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Photograph by Kim Havell

Exhilaration Gives Way to Gratitude in Our National Parks

Dangling on the side of a big wall, perched up on a small ledge, or reaching high to grasp a good hold, adrenaline runs through your veins. A black raven swoops down past your head, giving a sharp sensation of the exposure below. Layers of deep connection to the environment are built through the survival and the struggle on the rock. Seeing national parks on foot is spectacular, but, from an alpine rock position, there is a heightened perspective from the birds-eye view of the surroundings.

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Yosemite National Park; Photograph by Kim Havell

The rock is tangible, the views are vast, and the air feels crisp. Climbing rock in our treasured parks is a quiet vehicle through which to witness the details of the staggering walls in the valley of Yosemite, the rounded domes of Tuolumne, the abrupt fortress of the Tetons, and the jagged peaks of the Rockies. You get in close; it gets personal. And, because you have to navigate each move thoughtfully, precisely, and carefully, you form a true bond with the mountains.

There is complete focus on the minute and the move at hand. The mind concentrates and then is released at the summit. Then the splendor of the area takes over. The exhilaration gives way to gratitude and the gratitude gives way to nature.

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Grand Teton National Parks; Photograph by Kim Havell

Over the past couple of months I’ve explored some classic routes in the Tetons and in Yosemite. Scaling the Grand Teton, crossing the Grand Traverse, summiting Half Dome and El Capitan, and enjoying other exhilarating outings the progression became more about the whole than it did about a particular part. Through the process I became more attached to the parks and to their stories. As a modern-day adventurer I gained a deeper respect for and understanding of the original pioneers in these areas.

But, there is also an indelible mark to each adventure. Biking through Yosemite at dawn with sheets of sheer rock towering above our heads and the river rushing in the background, the moment is exquisite. An owl hoots, the tree leaves rustle in the cool breeze, and my partner and I begin the approach up to the climb. When we reach the top in the warm sun later that day, the valley yawns wide below us. We eat our sandwiches on the rock and, looking out over the valley, realize again that it is the sum of these endeavors that gives our birds flight.