There’s a fine line between badassery and stupidity, and in trail running you often straddle it.
“We’re not going there are we?”
We stood at the Mt. Baldy trailhead, necks craned to see the snow-covered ridge. I fiddled with my handheld as I watched the hikers around me affix ice axes to their packs and adjust their softshell pants. I looked down at my shorts and Stance socks. Maybe we’re not ready for this. It was chilly at 6,000 feet – about 31 degrees – but we’d be running up a mountain soon, and surely we’ll warm up. We made a pact to turn back as soon as one of us became uncomfortable and commenced our standard mountain climbing shuffle.
The plan was a day in the mountains – a ten-mile adventure up and over the summit of Mt. Baldy. It is January, but it is also California (With the sun! And the warmth!), and we were ready in shorts, windbreakers, and a pair of Hoka One One Speed Instincts. We turned the corner onto the Baldy Bowl Trail and continued climbing, chatting, and sporadically hollering in excitement. We moved swiftly compared to our peers carrying full packs of mountaineering gear and reached the Mt. San Antonio Ski Hut with ease. The weather held up, the trail wasn’t too treacherous, and only my fingers were a little chilly. While others put on their crampons to prepare for the final ascent, we snapped some photos and carried on.
There’s a fine line between badassery and stupidity, and in the world of mountain/ultra running, you often straddle it. As we pushed our way toward the summit, smiling gleefully between gasping breaths, we refined this line. It is in these spaces of humility, natural beauty, and human potential that I discover my depths of badassery – And the potential for stupidity. An inflated ego, solitary focus on the outcome, or simple lack of awareness and preparation can easily push you across this line. Running up a 10,000-foot mountain in January in shorts? One could argue we crossed this line, but I believe we didn’t. The mountains are a humbling place. They demand forethought and respect. A weakened ego and strengthened awareness. On this adventure, we operated as a team – cohesive, in synch, and respectful of each other and the mountain. We were not climbing this mountain for its summit. We did not begin the day with an isolated mission in mind. Each step was an adventure. Each switchback an opportunity to push ourselves, learn more about each other, and relish this day of free time, thin air, and straining quads.
I am still new to this high-altitude world. This is only my third mountain summit. Only the third time I’ve asked my body to push itself up and over 3,800-plus feet in a matter of miles. The wind’s howl and distant fog reminds me of the setting’s strength and prowess. It challenges me – physically, but more so mentally. The higher we climb, the greater I sense a low rumble within my being. A reminder of my lack of control. My anxiety teeters toward fear and panic, matching my sense of awe and solitude. I remain calm. Aware. Acknowledging these sensations, the potential for mental and emotional limitations. I remove judgment from my fears and instead recognize them, accept them, and carry on. I remain alert and cognizant of my surroundings. I trust my training, trust my preparation, and trust my adventure partner. We carry on, each step bringing us closer to the top of our small corner of the world.
We reached the mountain’s ridge, covered in snow but also bathed in warm sunlight. Each step was arduous but not insurmountable. Nearing the summit, the task at hand required less physical strength and more mental stamina. Each step a reminder that I can do hard things. Hands on my quads, avoiding postholing, I allow myself the luxury of a silent pause. A brief moment as my world stands still. I am a small speck within a vast, looming landscape. I am at ease. I am tranquil. I am home.
Breathing is easier at 10,000 feet. My thoughts slow and the fire hose of incoming information and pending decisions becomes a steady, manageable flow. My task is simple yet profound: Climb this mountain. Feel my body move across the earth. Acknowledge, accept, and allow myself to occupy this space, to feel my legs burn, lungs sear, and heart quadruple in size as I navigate the challenging and trying terrain. I am a guest here. This is not my domain. The mountains are not domesticated. They are wild, unapologetic, and free. Just as I aspire to be.
We relish the summit, quickly, and make our descent. Snow turns to ice which turns to dry, smooth trail. Strides open up, and a joyous hoot and holler echoes in the canyon as we barrel our way down, arms flailing and smiles wide. Our faces reveal a childlike giddiness, a joy that etches itself into your skin like dry salt after a hot summer run. Hearts full and stomachs empty, the day’s events slowly sink into our tired legs. Mt. Baldy was an adventure.