A Perplexing Symptom of Mountain Life – Moved by Life and Death in the Hills

Words:: Sarah Bulford

What is it that draws us to the mountains?

Is it something beyond us that elevates our spirits and brings us into euphoria. Or is it simply human traits like ego and ambition. I often find myself pondering this question for my own record. There is a mighty feeling in the wind, a shiver in the howling snow, that plants deep into our beings.


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View of the mountains

People who spend their time in the mountains know this feeling well. They know the prevalent high that stays, pumping through their veins after a day spent doing what they love. It’s that same feeling that gets you up before first light or skinning back up hill when your legs are exhausted.

Mountain people crave that feeling. They crave the smell, feel and taste of the peaks that surround them. They feel a deeper sense of connectivity and a constant invitation to venture out.

We also know the pain. The sore feet, frozen fingers and toes. The stomach ache for a bit more food and the worry of wind pulling at the tent seams. The pain of type 2 fun that you seem to forget about when you sit down for a burger and beer after the fact. Aside from physical pain, there is a whole list of physiologic things that burden us in the mountains. Fear being one of them. Fear holds us back, reminds us that we are human and sometimes pushes us beyond physical limits. Acceptance is something we have to face on a constant bases if making ourselves susceptible to natures will is part of adventuring to the great beyond. Acceptance of fear, weather, physical ability and anything that happens while we are out can be trying and difficult to manage.

Winter trees

I’ve been working and recreating in the South Coast region for the better part of 7 years now.. I grew up in the East Kootenays of BC. Surrounded by the looming Rocky Mountains. As long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by them. With each passing year, the mountains become a very different place for me. With age, I have grown a much deeper respect and appreciation for the sheer power of the peaks that encompass us. I feel different when I am out climbing, skiing or hiking in them. Some days I get goosebumps when I see dark clouds rolling in around us or a fracture line above me on a ski tour. My willingness to take risks and be carefree in the mountains has been a bit tainted recently. Trying to understand what draws me to the places that can snatch life up in an instant confuses me.

Trying to interpret our love and calling for the mountains is very personal. What they mean for each person is based on their own positive and negative experiences – usually relying heavily on positive memories. And for some reason, even the negative ones become full of colour and are appreciated with time. A bad day in the mountains is still better than a good day at work, right?

I have always been a mountain kid and the thought of not being near their mystery and power is impossible to imagine. But my relationship to them is complicated. I’ve been working as a backcountry Ranger for 5 seasons now. I’ve had many good experiences both on and off shift. I’ve watched the mountains change people for the better and worse.

mountain vista

I recently had a friend’s life become silenced by the indomitable mountains. It happened abruptly and completely shocked the community. With one swift movement of mother nature’s hand, he no longer existed in that cruel moment. When situations like that arise, it makes you take a step back and come to terms with just how small and helpless you are among the giants. Yet they still draw you in, keep you coming back and reaching for more. You find yourself pulled by an invisible line back into nature. Because you are free there, free to roam, to make decisions, to find closure and move forward. This brings me back to my questions of why we are drawn to these places that can take those we love away in an instant. Perhaps it is those places that keep passed spirits alive. Perhaps it is an earthly connection that we just don’t understand. A perplexing symptom of mountain life.