By Jack Steward
Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu once said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
I’m mindful of this wisdom as I recall the events that took place within my latest adventure into the unknown - a reminder of the past, present and hope for the future. A rediscovery of values, faith, friendship and simplicity - A gateway to endless possibilities, growth and blessings. This past adventure gave me the opportunity to dive into the darkest parts of my mind - then in return discover answers to many of the questions that have troubled me. I was broken down, ashamed, and alone; but by grace was able to navigate through the darkness to a greater understanding of myself.
My adventure began in Death Valley - an environment that will never be known to me as a reminder of my own mortality, but instead a beacon of hope, peace and understanding. My goal was to experience solitude by spending a couple of days in the desert completely alone. Once I arrived, I planned to hike into the wilderness in order to simply observe nature. I brought a journal, my guitar, a few books and plenty of water and supplies. I had this idea that if I sat in complete silence, the answers to my questions might come flooding into my brain.
My first real reflection was into the nature of a shrub that I observed being pushed back and forth by the wind. I couldn’t feel the breeze at all, yet here was this shrub moving back and forth. I knew the feeling...the world was pushing me in every direction, and I was completely oblivious to it’s influence. Then I noticed the canyon walls around me. They stood tall, steadfast and anchored to the ground. Why couldn’t I be like that?
As the day progressed, I spent more time observing nature and reading stories of wisdom; but eventually, it was time to head to camp. After preparing dinner and taking some photographs of the sunset, the true test began.
Darkness fell over the valley and I felt a complete change of energy. It felt cold and lonely, with a sense of ever present danger. I had to spend the night in the valley between the park and Beatty, Nevada due to the impending weather that was approaching. The fear of flash floods brought me down from the canyon where I sat and reflected earlier. Surrounding my camp was a gravel road and off in the distance was an airfield. The flashing lights in the distance tormented me as I receded more and more into my own mind. This was not the wilderness experience that I had imagined, but instead became a battle of will. Eventually, I gave into my paranoia and slept in the car.
The next morning I woke up and began to laugh. The memory of the night before felt like a dream. It’s amazing what light brings to a situation. A few hours prior, my interpretation of this valley was one of trickery and evil, yet this morning it had a peaceful essence that was quite comforting. After some coffee, I packed up the car in order to travel into the mountains and find another area to spend the day.
I listened to some music as I drove over Daylight Pass. The ambience of the song that was playing put me into a deeper state of reflection as I recalled the desperation that drove me out into the desert in the first place. Eventually, I passed through Stovepipe Wells and started gaining significant elevation. At this point, my eyes were scanning the horizon - looking for anything that might catch my eye. All of a sudden, as I rounded a corner, I spotted an interesting area off to the left of the car. It began as a wide open dry wash that eventually narrowed into a tight canyon. Above this canyon was a grouping of two or three mid-sized peaks. This looked like the perfect spot to spend the majority of the day, so I turned the car around, pulled off of the road and began to pack my things.
My pack was my life-support. Inside I carried a gallon of water, an assortment of granola bars, a first aid kit, ramen noodles, a jet boil, compass, my journal, a few books, my guitar and last but not least, my camera. I felt good about my pack - it had everything that I needed.
After venturing through the dry wash, I made my way into the narrow canyon. A small hoodoo in the distance sent shivers down my spine as I likened it’s appearance to some sort of guardian, defending the entrance to the canyon. After a few minutes of scrambling over boulders, I found a spot at the base of a dry fall where I could sit and observe for a while. I noted a massive boulder was lodged in-between the canyon walls above me. The boulder was roughly the size of my Subaru Outback and it’s presence above me was a little unnerving. It was most likely carried down through the canyon in the midst of a flash flood. It was then that I took note of the ominous dark clouds that filled the sky. I immediately put together an escape plan. Should rain begin to fall, I would race out towards the mouth of the canyon, then begin to rapidly ascent the slopes of the mid-sized mountains that I discovered earlier. This would put me well out of harms way.
I felt comforted by my plan. As I sat and observed further, I felt as though my life had become a lot like this narrow canyon. The majority of the time it’s shrouded in peace and tranquility, but when those dark clouds fill the sky, there is ever present danger - the kind of danger that can sweep you off your feet, carrying you downstream into a mess of boulders and debris. A friend of mine told me that he believes almost every situation in life can be approached in two different ways: either through fear or with love.
It was then that I discovered my escape plan - a way to navigate through the deluge of pain that every so often enters into my life. Faith is my mountain top - a solid mass that I can cling to as the waters begin to rise. On the slopes of the mountain, I’m still exposed to the downpour, but the waters will fall away from my feet, and I can have the peace of mind that it will eventually come to an end and I will be a better person.
My mind painted a beautiful picture of this theoretical mountaintop - so much in fact, that I found myself curious about those mid-sized peaks that lined the mouth of the canyon. I began to make my way up the steep slopes, gaining significant elevation in a short period of time. Before I knew it, I was at the top. The summit was a collection of jagged boulders, sporadically placed in different clusters. It felt as if each cluster was a tabletop with chairs, calling out to tired hikers who had made their way up to the peak. I found one such tabletop and decided to make a small camp there.
