Grunting and Sweating and Summiting

My father and I climbed a lot of mountains when I was a kid, and as our family gathered recollections for his memorial service, more and more memories have come back to me of that world of huffing and puffing on mountain trails.

Looking back I reckon he was doing it to stay in shape, and keeping up with an eight-year-old is a good way to do that. But it was a lot more than that, of course. We hiked through forests, past waterfalls, over rocky ridges to some of the most beautiful summits in the world.

I’ve been doing so much biking in recent years, I forgot about the great satisfaction there is to be found in grunting and sweating and summiting.

By chance I’ve also been working on a review of Brandon Wilson’s new book Over the Top and Back Again: Hiking X the Alps. We usually run excerpts, rather than reviews, because they give the reader a better  impression of what the book is like and because it takes too long to read a book once, much less form an intelligent opinion about it.

But I really wanted to review this one because Brandon Wilson’s adventures are so extraordinary and the books he has written about them are so interesting. He gets to the heart of a destination, to be sure, but that’s the outer physical journey.

The inner spiritual journey gets rolling when he becomes hypnotized by the tramp of his footsteps and his labored breathing on mountain trails. What can you say about someone who has trekked from Nepal to Tibet and walked the Way of St. James twice? The guy is onto something.

Last time he walked from Paris to Jerusalem, and he almost got shot. In the Alps, he was basically climbing Mt. Washington every day for four months. And as you read through the book you can see how his improved conditioning affects his outlook on life.

So that’s another reason I’ve been tackling mighty Mt. Sugarloaf, elevation 625 feet — and I climb the tower, which is at least another 30. Today I went up North Sugarloaf, which is taller and more of a hike to get to, and tomorrow I’m going up Mt. Toby.

Then I’m thinking Mt. Monadnock and Mt. Chocorua. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop.