The summit is alluring. The summit calls us skyward. But the summit is a siren’s call. Because when we start dreaming about the summit, we stop focusing on each step. And each step needs us.
Because it’s not even 4am and we’ve already been hiking for hours up a single track path covered in volcanic ash. My clothes are icy and wet, but they’ve been wet for 3 days now, and I simply cannot keep both my hands and feet warm at the same time. I can’t afford to forget that I’m hiking up sand. That three exhausting steps is really just two because we slide backwards on our heels. And if we can’t find solid footing, it simply doesn’t matter how strong we are or how badly we want it — we’re still sliding. I can’t afford to forget that this is wild land and there aren’t signs or fences keeping me from the crater’s edge. I am constantly one misstep away from a truly tragic fall. Each step, literally, needs us.
Darkness can be helpful when you’re climbing a mountain. It hides from your view all that you do not need to see, and lets the faintest, most essential light illuminate your path forward. You can focus very well in darkness. You do not look left or right. There’s no need to stop every few minutes to stare at the summit or search for the moon. You keep your head down. You keep walking. Your body falls into the rhythm of work. It is not glorious or easy. But it has a cadence, a nourishing rhythm, in which your mind and body both fully arrive.
Three hours into our climb I began to see the nothing in every direction. The sound of it, like a superhighway, a distant white noise. I began to notice that above and below don’t make sense here. It became the kind of opaque nothingness where if you were to dive off the edge, if you were to get a running start and swan dive into the converging black abyss, you wouldn’t touch anything. No, you would simply drift off to sleep, floating into this silky smooth black hole and wake up right back here, still walking along this crack between the worlds, one foot in front of the other.
At 6:28AM, after three days, 30 kilometers and 3,726 vertical meters, we reached the summit. I had never climbed a mountain before, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it. I didn’t have hiking boots or more than one pair of socks or the right kind of pants. But I did it, one step at a time. Because the summit called me skyward. The summit kept me moving. But the summit is a siren’s call. Not just because it distracts you from focusing on each step needed to get there, but also, I now understood, because it isn’t the goal at all.