Swadhyaya, Tapas, and One Damn Mountain After Another

CDT June 2018 063The plan for this trip was to leave my car at the Wolf Creek Pass trailhead, hike six days up the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) past Hunchback Pass and hook west up the CT (Colorado Trail) to follow the Elk Creek drainage toward Molas Pass where I would meet me friend Rob Graham, who would take me back to my car.  But I have accepted now that things never turn out as planned, and that in itself becomes part of the plan.  Things went exactly as expected.

To keep myself honest, I decided before leaving to set an intention for each day’s hike, something I’ve learned through yoga.  It didn’t really matter what, because there is always a lot to think about, but if you don’t focus you are just out walking around in a bunch of mountains.  I decided that each day I would focus on two yamas or niyamas, ethical do’s and don’ts, a moral code of conduct given expression through the vocabulary of yoga.  All stuff I knew or felt already, but the actual words give focus.  And intention.

Day 1:  Swadhyaha and Tapas.  “Swadhyaha” means simply self-study; whatever you are drawn to with the intention to know yourself through it, and most importantly in this case, to see the process through.

You will understand quite early when hiking the CDT that it is just one damn mountain after another.CDT June 2018 093 You go up one, and it is hard, but you think “when I get to the top, I will have accomplished something important, and I will see more clearly.”  But then you get there, and you see the damn trail just goes right back down the other side, and back up another very similar mountain.  You have accomplished nothing.

Tapas” is a burning enthusiasm for what you are doing, the fervor of striving to be the best you can, simply by going against the grain of habit, of complacency, of doing what is easiest.  Tapas is important when you look at that damn trail going down again and then back up after you’ve arrived at the top of a hard climb.  I spend a great deal of my time amazed out how things work out–I know some people who will say the word “dumbfounded” is more appropriate–but I was happy when I understood that it was not pure chance that led me to pick these two niyamas for my first day on the trail.  There were many easier choices I could have made for how to spend this time, but I needed to see this through if it was going to mean anything.CDT June 2018 052The only other people I saw during my hike were CDT thru-hikers, people walking from the southern border with Mexico up to Canada during the 3-4 month window when lack of snow up high makes the trip possible.  These were amazing people.  So positive, so full of joy and gratitude for being exactly where they were at each moment.  And walking so much faster than me!  Cardboard, Hercules, Ketzyl, Cracker, Nugget, Kodachrome, and Yellow Mustard:  trail names, the only ones that mattered to anyone up there.  We’d chat a bit, and then they needed to move on, cover more distance before sunset.  And when they were gone I’d say “there’s no way I could do that.  What am I trying to prove out here?”

I ended Day 1 camped at a small alpine lake, alone except for a group of mule deer.  Getting there was a first for me, my first glissage, sliding on my ass down a frozen slope when the trail was blocked.  CDT June 2018 045The great thing about a day like this is that you are so tired that you don’t have the energy to still wonder what you are trying to prove.  You just want to eat, get warm, and sleep.  I was forcing dinner down when something spooked this deer, and she actually hissed at me.  Twice, like a really big, angry snake.CDT June 2018 049And I was at that moment so grateful to be right there, grateful to have set those two intentions for the day and not done what was easiest.  To have seen the day through, and gone to sleep on a mountain surrounded by hissing deer.

Tomorrow:  Honey Badger, Asteya, and why it all comes down to Satya at the end of the day.


7 thoughts on “Swadhyaya, Tapas, and One Damn Mountain After Another

    • Yes, Rob and wife are safe. He actually did the hike up and past Hunchback Pass, but left on Friday and that is why I was not able to reach him (I came out Friday PM thinking he wouldn’t leave until Saturday morning). He figured I had done what I did when he didn’t meet me up there, and in his natural doper way was not concerned for my safety. He apparently had to car-camp up on the highway Saturday night waiting to be first in line for the police escort back down the road to Durango. Since, the Forest Service has closed off access to the entire San Juan National Forest as the fire spreads.

    • Well, part of setting intentions is to do it before you begin, and I did not have room in my already over-loaded pack for the time machine. But that deer hiss was pretty satanic sounding; not sure what you’re feeding those guys up there.

  1. “What am I trying to prove out here?” You may never know but I’ll paraphrase a quote I read long ago that sounds like why you do it – “The reason men go to war is to come back and say they did it”

    • “You have to test yourself every day.” From “Making The Corps,” which I’m guessing you’ve read (excellent book). I suppose it is a mix of seeing how far we can go, and being highly aware of the alternative: sitting at home, watching TV, and then waking up one day and you’re dead. Thanks for the comment. I enjoy your writing.

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