It is easy to become complacent; to take my foot off of the gas and switch to cruise control. Luckily, I had just finished Can’t Hurt Me, an extreme and inspirational book by the masochistic Navy Seal ultra-runner David Goggins.
Now, the little Goggins on my shoulder called me to push past the exhaustion that comes from three straight weeks of work, and head to the mountains. I wasn’t about to ignore him; that dude is intense. By the time I was packed it was long past dark, so I opted for an early morning departure, hoping to witness first-light cascading down the mountains I love most, the Elks of central Colorado.
When my alarm shrilled, long before sunrise, negativity dominated my thoughts and emotions: You didn’t get enough sleep. You’ll be too tired to even enjoy it. You’re feeling sick, so sleep in and let your body rest. The skiing is probably no good anyway. You could sleep in and ski the resort.
It is easy to listen to the voice of negativity when the outside world is cold and dark, and your feet complain from weeks of being alternately crammed into frosty ski-boots, stale mountaineering boots, and damp climbing shoes.
The Dalai Lama said “Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.” With those words in mind, I pushed myself out of my warm bed, gathered my gear, and started up the road.
During the drive, that voice of negativity was louder than I had experienced in a long time: Turn back. Go home and sleep. What are you doing waking up so early for no reason?
I had been on a streak of early morning training and touring, so this bombardment of discouragement hit like a surprise left-hook. It is amazing how your mind can be your best support crew or your worst enemy.
Over time, I have learned of the malleability of the mind. I know my dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings only gives them power, but it remains a constant battle to overcome them, step outside of my comfort zone, and face headlong into the icy winds of growth.
It wasn’t until I was flying up the snow-covered road on my snowmobile, with my skis strapped to the back, that the voice faded. It would be a beautiful day.
Six miles up the road, I rounded a corner and parked. I looked at my clock: ten minutes until sunrise. I sat and meditated in the cold silence. I could almost reach out and touch the weight lifting from my body, carried away in each cloud of vapor I exhaled.
The voices of suffering and motivation went quiet. I felt the peace that only comes from the solitude of cold alpine mornings, and I heard nothing more than the whisper of the winter wind, sifting through the trees like water finding its way from the mountains to the sea.
Then, there it was; a yellow-orange glimmer of light illuminated the top of the highest peak. I set up my camera and snapped a few shots, and enjoyed the view for a moment before heading up the skin-track, awake and alive.
(Jamie Caudill is a climbing guide, ski instructor, and photographer based in Carbondale, Colorado. To see more adventures on stone and cold powder snow, check out his instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jam.caudill)