Sometime in early 2020 I decided I wanted to climb 100 mountains. On Mountain #6, I fell down a 12 foot cliff and landed on an even higher cliff and just about fell to my death.

It started out innocently enough, I mean I was so experienced after climbing the first 5 mountains that I chose a really ambitious one for my 6th.

We had just gotten to St. George, Utah and everywhere you look there’s another mountain. Kami had started taking me to some of her favorite places and Marq had been scouting out remote locations he wanted to see, mostly recommendations from his mountaineering and canyoneering friends, he loves to go places that aren’t marked on regular maps.

The first mountain I climbed was about a 2 mile hike and at the top we ended up at a place called “The Vortex,” an enormous hole that looks like it was carved with a giant Dremel at the top of the mountain. I mean, this hole is huge, as big as a house. The entire mountain is made of red sandstone and people from at least 100 years back have climbed up to the top, then down into the hole and carved their names in sidewalls.

I remember on this particular day, Marq and I woke up early to hike it. It was chilly in the morning but quickly got warm. It was sunny and gorgeous, the way St. George is in the winter.

And of course, Marq had packed my backpack for me. The 10 essentials, trail mix, water. I was just excited that my backpack matched my hiking boots. I had gained a lot of weight after we left Idaho, I’m sure my body was trying to protect me from all that was happening. But I was not in the greatest physical shape. But I was determined.

So we climbed on a sandy trail that turned to slick rock, for the first mile or so, and then we started climbing up toward the top. It was exhilarating the way new experiences are. I couldn’t stop smiling.

In St. George, you’ll find red mountains, white mountains, black mountains and brown mountains. Often all in the same place. I don’t know what exactly happened there millions of years ago, but it was something spectacular and breathtaking. Volcanos left behind black cinder cone mountains and all sorts of rivers of black rock made from cooled lava. These rivers of rock run right through the middle of red iron rock formations and white sandstone hills. Petrified sand dunes and enormous monuments of rock outcroppings.

My heart just beat faster and faster every time we’d turn another corner and see how these combinations manifested into magnificence. Cactus grew through cracks, water would be settling in surprising places. Somehow plants were able to grow flowers in the harsh desert environment.

Within days of being in this magnificent place, I was madly in love. And after climbing up that first mountain. I was addicted.
Just beyond the site of The Vortex at the top of that mountain were 3 big humps…like little mountains on top of the top of the mountain. I ran over and tried to climb the highest one, and I did it. I was able to do it because of my cute matching hiking boots, they gave me climbing superpowers.

Marq kept saying… “Be careful! The sandstone is not like the granite mountains in Idaho! It’s slippery and it can break off!”

But I made it to the top and that’s when I knew I wanted to do this at least 99 more times. I was going to climb 100 mountains.

I stood on the top of that first little hump and I yelled over to Marq…”TAKE MY PICTURE!” And I put my index finger high in the air to make a NUMBER ONE.

Something you need to know is that while this was my first mountain, this was probably Marq’s 1000th mountain. And if you asked him, he’d probably say it was a walk and not a hike, and a hill and not a mountain. But for me, this was my Mount Everest.

We actually went back to the house (we were “visiting” West and Kami at their St. George house) and we asked them if they wanted to come back and hike it with us. So we actually climbed that mountain twice that day. And on that second hike, the sun was setting and after we got back up to the Vortex, we looked over and saw something we’d never seen before, a huge city of cairns up at the top of another mountain. I think I cried when I first saw it . . . it was so magnificent to me to see an art installation up there in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know who did or how long it took, but it was the beginning of my quest to find magical things in the middle of nowhere that would extend into the remaking of my life.

So that was Mountain #1. And the second time we climbed it, when Marq and West climbed down into The Vortex, I asked Kami if she wanted to climb 99 more mountains with me. And she said YES.

So Mountains 2, 3, 4 and 5 . . . I climbed with Kami. We had such a blast and she took me to some spectacular places.

