This is a compilation of stories about crying I coordinated for a small zine. The stories are from friends, people I met thru-hiking, climbing partners, and relatives and represent a broad range of experiences. I leave the zine in summit registers and at other locations for people to find, but I want to make the stories available to people who don’t live in Washington as well!
I cried when my partner said they were going to quit hiking the Appalachian Trail. We were so close to the end and I didn’t think I could finish on my own. 500 miles is a long way no matter how far you’ve hiked to get there.
Today was hard. Leaving Chicago, my friends there, was hard. At one point I was so overwhelmed with frustration that I sad-ate a cinnamon-chip scone while crying openly in public. Because I LIVE in public: on roads and in diners and in the state parks where I sleep. But at the same time, I’m almost always alone. The interactions I do have are fleeting or ephemeral — which can be beautiful, and make me feel connected to, like, the spiritual energy of our shared humanity or whatever, but FUCK sometimes I just want to hang out with people who know my goddamn name.
It can be a bit much, even for a crusty old introvert like me, but the downs and the ups are two sides of the same coin. Without loneliness, friendship wouldn’t mean a thing. There are more friends waiting down the road. And tomorrow’s a new day. And my campsite kicks ass.
Rainier was so pretty this morning that I got a little leaky eyeballed about it!
It was all shades of orange against a light blue sky and had a cute little lenticular on the west side of the summit and some wispy stuff on the east.
The time I spent in Arizona running around the wild desert and dreaming of becoming one with nature, was the most eye-opening time in my life. To see such rare plants just surviving every day of their lives, can be one of the hardest things to watch and can make you appreciate the lives we all live and take for granted. When I attempted the Arizona trail in hopes of understanding myself and nature more, I cried for two reasons, one being my knee giving out on day one and two being that most people don’t get to see the immense beauty of the desert and the wonders it brings.
Back when I was seven years old my family went on a trip to Mt. Rainier National Park. My Mom and Dad were pretty avid hikers so a lot of our camping trips were them dragging my sister and I up and down a lot of trails that they wanted to do with us in tow. Mostly out of necessity, because there was no one back to watch us at the campsite.
One of these hikes was a very steep climb up to Eagle Peak Saddle. Towards the end of the trail are a series of switchbacks that as you go further up let you look almost straight down to where you were, almost as if you are perpetually on the edge of a cliff.
I was, and still am, very afraid of heights, and grew more and more anxious as we climbed higher and higher and saw the safety of the Earth below grow further and further away. At a certain point I grew so afraid I became paralyzed with fear and couldn’t take another step forward or back.
Noticing that I had become immobile, my parents began to gently goad me to come with them, but I stood rooted to the spot. They then said they would go on without me, and I replied that this was fine and that I would wait for them to come back. Being a bit miffed at these clever parenting strategies failing, their next move was to sternly tell me that I was going to finish the climb whether I wanted to or not.
Being faced with the prospect of something I did not want to and, in my mind, could not do, I responded as any self-respecting seven year old would do: I rolled up my sleeves, adjusted the straps on my backpack, and bawled very loudly and wetly for the remainder of the hike.
The tears I cried were mostly from anger at being forced to do something I felt was unfairly demanded of me. I didn’t want to climb that peak. I didn’t decide to go camping. And I certainly did not want to spend any more time with these cruel and evil people. I was so caught up in my tantrum that I didn’t quite notice when we crested the final ridge to bring us to the end of the hike.
What greeted my blurry and tear-stained eyes was an endless sweeping view of gorgeous alpine meadows and a picture postcard view of Tahoma herself glittering in the perfect summer sun. Finches and nuthatches flitted about me twittering and chipmunks ran about the ground with glee. A real Sound of Music moment.
Upon this sight my blubbering slowly abated and was replaced with a calm. Not because of the unmatched natural beauty before me, but because I didn’t have to climb up that stupid trail any more.
The personal trauma I experienced on that trail has shaped the way I approach hiking, or any physical outdoor activity, going forward. And don’t get me wrong, I very much like hiking, going on a long bike ride, or any other number of outdoor challenges. But what motivates me to do these things again and again is that when I have once again struggled through the tears to the top of whatever metaphorical or literal peak I’m climbing I can feel that sense of completion because it’s finally over and I can go back home and take a damn nap.
Contrary to popular belief, not all crying in the outdoors is the same. In fact, there are many different flavors of crying outside. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. The “I’m afraid I might die” cry. Example: Barely getting a crampon point into a steep, icy slope high above smoking fumaroles. Old Chute, Mt Hood.
