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Life is a lot like climbing a mountain. There are the ups, the downs, the “are we there yet?” moments, and the moments when you wonder where the trail will lead. From the forested Blue Ridge Mountains to the United States’ westernmost peaks, my life is bounded by the heights I choose to conquer. Every time I summit a mountain, I come away with a thousand stories and a greater understanding of life’s possibilities.
Nature has always called me. Sherando Lake holds my earliest memories of the outdoors, where at 1,837 ft my brother and I raced to the island rising from the center of the lake. My parents were never far behind. They love to hike, and when I was too small to keep up, they would drag me along in a backpack. Later my brother joined us, and since then we have always been closest as a family while adventuring together. Every trip includes an expedition, every camp involves the outdoors. For seven summers I have attended Nature Camp nestled in the mountains above Vesuvius, Virginia. There in the sturdy log cabins I have spent two weeks hiking, learning and living alongside 60 other campers. Last session I summitted the 2,766 foot tall McClung Mountain three times, the slightly shorter Mine Mountain once and almost made it to the top of Adams. I mark my vacations by where I walk and what I climb, not how many hours I spend on a beach.
From the top of a mountain the entire world unfolds beneath an endless sky. While standing, it is frightening to feel the pull of the earth. I have climbed many mountains on both sides of the Atlantic, but Vogelsang, king of the High Sierras, is my crowning achievement. At 10,000 feet gravity is palpable and intimidating. Summer 2008 my family and I vacationed in Yosemite, which amounted to five days and nights carrying our clothes on our backs over 40 miles of trail. Looping through the High Sierras we climbed the 10,000 feet to Vogelsang and dropped as low as 7,216 at Lake Merced. Strong memories remain the longest, and I will always remember Yosemite and the snow angels made in August.
The older, statelier, Appalachian mountains contain their own gems. Old Rag Mountain, near Madison County, Virginia, presents a challenge to even the most determined hikers. The drive to its base meanders through farmland, passing mansions, horses and cows. Although the mountain is nothing impressive from the bottom, after three miles of hiking and scrambling up rock faces to the summit at 3291 ft, Old Rag’s bare boulders made me feel stranded among the clouds. Unlike in Yosemite where everything towers and individuals are dwarfed by the massive stretches of the High Sierras, in Virginia there exists a closeness lacking in the sparse Rockies. At the top of Old Rag I saw a falcon chase a crow not ten feet from me, and heard his cry echo across the valley below.
As I choose which hike to conquer, I will choose which path in life to follow, and maybe even blaze a few new trails. I have swum in underwater caverns, and raced down mountain waterfalls. I seek great heights, believing in the beauty of the world, and wondering, always wondering what lies at the top of the next mountain.