A Psalm for the Mountains — Aries Butte in Zion National Park

Standing on the edge of the earth, the sandstone rippling like mute dancers, almost but not quite crashing and breaking, and everything falling below down and down and down to some little ribbon of nothing road–this is the land of epiphany.  Desert mountains house gods and revelations, demons and that clear, wide-open sky.  Candy cane striped red and white swirls flowing and curving the topography.  Come-and-sit ledges seemingly miles above empty air.  Here time is both condensed and expanded, like the infinity and incredible density of black holes.  Contemplate.  Enjoy.  Hell, even a Clif Bar tastes good up here.


We left the tiny gravel pullout, following vague descriptions and hand-me-down tales through steadily steepening sandstone.  A turn here, a zag there, and we began to dance upwards across the stone.  Edging along iron intrusions, Hana and I gradually scrambled a thousand feet, two thousand.  Hardened pines twisted out of breaks, and Indian paintbrush begged momentary lapses of careful concentration.

IMG_3893We reached a shoulder of the mountain, a widened saddle of checkerboard Navajo sandstone. Aries Butte loomed over our left shoulders as we rounded onto her upper flanks.  Two large bolts, dwarfed by distance, marked our destination.  We cached packs and donned climbing shoes.  Tying in, we rehearsed the signals and tugs used on rock over long distance.  And then, off into the sandstone unknown.

Movement over stone, brushing shoes off on pant legs as a reminder of endless geology in action.  The rock bright under a southern Utah sky.  Climbing but a simple supplication to this hulking force of nature.  Pitch one complete.  Then two.  Then three.  Then four.  Hana, at each belay, happier than before.  Her movements smoother with that wide-open world underneath each pointed toe.

And then, one last scramble to the summit.  Carefully, we picked our way up the shedding crown of Aries, and summited on her wide mesa top.  Light wind danced IMG_3892 across the expanse and we peered across the expanse of Zion.  What gods we saw there, we cannot tell.  That is the true torture of prophesy, for no retelling can eclipse the beauty of moment.  Those seekers of mountains bring little back but the memory of thin places where boundaries start to slip, allowing the briefest glimpse into the awesome.

We rigged ropes to rappel and left that perch of deities.  Down and back to the world, we descended.  In the canyon before the car, we stopped at etched petroglyphs. Messages from past wanderers; these turning symbols and stylized circles spelled something, only we couldn’t read it.  We had left interpretation on the mountain, returned to earth, and were now simple and unlettered.

Oh Zion, how I wish to read again.


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