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Messner's Crystal Horizon

In my youth I was introduced to the great outdoors by my family. My father was an avid fisherman, and my aunt and cousins experienced hikers and backpackers. We hiked and camped all the time. It seemed part of my life to be out in nature, and wasn’t something I thought twice about.

It was thus fitting that when I grew up, what I wanted to be wasn’t a doctor or firefighter, but a mountaineer. For at least a short period of time. I had no idea how to achieve that, at that time, and somewhat kept it secret, for fear of judgment, but the dream was greatly inspired by tales of great mountaineering expeditions and their heroes. Mountaineering was a great allure of scenic beauty, physical achievement, with an element of danger that only a slice of the human race, those who had actually been there, could truly understand.

Of all my mountain climbing heroes, the greatest was, and still is, Reinhold Messner. The first man to climb all 8,000 meter peaks, culminated with his 1980 ascent of Everest. Done solo, up a route never before climbed, with no supplemental oxygen, and during the monsoon season. In fact, he was the only person on the entire mountain at that time. (Compare this to today’s news-making climbs up Everest where Sherpas haul huge lines of wealthy clients to the top). 

Messner’s ascent of Everest remains the greatest physical achievement in human history to me. Something do daring, so incredible, not only has no one repeated it in over 40 years, no one else has even considered attempting it. And, it almost killed him, while also taking him to a place he had never been both physically, and mentally.

I knew I would never achieve that level of prowess when I got into mountaineering. But having entered the sport with great physical fitness from cycling and cross country skiing, in a few short years I became a pretty good mountaineer. Not great, but pretty good. It unquestionably changed my life, by seeing things I never had, experiencing feelings and thoughts I never before had, it changed the way I saw, and felt about life.

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My list of accomplishments climbing is nothing grand, but when I did climb, I frequently sought out of the way routes and climbing partners, who did not follow the beaten path, and instead took the road less traveled, so to speak. And that included more than one solo climb into rather remote glaciers and ice climbing.

While within my abilities, I was in areas far away from site or sound of any civilization. All alone in the world, and yes, a situation of no little hope of quick rescue of I were hurt. But that thought was not really on my mind at all, as my focus, all of my focus, was both inward and on every element of motion in my body, and in the exact moment I was alive. I was searching for the Crystal Horizon.

After Messner’s solo climb up Everest, he felt a physical and mental acuity where he was at the furthest point of both mind and body. Pushed to his physical abilities, and to a moment of keen awareness of his life. He called this moment of being the Crystal Horizon. Not as an experience he was keenly aware of in that very moment, but as something of such unforgettable impact, it is never forgotten.  

While I can say that I’m pretty sure I’ll never climb mountains anywhere near the way I did a few so seemingly short decades ago, I don’t know that I’ll never see the Crystal Horizon again. But I do know that what I did see, what I did live, it is something that has stayed with me the rest of my life, and likely will until I am no longer of this earth.  

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