Some photos have the ability to snap the rest of your senses into a different place for a moment. For me, this is one of them.

Maybe it’s just because I was there and have this whole vivid memory to surround it. But I think there’s more to this photo even for people who didn’t take part in the memory. The framing suggests a vastness of the place and perhaps a long journey ahead. The wildly varied and undulating mountains and cliffs suggest a harsh and unforgiving environment, especially under the thick bed of gray clouds. The texture of the image seems to glimmer slightly as if everything is soaked by a layer of rain.

That’s me in the green jacket, heading away from one of the the highest peaks in Norway’s Lofoten Islands. At just over 1000 meters, Hermannsdalstinden stands pretty short compared to most sought-after peaks around the world, but don’t let that fool you. What Lofoten lacks in altitude, it sure makes up for in inclement weather which can get menacingly wet and cold inside the Arctic Circle. Pair that with the remoteness of this place and you get a pretty gnarly adventure. Even in the small fishing villages with hotels and wifi, there’s this feeling that you’re “far out” from the rest of the world, and somehow beyond rescue.

We cut our journey into two parts by sleeping in a DNT hut along the trail the night before our final push. It was raining the minute we woke up the next day and it didn’t let up once during our hike.

It was an uncomfortable day. I remember being wet, cold, and having to stop at least twice along the trail to squeeze water out of my socks and drain my boots.

We were about 90% of the way to the top when I caught up to Matt. He was stopped, standing on a ledge, his right hand grasping the metal chain that led upwards and his head peering to the left where the trail dropped off. It was pretty exposed. It was pretty wet. Being up there, my body was constantly in this state of tension, hyper aware of every little movement in anticipation of slipping on mud or wet, mossy rock. I turned my gaze back to the chain and followed it upwards where it extended another 15 feet over steep, smooth, slabby rock, coated in a slick layer of rain water shimmering in the light.

I took a moment to check in with myself. To ask myself if I felt safe. To ask how badly I wanted to make it to the top. I didn’t know what the right decision was. I was sure that I could make it up that slippery rock if I made use of the chain and took it slowly. What I wasn’t sure of was how I would make it down. What if one of us got hurt? How far away is help? We didn’t know how much worse the weather was going to get. With each step up, I was adding a future step down in a potentially wetter, harsher, and more uncertain environment.

When I looked up from my internal conversation, the look in Matt’s eye said the same thing I had just realized for myself. It was time to go back. As much as I loved a good suffer-fest, this wasn’t the right day for us. Hermannsdalstinden proved unreachable that day, and we turned back maybe 30 or 60 minutes from the summit.

I’ve never regretted that decision. I think we probably could have made it up and back down safely, but it was starting to feel pretty sketchy and not worth even the relatively small risk of getting hurt. The mountain will always be there, at least as long as I’m around. Matt snapped this next photo of me at our turnaround point, and I think my face in it will tell this story better than I ever could. Defeated by mother nature, but accepting of my fate, resting among the cliffs of something much bigger than me, with a storm swirling around, putting me back in my place with each raindrop.

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