WELL, THAT HAPPENED: King of the Hill

By on June 8, 2016

A born and raised Jacksonite enjoys a long-awaited rite of passage.

Sara Stephan and her pup Mia lead the way as the author contemplates impending torture. (Photo: Andrew Munz)

Sara Stephan and her pup Mia lead the way as the author contemplates impending torture. (Photo: Andrew Munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Having recently returned to Jackson, I am intent on partaking in as many new adventures as possible to revive my love for my hometown. That requires a little bit of courage and an insistence on saying yes, regardless of the opportunity. While I will plan out a few adventures, I promised myself that I would always free up my schedule for new opportunities, especially when they spring upon me out of nowhere. Little did I know that my first adventure invitation would be something I had been dreading even as a small child: A nonstop hike up the face of Snow King.

Admittedly, I’ve always been a fat kid. I took more pleasure in buckets of popcorn and McDonald’s than I did skiing or hiking. (A nearly blasphemous thought in this town.) I had actually never successfully completed the hike, having given up somewhere around the switchback stage past Cougar lift. But in the spirit of saying yes, I agreed. I responded to my friend Sara Stephan’s invitation via text, typing out a less-than-emphatic, “yyyyeeeehhhs?”

I met her at her house and proceeded to slather SPF 30 across my translucent, alabaster calves (the Icelandic sun was frustratingly absent this winter).

Mia, Sara’s dog, also tagged along and I snapped the photo above, frowning at how high the mountain seemed at this angle. I hadn’t so much as jogged 10 yards, let alone hiked an entire mountain, in months, and I apologized to Sara that I would be super slow and huffing like a steam engine.

“Stop apologizing,” she said. “There’s no rush.”

As I began the hike, the overused metaphor of a mountain ascent resembling a personal struggle started to enter my mind. But this wasn’t just any mountain. Snow King has been a huge part of my life since my family moved here in 1994 when I was seven. Countless birthday parties were celebrated at the mini-golf course, and I’ve probably touched just about every square meter of its official ski runs. But climbing up the face always instilled me with a hefty amount of uncertainty and dread. Reaching its summit via traverses and switchbacks was never a goal of mine.

Despite my calves aching and my breathing going shallow, I still pushed forward having Sara’s and Mia’s presence there to propel me skyward. I didn’t want to appear weak in front of my friend so I kept pushing. I knew that if I was able to overcome this hurdle I would be able to break my old habits and become a healthier, happier guy. With each local and dog duo we passed, the more excuses I gave myself to give up. At one point I nearly fainted, I was so lightheaded, but I knew it wouldn’t make me turn back.

Sara waited patiently, never once motivating me with a, “You can do it!” “Keep pushing!” or “Atta boy, Andy Munz!” This ascent wasn’t for her. It was for me. Even the mosquitoes tried to get me to quit but I swatted them away, refusing to succumb to their bloodthirsty ambitions.

And then, nearly an hour later, I reached the top for the first time on foot. Unlike the sea air I had grown accustomed to, a warm mountain breeze, comforting and pure, quenched my thirst for breath. We sat down, taking in the sights as a paragliding enthusiast began unpacking his gear. I’d seen this view of Jackson plenty of times over the years, but this time I truly felt like I’d earned it.

I realize how trivial this whole moment sounds to someone who hikes up Snow King on a regular basis, barely noticing the challenge anymore. It has become something of a routine for locals, especially as a precursor to an exercise-filled summer. But for me, it was a moment of sheer personal triumph. I can’t tell you how many invitations to hike Snow King I had turned down up until I said yes to Sara.

I know it ain’t much for a first adventure but if each of my “yeses” leads to a moment as rewarding as standing over my hometown like a sweaty, sun-kissed, bug-devoured, asthmatic conqueror, then I’m eager to see what lies in store. PJH

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