I pulled out my camera and began to take photographs. As not only a storyteller, but a visual artist, my camera is an extension of myself. The process of composing images calms my soul, and allows me to focus on capturing a moment in time. Like the camera, my guitar allows me to loose myself in a moment. I picked it up and began to play through some of my old tunes from college. This moment was so liberating! I could shout from this mountain top and nobody would hear me.
After spending a few hours on the mountain top, I decided to start making my way down. The slope was a steep grade, but due to the soft sand that covered the ground, I was able to march down rather quickly. Next, I walked through the dry wash towards the road. The dark clouds finally began to let out a slight drizzle as I reached the car. It was now about 3 o’clock, and I figured that I had time for one more stop on the way back to camp.
I drove back through Stovepipe Wells towards the Beatty Road, once again scanning my surroundings for anything that might catch my eye. Eventually I passed by a sign that marked “Mud Canyon.” As I drove through it, I soon realized why it had received that title. The canyon walls were nothing more then dirt mounds that had been carved out over the years. It wasn’t very picturesque, yet something attracted me to this place. As soon as I cleared the canyon walls, I pulled over and ventured out into the valley. Now at around sea level, the temperature was much warmer and the hot sun radiated heat onto the dry desert environment. It was a nice change of pace from the cooler, damp environment of the higher altitudes of the park.
This area was much more wide open then where I had been earlier in the day, so I walked out about a half mile to a wash that had had been carved out. Once again, I pulled out my guitar and began to play, but this time I was strumming a brand new melody. During my college years in Montana, I would spend a lot of time in Glacier National Park, and one particular visit became very special to me. It was the dead of winter, but that didn’t stop me from bringing my guitar down to the shore of Lake McDonal to play. It was there too that I began to strum out a brand new melody. I wrote and recorded this new tune right there and called it “My Vision.” It has since become a time capsule of memories and emotions - bringing me back to that place in time again and again.
I started to workout the loose structure of this new song I discovered in the valley. It’s a soothing chord progression that eventually transitions into a very traditional chorus - nothing ground breaking. If this song was going to capture the essence of this time and place, I would need to abandon my perfectionism. I began by recording the guitar. After a few takes, I finally felt like I had what I needed to move on to the lyrics. I have found that I project my emotions onto music naturally when I simply press record and start spouting whatever comes to mind. As I began to sing along to the guitar, the words seemed to pour out of me.
“I’ll follow you down this lonely road, and I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I have to go. Call me into your loving arms. I need you to guide me. Come back home.”
I soon made my way back to the car and wandered down the road towards my camp. Once I arrived, I began to boiled some water for dinner and then sat out on the desert floor reflecting on my experience in Death Valley. I wrote this in my journal:
“The sun is making it’s way down towards the mountain tops, and a slight breeze moves through the valley. I listen as birds chirp, flies buzz through my surroundings and then leave as quickly as they arrived. I am at peace. Today has given me a gift - one of hope, trust and faith. It’s hard to describe exactly what this journey has done for me. It gave me an escape into a world of simplicity and tranquility. It offered me an environment to reflect on my existence and replenish my spirit. More then anything, it gave me an opportunity to get closer to God.”
The next morning, I awoke to a magnificent sunrise. I felt this was a fitting way to end my experience in Death Valley, so I packed up my camp, made some coffee and hit the road for Los Angeles. I returned home with new perspective as I prepared for the next leg of the journey: Climbing in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada, while simultaneously capturing the experience in 360º virtual reality. I would later discover that this trip was to be a continuation of my journey into the soul.
This endeavor was apart of a brand new virtual reality experiment that I started with my brother Tommy. Recently, we have been running some tests with various camera setups and storytelling techniques, attempting to find the best ways to capture the essence of nature in this brand new medium. We knew that in order to maximize our opportunity, we needed to find an experience that would challenge us physically, but also technologically. A mountain climb seemed perfect, and what better place to go climbing then Nevada, the most mountainous state in the lower 48.
Our crew consisted of myself, Tommy, Colton and our friend Adam. This was our “dream team,” as Colton likes to say. We all have different strengths that would help us achieve our goal. Tommy knows the technical aspects of our gear, Colton brings a fresh set of eyes to the project, offering insight into the overall production. Adam is our camera assistant and advisor on all things hiking and climbing, and I would produce and direct the experience. After an hour or so of Tetris style packing techniques, we somehow managed to fit all of our camera equipment and climbing gear into the Subaru.
The first leg of our drive would take us down Interstate 15 towards Baker, California. From there, we would exit onto a series of highways that would eventually lead to Elko, Nevada at the base of the Ruby Mountains. As we made our way across the desert, we repeatedly checked the weather for the Ruby Mountains. What began as a chance of rain quickly turned into a forecast of thunderstorms and severe weather. I choose to live as an optimist because I’ve found that a positive attitude can turn obstacles into opportunities, yet the producer in me can often be more pessimistic. Part of managing situations and people is the ability to make decisions that will offer the best opportunity to affectively complete a common goal. In this case, we needed to capture a mountain climb in virtual reality. This has become a constant struggle of mine. I need to find a balance between realistic expectations and optimistic thought. I could handle a little rain - in fact, it would actually add another element of realism to our experience. Thunderstorms on the other hand, are dangerous and would halt our entire production.
