Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Lessons From Failure

The first hike of my Oregon trip was Mount Hood, an 11,000+ foot extinct volcano that dominates the Portland vista to the East. I didn't summit this snow-capped peak, as that is a technical climb requiring crampons and a guide. However, I did hike the Cooper Spur, the highest trail hike on this daunting mountain. The photo above shows the Elliot glacier from the trail.

My plan was to hike to the top of Cooper Spur, an 1,800 ascent, and enjoy lunch and the views there. My plan failed. It is rare when I don't complete a hike I've committed to do-- yet this was one of those rare times.

The culprit was hurricane-strength winds on the ascent. They were so violent that I would have been knocked down by their force had I not had trekking poles. Even so, I slogged uphill against these gales for more than an hour. What turned me back was the volcanic ash that kept getting in my eyes. Since I wear contact lenses, any piece of grit can cause temporary blindness. This happened multiple times on Mount Hood.

So, instead of blindly ascending to the trail's end, I went a little over halfway, acknowledging failure. For a time I felt disappointed. But on the descent, I started "skiing" down the snow (there was much snow in the arms of the mountain) and had some genuine fun.

Failure was my teacher on this hike and I learned a few of its lessons. I learned that you cannot always succeed, no matter how fit or determined you are. Failure is inevitable. Even geniuses fail. I also learned that, out of failure, some good can come. Not only did I enjoy my "skiing" on the snow, I was rewarded with a view of two other nearby volcanoes: Mount Adams and Mount St. Helen's. Their summits poked up above low clouds and were ample reward for fighting, and losing, the battle against the wind.

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