Return to Second Wind

The Mountain Diet


Silver Lake Campground,
Snowy Mountains,

I walked today, for 4 or 5 miles, up into the high country near Snowy Mountain Pass. The trail led from a parking lot on Hwy 130, around Lake Marie, and then up to lakes whose names I do not know, through a jumble of granite boulders big as automobiles. They were tossed up here long ago by the glaciers, whose remnants still loom visibly in the folds of the peaks.

I did not go all the way up. It was late afternoon, and all I had on was a short sleeved shirt. I'm not prepared for that last thousand feet, just yet. But as I climbed, there it was: underneath my wheezing inadequacy, the shadow of what I remembered, what I had been looking for. A second wind.

It is a simple feeling, a sort of sureness. I began to breathe easier, to walk with a lighter step. It was good to know that underneath this bag of blubber and complaints there are still bones, and the will and means to make them move, one step at a time.

I think I must be losing weight. Or shifting it around. These jeans, which barely fit back home, are beginning to bag and slip, crinkling when I cinch up my belt. I may have lost a couple of inches there, these last 3 weeks.

Mountains do that to me. I ought to write The Mountain Diet Book, and make my fortune. Lessee, what's to write? Go up to the mountains, eat what you want, lose weight. How many chapters is that?

It's true enough, though. Above 9000 feet, things start to change. Nothing feels right at first, and that discomfort is all that some people ever learn about it. Gas, nosebleed, sneezing, sinus, headaches, dry skin, sunburn, gasping for breath, aches and weariness. That's a partial list. You are getting rid of baggage. Naps come on like someone hit you on the head. You feel under attack, and you are.

If I could remember back that far, I might compare it to working your way through the birth canal. Welcome to the Mountains.

But that's just the start. Defining the problems, so to speak. Pretty quickly you get through all that, or else go back where you came from. Then the good stuff. You are outside more. You walk indifferently in rain or sunshine, breathe deeply, feel lighter and stronger. It's challenge and response. It's the mountains, making you simpler, making you over into something fit to be here.

Like the lichen on this rock. Reduced to essentials. Like love in the movies, mountains make you want to be a better man.

There's a cold lean sharp lonely smell, sometimes, of ice and rock and ozone, that licks down off these peaks when you least expect it. It flows through you, fills up your lungs and your mind. Later, it fills up your memory.

It stays with you, like the scent of a woman, which lingers as long as she's missed, to the end of the block or the edge of the grave.

Forget the camera. You can't take a picture of that.

It's hard to explain smells in high desert country like this, where there's so little moisture to carry them to your nose. The land is often a lovely open feast for the eyes, but relatively empty of odors, other than pine. You have to crush the needles to get much of that, and you leave it behind as you climb. Flowers here have no scent at all. What you smell most is a dry absence of smell, and it smells clean.

There's no rushing the mountain diet, the mountain accommodation. First you have to die a little, then you are reborn. The higher you push, the harder you are pushed.

A flatlander who comes to live above 11000 feet will slowly begin to mummify, becoming all bone and cord, big lungs and startled eyes. Compact, glittery. Way out on a limb. Take a good look, sometime, at pictures of those old miners from the century before last. People get as hard as what they butt up against.

Perhaps a few of those old wolves, scratching themselves, pulling their beards aside to spit, began to dream, late in their short sorry lives, of what could have been, of low places, an easy life, and tropical climes.

We all want what we haven't got. What else is there to want?

You have to know when to stop, but it's not the same place for everyone. Eventually, if you go high enough and stay there, the mountains will kill you. This is a game you cannot win.

But it's not about winning, really. It's about feeling alive.

That's good enough for me.


Return to Around the Campfire
Comments are welcome in the rec.outdoors.rv-travel newsgroup,
or to
© Copyright 2003-2008 Bob Giddings, All Rights Reserved
Webspace provided by Arcata Pet Supplies