My Better Self on the Summit Ridge


In antiquity the name of daimon was given to the human soul or to higher intelligences.

— Pascal

This story takes place in July of 2000 (22 years ago, speaking of antiquity!). I was on a 10-day solo in the Southern Chilcotin area of BC. It took me three days to march/stagger to Warner Lake.

The view from Camp 3, Warner Lake 2000
A view of Warner Lake from near Warner Pass.

At the end of Day Four I was on the far (west) side of Warner Pass. It was very windy (and cold for mid-July).

My high camp at Warner Pass (elevation 7900 ft.). I am wearing the gortex jacket and pants that my Father bequeathed to me. I have attached a black snow-shovel scoop to the bottom of my ice-axe so that I can build a much-needed wind wall.

I built a wind wall with blocks of snow.

A picture of the “inside” of my wind wall … just before I put the tent against it.

Day Five dawned cold and clear. My plan was to try to climb Warner Peak. Note: I do not consider myself a “climber”. I consider myself a backpacker who sometimes scrabbles up easy or moderate peaks. So when I use the verb to “climb” I am usually referring to upward movement on tilted ground.

There were two snow slopes that I had to climb in order to gain the summit ridge. Neither was “extreme”, but I had to be careful, because an unchecked slip would have “consequences”. But I had my trusty ice axe with me, and I knew how to use it.

At around 10 AM I had climbed to the bottom of the first snow slope. I looked up at the route and rated my chances of getting to the summit at about 60-40 (i.e. a 60% chance that I’d actually get to the top).

When I had climbed to the top of the second snow slope I rated my chances of getting to the summit at about 40-60. Things were looking a little less promising (and a little more ’tilted’).

When I finally got onto the summit ridge it was a lot narrower than I had expected, and I was quite prepared to turn back. After scrambling along the narrow ridge for 10 minutes, I re-rated my chances of getting to the summit at 10-90. I got the distinct impression that this specific endeavour was slightly out of my league.

I admitted to myself that I probably didn’t have the skill or the confidence to get to the peak. And turning around was OK by me.

I had all but turned around (in my head), and so I said to myself “OK, since you are going to turn around, and since you literally have all day, why not just take a few more steps before turning around?” I egged myself on in this manner for another 20 minutes or so … always saying that I was going to turn around any minute now, but I might as well explore a little farther along the ridge.

Then something amazing happened.

My ice-axe and the final pitch to the summit.

I scrambled around a gully that had a “terrifying” view of a severe drop, and then I climbed up a short, steep snow slope, and then finally up some jagged rocks to the summit.

The “something amazing” was that …

I scrambled up as if I was skilled and confident.

It was

as if

I had become a different person for that brief period of time! I was surprised that I wasn’t having my usual concerns about clumsiness or about heights.

The summit cairn, Warner Peak 9296 ft.

It was as if someone was “coaching me”. I thought about that while I was sitting on the summit, and I said “Thank-you” to whoever that was. And then I had another thought. What if the “person” coaching me was my Better Self — the Self that knows what I am really capable of? The Self that expects a little more of me. The Self that provides me with what I need when it demands more of me.

Once I got back down to my base camp I wrote in my journal:

I scrambled up to the summit today as if I had confidence and grace. I moved my body in ways that only a better version of myself could.

I instinctively knew where to put my hands and feet, and how to shift my weight and transfer my balance point. For once I wasn’t worried about “How am I going to get down?” — I just knew it that I could manage it gracefully (and safely).

Today I experienced one of the best days of my life. I met the person I wanted to be.

— Trip Journal, July 14, 2000

I want to make an important point here. It was not “getting to the summit” that made this one of the best days of my life. No sir. It was one of the best days of my life because I “met” someone on that narrow ridge. I met my Better Self.

Previous to this trip, I had had several similar experiences of being “coached” by some invisible Presence, but the experience on the ridge to Warner Peak was the clearest one. I was very conscious of what was taking place. I was aware of being coached.

One of the main reasons that I venture into the wilderness is to meet my Better Self.


2 responses to “My Better Self on the Summit Ridge”

  1. Without the summits on mountaintops and other difficult challenges in life, finding your better self will likely remain elusive. I can recall you and I pushing on to a few peaks when we were unsure and those adventures have stayed with me. Other adventures (and lessons learned) when we’ve turned around or pulled back a little have also stayed with me.

    Like

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