I have climbed a lot of low hills just walking along in life, I have even climbed some low mountains just for fun, but I am proudest of the mountain that I climbed last because it was a true mountain and I did it in my fifties, pushing through with a congenital cardiac defect, an arrhythmia that I have had all of my life, which causes palpitations, dizziness or feeling light-headed, shortness of breath, chest discomfort which is a euphemism for stabbing pains, weakness, fatigue, and feeling very tired. I am used to feeling very tired, I have always just ignored the feeling, and had fun anyway. And, having had these problems all of my life, I know a lot of other workarounds too, like stopping to rest in place, but only for a moment before forging on.
I climbed my mountain by sheer will-power, maybe like the truly fit climb Mount Everest, in well-calculated stages. When I realized that I had never climbed a true mountain, I knew that I was not getting any younger, so if I wanted to conquer an actual mountain I needed to do it as soon as possible, as in right away. Thinking back into the mists of time to when I lived in San Diego, California, I think that I climbed Cowles Mountain. It is 1,592 feet high. The internet today assesses this mountain climb as “Moderate – 3 miles, Average time – 2 hours”, “the 1.5 mile long main trail is a nearly vertical climb to the highest point within the city of San Diego.” I chose that particular mountain because it was rumored to have a coin-operated telescope at the summit where I could view all of San Diego. And the rumor was true, there was a dinky little telescope, circa 1940, but someone had broken it apart, probably to steal the brass or copper for resale, which has been the fate of a lot of monument fixtures in the American Southwest.
On the first Saturday that I started to climb my mountain, I began just before sunrise, planned early to avoid the furnace heat of the desert. At about 9 AM I was hot, dusty, winded, and passersby told me that I was only about halfway up the mountain. I trudged back down to my car determined to try again on the following Saturday with more focus. The next Saturday I was there at about the same time or perhaps a little earlier, and I climbed the mountain with complete disregard for the view going up. I ignored the interesting shapes of the cacti around me. I did not photograph the pretty little desert flowers here and there. And, I forsook friendly chats with other climbers. I think that I may have also failed to climb my mountain on my second attempt because I recall being dismayed, thinking that I was doing all that I knew to climb it and I was still failing. The Saturday that I conquered my mountain was overcast. It was not a particularly pretty day, but it was cooler than usual which was more important to me at that point. There were few people on the narrow trail going up, so I did not have to pause aside to let as many pass me. I was prepared to climb all day if that was what it took. When I arrived at the halfway point I was again hot and dusty, but happily my stamina was better. It was interesting to climb straight up the steepening mountain trail. By then I knew this would be my last mountain climb in life so I methodically plodded up. I paused only as I rounded each turn in the trail, to stand braced against the mountain (no sitting down for fear of staying down), and to look up the next length of trail to plan my steps, to place my feet only on high points, never stepping downward even a inch.
At one point, I heard several young men scrabbling in the rocks above me, then behind me. Small rocks pelted me and I clung to the cliff to avoid being hit. The men were wild, yelling, cursing, and flinging themselves about as they skied their feet down the mountain. Did they yell at me? I waited quietly pressed against the mountain as they hurtled down it (with my hand on the mace in my pocket). They skittered on down the mountain, going straight down instead of descending the switch-back trail, scraping their own new trail through the fragile desert varnish, trampling whatever life had the misfortune to be under them. They took some of my energy with them, for fear of them and fear for them. If they fell, I callously hoped that I would not see or hear it. I drank water and ate some trail mix standing up. I was going sooo slowly, but I was going up my mountain. By midafternoon I had scaled the peak. The view was hazy. What was most excellent was heading back down the mountain with my mountain climb under my life belt. An internet comment says “it's a pretty easy hike, a little steep for some ppl.” Well, it was a hard mountain for me, and I accomplished it.
Caption: I Scaled The Peak
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018