From the Editor
The Brotherhood of The Rope
The pitch black night hides any sense of scale as I step out onto the Cowlitz Glacier, a massive sea of ice flowing steeply down to my right and simply disappearing into an inky abyss. l know from yesterday that a knife-edged ridgeline of rock and ice towers a few thousand feet above me to my left, but this morning it can only loom somewhere in the back of my consciousness. Sunrise is a long way off. My headlamp cuts a thin pathway through the night, exposing the sole object of all my concentration; a six-inch wide path beginning where my boots are trying to find solid footing and ending at the heels of the climber in front of me.
A blanket of silence engulfs the night, bringing with it a strange element of sensory deprivation. The only sounds are our own rhythmic paces across the crusty snow and ice; crunch, pause, crunch, pause. This mountaineer's rest-step is so mesmerizing that I find myself forgetting about the ache in my legs, the pain in my lungs, or the bottomless crevasses that could swallow me whole. All I want to do is keep in step with the guy in front of me and keep our rope taught; crunch, pause, crunch, pause, crunch, pause.
And thus began my favorite part of every climb: the first few hours of summit day. Not because of the anticipation of reaching the goal and standing on top of some amazing peak somewhere, but because the teamwork is palpable. It’s been called the Brotherhood of the Rope, and on these glaciated climbs your safety and success is literally connected to the other climbers on your rope team. But it’s more than that. For an alpine start, summit day usually begins by midnight or 1am, so it is quiet and cold and everyone is completely focused on the task at hand. Then the climb begins, and you work together, in rhythm, winding your way up into a darkness that is only magnified by the thinness of the air. It is an experience only rivalled by a team-sport environment where individual-ness has surrendered to the team and you become one single organic unit, an experience I have only had one time in my life.
But for the outdoor enthusiast, summit day isreally just a dramatic example of what happens every day on the trail, on the river, in the ocean, and across the expanse of wild places that we recreate in: people meet up and experience the natural world together. Because we are immersed physically in the experience, we can’t help but to engage each other in a way that goes beyond the superficial.
Jesus got this years ago when he talked about the Kingdom of Heaven being like a patch of yeast that a woman worked into the dough until the entire batch became leavened. Her interaction with the dough is one of kneading, working with her fingers and manipulating the lump until the yeast has been worked all the way through. The Kingdom is not about a quick “God bless you” and move on or a superficial “be in peace.” It is about truly engaging to find out what is going on in someone’s life, finding out what makes that person tick and how we can join them in their journey.
In many ways our outdoor lifestyle is a battle against the superficial social media environment that has taken hold of us. Last fall Sherry Turkle, an MIT psychologist who explores how technology shapes modern relationships, published Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. The third in a trilogy of books, Alone Together tries to make sense of a paradox. The more friends and acquaintances we gather on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the more we feel alone. We’re connected to other people more than ever, and yet we feel isolated in a new solitude.
The statistics are stark. With this increased feeling of loneliness and disconnection, depression and suicide rates have increased. No longer is it simply an issue of teenage angst or techie disenfranchisement, it is a real problem that pervades our society in every socio-economic strata.
Outdoor experiences face this dilemma head-on. When we physically engage with people to kayak or climb or bike, we begin to have a deeper, more communal experience. You don’t have to be roped up to someone to make that connection, all you have to do is join together in travelling a trail, paddling a river, surfing some waves, or pedaling a road and magically you begin to engage deeply in a way not possible in our electronic world.
The process of working the yeast through the dough, this is where the outdoor life thrives. We might have our mountaintop experiences where we are inexplicably touched by God, but it is in the group of mountaineers, roped together and moving with a purpose towards a goal that we share this profound experience with others and literally bring it, and Him, down to earth.
Pursue, Explore, Celebrate,