The night was cold, and where the moon and stars shone around patches of clouds, they were incredibly bright. There was no ambient light out here. I was standing on a half-finished patio attached to a half-finished house in an otherwise empty summer-herding village. It was early March, months before the village would be occupied. I felt freezing rain instead of snowflakes on my face. It wasn’t cold enough. I was pissed off because earlier that day, out scouting terrain for possible lines to ski in the mountains near the village, I found myself, and the small group I had convinced to come out with me, in the worst avalanche conditions I’ve ever experienced.
by Stacy Bare (banner photo of Bare and Alex Honnold by Abazar Khayami) note: this piece appears in The Climbing Zine Book 2, now available.
As three of us stood on top of a twenty-eight-degree slope, we watched three natural avalanches trigger around us. I poked my way down by riding the top of a small, sloping ridge, and when I got to the bottom, the whole gentle slope collapsed with a whoomp. Conditions would not improve with the freezing rain. This ski expedition was over before I wanted it to be. We should have gotten out here earlier in the year. I was, however, having a hard time staying fully angry. A couple days earlier, I achieved a dream that even now, almost twelve months after we skied off the summit of Mount Halgurd, the tallest mountain fully in Iraq, seems improbable that we did it. Back on the porch though, I remember reflecting back on the previous few years of my life and could recount only one other time where I had been so upset and so elated at the same time. I’m typically an all-or-nothing sort of guy.
Mixed emotions are rarely an issue with me. It was day eight of a climbing trip to Angola in 2015. I knew then I was likely at what, from the outside looking in, would be the high point of my climbing career, which had only begun six years earlier, just after my thirty-first birthday. My wife was back in the States, five months pregnant with our daughter. I was on a roadside outcropping of rock that looked as if it had been placed in the middle of the settlement by the villagers themselves. Thick smoke from a twice yearly burning of agricultural fields made the air hazy and had a heavy, unpleasant odor. I was deep into my own head, stuck in self-pity. For eight days I had been trying and failing to keep up with the other climbers.
My hands and feet would not work together. My hips seemed magnetically repulsed from the wall. I was couched at the base of what should have been a fun, single-pitch traverse on the shadowy side of the rock, head between my knees, dreaming about freshly dried towels and the scent of fabric softener. It was a pathetic sight. What right did I have to call myself a climber? Alex, the Alex fucking Honnold, walked up to me and, laughing, waived a giant cam in my face. “I’m going to teach you how to French free, and you’re going to start having fun. This is a climbing trip; don’t bring it down for everyone else.” And with that, he taught me how to move the cam as a temporary, movable hold and got me laughing and smiling as I whipped around the traverse and then safely back to ground. Unlike what I felt in Iraq, this situation in Angola was the reverse. I was elated for finally having climbed something and completed a route but couldn’t shake the feeling of anger I had for my real and imagined failures up to this point.
Back on the porch in the rain in Iraq, the howling of wolves coming onto a kill down the valley from where I stood pulled me out of my memory in Angola and back into the moment. I wanted to howl, turn tail from my friends inside, and join in with the pack of wolves. A pack of wolves, mind you, that had survived years of war between Iraq and Iran as well as dodging thousands of land mines on the border region where they lived. I reached out in my mind to touch that tangible wild and then slowly turned back inside to join the laughter, dancing, and hookah with my friends. Three days later, on the long flight back home from Iraq after a twenty-four-hour stopover in Istanbul, I felt elated about the ski ascent and descent we had just completed.
I was excited to return to Utah where the winter of 2016–17 was one of the deepest in recent memory for snow, and I would be reunited with my wife and daughter. It was good to be a skier living in Utah that year. Somewhere in the back of my head though, a question emerged, perhaps brought on by my reflection in Iraq of that one time in Angola—could I still call myself a climber? There might for others though, just learning of my story, be a bigger question in the first place: why was I climbing in Angola and skiing in Iraq? A fair question.
I grew up on the western edge of the Great Plains in eastern South Dakota. My hometown high point was a covered landfill next to a window- and storm door–manufacturing plant. I spent my late teens and nearly all of my twenties doing one of four things: preparing for, participating in, or cleaning up after war, and playing rugby. The army spit me out at age twenty-nine after a year in Iraq. I was hovering around three hundred pounds of beefed-up-warrior archetype, full of anger, arrogance, and an attitude ready to suck the marrow from the bones of life. I didn’t see that last phrase as a metaphor.
