little cabin was not left so lonely for so long without reason. The men's footing begins to give way underneath them, pushing them up to their thighs in the binding snow and grasping at their boots, causing them to push their way up with their hands. Their boots fill with melting snow, their gloves freeze in knifing winds that push powder like glass into their eyes. The little cabin laughs, as it must have laughed at so many others, and the hills echo with its crowing.
Still, there's something that the cabin doesn't know. These two men thrive on the challenge - if there's a prize, then the two men will chase it, not for the prize itself but for the glory, the glory of contest met and overcome. They would prod the devil for a bent bottle cap if somebody dared them to, and today's no different. The harder the challenge, the greater the glory and the more they will strive to succeed. So the two men pause, exhausted from the journey and the lightening airs of the mountain, but one of the men - it matters not which one - feels the cabin's mockery more keenly than the other.
Sinews strengthen, resolve redoubles and the man drags himself out of the clinging snowpack, on his feet where the ground allows and on his hands and knees where it doesn't. Crawling, gasping, cursing, he moves oh-so slowly onwards, and it seems like for every step forward that the cabin is dancing three back. But the man's focus is not on the cabin, nor on his languishing companion. It's on the patch of snow, a square foot across, in front of the man's nose. One square foot at a time, he drags himself hand over hand for what seems like forever until, as suddenly as he made the decision to set out, his fingers grasp sodden timbers. He collapses on the deck, as he draws shattered breath after breath back into his body, but he can now claim the little cabin as his own.
As soon as he can stand, this man staggers away from the cabin to record the moment with a sacred artefact gifted to him by his people, as is his right, and, elated at the challenge overcome, he heads back into the snow field he'd escaped only moments before to join the other. It has already been said that these men, this man, can be prideful and cocksure - never is this truer than now, as this man laughs and hollers, bounding through the deep white propelled by the thrill of the conquest. But pride can blind, it can make you forget that there's always a price, one you never get away without paying.
As this man is within sight of the other, the mountain claims her due - snow twists and buckles under his feet, throwing the man forward and over until he is rolling in white - white which bruises, cuts and fills his clothes leaving this man hurt and bitter with cold and embarrassment. As he emerges from the drifting powder, he checks to see nothing is amiss - he then realises that the mountain has exacted her payment. The artifact of his people, so precious to this man, has been taken, stolen from him at the last, and lies buried in the icy ground around him. He howls his pain at the loss, attracting the attention of the other, and begins furiously digging in the freezing snow, ignoring the blistering cold that cripples his fingers and stings his lungs as the other races towards him. They both dig, claw and scrape at the ground until they stand panting and exhausted - with only the howling breeze carrying the hollow laughter of the mountain around them.
But the story does not end here. By now it should be clear that these men do not take loss so lightly, especially when the loss involves something so precious. Weary and broken, the men descend the mountain - looking for all the world like defeated and worthless souls whose resolve has been dashed upon the forever mountain - but listen carefully and you can hear whispers. Whispers of plans being made and remade, lists of tools now required and how they will be employed.
So it comes to the next morning, the skies heavy and grey with fresh snow, and the two men stand yet again at the foot of the mountain - new equipment strapped to their backs and a single look, etched of solid steel, shared across two faces. And so the two men return to that forsaken clearing on the mountain, painstakingly employing every tool, every plan, every pleading bargain, in search of the artefact. Hope fills their steps, hope that they will overcome, prevail, succeed.
But hope is not something the mountain entertains, although it perhaps should, as hope is as cruel a mistress as the mountain herself. Hope drives the two men, causing leaps and swelling of the spirit at every turn, but ultimately, as the hours grind on, hope dwindles. Eventually hope dies in the hearts of these men, these two men who have given so much to the mountain. But cruelty does not preclude compassion, however meagre that compassion might be, and as the two men retreat for the last time, sun breaks through the lead coloured skies and accompanies the two men on their journey back to where they came from.
Their footsteps are weighted with the loss, but these two men do not dwell on their failures - they know, perhaps a little better now, that there is no lesson here to be taught here but there is surely a lesson learnt; there is always a price to be paid, so make sure you're prepared to pay it.
Yeah, so I took a tumble on our hike into the mountains which resulted in the loss of my phone - we tried for hours to find it, even employing a metal detector, but to no avail. I've lost a few days of pictures, which is saddening for a lot of reasons, but we're pushing onwards into Utah.
Thanks Breckenridge, it was fun.