There I was, less than a half-mile from the summit of Smutwood Peak. A cloudless sky allowed for nothing short of a breath-taking view surrounding the side of the mountain on which I was standing. Glacier-topped mountains and gorgeous, deep-blue lakes caught my eye in every direction.
What this clear day also allowed me to see, however, was the ever so steep grade of the mountain below me. As I peered toward what seemed to be an endless slope, I thought to myself, “If I were to slip and fall, I would surely be severely injured, or worse.” This thought faded rather quickly as I continued the hike, but it never left the back of my mind. Finally I reached a point where I could no longer see where the trail continued. I plunged forward, eager to find the trail and get to the summit of the mountain.
As I rounded a bend, I could clearly see that the trail did not go this direction. It wasn’t until I turned around that I realized what I had done. In my excitement, I didn’t even notice the 12 foot rock slide that I had crossed over. My gaze shifted from the top of the slide (roughly 20ft above my head) to the bottom, which extended all the way to the bottom of the mountain. This time, more carefully, I started across the slide.
Before I could even put all of my weight on my front foot, rocks from the slide began shifting, falling and rolling uncontrollably from all above where I was standing. Instinctively, I pulled my foot back to avoid the falling rocks. I tried my luck again, gently placing one foot onto the slide and adding pressure a little at a time. Unfortunately, I was met with identical results.
It was at this point that I began sifting through my options. Option #1: A 25ft vertical climb up an overhung rock face directly above me. Option #2: Cross the rock slide. This was the hand that I was dealt. Neither option was very promising, but I had to get back to the trail. After weighing my options for a few minutes, I had decided what I would do. I had to cross the slide. I took a few steps back, hoped for the best, and began running. In one swift motion I jumped to the middle of the slide, pushed off with one foot, and made it safely to the other side as rocks came tumbling down behind me. I had made it.
Had the rocks in the center been a little less stable or had I lost my balance, I don’t think the results would have been the same. Nevertheless, I tell you this story now. Not to highlight one of my lesser-than-bright moments, but to explain that in that moment, I never felt more alive. Something about getting a little taste of near-death just does something that no other activity on earth can do. It’s different than an adrenaline rush…It’s something that is entirely its own. You’ll never feel more alive than when you’re as close to death as possible.