I took it quite literally. Two years later, after a stint in graduate school in Philadelphia, I took a random job in Boulder, Colorado, far from my graduate school friends and even farther from the army. I was suicidal and lost, bushwhacking through life, when a friend took me out rock climbing. Without a doubt, climbing saved my life. For years, I’ve reasoned that it was the intense focus climbing required of me that pulled me into the moment of the actual act of climbing. To be successful, I could not be fearful of my own past. I could not feel guilty about the fact that I had a future when others, who I reasoned had far more to live for, came home dead in flag-draped boxes. I had to be focused on the moment to be successful, and that act of living in the moment saved me.
During those early months climbing, I was shocked at the depth of relationships I entered through the camaraderie of shared ropes and routes. The only other experience that produced similar results was war. The nowness, the immediacy of the task at hand to survive, to take care of your team, becomes all-encompassing and had, for me anyway, no use for other boundaries or labels that perforate our daily life, except for to enhance campfire or approach stories.
These narratives, it turned out, didn’t fundamentally differ from those had during military convoys or after patrol. I didn’t, for example, care all too much about my climbing partners’ or fellow soldiers’ religion or political viewpoints during the action of combat or of belaying, being belayed, setting up anchors and rappel stations, moving safely up and down a route, or bounding away from mortar fire, or to successfully engage a sniper in a faraway tower, or move through a combined-arms and improvised-explosive-device attack that unknown and barely seen enemy combatants launched on our convoy. Instead, because of those actions, in the moments of silence after the action, at Formica tables in the DFAC (dining facility), crouched on rubble and logs, or staring at fires,
I was more willing, excited even, to hear out and accept different viewpoints, life experiences, and ideas as valid and necessary for the world, and specifically the world of what was happening right now, to work. I summed up my early thoughts on climbing, just months into my own journey up the rope, while sharing a belay spot with a stranger, now a friend, during an ice-climbing event in Ouray. “The world would be a kinder, more understanding place if everyone climbed.” That was in the early winter of 2010, and my belay buddy, Luke Mehall, agreed. In the springtime of 2010, Nick Watson, another military veteran, and I founded Veterans Expeditions. An organization that existed to capture the positive aspects of being at war through climbing: camaraderie, a shared sense of purpose, a specific known goal, physicality, and oftentimes the training and skills building required to achieve the goal. Without the means, know-how, or even realization that I could dirtbag and prioritize climbing fully in my life, I instead focused on sharing climbing with others like me. Shockingly, it became my career.
As I spent my time trying to find ever-impactful and efficient ways of connecting first veterans and, later, all folks to the transformative power of the outdoors, through a position with the Sierra Club, I began to dream about what it might be like to go back to the places where I had served in some capacity as a tourist seeking adventure versus a soldier at war or a civilian intent on cleaning up the debris left behind. What would I find out about the country, its people, and its landscapes? What would I learn about myself if I went back? If I could return as a climber or a skier, could this sort of exchange, even if it was unidirectional at first, help build some sort of improved or more lasting peace? In my head, the answer was, and still is, a resounding yes. My Great Aunt Mildred, who served in the Pacific Theater during WWII and was stationed for a time in Papua New Guinea during the war and later, lived in post-war Japan for four or five years at the conclusion of the war, returned to both places in her eighties. I was inspired by her thirst for adventure and understanding. More so, I think was inspired by her fearlessness to leave the comfort of her Minnesota farmstead at what seemed like such an advanced age to explore her past and learn how things had changed where she had once been.
I was also fortunate to have her visit me twice while I was stationed in Germany from 2000–04. But I didn’t want to wait until I got to my eighties. After a few brief conversations with brand sponsors in the winter of 2013–14 about a return visit to Iraq, ISIS launched a full assault on the people of Iraq. I hoped then that at least by the time I was eighty I could return. Despite that setback, the dream of returning lingered. More so, the belief that adventure and, ultimately, adventure storytelling could serve a diplomatic purpose stronger than conventional methods of peace building was beginning to grow larger in my mind. Why not at least dream of a better world? Why not, I kept asking myself, take at least some small step to make that dream a reality? ISIS wasn’t everywhere, so I came up with a dynamic criterion for where I should visit in my quest to return. Sadly, there are a lot of places around the globe that have been devastatingly impacted by war in just my lifetime. I decided I would start with those countries where I had been to war, cleaned up after war, or was supposed to go to war.
