A Peak Experience…by Expedition Field Instructor J.J.M.

The mountain was something to behold. It looked intimidating yet inviting, as if it were challenging us to brave its jagged peaks and experience its grandeur.

“We have to climb it – we just have to!” exclaimed student S, but we knew that it was much farther away and quite steeper than it appeared from our vantage point several miles away. He was correct – it had to be summited (or at least attempted), for this peak was colossal, truly the envy of the surrounding skyline.

After discussing the climb with our Senior Expedition Leader, he and I estimated that it was probably 1,000 vertical feet and thus achievable with the proper focus, planning and effort. We agreed that there was indeed something unique about this mountain: it was a bit ominous, but at the same time it loomed bold and proud, pressed snugly against the backdrop of the vibrant Utah sky.

After breakfast, we gathered the team and collectively decided on a plan of attack. We discussed the weather, what gear we needed, food, water, exit strategy, safety concerns and above all, a practical approach. We chose a route that would meander along the south side of the mountain and then up the back of the main peak.

Shortly after beginning our ascent, we realized how truly amazing this corner of southern Utah is. The surrounding terrain was studded with multi-layered canyons and deep, lush, ravines. As we gained elevation, we arrived at several “false summits.” These misleading peaks provided much laughter though, for just when we thought that we were close to the actual summit, we reached the top of a ridge, only to find that there was another yet to climb – and then another, and then another.

As the second hour of our hike slowly turned into the third, idle chitchat ceased, as the effects of altitude gain and the resultant oxygen loss began to take a toll. The temperature had also cooled considerably, so we were in a constant battle between being warm enough but not too warm, so as to avoid sweating and thus getting too cold.

On the final pitch, as we were about 100 yards from the top, I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and the splendor of our effort hit me. I was witnessing another type of beauty, that of working together to achieve a goal.

Maybe I’m biased, for I have had a passion for the great outdoors since I was a child, growing-up among the majestic pines and sublime mountains of Northern Arizona. But as I watched our Expedition Therapy students summit the final peak together, as one, I was privileged to witness an incredible sight – the kind of raw emotions that are filmed when you have no idea a camera is present, or perhaps that inexplicable feeling of a kind act committed without expectation of reward.

The entire team exploded with excitement as we reached the tip of the highest peak. As I glanced at the GPS, I noticed that we had actually climbed 3,800 vertical feet, onto an exposed, awe-inspiring cliff, with a panoramic view of the entire valley and surrounding mountain range. It was indeed something to behold…simply brilliant!

Warm embraces and “high-fives” were accompanied by screams of joy echoing throughout the canyons, followed by a few moments of complete, utter and respectful silence. The moment was ours!

We had accomplished this goal collectively, through trust, teamwork, dedication, determination and desire. It was a time for contemplation, reflection and reverence, acknowledging the wonderful gifts that the wilderness provides, and appreciating something very special that we had truly earned.