The voice of the mountain

My summers during the time I was in university were spent living in the Cascade Mountains and surveying with the US Forest Service. Climbing was a natural activity there and the tall snow-covered volcanic peaks always beacon'd on the horizon. The high country always offers fresh experiences, new twists, occasional danger and endless variety. No matter how often one went on some adventure, there awaited something unexpected and wonderful. It was on one dawn morning with a friend at the foot of Mt. Adams that the mountain spoke to us.

We arrived the night before as was our habit and set up camp in an alpine meadow adjacent to the fabulous flower-covered Bird Creek Meadows. Although summer in the low country, spring arrives late at timberline and the flowers were at their peak. We enjoyed the sun setting over the ragged horizon and then we prepared for the night. Climbs start with an early rise before sunup, a quick and not very satisfying breakfast and, shouldering our sacs, a walk in the darkness towards the foot of the mountain towering before us. That morning we reached the last moraine piled high against the rising slope. When we topped the hill we could finally see out across the vast snowfields leading ever upward. It was dawn with the sun just below the horizon, the sky bright with promise. The sight from that vantage was otherworldly, the dim forms of the foothills below us, the sterile stone and snow-covered landscape around us. We stopped to take a short rest, look at the path we had used now that there was light, and enjoy the spectacle.

As we sat and looked about, we became aware of a low droning sound. It was not steady, but at times rising, at times falling. The sound seemed to be everywhere at once, surrounding us yet coming from nowhere. We looked about but could not identify the source of this sound. It seemed to us to be emanating from the very earth on which we stood, as if the mountain itself was speaking to us, murmuring secret wisdom we could not understand. The air was still that morning, brisk and cold, the sun would soon be up and we had an appointment elsewhere. As I leaned down to tighten the laces on my boots, I noticed the sound grow stronger. Checking my discovery I soon realized that it was the low hum of air currents passing through the porous throat of the moraine.

The realization of the cause of the hum did not lessen our awe for the moment nor our certain conviction that we had been privy to counsels given to us by the mountain itself. Peeling my grapefruit later that day at the summit, some 7000 feet above our point of departure, I wondered about that sound. What had the mountain been trying to tell us? Perhaps we had not "conquered" the mountain, perhaps we had merely been allowed by its grace to feel the wind of the summit.

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