On #5, I saw the one I wanted to do for #6. Marq and West had been on a multi-day horse ride and when they got back, I asked Marq if he would take me to this mountain that I wanted to climb.
So we got our backpacks and drove back to Snow Canyon. By now of course, I was an expert. I took him down the same trail that Kami had taken me on the day before, I showed him the mountain we had climbed and then I turned the other direction and pointed to the one I wanted to climb that day. I think it was about 4:00 in the afternoon when we started.

He looked at the mountain and then he looked at me. He walked closer toward it, looking for a trail and then he said “Babe, there’s no trail, I don’t know if you’re ready for this.”

Okay, for me, those are fighting words. No one tells me that I’m not ready. No one tells me I can’t do something.

So I said, “Can we just walk over and see?”

So we trudged through cactus and rocks to the base of that mountain and it was STEEP. It was mostly made of boulders of all sizes, and there were big cracks that sort of looked like trails. I said…”Can I just try?”

And he reluctantly said he’d follow behind me, because I needed to make my own route that I felt like I could handle.

So I started climbing up those boulders and through those cracks and he was genuinely impressed. It felt really good to impress him. He’s a certified rock climbing instructor, a canyoneering instructor and a record-breaking repelling guy, among other mountaineering things I can’t remember.

So, impressing him was pretty awesome. And I was getting over-confident.

He was right behind me and he would wait and see where I would put my hands to climb up. A few times he would say, “Why don’t you try that hole right there instead, that’s a better hand hold,” but almost always he kept saying, “that’s the route I would have chosen, you have good instincts.”

But he also said several times, “I don’t think I would have done this one without climbing gear.” and a few of the routes I wanted to take, he just flat refused and said “We can’t do that one without being harnessed and roped up, it’s just too dangerous.”

So I’d pick a different route. Man, I felt like a badass though.

I was falling in love with this kind of hiking because it was THE ONE THING in my life at that time that made me forget every other thing. When you’re hiking in the desert like that you’ve got to be so present. You have to watch exactly where your feet and hands go next or you’ll get poked by a cactus or slip on the myriad incredible pebbles and rocks and sand that are everywhere. I had never experienced this kind of peace in my mind, where I was only thinking about ONE THING instead of millions of thoughts swirling through my brain.

I was learning why Marq did this as often as he could. Especially after his brain injury recovery. It was the thing that brought him peace and calmed his brain down. He’d taken our boys to so many hundreds of places and always invited me, but I was always too busy. After I climbed the first few mountains, I started to understand why he never took photos. I always asked when they got home from trips if there were any photos to look at. My boys would show me a few, but very rarely did Marq take any photos. When I’d ask why, he’d say, “You just have to be there to understand.”

After having the full sensory experience of being on the top of a mountain that you’d climbed with your own two legs, I understood. There is NO WAY a photo could ever adequately capture that experience. Trying to do it is almost disrespectful.

Being present to all of it without feeling like you have to memorialize it is its own beautiful gift.

So we got to the top of that mountain and again, tears just streamed down my face at the view. There is something so unexplainable about being at the top of a place and seeing life from up there. I could see the entire Canyon, which is actually a state park and I could see the city of St. George beyond that, as well as a few other surrounding towns. I could see all of that but none of it could see me. There is nothing in the world like being so small on something so big that you disappear in its majesty. It was the ultimate disappearing act, yet I felt part of that mountain at the same time.

I climbed to the highest point and Marq took a picture. We ate some celebratory trail mix, drank some water and then he said we better head back down because the sun was starting to set.

So again, he let me pick the route. I decided to go down a different way than we came up, almost on the other side of the mountain.

I made it about 20 or 30 feet down when we got to a cliff. I looked up at him to see what he was thinking and he was looking all around at the natural resources we had to draw from to get down safely.