Colton discovered that he had a little bit of cellphone service, so we pulled over at the Area 51 Travel Center in Amargosa Valley. As we discussed our different options, one thing became clear: we couldn't plan on starting our climb on schedule. After making a few phone calls, we decided to push back our climb a full day. This plan would give us a full day to scout the trail and then another day to prepare our gear. Our minds were put at ease as we continued our journey through the backroads of Nevada.
The desert feels like my second home these days. I never thought that any environment would become as beloved as the mountains, but the desert holds a special place in my heart. I’m in awe of it’s desolation and intensity, coupled with an aura of peace and tranquility. Whoever walks in the desert must find the balance between these two extremes in order to exist in this harsh terrain. The desert reminds me of my own life - the struggle to navigate through challenges while maintaining a sense of peace. My challenge is to maintain a sense of hope in the midst of the unforeseen chaos that attempts to pull me down into despair. Despair leads to anger and pride, but hope gives birth to change. While I walk through the desert, I’m always on guard, yet my spirit is in a state of equanimity.
I try to embrace my free spirit in any given situation, but that always seems more difficult when I have a job to do. I struggle with anxiety and one of my coping mechanisms is to become very strategic. This character trait serves me well in many situations, yet sometimes it inhibits the spirit of adventure that I discovered years ago. An hour ago, my head was clouded with worries about our climb in the Ruby Mountains, but now we had a solid plan and I was beginning to let go of my anxiety. I would soon discover that the best design comes from God, fate or the universe - however you wish to characterize it. It was at this moment that I began to see how faith extends beyond my personal circumstances into every aspect of my life.
The drive to Elko, Nevada ended up taking much longer then we thought - getting us into town around midnight. Since we now had two days to prepare for the climb, we decided to get some sleep, grab a late breakfast and then head out towards the mountains. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day, but as soon as I pulled up the weather report, I knew that our plan was about to change. The forecast now called for severe weather on and off all week…we were in trouble.
We made our way over to JR’s Bar and Grill because its known to be one of the best breakfast spots in town. A soon as we sat down, Colton and I began scouring the internet for other possible climbs in the area. Luckily for us, Nevada is the most mountainous state in the lower 48, however it’s also a very large state - making a lot of our discoveries out of the question due to a lack of time.
Finally, Colton found something that looked promising. He had discovered a mountain called the Matterhorn in the Jarbidge Wilderness of northern Elko County. The Matterhorn was named after the famous Swiss peak due to the steep cliffs that drop off the northeast side of the mountain. I took one look at the peak and immediately felt drawn to it’s rugged beauty. The gateway to the wilderness area is through a town called Jarbidge. It has become known as the most remote town in the lower 48.
A conversation we had at a grocery store in Elko raised some questions about the practicality of our plan. We met a woman there who was interested in our travels and in turn, ended up giving us some valuable information. Apparently, the normal road from Elko to Jarbidge contains a 60 mile stretch of gravel road through the mountains, and at the moment was most likely covered in snow. Her recommendation was to call the folks at the Outdoor Inn in Jarbidge to inquire about the conditions of the road.
Colton hopped on the phone and was immediately connected with a woman from Jarbidge. She explained to us that the road from Elko was closed and the only way into town was to drive north into Idaho and take the road southwest, making a roundtrip take at least 8 hours. Colton then inquired about the conditions in the Jarbidge Wilderness. For that information, he was transferred over to Ray at the local store in town. When asked about the climbing conditions on the Matterhorn, Ray explained to us that nobody goes climbing this time of year. Apparently, most people wait until July when the snow has mostly melted up in the mountains.
At this point, we were disappointed, but still hadn't given up hope. We brought snowshoes, ice axes and crampons, giving us the proper gear to handle ice and snow. Were there other factors that we weren’t aware of? We knew that the only way to find out was to head up to Jarbidge for the day and take a look around. Our drive would take us east towards Wells, Nevada where we would hop on US-93 north into Idaho to a town called Rogerson. We knew that this day trip to Jarbidge would cost us 8 hours of drive time, and there was no guarantee that we would even be able to climb the mountain. This would be our first major leap of faith - one of the moments that gives birth to a plethora of hidden blessings and discoveries.
The first hour or so of the drive was spent rationalizing our decision. As we made our way east, we spotted the beautiful, snow capped Ruby Mountains. The range seemed to continue on forever, making us contemplate the adventure we were leaving behind. Eventually, the Rubies became covered in dark clouds as we put them behind us; solidifying our decision to venture into the unknown.
After a few hours on the road, we reached Rogerson, Idaho. A service station on the side of the highway became our saving grace as I realized I was running low on fuel. We gathered some supplies inside and were given directions to Jarbidge from the woman behind the counter. She set us on our way, confessing that she’d never actually been to Jarbidge, but heard great stories about the remote town.
