It seemed a near-vertical final pitch to the top, and I kicked the front points of my crampons into the snow as Cecelia pulled the rope taut. I couldn't maintain a coil; the rope went tight as a banjo string, and I realized Cecelia was literally pulling us up the mountain. Exhaustion blanketed my thoughts and limbs, and I began to wonder if I had the endurance to make these final meters. I fought for every breath. I was so bone-deep tired I thought each step might be my last.
Then, almost without warning, we leveled out with a short path to a snow-covered, collapsed lookout cabin. At 9:10 a.m., we stepped up to a shelf and became part of the sky. We were on the summit, kings of the Cascades, astronauts with The White Stuff.
To the east, the sun rose like a hot air balloon; to the south, across the Columbia, Mount Hood; to the north, Mount Rainier, both peaks floating like islands in a sea of clouds. It seemed to be earth's first morning, and we the first to bathe in its beauty, unbounded by geography or history. It was a fragment of a dream to be on top of this little-known mountain, and I hugged Cecelia, just as Tenzing Norgay hugged Edmund Hillary on Everest.
And then, a stranger from another climbing team summited next to me, flipped open his cell phone, and yelled over the wind into the mouthpiece, "Honey, I'm on top... I feel just like Jon Krakauer."
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Introduction: In Search of the Wild
Richard Bangs, co-founder of the adventure travel firm Mountain Travel Sobek, is the author of over a dozen books, including The Lost River, winner of the 1999 National Outdoor Book Award for Literature.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication