The Climbing Partner

Her climbing partner wanted her to achieve his own experience of being alone out in the back country of the high desert. She agreed to his plan. After he secured a back country pass for her at the park gate, he said, “I’ll drop you off at the trailhead and pick you up tomorrow at high noon.” His confidence spurred her onward.

Early morning, she shut the car door and hoisted her pack. He adjusted her cowboy hat and prophesied, “This journey will change your life. Now go.”

With bravado she replied, “See you tomorrow at high noon.” as she headed toward the horizon, she heard the noise of the car engine fading away. She didn’t look back. Suddenly enveloped by the remoteness, she felt small and vulnerable. Questions she couldn’t answer crowded her mind. Then, like photographs from an album, snap shots of previous climbs with him flipped through her mind.

In January she had reveled in having led him as her partner on an ice climb, she had protected him and herself from the dangers of avalanches. The winter route with deep snow and treacherous ice proved exceedingly more challenging than did that same rock climbing route in summer. She vividly remembered the first time she climbed it. Then, he had been her guide. She now wondered what she would learn on this solo journey.

The cowboy hat shaded her from the blazing sun, although rivulets of sweat ran down her back. Grateful to find even minimal shade from the sun’s assault, she rested before continuing onward.

All too soon her pack’s weight dragged. Her shoulders sagged. As she trudged forward, a cloud of sand swirled around her. She wondered how far she should go and where she should camp for the night. Then, off in the distance she spied a large rock formation. There she would seek shelter from the sun.

Suddenly, her spirits were set free as the questions in her mind dissolved. The desert calm flowed through her soul. She felt strong and independent. As she breathed in the smell of sweet sage, she voiced, “So, this is what he must have experienced out here alone.” Along the way she marveled at the cacti in full bloom. She knew herself to be alive.

At that moment, she heard the rasping caw of a lone raven, circling above. Under the blazing sun she felt a sudden chill ripple across her shoulders. Was it the raven’s shadow, as though an ominous omen?

Four hours later she reached the rock formation. After guzzling some water, she cooked a simple meal on the tiny camp stove. The desert air was cool now, even pleasantly comfortable.

She planned to sleep on the high desert plateau. She felt  the grit of desert sand beneath her feet. It was an odd sensation, but delightful. “Maybe he experienced this alone out here, too.” she thought.

Then, as she ascended up the steep, angled rock, she notice that, chameleon like- her skin color became that of the color of the rock. “It must be the light of dusk creating this illusion,” she mused.

At the top of the rock plateau, stretching out on her back, she was grateful to be watching the spectacular sunset. Orange, red, pink and purple colors, created by the paint brush of the high altitude wind, swirled across the sky.

She witnessed the first star of night, as a dark blue curtain descended. A yellow crescent moon glowed while billions of stars twinkled. She was lulled into a sound sleep by the soft desert breeze gently sifting through her blond hair.

The next morning she couldn’t move. She remained upon the rock plateau. Initially she panicked, but calm eventually spread through out her being. She had found what she had searched for all her life- a perfect union of peace outwardly and within.

High noon soon arrived. He waited for her at the trailhead. An hour passed. She didn’t appear. He searched the trail for any signs of her route. Then in the distance, he too spotted the large rock formation. “Perhaps, she fell,” he thought, “and needs my help.”

He quickened his pace. She heard his footsteps. “I’m up here!” she exclaimed. Strangely, he heard her words in his head. He looked on the other side of the rock formation. She wasn’t there. Again, in his mind he heard her words, “I’m up here!”

When he looked up, he saw a stone head peering skyward. Again, in his head he heard a voice speaking, “Don’t worry! It’s me,” it assured him. “I’ve changed. My body melted into the rock during the night. My hair blew away strand by strand in the wind. All that you see of me is my head. Being one with the Creator, I have found perfect peace. I feel neither pain nor sorrow, for I am no longer mortal. But do not fret, for I will still be your climbing partner.

I am the cool breeze that will wipe your brow to comfort you in the heat of the sun. I am the ray of warmth you’ll feel on your back to keep you from shivering in the mountain’s chill. I am the snow that will give you traction on steep slopes. I am the crack in the rock that will stabilize you and propel you upward. I am the tree that will be there for you to build an anchor. I will be the bright star in the night sky to watch over you in the wilderness. I will be the voice that tells you, “Turn back.” I am the perfect wave you’ll surf at the ocean. I am the deep powdered snow you’ll ski down swiftly and safely. I am the river that will calm your mortal soul. And when your day is finished, I will be the rainbow you see across the sky. go where your spirit leads you on this journey of life, for I will always be there to protect you. I am your climbing partner.

~ Laurie Doran