An Ode to the Mountains

I’ve lived in the shadows of mountains for most of my life. While growing up to get to any center of culture different than the town in which I was born you had to go over, around, or thru a mountain. Living between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains defined us. You were either from The Valley or you weren’t. Even then there were strata. The closer you came to either of the mountain ranges, the wilder things got. People became more independent and “peculiar”. The folks from my mountains held on to an older way of life.

Once I got a little older my mother and her parents would pull me out of school for a month and we’d go “Out West” in my grandparent’s motorhome. It was on these adventures that I was introduced to a different kind of mountain than the ones I’d grown up with. The mist covered Blue Ridge and Allegheny gave way to the glacial might of the Rockies and Grand Tetons. When first seeing them on the horizon I figured we’d be making camp at their foothills by night fall. We drove 3 more days before the Great Plains began to rise. That was when I knew these were different mountains.

               Driving to the top of these mountains, so different from my mountains, was an amazing experience. The road to the top of Pike’s Peak winds and snakes up the side of the mountain for over 12 miles and has 156 turns. The small gauge railway from Durango Colorado to Silverton spans 45 miles and traverses the San Juan Mountains. These adventures were captivating to a young mind, but I couldn’t help but feel that there were more to these tectonic goliaths than I was seeing from the window of an RV or train car. Years later a friend introduced me to the sport of rock climbing. It took me several years and dozens of routes to understand what the mountains of the west and my home were hiding from me.

The mountains of the west stood as a direct challenge to all who stood before them. Their snow covered pinnacles and hidden crevasses, secured by stone field and permafrost, beckon to all who would assault their heights. Climbing these mountains requires planning and forethought. Basecamp, camp one, camp two, rations, your gear list, all of these things are taken into account and weighed to the last ounce. You cut the handle of your tooth brush off to make weight for one more freeze dried meal.

To accept the challenge is to accept the mantle of Hillary or Norgay, even if just in our own mind. Guide services are plentiful and I encourage any reader interested in climbing to seek them out if this adventure calls to you. The view from the top of Montezuma Tower, The Three Graces, or Easter Rock in Garden of the Gods will solidify how that amazing part of America received its name.

The mountains of the west evoke an air of outright masculine challenge. Scaling these mountains is an overt challenge. Only thru the union of brain and brawn, skill and guile can a person hope to reach their summit. This is not to say that the mountains of my home are feminine; secretive may be a more accurate term. Climbing the mountains of the south are more like a treasure hunt.

Pitches and routes with names like “Hidden Cliffs”, “Hidden Rocks”, and (my personal favorite) “Stinky Pinky” are yours for the taking, IF you can find them. One local cherry spot for climbing in the Shenandoah Valley is coveted by no less than 4 different groups of adventure seekers; Climbers, Repellers, Hang Gliders, and Drivers. The challenge is to get there first. Even if you rise with the sun and set your top ropes first, there’s no guarantee that half way up the pitch you won’t hear a lusty “WHOO HOO” and be dive-bombed by a hang glider that missed the flags on your ropes.

Guide services for the mountains and hills of the south and east are available as well, but I would encourage reaching out thru social media to locals. Climbing isn’t the only treasure available to the adventurer. Drive up an unmarked access road and you’ll find an Italian Renaissance Revival Villa built by a wealthy philanthropist as a token of love for his wife. Travel a little farther north and you’ll find the country store owned by my great grandfather that, if my family mythology is true, was a waypoint for the Bondurant Brothers as they ran moonshine during prohibition.


This post is written by contributing author Scott Barker. Scott is a BJJ white belt who takes his coffee how he takes his whiskey: straight up. He supports his BJJ and coffee habits through his work as a program manager for a military manufacturer.

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