Mountain Karma

Have you ever had one of those phrases that someone uses that you like so much that you adopt it?  My friends, over the years, have picked up one of ones I’ve coined (though they generally point it at me) B P O C (Bastard Piece of Crap).  OK it’s not a NICE phrase, but when appropriate, it fulfills a specific need to call someone a unique name.

The one I am referring to in this post though, was first heard by me while climbing Mt. Baker.   It was a windy afternoon, and the guide was warning us to hold on to our trash.  (Wrappers from candy or power bars.)  It was a simple sentence but it resonates with me to this day.  

“If you litter on the mountain, Mountain Karma will punish you with bad weather!”  And the  man was completely serious.  To someone who loves mountains, they are not just big mounds of dirt.  They are alive, they breathe, they have emotions, a sense of humor and they demand respect.  They have the ability to take pity on someone, and they can go out of their way to get even if they want to.  To climb, you have to appease the mountain gods.

Now I am not a spiritual person, maybe someday after a lot of wine, I will do a blog post on my beliefs.  However, I will tell you, I do believe the mountains live and breath.  During my climbing time, I could sense Mt. Rainier laughing at me after the first 3 failed attempts at reaching the summit.  Now, I feel a mutual respect, knowing that on the last attempt, I gave it all I had, left nothing to spare, and trained more than ever.


Now when the clouds part and Rainier is shining, I feel the mountain smiling at me.

Reflection Lake
Reflection Lake

To this day, being around that mountain is my happiest place (except for curled up next to Michelle.)  I think it laughed at me back then so I would try again, and again, and finally get to the point where I learned I wasn’t a failure.  Just climbing on a mountain is magical, and their are many who can’t, or are afraid to try.  I gve it my all.  The mountain gods respect and reward that.

I think part of why this came about is the fact I did what I could to EARN good mountain Karma points over the years.  Most hikers are decent people, but like anywhere there are exceptions.  On training hikes, I would invariably stumble over someones trash.  Usually a wrapper of some kind, which could be a accident, but frequently it was an empty plastic bottle of water they didn’t want to carry.  I would simply crush it and slip it into the backpack.  Each time saying to myself “mountain karma”.

Once, someone left a plastic bag full of trash in Rainier National Park.  Right on the side of the mother of all mountains in Washington.  It wasn’t easy, but I tied it to my pack and hauled it out.  The rangers thanked me profusely for that one.

There were even times I was tired, and didn’t want to stop.  I would keet going a few steps, stop, turn and go back uphill and get the item I skipped over.  I never got a ruling if leaving trash on the trail was bad mountain karma, but why take the chance.

I even taught the kids.  As little ones, when we would hike, they would help me pick up stuff we found and say “here dad, more mountain karma!”  Even a hike a year ago, I had Mathmajor grab a sandwich bag someone forgot.  I said “remember its ….”  “I know dad!  Mountain karma!”  He and man child might think I am nuts, but hopefully someday they will teach their kids about this as well.

Does it work?  Well, I have climbed and hiked on many a mountain.  In rain, snow, heat, fog and whiteout conditions.  I’ve done some dumb things, taken some “short cuts” and had to outrun an incoming lightning storm.  But I have always come back, never had more than a few scrapes and bruises, and always want to go back.

If you sit and listen, you can hear the mountains breath, but only if you show them respect first….



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