The road began by meandering through the desert for a few miles before coming to an impressive canyon. Across the canyon was a dam that served as at the bridge to the other side. After a few more miles through the desert, we began to wonder where our mountains were. Being that we were only 40 miles out of town, we thought we might be able to see them. Our questions remained unanswered as we continued through flat terrain. Eventually, the road brought us to an even bigger canyon. The smooth, paved road ended as we dipped down into the canyon along the river. The river was moving at an incredible rate. In fact, at some places it looked as though the water could spill onto the road at any moment. We knew that Jarbidge was called the most remote town in the lower 48. Could the river washout the road, leaving us stranded in town? This question fueled our sense of adventure as we continued towards town.
After what seemed like an hour, we reached the gateway to the Humboldt National Forest. A slight drizzle, mixed with lush greenery provoked our senses. The vibrant colors of the trees and the canyon walls were intensified by the rain, and the scent of pines was enough to send me into a trance. The foreign nature of this place peaked my curiosity, yet there was something very familiar about it.
The gravel road continued into the town of Jarbidge and we made our way past the local store, a small bed and breakfast, and a line of log cabins and small homes. Eventually we came to the Red Dog Saloon. There was a woman outside who gave us a big smile and waved as we continued towards the Jarbidge Wilderness. Our plan was to find the trailhead immediately. We would then get out and judge whether or not to commit to the climb. All we had with us to find our way was a trip report that we had found online. The instructions led us through town and into the mountains. After crossing a few bridges and driving through a small stream, we eventually found our trailhead.
All of us were overjoyed to discover that we had successfully located out starting point. We decided to get out of the car and walk down the trail for a while. As we made our way deeper into the wilderness, we noticed the path seemed to end a few hundred feet in front of us. In all actuality, the path didn’t end, but was was being crossed by the Jarbidge River. To the left of the trail was a small game trail that seemed to cut up the slope, avoiding the river. After immediately dodging the first river crossing, we unfortunately came to a second one, except this time, there was no way around it. The river was flowing very rapidly. It seemed to be crossable, yet one misplaced foot could cause you to lose balance and before you knew it, you would find yourself downstream.
Colton headed up stream to look for a better crossing. While he scouted ahead, Adam decided to try and cross right there at the trail. Tommy and I watched as he made his way across the river. Every couple of steps would seemingly cause him to almost lose his footing as the current rushed through his legs. Eventually, he made it across. We all decided that Adam should continue onward to see if there were any other immediate obstacles ahead. In the meantime, Tommy and I would come up with a plan how to cross the river quickly and safely.
Colton returned downstream having found no other safe river crossing ahead. We decided to test the current over and over, but each time drew the same conclusion - the river could be crossed, but carrying large backpacks across with extremely expensive camera equipment wouldn’t be a wise decision. We had our gear in dry bags, but if any water were to reach the cameras, our whole shoot would be over.
Doubt began to slowly set in as we ran through other possible scenarios. Maybe we were told that you couldn't climb the Matterhorn this time of year simply do to the constant river crossings and other obstacles that we hadn’t discovered yet. It was at this point that I realized Adam hadn’t returned. He had been out scouting for a long time; or so it would seem. We all began to call his name, but the sound was being swallowed up by the loud current of the river. After waiting a few more minutes, we decided to go looking for him.
We began by climbing up the steep slope on our side of the river. This took us up above the trees that were on the canyon floor and gave us a better vantage point. Still, there was no sign of Adam. At this point, all of the worst case scenarios were popping into my mind. I thought perhaps there was another river crossing ahead. What if he had attempted to cross that one and became trapped under a rock? Adam is not only a smart guy, but has serious experience out on the trail. (He has successfully hiked the entirety of the Appalachian Trail) I took comfort in the confidence that Adam would make wise choices on his scout, but still these problems that we were facing were literally a half mile onto the trail. It would be difficult enough climbing 4,800 feet of elevation with heavy camera equipment, let alone wasting our time on river crossings and other obstacles.
After about 20 minutes of searching, we finally spotted Adam. He came waltzing down the trail, completely unaware of our concern. Adam shared some good news once we all arrived back at the river crossing. Apparently, that was the last major obstacle for quite some time. It would appear that soon we would remain on the same side of the river indefinitely. This was encouraging, but still he had only continued a half a mile up the trail. We knew that we all had to sit down and discuss our options. If we committed to this climb, we would need to make sure that we were all on the same page.
The short drive back towards Jarbidge gave each of us a moment to weigh our options. Soon, we found ourselves passing by the Red Dog Saloon. Once again, there was this woman smiling at us. This time, we pulled over in hopes of getting a bite to eat before hitting the long road back to Elko. Upon entering the Red Dog Saloon, we were overcome by the scent of the wood burning stove, and a group of friendly faces at the bar greeted us. The barkeeper was the same woman who had waved to us multiple times as we passed by. We walked up to the counter, introduced ourselves and inquired about dinner. The woman’s name is Wanda and she let us know that they did have food, but she had just shut down the kitchen. Wanda graciously offered to fire the grill back up for us, but we refused and decided just to sit and chat for a moment. Our intention was to find a table where we could get all of our concerns about the climb out in the open for discussion. If we were going to try and climb the Matterhorn, we would have to commit right now.