I spotted a rock column that extended almost to the bottom of the 12 foot cliff and I said. “what if I just hold on to this and shimmy down it?” and he said “that’s exactly what I was thinking…”

It was about half the width of my body and made of grippy sandstone so I could easily grasp it.

I wrapped my arms around it and started to sort of slide and shimmy down it and then suddenly I felt it separating from the rest of the mountain and I was falling backward down that cliff.

Everything went into slow motion at the point and I could hear Marq yelling, I could see this rock column that was once part of the mountain was now a boulder. I felt myself falling, falling, falling and then I hit the ground.

I looked up and Marq was scrambling down behind me, making his way to me.

I looked down at my leg because suddenly it felt hot and burning. I saw that it was bleeding profusely and I was trying to catch my breath from having the wind knocked out of me. I saw the blood, I saw Marq and then I looked the other direction and saw that I’d landed on another cliff. I also realized how high up we were and how much further we had to go and that it was starting to get dark. All of this overwhelmed me at once and I passed out.

Marq had just made it to me right when I started to fall over from passing out and he grabbed me just in time before I fell down the second cliff.

I woke up and he was so calm. He’s trained in this kind of stuff. But he said . . . “you’ve got a stick stuck in your leg at least and inch, and you’re bleeding pretty bad. you need to lay down for a bit, I don’t know if we will be able to get back down.”

So he made me a little pillow and bed with our backpacks and he gave me some water and he started trying to figure out how we were going to get down. He found a little cave and asked me to climb over and crawl into it so that I had shelter while he climbed down to get help.

I sat in the cave for 20 or 30 minutes with him until I had my bearings and then I said “I think I can do it, I think I can climb down.”

He said “Babe, you have a stick in your leg and we can’t pull it out because it will just bleed too much. If you climb down, you have to do it with this stick in your leg.”

I said “I think I can do it.”

So we started the climb down, and I led the way. And there were a few spots where I had to do full-on ninja moves to get across deep cracks in the rocks and steep parts of the mountain. But I did it. And he was so encouraging and so impressed. He let me figure it out and he helped me when needed, but I did it.

Once we got to the bottom, and back to the trail that took us to our truck, he started telling me what we were going to have to do next. He said he might be able to clean out that wound, but we were probably going to have to go to the hospital. I said “can you just try to do it so I don’t have to go to the hospital?”

We got back to West and Kami’s place, where we had the whole upstairs to ourselves and we went in the bathroom and I put my leg in the shower and Marq ran water over it and then took his Leatherman tool, opened the pliers and pulled out the stick. Turns out, it was an enormous thorn. And I had another wound right next to it. When the stick was out, it looked like I’d been bit by a giant snake with those two holes in my leg.

Then he got a syringe of some sort and told me that he had to irrigate the wound because it was a tleast an inch deep. He first pushed water into it and then alcohol. It was excruciatingly painful. But I felt like such a badass.

The look of pride and awe on his face that night did it for me. I was addicted. I was gonna climb every mountain.

But that night I also started learning respect for nature. Respect for things we are not quite ready for. Respect for things that are not respecter of persons that will allow you to learn from the natural consequences of your lack of understanding for what is possible in nature.

When I laid in bed that night, I started thinking about all of the times that I’d decided I wanted to do something gargantuan and incredible in my life. A big art project or event or whatever. I thought about all of the times I’d put myself and other’s in harm’s way that I didn’t even know existed because I just wanted to get to the top of that mountain.

I knew I was about to learn some enormous lessons on this quest to climb 100 mountains, and I did. Never have I learned so well and rapidly, the way life works than what happened over that year of mountain climbs.

I learned just as much in the lowest places as the highest places.

So, dear adventurous soul….
When have you “climbed a mountain” that you weren’t well-equipped for?
What happened when you fell?

Tomorrow I will take you on The Road to the Lowest Place and we will learn together how different and the same the gifts are at the top and the bottom.

I love you
melody ross