“Go with the utmost respect,” said a section hiker named Ingo Janas the night before I was to hike into the Sierra.
Ingo knew better than anyone how dangerous these mountains can be. Last year, his good friend Strawberry went missing in the High Sierra. Ingo was the one who notified Yosemite rangers of her disappearance. Days later, the rangers found her body in the South Fork of the Kings River—she had slipped and drowned while attempting to ford the river alone.
After Ingo told me that story, “utmost respect” became my mountain mantra. Whenever I’d hike through a strong stream current or across an icy slope and started to feel pangs of nervousness, I’d repeat the phrase over and over under my breath.
I wanted the mountains to know that I humbly understood who had the ultimate power. I wanted them to know that I didn’t underestimate their strength and that I wasn’t there to “conquer” them, but to appreciate them in all their unpredictable and expansive glory.
Luckily, they responded to my prayer of sorts by challenging me only as much as I could actually handle.
I believe that experiences like this are critical for understanding our relationship as humans to the natural world.
In fact, I want every leader around the globe to spend a week in gorgeous wilderness that could kill them at any moment. I have a feeling they would start to approach decisions that have major impacts on the environment with a bit more respect.