2. The “I’m so frustrated with myself. Why can’t I be better at this?!?” cry. Example: Finding yourself upside down after a head-over-heels tumble in an avalanche debris field, skis and limbs akimbo. For the second time in 5 minutes. Ruth Glacier, Ruth Mountain.
3. The “I am dangling 400 feet above the ground, stuck in a chimney, and cannot figure out how to move up. And it is getting dark” cry. Example: Stanley-Burgner Route, Prussik Peak
4. The “I’m lying next to the people I love most under this great big sky, surrounded by mountains and stars, and life is so, so good right now, and it’s such a tragedy that it can’t go on forever, and that it can’t be like this forever” cry. Example: Terror Basin, Southern Pickets.
“Life is so trivial. We worry about very silly things when we forget about what really matters. Being happy. Appreciating the balance of nature. The power of nature. I love watching streams flow through rocks. So strong. You’d love this.”
When I’m outside and away from others. When I call upon memories of him. I’m wrecked. Tears flow like the crashing stream he mentioned. And I cry out at the cruelty that the feelings only surface when I’m surrounded by such beauty.
My dad picks me up and rock-hops us across the stream. It’s going fine, and then suddenly we’re in the water. Did I start crying immediately or after we got out? Were we soaked or just splashed? The answers to those questions elude me. What I remember is the full-bodied anger I felt, manifesting itself in heaving sobs. Shoes full of water, socks full of water, I took them all off. I poured the water from my shoes. I beat my socks on the rocks along the trail, a vain attempt to dry them. I was inconsolable. My dad still likes to tease me about those tears.
This winter a girlfriend and I went on our first ski trip to Roger’s Pass; there was stable, cold powder in open, big terrain and there was visibility. This is not something two central Washington skiers get to experience very often. It was amazing, or it should have been. Instead, I could barely walk uphill three steps without having to stop to cough. Every time I stopped I felt I was going to simply tip over. I was really sick and all I wanted was to be in my bed with my boyfriend bringing me hot drinks and sleeping for 18 hours. Instead, I was ruining what should have been a pretty awesome trip. I took a few more steps after breaking trail for only a couple of minutes and, of course, had to stop to cough. This time, I didn’t just cough but I broke out in tears. Yes, I was crying because I felt physically awful. More than that though, I was crying because I just felt awful for being unmotivated, for being a bad ski partner, and for thinking I was ruining my friend’s biggest ski trip of the year. Luckily, friends tend to understand!
I cried the day after I got rained and snowed on in May on the AT when I didn’t have any cold weather gear and the temps were below freezing. I didn’t cry at the time because I was busy fighting mild hypothermia. The emotions came back on the next day when it was warm and I was hiking again and had time to think.
Hiking solo for me is definitely a wildly different experience than with a partner. When I’m hiking/climbing with other people I’m constantly distracted by their presence whether we are in conversation or even just bumbling along. But while alone, my mind and imagination work overtime to fill the silence in my head. I think about all kinds of stuff – past, present and future – but what often occupies my mind is envisioning how I would describe my trip to the important people in my life. Whether it’s the freak hailstorm, a mega slug on the trail, or the way the light hits a certain peak; I’m always having imaginary story-time, recounting what I’m experiencing with my mother, college friend, or little sister.
On one particular Saturday, I found myself 25 miles from my car. I navigated many miles of trail, a thick bushwhack, steep snow couloir, and endless ridge traverse. I had accomplished far more than the goals I had set for myself, and approached the summit of Mount Fury as a thunderstorm rolled by. The sun was nearing the horizon, shining under the storm and illuminating a different peak every thirty seconds. I tagged the summit and hustled back to high camp, finally scarfing down a mini pecan pie that I had been painfully ogling for the last 14 hours. The isolated storm traveled further west and unloaded the last of its reservoirs on Mount Baker while I looked up at Luna Peak not far from my camp. As I scrambled up, the Pickets exploded behind me with alpenglow. I could not help but cry. I felt so alive and present, yet I had nobody to share my euphoria with. So filled with joy, exhaustion, and excitement, yet so very alone. “Happy-lonely”, I call it, and despite it being a mixed-bag of emotions, I’m fully addicted.
I cry-laugh a lot. It could be a bit masochistic, but when I’m feeling scared, miserable, hungry, or frustrated, I know crying won’t help. But thinking critically and laughing about your experience adds levity to the difficult situation.
