Monday, September 14, 2015


Later on, when we were driving through Breckenridge on our way back to Denver, I was talking on the phone with my mom and joking about how climbing a 14er is like having a baby, in the sense that you get selective amnesia and forget how grueling and painful it can be - otherwise, you'd never do it again.

Because hours earlier, when we were still a steep, rocky half-mile  or so from the summit (or maybe it was more - I was so fried that it was hard to tell), breathing air that seemed to have no air in it, I couldn't help thinking to myself, "this is so brutal.  My lungs are on fire and my heart is about to pound out of my chest and my legs feel like stumps.  Why am I putting myself through this again?"  We were climbing up a bare ridge above the tree line, to a point that seemed to not get any closer no matter how many "75 steps then 50 breaths" I did.

The view up from 13,500 feet.  Only 750 vertical feet to go, but it looks and feels endless.
But of course, that pain was the point today.  It hammered home that I am alive.  Physical suffering, as hard as it is, is life-affirming.  And I was climbing today to perform a specific task.

The ashes arrived late last week, in a small, rectangular box taller than it was wide.  I had initially thought I would do the hike on Saturday or Sunday, but then decided that there was no better way to celebrate Rosh HaShana than to do it today.  It would certainly be a more meaningful, spiritual experience than sitting in a synagogue with strangers.

Last night I loaded up my pack - I filled the hydration bladder with water, made sandwiches and packed snacks, tucked sunscreen and chapstick and a windbreaker into various pockets.  The ashes went into a top pocket, along with a printout of the mourner's kaddish and a sign I made with the name of the mountain, the altitude at the summit, and the date.

The hike was beautiful but hard.  We saw mountain goats (including a mother who gored a dog in an effort to protect her kid).  We greeted and chatted with our fellow climbers.  We ate our snacks.  We admired the view.

A long way up and still a long way to go
Eventually, the 75 step and 50 breath intervals add up.  It feels like you'll never reach the top, and then all of a sudden you do.

And when I came up over the top of the rise, and saw the lonely little tree marking the summit, the weight of my task overwhelmed me and I started to sob.

Grief is such a strange thing.  I knew I would be emotional, but I was not prepared for the immediate flood of tears.

I went to a spot looking north, and tried to catch my breath.

I took the ashes and the papers out of my pack.  As Christin and I sat together on the ledge, crying, she with her arm around me, I recited the words, first in Hebrew and then in English.
Exalted and hallowed be God's great name in the world which God created, according to plan. May God's majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and the life of all Israel -- speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen. 
Blessed be God's great name to all eternity. 
Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing,praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen. 
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel,to which we say Amen. 
May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel. To which we say Amen.

And then I opened my hand and let her go, and said goodbye.


  1. This is just so beautiful, and so sad. Very very moving. Big hugs to you, my dear friend.

  2. Wendy, you are such a beautiful and inspiring person. I pray that you may now find a greater peace in your life.

    1. What a lovely thing to say - thank you so much!!

  3. What a beautiful tribute to Emma, both your writing and your climbing!

  4. Jen from Cyprus5:33 AM

    Hey Wendy, Jen Pack Kimball catching up on your posts. This is so beautiful, your posts about Emma are so evocative of your loss and the ways that you have processed it.

    That last pic, you look at it and think "cool pic" and when you realize what it is, it's mind-blowing. Love to you and your loved ones, you'll always feel like family to me.