The Last Route

Pretend climbing is life. Pretend one route equals your life. You are born when you tie in, you gain consciousness when you hear, “On belay.” If it’s a single pitch climb, every move equals a year. If it’s a longer route, each pitch equals a decade. When the climb is over, so are you — reaching the top equals death.

Life is a route. How are you climbing it?

I’ve climbed lots of routes with the expressed interest of reaching the top. Sending was the goal. I wasn’t there to celebrate the movement, to enjoy the day, to appreciate the time on the rock. I was there to summit. On the route of life I was racing for the chains.

Today, however, I climbed deliberately. I savored every second, looking no further than the move in front of me, striving to embrace every moment in the vertical. I never rushed, instead flowing upward at whatever pace fit. I climbed with my eyes open, my head and heart engaged. I felt the warmth of the sun, listened to my picks as they creaked in the ice. I was there to be there, not to reach the anchor. Once I reached the anchor, after all, the climbing was over.

Whether climbing rock or ice, sport or life, my “goal” has become the experience, not the summit. The process itself is the reason for action. Every individual moment has become infinitely important. The top, the summit, the chains, the end, has become an abstraction. It will inevitably show up, but the real cause for joy is contained in all the moments that led there. Every moment, every movement, every year and every decade is worth noticing, worth celebrating. Whatever you do, don’t rush.

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