By Steven A. Glodowski
Why the youth need the Mountains? In this modern era, we grow up away from nature, only experiencing it through TV documentaries, YouTube, and social media. Because of this the lessons that are taught by being immersed in the mountain are never experienced and we as human beings are less for it.
The adventures of running through the mountains are unending and the lessons compounding. For the youth this connection to nature is an indispensable experience, that due to modern life in many places and ways become dispensed with.
For those who are unfamiliar with alpine running. Alpine running is everything that trail running is with the addition of: ridgelines, scrambling/light rock climbing, snow & ice, off trail routes, scree, and steep dynamic terrain.
As someone who grew up in the mountains and has devoted thousands of hours to alpine running, I’m admittedly bias. But that doesn’t negate the power of alpine running for the healthy development of the youth. In truth my bias allows me the insight to make the declaration on the power of the mountains & alpine running for the development of the youth.
Growing up I was able to spend a good amount of my free time in the mountains. As a young child it was mainly the gully at the foot of parleys canyon. Where as a child I could go on adventures every day after school exploring, making up stories, and being able to express myself without any interfering eyes of adults or my peers to cause anxiety. This gully became my sanctuary. As I grew into my teens my strength, ability to navigate, and skills in risk management also grew and in turn the sanctuary of the gully grew into the sanctuary of the mountain.
Not to say I always succeeded in my risk management, to be frank I often found myself in situations that were beyond my skills. But it was being in these situations where I was out of my depths that I found a choice could be made. The choice to either collapse and die or to stand, calmly analyze the situation and attempt to make good enough decisions that would allow me to make it home alive and in one piece. The knowledge of this choice has had a large impact on how I live my live.
The mountain became my school yard whether it was skiing, climbing, running & hiking through the woods, mountain biking, swimming in rivers regardless of summer or winter. In this school I learned many things, perhaps the most important things. I learned how to express myself, make friends, be there for friends and strangers alike when someone got themselves in a bad way, how to stay calm and make decisions in very dangerous situations where your life and the lives of whom depend on you would be changed forever with one bad decision. I learned how to take a complex situation and break it down into individual components to understand its solutions. I learned choices have consequences and often very immediate painful consequences. But I also learned that choices can have the consequence of irrepressible ecstasy of joyousness when everything about a line comes together perfectly.
As an adult who grew up in the mountains, I look back to see what I’ve learned and gained from those experiences; and from the vantage point of alpine running what a young person would learn.
“The youth is the future” has been said countless times in many ways before, but the point of the statement must remain sharp: And the sharpness of the youth has been honed by the mountain for countless generations and will be honed by the mountain for countless more.
Alpine Running is a thing that can take you to the most amazing places in the most personal way. In Alpine running like any running, it’s your feet that move you forward, but in alpine running your feet are moving you forward on an adventure to places that are filled with vast views, deep greens, ridgelines with sheer faces, snow, sweat, heat, ice, hawks playing in the wind, and all manner of wild lives being lived around you. This is the world that your own two feet can allow you to visit.
However, it’s not just your feet that give you the strength to go on such adventures; It’s your heart, mind, and body working as one. Your senses are ablaze, you must focus on what you’re doing, your heart is exuding love and is giving you courage to let the cold, height, speed, distance, and thirst flow through you to give you strength. It really is hard to put into words as much of what is experienced on the mountain is internal and emotional. The verbal only comes after when you’re trying to explain it, as I’m doing here. But it’s just a shadow, a two dimensional image of something that is not just 3D, but has sight, smell, touch, sight, emotions all mixed together. This is also why even when you’re with your best pals on the trail your alone, because no one can experience the exact personal experience you’re living in that moment.
This is important because this aloneness is actually how we all live, all the time, but we rarely get comfortable with it unless we have the time, space, and challenges to get to know ourselves properly. And the challenges of the mountain give us the fortunate conditions to really get to know who we are. Who we are when the sun is shining, who we are when we are tired and thirsty, who we are when we’ve found ourselves in a situation with very high consequences if we make a wrong move, who we are when we succeed, who we are when we fail, and who we are when we are in a team and others depend on us and us on them.
Although your pals may not be able to know exactly what you are feeling they are sharing much of it in their own personal ways. And this sharing of deeply personal experiences between people can give rise to the very meaningful relationships that last a lifetime. But even when they last just a couple days and everyone goes their separate ways in the world, you still think fondly of those you shared these experiences with. And it’s not just that you shared a few cool views and trail mix, it’s that you’ve gone on a journey together with all the ups and downs.
The height of what you rise to is equal to the of the challenges before you. So, in these times where life is full of ease and we struggle for no material need. We must then impose it upon ourselves even if its just for a few hours and then we come down from the mountain and get a sandwich.
Alpine running causes us to interact with the mountain in so many various and dynamic ways, as it incorporates the whole of the mountain. When we are young, we are more open to learning and incorporating what we’ve learned into our lives as we are still growing and have not defined ourselves so much. So, this is a fortunate time to learn the lessons about life that the mountain can teach. And if we make a habit of learning from the mountain at a young age then we have a much better chance of making it a habit into old age.
In this article I’ve attempted to elucidate from my experiences some of the benefits of alpine running for the youth. But in truth it’s difficult for me to address properly all the benefits and the nuanced interconnections in this brief writing. So in summary here is the 10,000 foot view/list:
· Capacity to concentrate singularly on a task for extended periods
· Security through insecurity
· Critical thinking
· Risk management
· Responsibly for actions
· Art – personal expression
· Developing one’s body
· Getting to know oneself
· How to deal with uncomfortable and even painful situations
· Humility as the mountain always wins
· Building confidence
· Decision making
· Fun and more fun
· Meaningful experiences
· Building meaningful relationship with pears
· How to be a reliable partner during the easy parts and the critical parts
The lessons, experiences, and opportunities to express one’s self are continuously bubbling forth from the mountains; all we must do is to go into nature and partake of this elixir of life.
The Mountain is the great instructor for it will grind you until humility and compassion are in your bones; and there can be no wisdom without these qualities.