Vietnam, Panama, and Somalia were out. Bosnia, Iraq, Angola, and the former Soviet State of Georgia, specifically the breakaway province of Abkhazia, were in. I also added Afghanistan, because I came down on orders twice to go for the army but never went. I was also told during my time as a civilian Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician—why I lived in Angola and Abkhazia—that I would be sent to Afghanistan. Somewhat ironically, it was because I got called back to the army out of my civilian life doing land mine clearance that I ended up not going to Afghanistan with that company. I also added in Russia, specifically Siberia, to make it an even half dozen. Why Siberia? Growing up as a child of the Cold War, I was routinely frightened by the image of bloodthirsty commies coming to snatch me away from my warm basement and throw me in a Solzhenitsynesque work camp in deep, dark Siberia.
A question that still lingers is what role I should take in spending time on the Sioux Indian Reservations in my home state of South Dakota, a state that saw some of the absolute worst atrocities of the near-genocidal action the US government waged against Native Americans. Bosnia presented itself as the most likely option. I began to make plans during the late months of 2014 for a return in the spring of 2015. My plan was simple: go back and split time between climbing with local climbers and learning more about how everyday people responded to the end of the war and genocidal actions that took place in Bosnia throughout the ’90s and the continued hostilities stretching well into the current century.
I figured I’d take a few photos and write a few blogs. That all changed at a fundraising event I attended for work in January of 2015. Alex Honnold was the evening’s speaker. My work wanted me there because they felt I was the only “real climber” they had to offer up as potential company for Alex. After he was done, we chatted about mutual friends and upcoming projects. I mentioned the Bosnia project and my larger vision of going back to all the places where I had fought—and he seized on the Angola trip. There had been a Belgian outdoor filmmaker who had been pestering Alex about making the sojourn to Angola for a couple of years, and Alex asked if I would want to put together an expedition to go climb.
Strangely, I didn’t immediately say yes—I also wanted to spend some time surfing in Angola, but then I realized that one should always say yes if Alex Honnold wants to go climb with you. The trip came together and was relatively quickly sponsored, because of Alex, by The North Face, VICE Sports, and Goal Zero. In September of 2015, we flew back to Angola before I could really think of any larger framework for my personal project I now call Adventure Not War: world peace and understanding can best be attained through adventure travel versus military engagement. One would think the invitation to climb with Alex would kick in an intense desire to train hard and elevate one’s own climbing ability. One would be correct in thinking that.
However, desire and action are not always married. Before I met Alex, my wife, Makenzie, and I bought two tickets for a delayed honeymoon to Norway for July of 2015. We planned on spending a lot of that time in the backcountry and maybe even putting up a few pitches in the local alpine. The training for Norway would serve as the training for Angola. That spring Makenzie got pregnant. We were overjoyed, but our training suffered. We boarded a plane to Norway at the start of Mak’s fourth month of pregnancy (see Pregnancy Resource Center here to know the do’s and don’ts during this phase of pregnancy). We had a brilliant time, tromped around Norway’s tremendous alpine hut system for a week, sea kayaked in brilliant-blue fjords, found Makenzie’s ancestral homestead, gorged ourselves on lingonberries and strawberries. It was a tremendously fine honeymoon!
I recommend Norway to anyone, but maybe don’t go a month before an international climbing expedition with one of the best climbers in the world and a couple of his friends unless you plan on, and actually do, go climbing in Norway. I remained, however, ignorantly confident for the trip in the same way one feels overconfident for a test at school, only to be wracked by anxiety and why didn’t I? as soon as the paper is placed on the desk and one reads the first problem. As I roped up for the first climb of that trip and stared up, I immediately questioned at some deep, fundamental level if I could even call myself a climber. Earlier that spring, as the plans for Angola, a country still plagued by land mines, and our jaunt to Norway were coming together, a country still awash in land mines, I decided I should get a life insurance policy. I had to fill out a long questionnaire about my background and past behavioral choices.
