Peaking the Summit

Is it all about the Journey & not the Destination

“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.” This quote from Appalachian trails expert, Cindy Ross, captures my emotion perfectly.

A hike for me is an attempt to broaden my perspective and escape the normalcy of the urban life, albeit, for a few days. The quintessential aspect of gaining this perspective is the journey, the musings during the long descents, the conversations with locals, the support from fellow mates while upon steep inclines and the discovery of the unknown. Yet, for me, the most important part of the hike is reaching the summit and the knowledge that I’ve reached the goal I had set out for myself.

The journey, without a doubt, is very important to me and is the reason I go out for a hike. In the end, the journey creates memories and it is these that I miss after I’m back. The exposure to a different culture broadens my perspective and helps me get in touch with feelings and thoughts I seldom experience. The appreciation of a different way of life makes me more tolerant and helps me question some of my assumptions and common habits. During my hike to Chandrashila, as we were puffing our way up the mountain, it was humbling to see school children speed past us on their way to school. It was one of those occasions where I genuinely appreciated how privileged I am to have an education in which a bus drove us from our home to the school.

The trail also is one the best mediums to be educated about nature. While on the Bristlecone trail at Mount Charleston, I experienced the blooming of the bristlecone, an experience I could have never experienced through the multitude of media options we have.

Finding trail partners on the Ewoldsen Trail

However, the best part of the journey is walking with your fellow trek mates, motivating each other and pushing each other further on. The range of topics we get to discuss during the hike is mind-boggling. Even though it is primarily because of the amount of time spent with each other without the intrusion of modern media tech, it feels great to experience life in the simpler times. There are few comparable experiences to sitting around a wood fire as the body gains heat and recovers from the long hike of the day, and the mind captures the variety of feelings on Federer’s unbeatable records to the nuances of gay marriage legalisation in India.

Despite the importance of journey, the summit is the most important part of the hike for a couple of reasons. The summit helps give a sense of completion and a sense of achievement. The validation etches the memories and this is what makes the memories memorable in my opinion. Upon reaching the summit, the memories immediately sweeten up. The sore muscles and the breathless lungs get a shot of ecstasy whenever I reach the summit. Thus, I always feel that reaching the designated goal, just like in any other aspect of life, is worthy to strive for and its accomplishment is sweetest of all.

Much more importantly, making it to the summit often determines success and failure. And though failure during a trek isn’t by any stretch of imagination a disgrace, failure is a very important lesson. Many have said Failure is Life’s Greatest Teacher, and I sincerely believe that nothing builds character like failure. The ability to look back at a failed trek and understand the shortcomings both physical and psychological would help immensely to understand oneself better. Among my first hikes was Jalori Pass near Aut in Himachal Pradesh. On day three of the hike after reaching Jibhi, I had excruciating pain in my calf muscles and had to drop out. The wonderful memories with my cyclemates till then were washed away by the failure, but it gave me the determination to prepare better the next time. Since then I’ve done over fifteen 10miler hikes and my body has never failed me.

Enroute to Angel’s Landing with a 800ft drop on one side, and 1000ft drop on the other

I also believe that placing importance on the summit helps evaluate the risks during the hike more objectively. It prevents oneself from giving up too early and makes one understand the limits to which one should push his/her mind and body. These experiences translate back as invaluable lessons in our regular life as well. During a solo hike in Kraft Boulders (part of Red Rock Canyon), I was feeling lost after hiking for about two hours. Even though I could see a trail at some distance, I evaluated the risk to attempt the unknown trail given my water resources would be unworthy and decided to traverse back the path I had come by. The sense of having realistic goals, I feel have given me a better appreciation of risk and rewards.

And yes, the summit provides stunning views…

Half Dome in all its glory

The summit is my means to experiencing the adventure of the hike and sense of adventure embodies my pursuit out of the normalcy. Journeys create memories, but the summit etches those memories forever and keeps the fire of adventure burning. Paulo Coelho perfectly summarises why adventure is important to me. “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.“

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal. — Paulo Coelho
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