Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Mountain, A Lesson, And a Wish

-- Susan, Every Other Sunday

If all goes well, by the time this post goes live, I will have stood atop two of the Nihon hyakumeizan (100 famous mountains of Japan) - the start of my quest to climb the hyakumeizan in a single year.

I originally conceived of this journey as a way to face my fears (little knowing I would have to face and conquer one of the greatest--cancer--before I even set foot on the mountains). I'd grown tired of living "safe" and doing what everyone else expected. I'd spent decades reading books about mountain climbing, living vicariously through others, and dreaming of mountains I knew I would never climb.

Like my dreams - except that this one, I did climb.

Even after I decided to pursue my hyakumeizan quest, it still felt more like "something other people do" than something I would live. Even so, I planned my climbs through chemo. I trained through the pain. (And for the pain, as it turns out. These aren't bunny hills.)

Ten days ago, I got on a plane with my husband and my cat, and flew to Tokyo.

And a week ago, I stood atop the first of the hundred summits: Mount Akagi (Akagiyama) in Gunma Prefecture.

On the summit of Akagi-yama. 99 more to go.

More accurately, I stood atop three summits, since Akagi is a stratovolcano with several peaks, and I traversed across two of the lower ones to reach the mountain's highest point.

The view from the saddle, traversing between the peaks.

Several times on the ascent (and more than that while coming down again) I wondered whether my legs would give out before I achieved my goal.

My legs cry just remembering this.

But they didn't.

I worried I'd move too slowly, and miss the final bus back to the train.

That didn't happen either.

I worried about slipping on the steep, rocky slopes, and falling (doubtless to my death) on the boulder-strewn chaos of the descending path.

Guess what . . . those worries never came to pass.

And the other worries? The ones that plagued me daily during my life "before" the mountains? The fear of failure, of loss, of hardship? The fear that I'm not good enough, successful enough, worthwhile enough?

On the mountain, those fears were nowhere to be found.

Last Sunday on Akagi I re-learned a vital lesson I'd half forgotten. Mountains have a way of forcing you to focus on the truly important things in life.

Like the beauty of a crater lake:

The smaller of the two crater lakes in the Mount Akagi volcano

The size of the task in front of you:

There's a path in there. Somewhere.

The breathtaking scope of the world as it appears from a mountaintop.

Onuma, the larger of Akagi's crater lakes.

This focus is one of the things I love the most about climbing mountains. Climbing's not easy, but the things you see, the time you get to spend with yourself, and the sense of true achievement that comes from standing on top (and then safely back at the bottom) aren't things it's easy to find in the daily nine-to-five that filled my life until this quest began.

The terror of descending this isn't easily found in office environments either...

When asked why he climbed Mount Everest, Sir George Mallory is famously quoted as saying "Because it's there."

My personal answer is somewhat different. I've known for decades that these mountains exist, but that alone was not enough to make me endure the pain of standing on their summits (or climbing back down again).

I climb because in the mountains I feel alive, at peace, and "enough" in a way I've never experienced elsewhere.

I climb because, in the mountains, I am there.

Wild azaleas in bloom on Mount Akagi, with Onuma in the background.

And my wish - for everyone reading this and everyone else in the world -- is that you find your mountain, your dream, and your peaceful place, and that you go there just as often as you can.


  1. Congratulations, Susan! The hardest climb is done. The other 98 will be plain sailing...

  2. Huzzah! Your joy in what you are doing sings in these words. Please keep on letting us hear it here. It’s a privilege to share in your joy.