I've been thinking about all the times up mountains when clarity turned to whiteout. Most of the time I'm thankful, for map and compass, GPS, teammates, flags we leave to mark our way back. Most of all, however, I'm thankful for the handful of times when all the tools failed and we were left alone with only intuition to guide us. There is an enormous gift in being completely confused and being out of solid answers. We have a choice, fear or faith, self or others, ask for help or find a way to help, panic or relax.
The picture below was of a climb on Mount Rainier with a favorite team of defense attorneys from Chicago, fun guys and no strangers to uncertainty. An hour before this pic, it had been a blizzard so thick, we couldn't see each other, even with headlamps, in the dark. No tracks to follow, we were making our own, and with snow falling at a rate of about three inches an hour, our chances of reaching the summit were, I thought, nonexistent.
The thing about commercial guiding is that you are out there no matter what the weather or conditions. The trips are booked in advance, so the work creates these opportunities to be exposed to all kinds of unexpected circumstances.
I've found through these experiences that on the other side of fear, is beauty. That needing to know exactly where we are is a luxury, not a necessity. That simple things like water, a snack, a photograph of your lover in a zip-lock bag (and knowing that she's warm and tucked under the covers while we are out here like a bunch of fools) take on a value proportional to gold. I've found that with practice and the right gear, snow falling on our faces can be soothing; the storm is not constantly violent but has rhythm and periods of deep tranquility. That even when moving and concentrating on the way forward, our deep, repetitive breathing will change our state from fatigue to fortitude. We don't need to know the whole way ahead, just the next step, and if I poke the snow in front and it gives way, we can go left or right and find another way. If I fall in, I trust my partner behind and the rope connecting us.
I'm grateful for every one of these instinct-honing, often harrowing, moments as I find the same skills apply in training for an event, as well as in regular life. It is true that practice builds skills, and repeated actions build positive memory and awareness. Intuition, though, gives us a way to integrate experience, skill, connection and trust into a powerful channel that provides the bridge from storm to calm or from ship to solid ground. We can't know everything, and we can't predict what nature will do - but we can find security in the knowledge that everything we need to navigate the now is already in us, and that we will either find our way home or be at peace with whatever path we do find.