Our plan to have a quiet discussion was soon interrupted by the general atmosphere of the Red Dog Saloon. Wanda was behind the counter along with her husband. Sitting in a row at the bar were a couple of old timers who had lived in Jarbidge on and off for many years. They all seemed very glad to have a couple of new faces in town. We gladly abandoned our plans to discuss the climb, and instead engaged in conversation with everybody who was in the saloon. Everyone seemed very amused at our plans to climb the Matterhorn. Despite hearing our confidence in our gear, they posed questions to us that were hard to ignore. The Matterhorn lies at an elevation of almost 11,000 feet. This year, they had received over 30 feet of snow in the higher elevations and not much had melted yet. Even though our new friends probably knew that our climb was going to be extremely challenging, almost to the point of impossibility - they didn’t attempt to dissuade us. This meant a lot to me in that moment. A lot of times, I feel as though I have to defend my ambition.
After a half hour or so of shooting the breeze, we decided that it was time to begin our journey back to Elko. Wanda ensured us that there would be a motel room for our excess gear, should we decide to come back tomorrow. We thanked her and said goodbye to our new friends, letting them know that we would most likely be back very soon.
None of us could even wait to get back into the car before we individually expressed our desire to return to Jarbidge. The town has a comforting nature to it. It’s one of those places where life makes sense because you embrace a simplicity that captures the essence of the human spirit. You feel the call of the wilderness; the freedom to wander into a vast landscape of endless possibilities. This sense of belonging brings about feelings of joy that seem to permeate your soul and overflow into the atmosphere. I was moved by the kindness and hospitality we were extended by Wanda and everyone else in the Red Dog Saloon. I knew that there were still countless variables that still threatened our plans to climb the Matterhorn, but as I weighed different options in my head, I felt God calling out to me. I felt this undeniable force pleading with me to surrender control and take this leap of faith. In that moment, I surrendered; embracing the unknown and giving in to this renewed spirit of adventure and discovery. It was settled, we would pack our things and travel back to Jarbidge in the morning. The Matterhorn was waiting.
The drive out of town ended up taking a little longer then expected, due to heavy rain. Eventually, we were our way towards Rogerson and the service station we had visited earlier. Inside the service station was a cafe, and at this point in the evening, it seemed as though it would be one our only options for food. As we walked inside, we were greeted by the same woman who had given us directions earlier. She seemed glad to see us and invited us to sit down at the counter for some dinner. The woman’s name was Joani and she carried a similar aura that we encountered with the people of Jarbidge. She had a warm smile that put you at ease and made you feel welcome. As she prepared four cheeseburgers with bacon, mushrooms and fries, we told her about our experience that day and the decision to climb the Matterhorn. We spent the next hour trading stories of past adventures and even digging deeper into personal experiences that have shaped us as people. After finishing our meal, we promised to return for breakfast the next morning. Joni was so excited that we’d be coming back through town!
I felt a strong sense of satisfaction upon leaving the service station that evening. This was one of those days that serves as a reminder of the good in humanity; a breath of fresh air within the atmosphere of distrust that sometimes clouds the world. No matter where the road took us that day, it seemed as though we were not only accepted, but also appreciated. This journey had already taught me to stand firm in my faith, seek emotional balance and surrender my constant desire for control. Now, I was beginning to experience the power of openness, acceptance and fellowship. The onset of this discovery truly impacted me that day. It dug deep into my psyche and made me question how I treat people everyday. I wanted to not only receive that kindness, but extend it to others.
The next morning, we took some time to gather our gear and pick up last minute supplies in Elko. By this point, the car was seemingly overflowing, yet somehow all of our supplies, camera gear, climbing equipment, personal belongings, and four grown men fit inside. All of us felt a sense of relief as we turned onto the interstate. After all of the unexpected obstacles that we had encountered, we were finally on our way to climb the Matterhorn. I felt that relief, yet at the same time I was nervous about the task that lay ahead of us.
Once again, we pulled into the service station in Rogerson, Idaho. As we entered into the cafe, we were greeted with a smile from Joani. This was comforting for me. Even though we had only visited for the first time yesterday, there was a strong feeling of familiarity and welcome. We sat down and ordered the same burgers that we had the night before. While eating, we discussed the plan for the day. Once we arrived into town, Colton, Tommy and I would begin filming, while Adam would head into the woods to get camp set up.
After finishing our lunch, we set off down the road to Jarbidge. We eventually pulled into town in the late afternoon. Our first stop would be at the Red Dog Saloon to get a motel room for storing our excess gear. As soon as we walked in the door, Wanda’s face lit up. She was so happy to have us back. A warm welcome has a way of putting me at ease even in the midst of uncertainty. We were faced with a very difficult task tomorrow, but for the now, I could simply enjoy the moment.
We immediately began unloading our extra gear into the motel room. Wanda sat across the street at the Red Dog Saloon, occasionally cracking a joke and following it up by saying, “You guys are great!” Honestly, I’m sure we looked hilarious unloading this car. Opening the trunk revealed a wall of grocery bags, tents, camera cases and sleeping bags. Eventually, Adam went to set up our camp while the three of us organized the gear and prepared for the climb.
