Monday, 3 August 2020

Lessons on Grotto Mountain

Grotto Mountain. It’s not a beautiful mountain, but I don’t always climb beautiful mountains. I climb them to look at other beautiful mountains or valleys. As usual I was chasing those views today but after 2 hours of quad shredding climbing I was forced to turn around only 400’ from the summit. A thunderstorm was suddenly rolling in across the valley almost 5 hours early. Really?! 🙇‍♀️ But it was like the voice of God telling me to get down off that mountain, NOW. Standing alone on a very exposed 9000’ peak in a lightening storm is not really a good idea so I did - but to say I was very disappointed is an understatement. As I started downclimbing 😣 and cursing just a little, I started to understand.
Grotto Mountain doesn’t carry its beauty as a crown. It’s beauty and it’s namesake are discreetly wrapped in a massive breathtaking cathedral of rock hidden from view where only those who seek will find it. I had barely glanced at it on my way up. I wasn’t meant to summit, or run ridgelines today. I was meant to see the Grotto.

#grottomountain #primalwisdom #alwaysrespectthemountain #naturetherapy #staygrounded #payattention #downclimbingsucks #ultramindset #salmingrunningnorthamerica


I always feel excited climbing a mountain. Always. Today I felt anxious and a foreboding looking at the ridge. Almost turned back twice. I truly think God was yelling at me to LISTEN up already and get my ass back down before I committed to something that may get me in trouble. He knew something I didn’t. 

Sometimes God whispers to us and sometimes he has to YELL. 

As I was climbing up that mountain I had summit fever. I wanted to bag that peak, run that ridge, and get down before the storm hit. I climbed with a ferocity that I haven’t in a long time, panting and puffing in the thinning air like I was wearing an N95 mask. In several places it was serious scrambling requiring all 4 limbs. Several times I looked back thinking, damn. This would be hell to go down. I hope the other side of the ridge is easier. 

All this time I was circling a huge rock cathedral. I stopped to take a panoramic picture but what I had photographed barely registered in my hypoxic brain. It was majestic. It was breathtakingly beautiful.  I was looking at the grotto, the iconic rock formation for which the mountain was named, wrapped in columns of rock that seemed to protect it from external  forces...and I didn’t even notice. See picture at top of post.

Finally I stopped. I almost turned back. I realized I was only half way up and I felt something bad deep in my stomach. But I decided to ignore it and pressed on. I was conditioned not to stop and I was selfish. I had come too far and I wanted to see what was on top. 

Finally I broke out of the alpine and started the last ascent to the top. I celebrated every 100’ of gain as it started to sprinkle. Go go go! You’re almost there. Just summit and head back down. I kept bargaining. When I was only 400’ from the summit,

The thunder rolled. 

From far across the valley, on the other side of Canmore, the clouds darkened and thunder rumbled. When you are standing on a scree embankment almost 9000’ above sea level, dizzy with exhaustion, cracking thunder is hard to ignore. 

Keep in mind I was already going against all my instincts and all the messages the universe was trying to send me in continuing up that mountain. That thunder was yelling at me to wake up already and LISTEN. “Get your freaking ass off this mountain” was what popped into my head and this time I didn’t ignore it. I felt that knowing. I felt genuine fear. #alwaysrespectthemountain

I immediately turned around and headed down. Going up was slow and going down wasn’t much faster. The rocks would get very slippery and treacherous in the rain and as I watched rain drops dot the rocks, I prayed out loud that God would stop the rain until I made it below the tree line. Miraculously it stopped raining...until the EXACT moment I crossed the tree line. Tell me God isn’t real. 

As I slowly and carefully picked my way down that mountain the thunder continued to occasionally roll which would spur my feet into further downward action. When I passed the half way mark the sun came out and I fumed. Really?! Am I in the Hunger Games arena?

But sometimes God knows things we don’t. Like maybe I would have gotten lost on that ridge. Maybe I wouldn’t have made it down before the real thunderstorm developed at 3:30pm this afternoon. As an ultra runner I’ve conditioned myself to ignore pain and fatigue and the urge to stop. “Don’t stop” is a mantra that has gotten me to a lot of places I am proud of, including 100 mile finishes. But through it all I’ve always felt pulled towards my goal, not pushed, not repulsed.

Maybe I need to learn to listen when my instincts feel more like a magnetic repulsion rather than attraction. Today what seemed like a good idea required an addendum. So be it. 

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