It’s a mystery why we love mountains so much. People who love mountains are definitely a different group, unique and alike at the same time.
They welcome the elements. In fact, they relish in them. They welcome solitude and isolation. They welcome discomfort. They don’t fear the outdoors but instead feel part of it. They suffer when away from the mountains and almost always answer the calling. They never get used to the beauty and understand how unique each excursion, climb, or run can be.
In short, they feel privileged and lucky to have discovered this part of themselves. It’s a love that brings happiness and meaning to so many, a love that closely resembles what we feel for our families.
Loving the mountains goes beyond wanting to vacation in them. This is the kind of love that makes people move thousands of miles, quit their job, change relationships and search for a deeper meaning in their lives.
For me, being in the mountains is as close to being with family as it gets, and seeing the mountains after a long absence brings excitement, joy and expectation that I find indistinguishable from seeing friends or family.
So, what is it that attracts us all, that makes us sleep under the stars or in our cars, that makes us freeze under a summer snowstorm and brave the elements, often risk our lives and still leaves us wanting more?
This summer I ran up Quandary Peak during a painfully beautiful day, where the warm summer sun alternated with snow and sleet. The first snow of the season had left a dusting above 13,000 feet, and the contrast of green trees, bare rock and blinding white snow was mesmerizing. I got to the summit with not enough clothes and had to rush and scramble my way down trying to stay ahead of the impending storm. I wouldn’t say my life was endangered, but it was not a comfortable situation. As soon as I got back to tree line the wind subsided, and my first thought was not relief but a desire to go back up. Perhaps, if the weather cleared, I could get a better look at the peaks beyond.
What pulls us, or at least what pulls me, is that, in the mountains, every look, every turn, every weather phenomenon is so beautiful that it is almost too much to bear. I can’t explain it any better that to say that it hurts inside. It’s a beautiful pinch of awe that never gets old and never subsides, almost as if your heart was trying and unable to get it all in. You look again and again, but it’s never enough.
And so you come back, and a sight you have seen a million times, like the summit of Mount Quandary or Elbert, still takes your breath away, every time you lay your eyes on it.
The challenge and achievement of the climb draw us, but it’s really the beauty that keeps us coming back. Perhaps it’s also the realization that mountains make better human beings out of us: fitter, calmer, happier and always looking forward to tomorrow.
Francesca Conte is a professional runner, race director, and co-founder of Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports. She has won numerous 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile races. Born in Italy amidst the Alps, Francesca is now a proud U.S. citizen and splits her time between Virginia and Colorado.