Finally, we all met back up at the Red Dog Saloon for one last cooked meal before our adventure. As we waited for our food, we were accompanied by the same folks that were there the night before. We all shared stories, told jokes and just enjoyed each other’s company. Before we knew it, the evening was coming to an end. Tomorrow, we would tackle the Matterhorn.
We awoke the next morning to a light drizzle. The forecast originally called for blue skies with a slight chance of rain. None of us were particularly worried, yet we decided that it would be prudent to check the weather again. After a short jaunt back into town, we discovered that the weather was supposed to be pleasant all day. As soon as we made it back to camp, the rain ceased. It was time to gather our packs and hit the trail.
Today, we were once again following directions from the trip report we found online. The Matterhorn isn’t exactly a well known peak, therefore isn’t a lot of information on the route. The report that we found gave a vague description of the route as well as the GPS coordinates of three distinct markers: Dry Gulch, the ridge and Matterhorn summit. We knew the general direction of the Matterhorn, however these markers would be there to guide us if we needed them.
We made our way down the road towards the river crossing. Surprisingly, what seemed to be an enormous obstacle yesterday ended up being nothing more then a minor inconvenience. We all crossed the river with ease and we're now well on our way. The trail took us up a few switchbacks followed by a couple of miles of going up in elevation and then back down. Eventually, we came to Dry Gulch, our first marker.
From here, the trip report told us that we should be on the lookout for a drainage. Once we spotted the drainage, we were instructed to stick to the north side of it and make our way directly up the steep slope of the mountain. We continued past Dry Gulch and began to search for the drainage. Our search wasn’t yielding any results and continued to make our way down the trail. Eventually, we all had to stop and rethink our plan of attack. Right now, we weren’t really gaining any elevation, and with 4,800 feet to go, we figured we better start climbing.
Our GPS gave the precise location of the summit, pointing straight up the slope of the mountain to our left. We began climbing slowly but steadily in order to save energy for the higher elevations. I followed a small game trail that seemed to zig zag up the steep slope towards a small saddle. After 20 minutes or so of climbing, we reached the saddle and the beginning of the snow.
At the saddle, we took a few minutes to drink some water, have something to eat, plan our route and then get geared up for the snow. Now up at a higher elevation, we realized that the clouds were masking the path before us. Our GPS still read that the summit was directly in front of us, but that wasn’t necessarily the best route to take. In fact, its almost certainly isn’t route you want to take as it doesn’t account for obstacles or drastic changes in elevation.
Out of nowhere the clouds shrunk down to reveal a massive snowcapped ridge in front of us. The ridge seemed to tower above as we stood there on this small saddle. It was at this moment that it finally hit me. This was no longer a fantasy. We weren’t still ambitiously dreaming of the glories of capturing an incredible virtual reality experience. Our bags were packed, the camera was charged and we were facing down 4,000 feet of steep, snow covered mountain. This was the real deal.
I am a very curious person and a practical risk taker. It’s this combination that gave me the courage to move out west and begin to explore and document the beauty within our national parks. Despite these qualities, I’m also a very cautious person - this is where the practicality comes into my risk taking behavior. I like to think of the worst case scenario; not in a pessimistic way, but in order to arm myself with the knowledge I need upon entering into a given scenario. I hid it from the rest of the guys, but deep down I was nervous.
We could see what we believed to be the main ridge, but the Matterhorn was still out of sight. To our right was a smaller ridge that seemed to gain elevation very quickly. At that moment, we couldn’t see if this ridge eventually met up with the main ridge, but for now, climbing it was our only option. The first stretch in front of us was a perpendicular traverse across a steep slope. We began to make our way across, but every couple of steps, one of us would lose traction and slip. The consequences of slipping further down the slope weren’t too severe, but would certainly result in some sort of an injury. Thankfully, all of us made it across without incident.
At this point, we began to rapidly ascend the ridge through the forest. Our plan was to make some distance before shooting any more footage. It was extremely slow going as every step seemed to take twice the normal energy. The weight on our backs became more apparent. Each of us carried much more gear then we’d normally have due to the extra supplies needed for filming the expedition. After a half hour or so, Tommy began to complain about a blister that was forming on his heel. If you have ever had a blister, you know that it can make a day of hiking miserable. Right now, we weren’t just hiking; we were essentially climbing straight up this slope. Finally, we decided to take a break and wrap up Tommy's foot. It was now 10:30 AM and we were still incredibly far from the ridge. In fact, we still hadn’t even seen the summit of the Matterhorn.
In order to give ourselves plenty of time to descent the mountain in the daylight, we decided that we had to turn back around 3:30 PM. This sounds like a lot of time, but when you're climbing up thousands of feet with extremely heavy packs, you quickly discover that it’s not much time at all. Plus, we needed to document the experience. The process of filming by itself would add a couple of hours. We always seek to capture an organic experience and in order to achieve that, Tommy and Adam have to hike ahead of us, set up the cameras and have them ready for our arrival. This ensures that our authentic reactions are being captured. At this moment, we had done some filming in the lower elevations, but had held off for a while in order to gain some elevation. Now we had an injured crew member, 3,500 more feet to climb and an unfinished story. All these variables quickly overwhelmed me.