Two things I put down on that survey indicated both that I was a climber and that I had sought treatment for alcohol and substance abuse in the last five years. This combination of risky behavior, I was told, would block me from coverage. I called to complain. Over the phone, an annoyingly polite insurance adjuster told me, “Stop climbing, and stay sober for five more years, and we might be able to offer you a policy.” I thought she was joking or hadn’t heard me correctly earlier in our conversation. I tried to slow everything down for her and repeat what I had said a little bit louder: “The reason I am sober, the reason I chose to seek treatment…and the reason I have stayed sober…is because I. Am. Rock. Climbing. If I quit climbing…I’ll quit being sober.” “Well,” she said cheerily, “that may be true, but you’re too high risk.” I should have lied. Fast-forward to the day-eight story of the Angolan expedition I told earlier. Despite my good time on the French free, I could not shake the doubt that I did not belong on the trip and that maybe I did not belong in the climbing world at all. In my shaky self-confidence, I felt like the little brother who simply did not belong.
On the second to last day of the trip, I ended up leading the first pitch on one of the few existing sport routes in Angola in an area called Pedras Negras. Feeling strong at the bolts, I asked if I could continue the lead. This was my chance at redemption. Alex graciously said yes. I immediately went wildly off route. The rock was similar, though not as clean, as the cobbled rock in Maple Canyon, Utah. I was lost in a sea of loose cobbles. A fall would not be caught before I shattered my body at the small ledge that housed the first set of chains or if I fell even farther down to catastrophe. Fuck it; I want to meet my daughter, I thought. Much later, I pulled over onto the top of the rock and released a flood of tears that mixed with my own laughter for a truly horrible sound before bringing Alex up to the top. As we began our rappel down, a news crew had come out to watch the action. News crews had followed us around most of the time we were in Angola, climbing and high-profile foreign visitors like Alex traveling outside of the capital being a rarity. When we were both safely down on the ground, along with Pablo, our cameraman from VICE Sports who was along to film the trip, we pulled the rope. The camera crew started rolling film and asking questions: “Why did you climb up there? Were there special herbs or fruit on top you were looking for? Animals? A nice place to sleep?” “No,” I responded. “Maybe a decent place to nap, but we didn’t.” “Then why climb?” the newsman asked exasperatedly. He didn’t let us answer, and along with his sound guy, the cameraman walked off.
Recognizing we were all headed in the same direction and at roughly the same pace, we hung out under a shade tree to give them plenty of space and avoid further awkwardness. Three days later, after Alex was required to climb a few stories on the façade of a hotel in Angola’s capital, Luanda, in exchange for free rooms, we all landed in La Guardia and headed for the different gates that would take us all the way home. It was a warm good-bye filled with hugs and laughter. I got home and dumped my gear in a heap in our extra bedroom and did laundry. It stayed there for a couple of weeks, unused due to an infection from grime or bat shit that had worked its way into one of the many cuts in my right leg, which was dramatically swollen and hid my ankle from view. Thankfully, several hot showers and repeated scrubbing of the wound back in the relative cleanliness of my house, along with a course of antibiotics, brought my leg back to normal in two weeks. In late October, I came home from a bitterly disappointing climb in Jackson, Wyoming, where I couldn’t find my way through the second pitch of a 5.11 and lowered off. My gear was banished from the extra bedroom into the corner of our cellar. I stared at it angrily. Clearly it had been my gear, not my lack of preparation or execution that had foiled me in Angola and later in Jackson. Without a backward glance, I walked upstairs to dote on my wife and prepare the home for the arrival of our little girl and ski season. My daughter was born. My life changed in all the ways people told me I’d never be able to fully articulate. It was wonderful and joyous and maddening all at the same time. I’ve never had a better winter. Our daughter, for me anyway, was a dream baby. I skied when she napped.
I’d come home to her just waking up, groggy and wanting to play a bit before she reattached herself to her mother and waved me back into the mountains. Then the snow melted, the rivers were running, and I spent a few weeks that summer in big rubber boats bouncing around in the water. I’d look up, see natural lines to climb, and dip into fond memories of clinging to vertical rock and frozen waterfalls before adjusting my oars and floating on. When I came home in between river and work trips, I didn’t want to leave my wife and daughter. We went on short hikes.
We played in wildflowers, and I watched, awestruck, as bees just bounced off her chubby hands as she grabbed for some tiny bloom. Neither feared the other. Despite the magic, 2016 was a brutal year for me personally. So many people I knew died. I lost more people close to me in 2016 than I did during my twelve months in Baghdad in 2006–07. In the summer of 2016, with ISIS on the run, the idea that it was time to go back to Iraq returned to the forefront of my mind. My wife encouraged me to go. Now, more than ever, it seemed necessary for me to go back to a place that housed so many of my horrors and, no doubt, horrors Americans visited as part of the collateral damage of war on the Iraqi people. I had to go back to come home. I also felt that in so doing, maybe if we made the movie just right, we could show people back in America that the folks living in Iraq weren’t so different from us and just as deserving of our love given our incursion into their country and homes. This began to play out as my country was heading toward the election of a president who didn’t agree with my viewpoint on this or many other topics. Thanks to a great many people and brands, I and fellow veterans Robin Brown, who as a company commander and Kiowa helicopter pilot had been shot down over Iraq in 2003 while returning back to base on a mission, and Matthew Griffin, a US Army Ranger and founder of Combat Flip Flops, along with filmmaker Max Lowe, were the first-known team to ski up and down the full length of Mount Halgurd.
It was an epic journey. We were joined for the majority of the expedition by Dutch mountaineer and guide Jan Bakker, filmmaker Mack Fisher, and local Kurdish Iraqi guide and aspiring mountaineer Reband Ibrahim, who supported us getting to and from the base of the peak in partnership with Omar Chomani and his generous family. It was with this triumph in my mind, trying to balance it out with my disappointment that we could not ski in what I felt like was more challenging and aesthetically beautiful terrain, that I found myself out on the half-finished patio of the half-finished house in an otherwise abandoned village with freezing rain in my face, thinking about Angola before the wolves howled.
My coming home from Iraq was very different than my coming home from Angola. The ski season in 2016–17 was all time in Utah. Though tired when I returned, there were weeks, months of shredding the gnar and ripping pow that waited for me—and I took full advantage. I didn’t make it back down to the cellar until it was time to gear up for rafting season and a four-day trip through the Gates of Lodore on the Green River. Bent over and rummaging around looking for the various components of personal gear needed to pilot a boat, I saw my climbing gear in the deep corner of my cellar. I looked away, ashamed and embarrassed. It was like running into an ex you never actually broke up with but just ghosted at a party.
I began to stammer out an apology, as I fixed my gaze on my Grigri, before I remembered that nothing on my rack or harness could speak back. I hung my head down in shame, threw my raft gear into a dry bag, and headed up out of the cellar and into the light of my backyard. I had a moment of panic wondering if my daughter would one day find my old gear and ask if I knew how to use it. Would I have that fancy life insurance policy by the time she found an old cam or alien? As it is, I’m still on trip-specific insurance. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I had stopped climbing, rock climbing anyway, and unlike what I had told the insurance adjuster, I had stayed sober. How did that happen? Could I still call myself a climber?
How had climbing, that one thing that swooped into the middle of my life and absolutely exploded it with goodness at the very moment I was thinking of ending it all, be relegated to the dark, musty corner of my cellar? For a brief moment, I felt cut adrift from who I was, who I had become after the last time I was cut adrift from who I was, who I had been as a soldier, a uniformed warrior. Climbing was, in my mind, what allowed me to replicate the best parts of war. Was it perhaps that though climbing saved my life, skiing now sustained it? After all, the whole Ski Iraq expedition was mind blowing. We left weeks after the president had attempted to implement a poorly thought out, largely racist and Islamophobic immigration ban that directly impacted the country of our travel. The day we flew out to Erbil, the starting point for our destination, Iraqi government forces backed by the US launched what would become the final bitter battle to oust ISIS from Mosul, only fifty-three miles to our west. We were met only with generosity and joy, even in refugee camps, some of which had been there since the Iran-Iraq War.
We were determined not just to be tourists, so we, through our friends at the nonprofit Tent Education, helped build outdoor classrooms in a refugee camp for people of the Yezidi religion. The people we met were, by and large, as excited about our journey and return as we were, if not more so. So what was it? What was missing, or perhaps what had climbing truly replaced that maybe now was being taken care of by skiing? A few weeks after that first river trip, I was supposed to attend a conference in Moab. The conference got canceled, but we headed to southwest Utah anyway. It was a cold, rainy weekend. During one break in the weather, we threw the baby in the backpack and hiked up toward the towers of Castle Valley. As they came fully into view, my daughter began jumping in the pack as she pointed toward the tower and waived her hand in their general direction, excitedly gurgling, “UPUPUPUPUP,” as she smiled around the words. It wasn’t climbing. It wasn’t skiing. It wasn’t even replicating the good parts of the war. In the midst of the wild red-rock desert spread around us, it was, I realized, when I heard those wolves howl and wanted to join their pack, when I felt so relieved when I recognized that, in spite of the war and the stupidity of man, wildness, wilderness still reigned, at least in part, supreme. This is what climbing gave me that first time, not just the power of now but a way to access my inner feral, beastly, goodly self.
