MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 296
edited August 2022 in OUR STORIES

Words from Diana Davis, Photos by Brett Davis

This could be bad. I feel a few sprinkles mist my face as I look up at the looming gray moving in overhead. Hiking in the rain, paddling in the rain, camping in the rain–no problem. I have solid rain gear and an awesome Hyperlite shelter. Climbing on loose rock, surrounded by cliffs along this mountain’s false summit, is barely doable dry; add in slick surfaces and lightning, and it is just a bad idea.  

I scan the rugged land below me. I see some trees not too far away that we could go back to for cover if needed. But back down is tough. It feels too much like going backward, a direction I avoid at almost all costs. We have put in a lot of effort to get here.  

My mind drifts to our journey of ‘epic-ing’ through an endless vista of fallen trees. Every few steps, we were breaking branches to climb up and over, crawling on hands and knees below, or walking unsteadily on a steep hillside to get around the burnt and horizontal trees. We were continually on the move but at a pace of a quarter of a mile an hour. At times, the dense brush spanned thickly in all directions, making it hard to see the terrain up ahead or even the ground below my knees. 

My husband/adventure partner, Brett, took one big step over some branches right onto a ground nest of hornets. His ankles and eyelids swelled beyond recognition, and red, angry welts covered much of his body. Fortunately, a life of adventure has toughened him, and even in a Benadryl fog, he managed to help us set up camp for the night. 

Unfortunately, the only viable option turned out to be a tick-infested field. That morning, as I dressed for another day of bushwhacking, I picked a bloodsucker off my waist, and asked Brett if we were in the Hunger Games.

Now, as I stand along the rocky base of the mountain, with no plants or trees in sight, I feel so grateful to be out of what I began referring to as the jungle zone. I catch myself thinking that I don’t care how hard or risky it is up this ridge; we have come too far to turn back now. In business, this mindset is referred to as sunk costs. It happens when you keep putting more in–time, money, and resources, even when you know it isn’t working. You think that somehow if you keep moving more aggressively down the wrong path, it will magically turn into the right one so you can avoid losing all that you have invested. Clear thinking, however, means evaluating circumstances in the now, basing decisions not on past endeavors but on future intentions and goals.  

This awareness helps me recognize my thinking errors, and I switch perspectives. I remind myself to do the next right thing. Even though I do not want to go back down, if that is the best choice moving forward, then backward it will be.

 Fortunately, the rain gods delay their pool party for a few hours giving us time to find a scrambling but workable route over the mountain. As I watch Brett’s sure, steady steps up and across the 5th class route, I continue to think about risk. Risk management is a huge part of safely recreating in wild places. Risk becomes much more obvious and imminent in nature, but it is absolutely everywhere. It is in our relationships, financial decisions, career changes, parenting, driving, flying, staying home, or simply stepping out the front door. It is all around of us, but often subtle. 

The consequences of a wrong step off a cliff ledge are severe and immediate. The consequences of our daily life decisions are delayed, and the severity is often unknown. We might not realize the results of our daily choices, what we do or do not do, for years.

With the current hazard managed effectively, I watch as Brett safely reaches the summit. I ready myself for the climb, heaving my Hyperlite Windrider packed fully with food and packrafting gear over my shoulders. I clip it a little tighter to limit any shifting and minimize the weights’ effect on my balance. I make sure every foot and handhold is secure. I surprise myself by actually feeling good about this. I am quiet, slow, attentive, and confident. This has risk, but it is well within my skillset and only at the edges of my comfort zone. 

Despite the last day and a half of burliness, our adventure risks have paid off with spectacular scenery, the opportunity to paddle amazing rivers, spend time fully present with each other, and moments alone to recalibrate. There is something about time in the wild, in the fresh air, away from people, away from the artificial, that acts as such a powerful recharge.

With each new venture into the unknown, I expand a little more, grow a little stronger, and become a bit more self-aware. It helps me to recognize risk on the scary elemental levels and appreciate the daily decisions that motivate me to keep trying, to keep moving forward while mindful that extra effort and even backward steps may be the next right thing.

As I reach the summit, I have a 360-degree view. I can see both sides – where I came from and where I am heading next. To the west, I see the serene river we lazily paddled down and the nearly impenetrable brush we painstakingly foraged through. To the east, I see a snowfield, a layer of rocky cliff bands, a valley of dense green, and just at the edge of my vision, I see the faint markings of the next river on our agenda. There is no trail, and I don’t know how this will go. I take a moment to enjoy the vista and stare out into the unknown.