I immediately began to feel discouraged, and I could sense the discouragement in the rest of the team. It’s amazing how quickly human beings begin to doubt themselves. We had been talking about this climb for weeks, and now here we were on the slopes of the Matterhorn feeling completely hopeless. I regressed into my former state of anxiety. The voice inside my head kept telling me that I couldn’t return home without a compelling VR experience. I frantically began to think of how we could possibly come away with compelling footage without reaching the summit. I didn’t realize it then, but by searching for other options I had essentially given up hope that we could reach the summit.
After wrapping up Tommy’s foot, we continued up the mountain. Eventually, we reached a small saddle. The main ridge seemed a bit closer, yet it was still mostly socked in by the clouds. We could now see that the smaller ridge we had been following maintained a course that led up towards the main ridge, but for all we knew, there could be a cliff up there blocking our route. Either way, we were in too deep. We had no choice but to continue up towards the main ridge.
At this point, I knew that we had to start filming. We documented our thoughts at the saddle, then sent Tommy and Adam ahead to set up the cameras for another shot. After a few minutes, Colton and I made our way up the ridge, following Adam and Tommy’s path. After a few hundred feet, we looked to our left to discover that the summit of the Matterhorn had finally revealed itself. Our path led straight up to the ridge, which then continued to the final scramble to the summit.
In that moment, something came over me. I felt a new energy in the atmosphere. The dark clouds that had surrounded me had begun to drift away, revealing a sense of hope that I hadn’t felt yet that day. As I looked up towards the ridge, I realized that it was within our reach. We still had thousands of feet to climb and the snow was only getting deeper, yet I felt a wave of confidence wash over me.
This new found hope was bittersweet as I began to reflect on my sudden change of heart. I quickly discovered a metaphor to the issues that plague me from time to time. I want to be faithful, generous, and trustworthy, yet every now and then I let emotions cloud out my true intentions. Once these feelings obstruct my desire for personal growth, I begin to doubt myself. My desire to be a good person is still there, yet I allow my doubt to take hold of my intentions and I end up forsaking that initial plan that compelled me to better myself in the first place. Why do I do this?
The frustration built inside of me as I explored this pattern of doubt further. I began to wonder whether my self proclaimed optimism was a lie. I certainly carry a positive attitude, yet I have a tendency to give into anxiety and fear. Pondering these ideas helped me to take my mind off of the pain that was beginning to shoot up my legs. We had climbed more then 3,000 feet that day and the steepest sections were still before us. I chose to wrestle with my internal struggle at a later time and focus on the task at hand.
As we continued up towards the ridge, we soon realized that there was no way we would be able to reach the summit by 3:30 PM. In fact, we would be lucky to even reach the ridge by then. It was 2:45 PM and Colton and I decided to come up with a plan. We knew that we would have visible light until 9:00 PM and decided to delay our descent until 4:30. This would give us four and a half hours to get down the mountain and back to camp. The snow was getting deeper and deeper and we decided that it would be prudent to reach the ridge, assess the conditions and then make a decision about whether to tackle the summit.
We began to slowly tackle the final slope that connects to the ridge. The grade was steeper then it had been all day, and the snow had become deeper as well. I started to come up with miniature goals in my head. I would walk 20 feet, then take a 30 second break, then continue another 20 feet. If this sounds like slow going to you, you’re correct. This pace was all that we had left in us as we made our final push towards the ridge. After an hour or so, we were finally within 50 feet of the ridge.
Adam and Tommy made their way upwards to set up the cameras for our arrival. After a few minutes of preparation, we were ready to crest the ridge. This last section was brutal. It felt like the path was straight vertical and the deep snow made it impossible to maintain solid footing. The image of climbing a ladder covered in ice and snow immediately came to mind. Finally, my head popped up above the ridge and I got my first glimpse of the other side. My stomach dropped as I discovered the 2,000 foot cliff that jetted off the other side of the ridge. The deep snow deceived my senses as I realized that the ridge was smaller then the snowy platform that lay in front of me. To my right was Cougar Peak. It was covered in ice and snow, looking as majestic as any mountain I had ever seen. My immediate surroundings were made up of small pine trees, massive boulders and tons of snow. Then I spotted the summit of the Matterhorn. Even here at 10,300 feet elevation, it towered above our heads. The route along the ridge to the summit looked ferocious. Ice and snow clung to the rocks and the final scramble to the summit appeared as though it were a solid block of ice.
Colton soon joined me at the edge of the ridge. We stood in awe of the beauty before us, but also the path that we left behind. From this vantage point we could see all the way down to the small saddle where we began our major push towards the ridge. Obstructed from our view was the canyon floor, 4,000 feet below us. As we looked out towards the summit of the Matterhorn, we both knew that we wouldn't be standing on the summit that day. The route required us to be roped up in order to be safe. The summit is the size of a pool table and the deep snow in conjunction with the 2,000 foot drop sent shivers down my spine.
