“From 0 to 2351” – Part 4 – The Ascent

It began raining almost immediately. Of all the things I brought with me, I didn’t bring a single piece of rain gear, including my gortex shell, which would have been ideal in those circumstances. While still in Canada, I remembered I had forgotten it and could have turned back. I decided against returning saying, “Está á vontade de Deus” an expression meaning “It’s the will of God.” Never take those words lightly…

There is a “path” up the mountain marked by 45 posts. They are spaced out with the intention of making it easy for first timers, like myself, to find their way to the crater of the volcano. Once at the crater, the path ends and you’re on your own. Often, due to the fog and rain, I couldn’t see the next post ahead of me. I did my best to follow the path and the footsteps of those who had gone before me. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t avoid minor detours.

At times I walked. At times I crawled. At times I climbed. I prayed. I thought of my girlfriend and my loved ones at home. Sometimes the intensity of my emotions overcame me and my eyes teared. It happens to me often these days. I find it hard control the intensity of my emotions. I named these tears “Beethoven tears” because the first time I shed them I was thinking of how Beethoven must have felt the first time he presented the Ninth Symphony. I’ve gotten over the shame I used to feel about this in public. I’ve come to understand it as a gift.

I always made sure to stay focused on the path ahead. I did my best to make every step a thoughtful one. I began to understand with my heart that every step has a consequence. Any misstep can result in tragedy. Every step, no matter how small or seemly insignificant, matters. That was especially true that day due to the weather, the increasing weight of my pack (from the water it was absorbing), and the fact that I was alone.

My initial plan was to take several pictures throughout my ascent, just like I had the day before. When I took my first break at post 10, I did so. By then, the winds were already very strong and my visibility limited. I found a spot for myself behind a large rock that provided shelter from the winds and horizontally flying rains. I took these photos:

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By that time, I had become very preoccupied with the character of Moses and his journey up the mountain. I remembered he lived at the base of Mount Sinai, left his family, and traveled to the summit to challenge God’s treatment of the Israelites. That takes some balls, I thought. However, the more I reflected on it, the more I understood I had come to do the same. Hadn’t I come to challenge creation and lift myself as high as from the sea as the land would take me? Was it not an expression of arrogance and ingratitude to leave my loving family and friends on a selfish quest? Was it not pompous to ignore the warnings of the people at the Casa da Montanha and believe the winds would magically shift in my favour? What was I trying to prove? What was I expecting to find up there?

I placed my walking staff on the ground and decided to take a picture of it before continuing upward:

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That was the last picture I was able to take. The winds got stronger and the rains got harder. As I ascended, even reaching for my camera became dangerous and completely not worth the effort.

I met many people both going up and coming down the mountain. I moved aside and welcomed everyone I met. If they were going down, I knew their road was more dangerous than mine and they were likely more tired. If they were going up, I understood that my load, fatigue, and blistered feet would only be holding them back.

There was a sincere sense of kindness and concern between everyone I met that day. We were on the same mountain, after all. We were facing the same perils. No one wanted to see anyone get hurt. None of us would be the first to conquer that peak. It had been climbed by countless people before us and countless people would climb it after us. None of us were special. We were all just trying to make it where we needed to go.

The down-goers told me about the summit and the path ahead. Tips and lessons learned were given. I listened with complete faith in their good intentions. The up-goers, able to see the weight I bore and my intent to spend the night up top, wished me a safe journey and offered words of encouragement. One man said I looked like a prophet. Another wished me “Bon camino” in Spanish. I became more and more fixated on the character of Moses and his mountain. One thing was for sure, if Moses’ God was a fire god, then mine was a water god.

The winds grew and the rains fell harder. The higher I got, the colder it got. At times, ice pellets chipped at my face. My breaks became more and more frequent. I often left the path to find shelter behind a rock from the winds. Fear began to grip me. Doubt started to plague me. I continually found strength in the words, “Sempre para címa”, and continued upwards.

At post 32 I was sure I couldn’t go on. I hid behind a rock and prayed for help. I cried. I though of my girlfriend and thanked God for our time together. Every moment has been a blessing. Every day has been a gift, I thought to myself. I cursed my arrogance in leaving everyone to face God in this manner. I don’t think I’ve ever been more afraid. I couldn’t see post 33 no matter how hard I tried, nor could I make out the path ahead. I sat there for over half an hour crippled by fear and uncertainty.

I ate and drank. I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed. I prayed until suddenly spirit reentered me and I heard the words, “Força! Sempre para címa.” I took up my pack and climbed upwards on faith. When post 33 came into view, I began laughing uncontrollably. I knew I was going make it to the top.

I believe I was near post 34 when I took a wrong turn. By this point, the rain was no longer flying horizontally, it was flying up the mountain at a forty five degree angle. At one point, unable to hold it any longer, I stopped to urinate. The stream flew straight upwards into my own face. I had no choice but to endure it.  Any other reaction could have cost me my life.

After post 34 the path takes a hard right and continues along the edge of the crater until post 45 where it becomes safe to descend. I was told about this by Andre in the Casa da Montanha. But not having studied the route before leaving, and unable to see the next post (let alone three metres ahead of me), I took a left.

My head and eyes were focused on the ground. I began to daze. All of a sudden I was faced with the edge of the crater and a massive drop at my feet that would have surely killed me. A gust of wind slammed me from behind. It almost threw me to my death. I pushed all my weight backwards with all the strength I had in me, just to keep myself standing upright. I just barely managed to fall to my knees. In terror, I looked down at the jagged rocks below. I crawled away from the edge. I think I was crying. It’s really hard to remember. I returned to post 34, remembered what Andre had said, and found the right path.

I continued, with difficultly but without incident, to post 45, overlooking the crater…

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