I paused in the darkness at the bottom of the mountain and looked back at the last glimmering signs of civilization -- at vending machines and cabins and a parking lot of cars. And then I looked forward -- upward -- at the climb ahead. The familiar world twinkled behind me; a world unknown loomed above.
I knew vaguely what was coming -- what it would take to reach the summit. I'd climbed mountains before. But never alone. This was my journey, not to be shared.
And lest you think I'm being melodramatic, consider climbing for 10 hours, venturing high up to a cold, windy peak where, even in July, patches of snow defiantly refuse to melt. Consider a starless night, an unlit path, and a flashlight that had better not die.
The path grew darker with each step. My flashlight beam pierced the black night air, an oval of white light uncovering rocks and roots once shrouded in shadows. I passed incomprehensible signs in Japanese characters, always choosing the steeper route and hoping for the best.
With no group to slow me down I climbed much to fast and before long I had to rest. Breathing heavily, I drank some water and checked my map, which told me nothing; I hadn't even reached the climb's first checkpoint.
Up, through the vegetation I trekked. Higher and higher. The temperature fell, slowly but steadily, minute by minute. My warm breath was visible in the night air. Drops of sweat beaded off my face. Higher and higher.
As I mechanically climbed upward, my mind turned inward. I suppose introspection is natural on such a solitary trek, devoid of distraction. Self-analysis certainly isn't a habit of mine and yet with every worldly interference removed I began to think about my life and my values. These thoughts distilled during the lonely climb upward, each step bringing a little more understanding. Enlightenment? I might call it that, but I’d hate to be accused of melodrama twice in one post. Let’s call it inner peace. I won’t get too philosophical but I think the cultures that send their youth on solitary rites of passage are onto something.
I climbed onward.