Thursday, June 5, 2014

Music and Mountains… A Binding Force

The third weekend in June…
It just has a ring to it.
Just to utter the phrase fires me up and has me reflecting on all of the countless memories I have collected over a cumulative 50 + days and nights on the Rocks. 
For close to 20 years now the third weekend in June has been carved into my calendar with a permanent sharpie.  It’s as constant as my ever hastening birthday and my painful IRS payout. My expedition and work schedules always have a mandatory block out over this sacred holiday.  For the most recent nine of those years the grandparents get a UPS delivery of a little kid that needs a home and food for a week.

You see, the third weekend in June means 9,500 of my friends descend on Red Rocks for a multi-night run of southern rock & roll music that we know as Widespread Panic.

Panic, as well as the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, have played a constant soundtrack to my life…  I have taken them with me on every climbing expedition and adventure I’ve ever been on. They’ve coaxed me up big hills and lured me back home again. They’ve lifted me up to far away places and then gently lowered me back down again. They’ve provided me the venue to meet some of my dearest, lifelong friends… in fact this is how I met my best friend, who happens to be my wife and baby-momma. These bands have been with me since the beginning and they’ll be with me till I die.

The live jam band music experience is very precious to me. Each show is like a mini adventure with my friends.  We put our team together… trustworthy and solid participants all of them… carefully vetted from years of sharing experiences together. We plan and strategize on how to optimize our experience, delegating logistical responsibilities amongst the group. We establish all the gear and equipment we will need to execute the weekend… professional style.
We enter the venue with a mysterious sense of the unknown, hoping the band takes us to the place we are looking to go. At times we reach the summit and bask in the bliss that only a highly functioning band can provide. Other nights, the band takes chances and comes up short. We are left shy of the elusive summit…knowing all the while that all summits are not achievable every time you head out. We will try again tomorrow and perhaps the winds will take us in a different direction and we will stand on top. When we descend from our journey we are excited to discuss, dissect and critique our experience… by doing so we relive some of the most precious moments. Then we are faced with the task of trying to explain our experience and rabid approach to our friends and family that don’t quite get it.
“You went and saw the same band three nights in a row?”
“Umm… yeah. It’s different every night.”
“OK…whatever you say.”

And suddenly it dawned on me… this whole live music experience and what goes into it is fundamentally kindred to the other constant in my life… climbing mountains.

I have been strategizing, planning and executing large scale climbing expeditions for 20 years now. Putting together teams, strategizing routes, compiling necessary gear and equipment, getting excited about the potential of summits and understanding the expectations of sometimes coming up short. Sharing an experience with my teammates that is binding and pure. Returning from big trips and trying to provide a thoughtful answer to the ubiquitous question, “How was your trip?”

Sounds familiar, right?

I find that many of the things I love about adventuring and guiding expeditions are also found during the third weekend in June.

The adventure we share together… whether on a 26,000 ft peak or seeing the band at Red Rocks… is about that shared experience. We go through it together and come out the other side a bit changed. We look to our left and right and know that even though we are in the same venue, the person next to us is having his or her own subjective journey. And we are doing it together.

The third weekend in June is quickly approaching. Hard saying how many Panic shows this will make for me… lost track around 200.
The Monday after the shows I will depart for Africa to guide my 14th expedition up Kilimanjaro. Then directly to the Andes of South America for my 12th time in that range.

I keep going back to the same places… because each time, it’s a unique adventure. I’m guaranteed to have a different trip…each time. The venue stays the same but the people make the experience.

The music and the mountains bring us together and provide the backdrop. The backdrop where the real magic happens… the fellowship and the camaraderie. We go for the experience… we stay for the people.

Climb High