Brown-Wolf: Status in Summit County? You bet (column)
Last month, my youngest daughter rallied a few friends and summited a 14,000-foot mountain — it was not her first. We’ve climbed a few as a family, she’s done a few at camp and she’s gone with experienced friends. First, second or twelfth time around — climbing a mountain is something — something to celebrate and something to recognize.
Although guidebooks may say differently, there is no such thing as an ‘easy’ 14,000-foot climb. The air is thin. Storms roll in. Fingers swell. Knees wobble. Legs ache — and that’s the best of it. Ascending a massive mountain is no small feat. A mountaineer must carry food and water and extra clothing. Usually, people begin their assent before the sun is up. It can be a grueling, long day and deserves celebration, but there’s a difference between celebrating and using the accomplishment as a measure of success, creating a status symbol.
In Colorado, we don’t like to think of ourselves as subject to status. Many of us left the East Coast to escape folks who find status in the schools they attend, the places they summer or the number of Polo shirts they own. But, in Colorado, we have found our own measure of success and status. I would argue (and I am) that some people in Summit Country care passionately about status: the number of mountains conquered, the number of ski runs taken in a day, the measure of a resting heart rate. For some people, these things matter like a designer bag matters to a New York City fashionista.
However, status isn’t relegated to the East or West coast. Status is regulated by deep insecurities driven by a need to prove self-worth. Why should it matter how many mountains a person has climbed or how many days they’ve spent on a ski slope? To quote an often-used cliché: What matters is the journey, not the result. While I’ve cheered my daughter’s successful mountain climbs, what I find more interesting is what happened before, during and after the climb.
Was she able to encourage others on the trail? How did she push through the pain? Why did she do it in the first place? What did she notice on the trail? Were there animals living that high in the sky? The answers to these questions move the conversation away from status and to a deeper meaning of self-discovery.
Climbing and reaching the summit of a 14,000-foot mountain is an incredible accomplishment, but let’s keep it in perspective. Applaud the successful achievement, but don’t create a notch on the wall in an effort to feel superior or to gain a sense of status. The real celebration is in the adventure and in understanding ourselves.
Carrie Brown-Wolf lives in Silverthorne.
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