Exploring the Inner and Outer Wilderness

I’ve been wandering the mountains for a good part of my life. In fact, I’ve built most of my life among the summits and the euphoric experiences they offer. I derive my livelihood by moving through the mountains, and there was a time when the argument could have been made that, simply put, this was the entire purpose of my life. But lately, I’ve been asking myself, “Why?”

Over the years, I’ve realized that my relationship with the mountains and the outdoors is generally founded on the idea of peak experiences. As humans living in a modern world, we must navigate through the mundane reality of every day. It’s easy to check out of ourselves when bills, paperwork, parenting, or the myriad of other things this world requires consume our time and energy.  In this sense, a peak experience is anything that snaps us back into our bodies or grounds us in the present. The mountains offer us many of these moments. Maybe you’re 30 feet out from your last screw on thin ice or waist-deep in blower powder. Or perhaps you’re just overcome by the beauty of a sunset over a jagged skyline. All you know is that you feel alive.

Photo by Jeff Montgomery_

And that’s the point. You feel. That’s what we all truly want. You’re not really with the ice, or the snow, or the sunset, or the mountain. You’re with your Self (with a capital S). You’re in your body. You’re in the moment. You’re not lost in the anxiety of what needs to happen next or the nostalgia or grief of what might have happened before. You’re in the present, and the present is where life happens.

I’ve been chasing peak experiences my whole life and haven’t yet found that deep, lasting sense of satisfaction and wholeness that I’ve been looking for, and I truly believe I’ve looked harder than most. I’ve also missed a lot of other things along the way by wrapping myself in both the highs and lows mountains offer because that’s when I’m able to feel. But the feelings are fleeting, and I can’t just keep running after the next dose of life on some far-off ridgeline. There’s life happening all around me every day, and I get to choose how to participate in it.

I plan to continue exploring the mountains, as well as the oceans, forests, deserts — anywhere that turns my crank. But I recognize that my journeys are simply an exploration of Self, and the inner wilds of the Self can be expansive, adventurous, and terrifying. The outer wilderness is just my mirror.

John Minier is the owner and lead guide at Baker Mountain Guides. Originally from Alaska, he has a deep appreciation for wild and mountainous places. Since 2004, he has worked across the western U.S. as a rock guide, alpine guide, ski guide, and avalanche instructor.

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