The Van Blankenships had a pretty solid weekend. Pat and I climbed the tallest mountain in Arizona on Saturday: Humphrey’s Peak at 12,633 ft. This was quite possibly the hardest physical thing I have ever done. We started the hike at around 8,000 ft and climbed 4.8 miles across roots, boulders, lava rock, loose gravel. I like to consider myself a bad ass when it comes to things like this, but I don’t know if it was the restless night before, the altitude, a tired body or all the above that left me a complete ball of puss when it came to ascending this thing. Once we passed the tree line, the point of no return, I literally stopped every 5 minutes to catch my breath. My lungs couldn’t hold any air, my heart was pounding through my neck, every inch of muscle burned and all the while Pat became a fucking mountain goat and basically ran up the thing. He grew up in Idaho, so I’m going to say that breathing for years at a higher altitude gave him an advantage. Whereas I grew up at about 52 ft, Pat grew up at about 5,000ft. Case closed.
Either way, it took us 3.5 hours to reach even the saddle of this mountain. Switchback after switchback of clambering over boulders and all the while I couldn’t get my breath under control – think of 3.5 hours on a stair master on the hardest level it’s got with thinning air. God almighty. We stopped for lunch and I swore I could see the top. Finally! And then some experienced climber on his descent said: Don’t be deceived by the false summits. Humphrey’s has a lot of false summits…
If you look at the first photo, that’s the view of Humphrey’s peak from the saddle of the mountain – a flat section with a few scrub pines hanging on for dear life. From here, there are a few trails you can take down the mountain. Yes, down. But we were not going down. We were going up to the peak on the far right. The one past the little patches of late June snow. Yes, snow. In June. Which means it’s gotta be cold up there.
When we reached the saddle, I thought that was it. ANGELS SINGING AHHHHHHHHH!!!! but then I looked up and Pat said in that moment he has never seen such agony on my face.
We took a break, emptied our shoes of pebbles and I wanted to cry. But, shit, what a view already. We saw Snowbowl’s inner basin, rooftops reflecting from the valleys like small dimes catching the sun and I pointed out the parking lot where our faithful car was waiting for us; the ski lift ran up the mountain like a spine and tiny specs of people who *cough* cheated their way up mingled along the ridge – I was jealous. Seriously jealous. “Do you think we can hike over there and catch a ride down?” I prayed pointing to the lift.
But I had to do this. I mean, I had to.
I wish you could see the people walking along Humphrey’s ridge. But you can’t. Because they were so small, I barely saw them myself. A black period moving along; a spec of dust catching your eye and that’s all they were. Before we left Flagstaff that morning, Pat’s cousin (who was supposed to come with us, but conveniently got sick – no, she really was sick) told us stories of the 3 times she’s climbed this mountain. She told us that there were times it got so windy up at the top, they had to literally climb on their hands and knees so they wouldn’t blow off. And it’s mostly lava rock at this point, so think of running on the beach and how your feet sink into the sand and how hard it is to move and how much energy it takes for one single step: now think of doing that at 12,600 ft up hill. I’m not usually a quitter, but at the point where my body couldn’t move another inch without pain, I thought: I’m good. I’ve seen enough. I honestly don’t think I can make it up there.
I did of course and every time I stopped for a breather, I could hear Pat’s encouragement behind me. “You’re doing great,” “we’re almost there,” “you can do this” and so on until we scaled the last crest. At the top, someone was smoking a celebratory joint; the wind had died down a bit, but would jolt its head every so often like the wild animal that it was. I thought I would collapse immediately, but I didn’t. Pat and I stood there together, circling around the view: the grand canyon in one direction, the edge of which I could barely make out; Oak creek and Sedona in another whose red fingers pointed straight to the sky; the painted desert; the city of Flagstaff. We could see everything.
While we rested in an enclosed rock shelter, I checked my phone. I knew the Flash Fiction results were going to be announced that day and so as I sat on the highest point in Arizona, I received news that I placed 4th out of 160 writers worldwide … in a competition I entered without any thought of winning. As a writer, you don’t need much to do what you do. You learn to preserve despite the odds of ever achieving “success” in the world’s eye. You do it out of love, as a challenge, because you need to. So on the days when you literally and figuratively climb a mountain, you hold those achievements so damn close because it’s nice every once and a while when life throws you a bone … or a bottle of oxygen; some strength that helps you climb down.


on a sidenote: my brother also got engaged on Sunday which is why this weekend was a great Van Blankenship success all around! Huuuzaaah!

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2 Responses to Ascent

  1. Ms. Moon says:

    My Lord, woman! I don’t know which to be prouder of you for! The climb or the contest. Either way, you rock. You rock it hard! You are amazing.
    Revel in it ALL for awhile. You deserve it.

    • rachvb says:

      ahhhhhh! It’s been a pretty awesome weekend. Now back to reality. I reveled for about a day or two, but somehow getting back into a poem that isn’t really working makes the high go away pretty quickly =P
      Honestly, I’m so so excited. The mountain feels like a dream – most likely due to oxygen deprivation – but we have pictures and a sore ass to prove it! Mostly, I just hope the writing keeps up – I’m terrified I’m going to lose it. xoxo

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