Choice of the Falling Man, a post I wrote to honor those who chose to step off the upper floors of the World Trade Center on 9-11, was the most widely read post on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. To millennials, 9 – 11 is my generation’s Kennedy assassination, or my parent’s Pearl Harbor–everyone remembers where they were the moment the towers were struck.
On Monday, September 10, 2001 I flew to Seattle with a return ticket in my pocket for September 12th that I would never use. I looked at the snowcapped Mount Rainier from the window of my 737 on the flight out not knowing I would hike to nearly 8,000′ elevation that Friday, and never dreaming I would climb to the summit fifteen years later.
Mount Rainier and 9 -11 are inseparable to me. It signifies strength and promise. When air traffic was suspended nationwide after the attacks I was stranded 3,000 miles from my wife and children. Mount Rainier, ninety miles east of Seattle, was visible from just about anywhere I went in and around the city. Every time I looked out my hotel window I felt the mountain was calling me, and after three days on my own I answered the call.
I remember the wildflowers in the foothills when I set out from the visitor center at Paradise, and standing on a glacier, a unique experience for an east coast native and sea level dweller in September. But my most memorable experience was an older gentleman I met near 7,000′ elevation. He pointed south down the Cascade Mountain range and told me he’d climbed the 11,249′ summit of Mount Hood in 1981 at the age of 61.
When I returned home I sent away for a package to climb to the summit of Rainier, but life got in the way; you know, college tuitions, weddings, business travel, that kind of stuff. Now, fifteen years later I pack my gear for the climb and think about all that had occurred since my 9 -11 hike on Mount Rainier–plus five grandchildren, minus too many loved ones to mention–and I realize how fortunate I am after all of these years to have the good fortune to join a team for the summit climb.
Climb to your summit with gratitude. Don’t let life pass you by.