If you want to know if you should spend the rest of your life with someone, spend some time alone in the wild with them. There are those relationships that seem so passionate and so perfect—until you find yourselves trying to figure out where you are on a topo map, or fixing a broken stove or negotiating a class 4 scramble on a shortcut. Or even just walking together in a complete, comfortable silence. When you find someone who you can spend long hours with up in the big openness of the mountains away from electronics and concerts and clubs and everything else you think your life is supposed to be about, you have found a keeper.
I proposed to my wife from the top of a 14er. It wasn’t the 14er we were supposed to be summiting. Our objective had been the Sangre de Cristos’ 14,171-foot Kit Carson Peak, an interesting scramble that requires a backpack trip and a lot of stunning ridge-walking to reach, but the clouds rolled in and we decided it was time to turn back. I had promised myself I was going to spring the surprise engagement atop one of Colorado’s highest peaks, however; so I decided that 14,087-foot Challenger Point would do. No matter, that it was named for the shuttlecraft that exploded mid-flight or that it’s sort of technically a sub-peak of Kit Carson—she said yes. And 12 years later, all that really seems to have mattered has been our growing, ever-changing, ever-learning commitment to our lives together, not to mention our ever-strengthening love for this state and its wild places. That passion has certainly deepened as we bring our kids out on adventures alongside us.
Radha and I also try to get out on our own a few times each year, both to reconnect to the mountains without having to worry about the demands of two little people, but also as a reconnection to each other, a time to walk and get the chance to really talk to each other about more than the kid schedule and house repairs and bills. And to enjoy just saying nothing and being out there and together. Some of our best jaunts have come on our December wedding anniversary. For our 10th, we made a winter hike up into the alpine of the Sangres near Challenger Point. We didn’t see another soul and felt the raw power of the place—what the Tibetans call drala—better because of it. And the best may have been a hike straight out our front door up into the Flatirons. We traversed all of our Boulder backyard’s iconic rocks in the snow, ambling up Skunk Creek, climbing Bear Peak over to the top South Boulder Peak and then making the long traverse back to the summit of Green Mountain before hiking down to Chautauqua and and back on the streets to our house. There were no crowds of trail runners and dog walkers—it was as if the Flatirons were a thousand miles away from town, and all ours. It grounded us to the place where we have set up a life.
Last summer, we took that idea of exploring our backyard a bit deeper on an on-and-mostly-off-trail backpack loop deep in Rocky Mountain National Park. We outran thunderstorms as we scrambled up 12,804-foot Chief Cheley peak with full packs along the spine of the Continental Divide. We watched elk graze in the mist near our camp. We talked, said nothing. We put some miles down on the trail. It felt miraculous, and normal.
There’s an old cliché that if you love someone set them free. I say, sure, but also go experience freedom alongside them.