Romancing the Wild - A Spontaneous, starlit Sufferfest
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
There is a wildness in all of us. A longing for something far beyond our reach. A desire to see more, to feel more, to be more, to transcend our ordinary lives and step into something far greater, something we can’t really comprehend. The wildness intimidates us because to answer it often requires us to step outside of who we know ourselves to be and jump into uncertain waters. When the wildness in our hearts rises to the surface, calling us to the unknown, the natural response is to suppress it. And who can blame us? That wildness is uncomfortable. It doesn’t offer stability or certainty. It doesn’t come with guarantees. All it says is, “Follow me, see what happens.” This vague message doesn’t exactly instill confidence, so in our minds it’s easy to brush it aside and move on with what we know. But there’s an alternative. What if the wild arose in your heart and you said “Okay. Yeah. Let’s see what happens.”
I recently had a moment with some good friends of mine where the wild arose in a peculiar way. We had made camp by our vehicle at a stunning vista overlooking several lakes and an array of large mountains in the central Colorado Rockies. We had just finished dinner and dessert in celebration of Conner’s birthday and were sitting on the rocks watching the last light of the day fade away behind the peaks. Our conversation was an excited one, contemplating what the next day’s adventure would hold and discussing our logistics. We planned to wake up very early the next morning and climb La Plata Peak, a 14,360 mountain on the outskirts of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
Jokingly, someone suggested “Or, ya know, we could just do it right now.” We were all silent for a few moments, glancing at each other with suspicion that maybe the idea wasn’t a joke after all. I’ll never forget Peyton saying, “Guys, we could actually do that. What if we did. What if we just packed up and climbed it right now.”
I wasn’t so sure at first, the prospect of a nighttime climb to over 14,000 feet with no sleep didn’t sound entirely like a good idea. But then I thought about the stars. The moonlight. The clear skies. That sounded like a once in a lifetime experience. We checked the weather and maps one last time and upon realizing that the weather that night was actually forecasted to be far better than the next day, no doubt remained. Our decision was made. We packed up our camp, hopped in the truck, and drove to the trailhead at 8:23pm.
There was a collective knowing among our small group. The wild had called us through the notion of a spontaneous moonlight ascent of a high mountain peak and somehow, we all knew that this was a moment to answer it.
We danced to Odesza in the parking lot as we prepared our gear for the long night ahead. It was a moment of pure, unequivocal euphoria. Everything felt so perfect and we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where we were supposed to be. Little did we know, this euphoria would be the first feeling in what would be one of the greatest emotional rollercoasters we’d ever ridden as we set off into the night.
It wasn’t long before challenges began to present themselves. The trail was not well defined after being lightly trafficked throughout the winter and high winds making a mess of the snow. The snow itself was deep and unconsolidated, making progress difficult, even with snowshoes. It was a properly miserable slog through the forest. More than once, we all sat down and questioned our choices, wondering if we’d made a mistake in venturing here in the middle of the night. And yet, in those same moments, we soaked in the silence of the wilderness as moonlight spilled onto the trees, casting their shadows onto the snowy forest floor. The pull to make this journey had been so strong. Too strong for there not to be purpose in this suffering.
We pushed on, working our way through the difficult terrain until, at last, we found ourselves breaking out of the trees. We crested a final hill and stood on a flat area at the base of an 800 foot headwall, guardian to the summit ridge. Here, we paused, breathless and exhausted from our 3.5 hour slog through the forest. Much as we didn’t want to believe it, we knew this was as far as we were going. Barely halfway. We were done climbing. And yet, there was still redemption to be found.
Before us was a massive alpine valley, bathed in moonlight with millions of stars and galaxies twinkling above our heads. Towering peaks stood in all directions, still covered with snow. The whole world was a deep, soft shade of blue. It was completely and utterly silent. There was no song of wind, no chirping birds, no tumbling rocks. The stillness of that moment was truly remarkable. In our chaotic world, it’s easy to forget that those moments of stillness exist. But they do. And this was a poignant reminder of that fact.
In the forest, we seriously contemplated why on earth we were out there and if the best decision was to just call it off and turn back. There would’ve been sense in that decision. It was genuinely miserable. And yet, the call remained. Why had we all felt so strongly that we were supposed to venture out into the darkness if there was not some secret beauty there for us to find? This question is what drove us to push on until we stood in that magical scene, three small humans amongst the artistry of the creator, shivering, exhausted, and in awe. But this story wasn’t over.
Our descent through the trees was a combination of sliding and trudging down the path we’d carved through the snow until we reached a point where things no longer looked familiar. We knew from the map that we were close to our trail, but not directly on it anymore. We worked our way through the maze of trees, rocks, and snowbanks and our moods began to deteriorate. This just wasn’t fun at all. Luckily, we were able to make our way back to the original path without any serious problems. Most of the hike back was spent in silence as we leaned into determination and put one foot in front of the other for what felt like eternity. When we finally reached the parking lot, we dropped our bags and promptly collapsed in the street. At this point, the moon had set and an unfathomable host of stars now blanketed the sky. We laid there on the pavement for quite some time, staring into the galaxy and processing what on earth we’d just done. You know you’re tired when asphalt feels like a cozy bed.
The drive home was filled with contemplative conversation and lots of Foy Vance music. Our group parted ways as the first light of dawn crept its way onto the horizon. At this point, I thought the story and the beauty were done and I expected to go home and promptly pass out. Instead, I discovered that I was fully locked out of my house since my family had not expected me back at 6:00am. I climbed to the roof and settled in to watch the sunrise. Color spilled across the sky and birdsong filled the air, creating another exceptionally profound moment of beauty. A smile stretched across my face as I watched it all unfold, captivated by the pure majesty of it all.
The wildness that sparked this entire experience seems to be a feeling that is often experienced but rarely acted upon. But without that spark, this story would not exist. We never would’ve stood on that plain staring out into the moonlit valley. The majesty of that place would’ve gone unseen to human eyes as it so often does. I could never lay claim to a moment like that, but to be present for it was a tremendous privilege. Getting there required a fair amount of grit and a commitment to voluntary suffering, but the answer of the call to adventure had led us into a deeply profound experience.
What would life look like if more of us answered that wild call more often? What if it went beyond merely answering it? What if we romanced the wildness in our hearts? Unsuppressed, the wild has the potential to alter your life and open you up to experiences beyond anything you could possibly imagine. There’s a high chance you will suffer along the way, but the moments of beauty will fill you to overflowing in spite of it all. The truth is, we will all suffer in this life whether or not we seek to discover the paths we were created for. So, if we must suffer, if we must go through unspeakable sadness, let us do so in pursuit of the wildest longings of our hearts and the discovery of who we’re made to be.
“Romance the wild in your heart until adventure falls in love with you.” - Unknown