An opportunity to be, at least for the moment, connected to the wild that climbs or swims or sails or burrows or runs or thunders across a landscape, or lies still in the sunlight or hunched against the cold and rain. No less an opportunity to touch that essence of humanity, for which, when we’re cut off from it, is so damaging and painful. Climbing, time outdoors together, does not replicate the positive aspects of war. Instead, I’ve come to know that war, the need to dominate another people, to offer them a choice of death or acceptance of any proposed “one true way” is, instead, a corrupted, vile, and fearful attempt to if not control or cage, to at least touch the beast inside all of us. Time outdoors then, climbing for me, and now skiing and rafting, and maybe something else for you, is that which allows us to embrace our beast and approach it with acceptance and love for not just who we are but, more critically, for how we’re meant to be as a species: wild and free, as echoed perhaps in the spawning of salmon and the springtime grunts of the waking bear. So am I still a climber?
I think the answer is yes. I dream about climbing, think about climbing, and I still get out and climb—but am I the climber I want to be? I don’t think that question for me at the moment really matters. I’m the climber I can be, given the other constraints on my time I’ve chosen to undertake. Beyond that, I think we are all, in our own ways, climbers, rafters, skiers, ramblers, outdoorsmen and women because of our essential relationship with nature. What’s more important than being a climber is indeed the relationship we have, we develop with ourselves and the broad world around us. The relationship I’ve come to define as taking care of, perhaps even becoming, my inner beast. Climbing put me on that path, but climbing won’t necessarily keep me, or even propel me farther down that path—I hope it does, but there’s a list of variables a mile long and not being a climber, or not actively climbing, may bring about guilty pangs of consciousness and sweet memories of past climbs. Hopefully though, it won’t push me back into the dark abyss I inhabited before finding my way to a vertical rock wall.
I’m also not naïve enough to think that time outside never causes problems or can’t send someone into the abyss. That’s a whole other story to write, but there is a lot of pain in our outdoor community, in our circles of climbers that we so far have yet to fully engage in or even discuss. Like all of us who’ve been kicking around high places, fast rivers, and big mountains long enough, I’ve buried friends from injuries sustained in the pursuit of outdoor dreams and seen other friends pursue objectives like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to the exclusion and detriment of everything else.
Dangers do lurk in those faraway hills and in the minds of those who go off to explore, but so do unspeakable delights. Unfortunately, too many of our leaders, in this country and around the world, are so afraid of what they could find in their humanity and in nature, or so drunk on the lucre that can be rooted out of it, that rather than expand access to freedom and beauty, they enact policies and procedures that cage us all. It is, I think, one of the predecessors of war, the being caged—which in no way lessens the desire to be connected to nature. It instead has the opposite effect but without the knowledge of what nature contact can bring. So the beast is enraged toward war versus adventure, and we build out the false sense of equivalency to all those good things I discussed above that can be found in purity in nature but only in reliance of violence against fellow men and women in war: camaraderie, sense of purpose, and a mission.
But to what end? When I came up with the idea to ski in Iraq—just as when so many other people first name their object of adventurous desire—I was greeted by many skeptics who called me crazy. There were others though who believed I had a chance. The believers didn’t encourage me to run in all willy-nilly but, instead, spoke frankly about the risk and the reward for going back and helped me measure and mitigate objective and subjective risk. But even after all that, I realized I was really only following the hunch I had years ago that going back to the places I fought or cleaned up after war or was supposed to go to war as an adventurer versus a soldier would do the world and me some good. So I went and I’ll keep going. If I don’t, I’m not sure I’ll ever come all the way back home and, in the process, maybe I’ll help bring us one step closer to peace in a world gone madder than normal. Keep climbing.
 Recognizing that there are times where war is necessary to protect and defend those who have been unjustly attacked or harmed, I do believe war can be justified, especially in response to a brutal wrong. Even then though, war corrupts and damages not only the people who serve in it on either side but also those who support the war fighters, and I believe time in wilderness, which can and should be defined by the individual and is not limited only to climbing, skiing, or even requiring a return to the scene of the crime, is fundamental to the healing and rehumanizing process required for many after time at war. Perhaps like a vaccine, some of the virus (war) must also be injected to protect from future catastrophic outbreak.