Climbing a Mountain Didn’t Kill Me, It Taught Me How to Live

Sam Masterson (@sammasterson22)

My fear of heights can most accurately be explained like this: If there is someone to be sued after my fatal fall, then I feel somewhat comfortable.

Roller coasters, top of the Empire State Building and ferris wheels are no problem. Basically anywhere that has some sort of planned, safety measures, I’m okay with. But being exposed 11,000 feet up the side of Glover Peak was where I found my fear.

I titled it “Death March Wyoming” in my iPhone calendar. The six day and five night backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness. A first of its kind for me, but the umpteenth excursion for my girlfriend and her family. I was the youngest — and least-experienced backpacker — among our group of 12, which included her father, brother, sister, two uncles, three cousins and two significant others.

They knew what they were doing and that gave me comfort. But still, I was headed into the mountains with only the things my 48 liter backpack could hold (which actually wasn’t even my backpack, I borrowed it from my cousin with an uneasy feeling).

There would be no nearby grocery store. No bathrooms along the way. Everything we needed we carried.

I sounded insane. I told friends and they would laugh. Co-workers compared the trek to “The Revenant.” My parents saw the trip as a way for my girlfriend’s dad to weed out weak boyfriends.

I was never deterred, but always skeptical about what kind of “vacation” this would actually be. Then I got this view of Frontier Lake:

Sam Masterson, KMOX

Sam Masterson, KMOX

We rode horses up to 9,800 feet and once I saw this gorgeous body of water surrounded by mountains and forest I knew this would be unlike any experience in my lifetime.

The next five days I would walk for a total of 36 hours, travel more than 35 miles, twice climb above 11,000 feet, learn the true meaning of bushwhacking and take an approximated grand total of more than 295,000 steps.

But looking back, I feel more gratified and accomplished than any trip to the beach ever made me feel.

I wouldn’t say it was better than a typical summer vacation – the two really don’t compare. Although it was harder work than my normal work week, I felt completely detached from my job. The idea of “working to live, not living to work” made more sense at 11,600-feet of elevation on top of Squaretop Mountain than ever before.

And if you don’t take a vacation like that, I feel sorry that you may never understand.

You can go to a zoo and see animals. I had two 500-pound moose walk 20-yards away from where I was eating dinner.

A float trip in Missouri is just an easy drive away. But the winding, 40-degree waters of the glacier-fed Green River is a long way from the muddy Mississippi River.

Sam Masterson, KMOX

Sam Masterson, KMOX

Sam Masterson, KMOX

Sam Masterson, KMOX

The view at Castlewood State Park, looking over the Meramec River is a unique view of Missouri’s landscape. I found true, natural beauty near the top of Glover Peak and that was the climb that I thought I would die on.

I was at 11,600 feet, bouldering like it was no big deal, just a day in the park with some class-3 climbing. I was actually taking selfies because I was just so relaxed, then I looked at the photo and realized that was the first time in about 200-feet that I had actually seen what was behind me.

Sam Masterson, KMOX

Sam Masterson, KMOX

Then, I caught a gigantic case of the nopes.

All I can think is “what if I fall.” Every time I hear a rock move or feel the wind blow I think “that’s it, this rock’s going to roll and turn me into a cartoon hole at the bottom of this mountain.”

I was actually reduced to tears. I lifted myself up to a flat shelf of rocks one final time, then sat down and buried my head in my arms. My girlfriend actually took the blame and said she was as high as she could take. Which really wasn’t a great lie because she’s done much harder climbing than Glover, but I love her for at least trying to save my reputation.

It was the saddest trip of my life back down. Scooting on my butt, pressing my chest against the same rocks I was just climbing like a champ, but this time the thought of sure death was on my mind.

But I survived it, and all the terrible moments: waking up at 4 a.m., getting lost and unable to find the trail in the dark, the mosquito bites accumulating on every square inch of my body, and even the throbbing pain in my feet through the last 10-miles of our hike.

I didn’t take photos of the low points, but those are the stories I’ll never forget. As for the fun times, I’ve got a great collection:

My girlfriend’s dad had the perfect quote to sum up his crazy life of backpacking through the mountains.

“There are a lot of people who collect things in life like money and objects, but collecting adventures like these is all I need.”

So thanks to this family for taking me on the adventure most people never want, but everyone secretly needs.

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