I’ve turned around on trails, I’ve recorded videos for rescuers who should find my body, I’ve bailed on climbing routes, I’ve lost circulation in frigid conditions. I’ve been hungry to the point of frustration. I’ve been overheated to the point of illness…. But every time I laugh. Because I know someone else out there has been through worse. If I’m going to die, it might as well be today (doing something I love) than doing something boring and safe.
I have videos of me freezing and laughing till I cry. This is probably the most common form of me crying.
The second time I climbed Katahdin, on my daughter’s thru-hike, made me misty. It was just a lot of emotions all at once; nostalgia, pride, beautiful scenery, etc. I remember when I first climbed it, 38 years previously, it was foggy and rainy. I had no idea what it looked like. And the day we climbed it was perfect!
I hiked Mount Si after a very hard week. That week I learned one of my family members was suicidal, and my friends I was with didn’t know. My friend was playing “devil’s advocate” without knowing the full situation, and I turned around and immediately started sobbing and explained, then he comforted me and apologized.
I spent last memorial day weekend climbing up in Squamish with some old friends and many, many new ones. This weekend had so many firsts. First outdoor lead belay, first slab and crack climbing, and best of all, first multi-pitch.
On the ride back, my friend pressed play on “Growing Up” by Macklemore. As soon as he sang the lyrics “You’re only young once, my loved one, this is your chance” I burst into tears. At this point we had known each other for roughly 3 days.
Each of the climb styles that weekend had been something that I knew “other people” did but wasn’t a “sensible” enough activity for me to have ever tried to seek out. I’ve always created artificial constraints for what I can and can’t do, and something about this carpe diem anthem mixed with the recent memory of pinching granite solidified the idea that those constraints are the only real thing preventing me from doing just about anything.
As a hiker new to the northwest who is exremely conservative about my own abilities, I’m not sure where I got the idea to do Mount Ellinor in May. I had lived in NH for 4 years prior and had done some snow hikes, but it was more like scrambling up iced over tree routes, with no sharp exposed sections. I understood vaguely that this was not just a normal hike, as my boyfriend let me borrow his ice axe and gave me a brief demonstration on how to use it from the floor of the living room, followed up with a “don’t glissade unless it looks safe”, and left me to my own devices with my friend. At 5 AM, I found myself slightly hungover and already having an anxiety attack on the ferry to Bainbridge. The weather was cloudy at the base, and I was lured into a sense of security once again until we reached that 1.66 stretch of summit that gains 2444 feet of elevation. I had never seen such a steep slope, but somehow convinced myself to go up it. About 1/4 of the way up, I realized I was in over my head and began to make whale noises from this point until the summit. There was lots of crying, lots of pausing, and a lot of weird whale noises. It helped me get through this.
At the top of the summit we broke through the clouds and got a spectacular view of the Olympic mountains, and it was one of the most magical moments of my life. My anxiety didn’t have to limit my outdoor adventures, and could instead be something that I lived with and managed, with the help of an encouraging adventure partner. I managed to overcome my anxiety enough to even glissade down with some encouragement of other people on the route. This hike made me super thankful for the supportive nature of the pacific northwest community, helped me to push past the constant anxiety that holds me back from some outdoor activities, and helped me learn that I can in fact make loud whale noises and still have friends and get up mountains and that’s ok too.
I slipped on the snow and fell down the rock stairs. It hurt a little but mostly I just tumbled and got snow in my shorts. I stood up, a bit dizzy, and saw all the peaks around me. Something about how silly and beautiful it was made me laugh hysterically and start crying as I continued running downhill.
Running fifty miles,
threw up, almost quit, slept hour,
woke, ran, cried, finished.
I got frustrated about not being able to keep up with my friends skinning into a campsite. I knew we had to go fast because we got a late start, but the terrain was just too hard for me to navigate as a novice and with a big pack on. They got ahead and I got frustrated with myself about not having trained harder, prepared better, packed less, spend more money on better equipment and whatnot. Not even a bit upset at anyone or anything else just with myself.
When I got back on the AT after feeling really down and then leaving for a raft trip, I passed the halfway point. I was completely alone, a little confused about life, and hiding from a storm in a shelter. In a logbook I read the quote “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches inside the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops – at all.” The next thing I knew the sound of my own sobbing startled me.
It was so strange, because I really don’t cry much and I didn’t realize I was going to. It actually wasn’t sad though, I had just realized that I didn’t want to be anywhere else.