Written by Jared Heath
I have a vivid memory from my first road trip of staring down into a Colorado Canyon in the middle of a moonlit night. Much to the dismay of my parents, I hit the road just before Christmas, a few months after a surprise graduation from my unconventional college experience. Younger ,and slightly more sure of how the world worked than I am now, on a whim, I packed the majority of my few possessions into the back of a small pickup truck and took off, chasing sunsets, and this ephemeral feeling of freedom with no real destination except, maybe, Joshua Tree California where I’d heard rumors of desert climbing. After twenty hours of driving across the plains states in a blur, my cracked window simultaneously cooled my coffee and ripped the smoke from my cheap gas station cigar out the window. This trifecta was working it’s hardest to keep me awake as the cold mountain wind mixed with the stale air from my dashboard heater. I cut around a sharp bend, and the road opened up into a black scar in the earth, lit up by a nearly full moon. Pulling to the side of the road I turn the ignition in my truck to off stepping outside in the cold, Rocky Mountain night. I’m unsure of how long I stood there watching the moon illuminate this canyon, and reflect off of the fresh ice on the road, but I am sure this was the start of the evolution of a familiar feeling. The feeling of a wave, rising up out of the ether and building enough momentum to crash down and tumble the way that I had viewed the world up until that very moment. A wave,that if I caught right I could ride the crest, to a place that I needed to be, wherever, or whatever, that was.
After a few months of riding this hard, climbing and meeting friends along the way. Eventually this upsurge crested then receded back into the firmament leaving me with five dollars cash to my name and a starter credit card with a $500 limit, just barely enough to get back East. For the next few months my nose was back to the grindstone making custom flooring in an unheated mill building, and working landscape jobs just to bank enough money so that when I could spot the next set of on the horizon I’d be set up to catch them.
Since that initial feeling on a cold Colorado night I’ve driven across the country ten times in almost as many years always exploring, and never wanting to slow my momentum. Yet somehow during my rest periods I always find my way back to the Northeast saving and searching for adventures here to keep me on point for wherever the current next carries me. On the days where cold north wind wraps me in spinning snow, and I catch myself screaming song lyrics at the top of my lungs to stave off the screaming barfies, and I question my sanity for returning to this small corner of the world. But sometimes those clouds will lift just enough to reveal golden alpenglow, vibrant azure ice, and windswept ridge lines tracing a path between craggy peaks. Other times the fog and the cold lingers for weeks cutting though all of my layers, chilling me to the bone.
One of these weeks was spent on the flanks of Mount Katahdin in Northern Maine with a group of friends on a trip organized by my friend Chris. All of us climbers, of different abilities and backgrounds, as well as photographers we drove North; chasing rumors of stunning alpine climbs and beautiful landscapes. Instead we were gifted with a week’s worth of spiraling sleet in gale force winds stinging our faces, loading the gullies we sought to climb, and obscuring the view. We spent our days exploring the small nooks and crevices, bailing off of climbs, and laughing almost as much as we bitched about the weather. Some nights we slept in the comfort of a wood stove heated cabin. Others, some of us were delegated to a lean to amidst the spindrift and subzero cold, spending the night staying warm by company and whiskey before waking up to 3 inches of snow blown on top of our sleeping bags. The summit was obscured in visibility zero the entire time, and I’m still not entirely sure that it exist. This still remains one of the best trips of my life. As we parted ways a small group of us sectioned off and ventured towards Acadia National Park to recoup our losses in the forecasted January sun. Waking up in our cars the next day to a vibrant sunrise reflecting off the Atlantic Coast joined by bluebird skies above, I think we all felt slightly out of place and disconnected from our recent stint in the harsh alpine. As the sun crested it’s highpoint in the sky and began to sink towards the afternoon I found myself unencumbered scrambling amongst seaside cliffs. I looked down at the sea-foam green waves crashing and receding beneath my feet and felt the warm sun loosen my muscles, tight from hauling a sled 16 miles through the backcountry the previous day. The ocean breeze stinging on a small patch of frostbite on the corner of my face as I shake a build up of lactic acid out of my arms. I look up from my feet and over the ocean then towards the cliffs where Matt and Jessie are shooting photographs, and wonder if they’re as taken aback as I am about the contrast from just 24 hours earlier. This too is burned into my memory.
When I begin to question myself for sticking around this part of the country sprinkled with bipolar weather patterns, and constantly less than ideal conditions I recall these memories along with the local adage: “There’s no such thing as bad conditions, just bad attitudes.”
No matter where I’ve climbed I’ve found almost all summits exactly the same. The scenery may be different but they all seem to carry an inexplicable feeling of “What’s Next?” When I’m sitting perched on my home summits, however, I recall this adage more frequently, and if I listen to the howling wind with the right set of ears it seems that I can hear the laughter of those who embrace the mantra carried to my ears, audible in the silence between gales. These quiet moments after slogging through less than ideal conditions, finding creative uses for hand warmers, and exhausting every reserve of energy that my body has teaches me lessons that I know will carry me further the next time the wave comes to whisk me away on my next adventure.
Jared is a photographer and climber from the New England area. He is well practiced in an art of ascents that can most aptly be described as “blissfully lost scrambleneering.” When not climbing, or working odd jobs to fund trips, in his home state of New Hampshire he can be found living the life of luxury out of the back of a 2005 Kia Sedona minivan; shooting photos and climbing across the country. Follow Jared’s adventures on instagram.