Despite not reaching the summit, we had accomplished something incredible. I have always been a believer that a true adventure is more about the journey then the destination. This expedition had tested us in many different ways. It forced us to adapt to each different scenario, finding the best possible plan that would help us accomplish our goal. It taught us that sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. I was extremely proud of our team. Tommy fought his way up the mountain side while blisters formed on his heels. Adam not only helped us make important route decisions, but did an incredible job aiding Tommy in setting up our virtual reality cameras. I think we all felt a strong sense of connection as we reflected on all we had accomplished.
While looking out over the Jarbidge range, I pondered the question that came out of my reflection earlier in the day - still perplexed by my inclination towards doubt. I had dreamed up this experience weeks ago. It was certainly ambitious to attempt to go climbing this time of year, and the difficulty of documenting the experience in virtual reality compounded the challenge. I have come to understand that it's ambition that fuels my exploration, and in turn paves the way to a deeper understanding of myself.
I had experienced a profound moment of clarity in the desert of Death Valley. It was through that self examination that I discovered my escape from the clutches of despair. The image of a mountaintop became my saving grace as I pictured life's struggles being manifested as a flash flood. So how could I have so quickly abandoned hope earlier?
I soon realized that my time in Death Valley was the prerequisite to a greater lesson - an exercise meant to challenge my thought process and offer a roadmap to greater understanding. It was in that moment that I discovered the answer to my question. It's my human nature that has the power to lure me into hopelessness, but I can learn to fight those tendencies like I did today. I believe it is natural to have feelings of doubt, but it's through faith that you can find the hope to move forward. By choosing to be hopeful, you open yourself up to motivation that can push you beyond your conceived limitations. Ambition begins the path to new understanding, but it's only through faith, hope and perseverance that we can truly achieve our full potential.
Who knew that my idea of a mountain of faith would manifest itself as the Matterhorn? I didn't realize it in Death Valley, but the image of a mountain truly captures the nature of faith. Mountains have an inherent beauty that calls out to all of us. They inspire us to reach new heights in order to gain a greater perspective. We are humbled in their presence as they tower above our heads. Mountains test our will. To ascend to the top requires strength and perseverance. You might not always make it to the summit, but you take away lessons from the journey and seek to try again.
This experience taught me a lot about myself, but also renewed my belief in the power of friendship. Our journey had begun in Los Angeles, but now we stood at 10,300 feet on a mountain ridge near the border of Nevada and Idaho. What began as a fairly short drive (for our standards), turned into 45 hours in the car in less then a week! We had to pull together in order to overcome obstacles and challenges, and when the burden became too much to bear, we shared the load. I believe the true meaning of friendship is to experience life together - through thick and thin.
Our journey introduced us to some of the most genuinely kind people I have ever met. I don’t believe this was by accident at all. We were meant to take that leap of faith. Jarbidge will forever be known to me as a reminder of how to treat others. The golden rule seems so simple, yet we let our mood determine how we choose to treat others in a given moment. I am so glad to have met Joani in Rogerson as well as Wanda and everyone else from Jarbidge. They taught me to extend kindness to everyone because you never know who might be in need of a smile. Sometimes that is all that it takes to make people feel welcome - a simple smile.
These last few weeks offered me a glimpse of my former self. I rediscovered my true sense of adventure - the one that sparked my curiosity into the unknown at such a young age. I know that this rediscovery will prove to have a great impact on my life. As we begin to start another season of Rock the Park, I am making a choice to look at each adventure as an opportunity to engage in the spontaneity of life. Our schedules and plans will always be there as a guide, but I know that there is always a greater plan that is just beyond our view. This realization is comforting to me.
Above everything else, these few weeks taught me to believe in myself again. I have been given a glimpse of the path to joy. This is a never ending journey, but the more you walk down that path, the more you experience the hope that fuels gratitude, compassion and understanding. I fled to the desert of Death Valley to seek wisdom, and in turn received more then I could have ever imagined.
As I close this story, I am thoughtful of all these lessons that I have learned. I want to plead with you all to live in the moment. Allow yourself to surrender your plans and follow the intuition that is inside you. Take that leap of faith and enter into the unknown because you never know what will be waiting on the other side. If you ever feel as though you're losing control of your life, take some time to sit in silence and let wisdom flow into you. The more you open yourself up to wisdom and self discovery, the more the pieces will begin to come together before you. You begin to pick up on the subtleties of life that by themselves seem insignificant, but with a higher perspective become the means of change. You will become a happier person as you begin to acknowledge your present purpose in life. In my opinion, the search for purpose is another never ending journey; however I don’t believe we have just one purpose. Your purpose today might be to smile at that person on the street who needs to feel appreciated.
Lastly, I want to encourage you to never give up. If the road ahead seems too dark to see, find some light to show you the way. Keep the faith and your circumstance will eventually change. It’s so hard to believe in times of darkness, but it is true. Remember, when adversity comes rushing at you like a flash flood, you can escape. Find that mountain of faith. If you can bear the journey and carry on through the storm, the waters will flow away from your feet and you will be left standing strong on the mountain top.