Being Seen on East Sleeper

Submitted by Nancy

Mountain: East Sleeper (3,840)
Date: May 24, 2008
Time: 10.5 hours
Weather: Sunny, temperature in the 70s, breeze
Miles: 10.4 (not including Ferncroft Road)
Steps: 30,152
Elevation Gain: 3,844
Trails: Ferncroft Road to Blueberry Ledge Trail to Kate Sleeper Trail and back

Picture Gallery

"Ninety percent of the world's woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves." --Sydney J. Harris

"Intimacy is being seen and known as the person you truly are." - Amy Bloom


I am lucky enough to have had the experience of really being seen.

Pat and I are driving up to Wonalancet to bag East Sleeper on our 4th attempt. Pat says to me, "You are all about shared joy. That's who you are."

I feel my resistance but my heart wins. Tears sting my eyes and I let them be. I flash on a few of my most treasured life moments.

2006: I am in the Grand Canyon with my husband on a 225-mile rafting trip down the Colorado River. We have just gone through Lava Falls, one of the largest and most-feared rapids on the Grand. "Right here everyone!" Kent, our paddle guide says. Holding onto the paddle's T-grip, he lifts his paddle blade high above the center of the raft. We follow suit. Our paddles clap against each other's overhead as we whoop and holler, celebrating our protected passage through Lava Falls and the sheer relief we feel at being right-side-up and alive.

2007: Pat and I arrive on the South rim of the Grand Canyon, completing a rim-to-rim hike, and we are thrilled. But the fun isn't over. Being the first to arrive, we wait for the rest of our group. As soon as we see some of our members on the zigzag trails below, we start to yell and scream their names and encourage them on. Many arrive in tears, overwhelmed with joy and pride at reaching the goal. It was such a privilege to share that glorious moment with each of them.

It fits. I nod my agreement, wipe my tears and look out the window. It is the truth. I am about shared joy. I had not thought about myself in that way, but it moves in my heart right. I feel totally seen by Pat and I let it in. We have such an extraordinary friendship! It is rare when someone sees another person for who they really are. It's an incredible gift when it happens -- someone recognizes your fear and extends a hand, a co-worker celebrates a talent and offers praise, a friend sees your beauty and reflects it back to you, a loved one looks inside your heart and shares what they see.

Pat asks me if I remember when I first felt seen. Yes! I was the corporate communications manager at NGM, and I went to a weeklong conference in Florida. As part of the sessions, I took a Myers-Briggs personality test. I can still remember sitting on the floor reading the synopsis of my personality as the tears dripped down my nose and onto the rug.

"ENFJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) -- For ENFJs the dominant quality in their lives in an active and intense caring about people and a strong desire to bring harmony into their relationships. ENFJs are openly expressive and empathic people who bring an aura of warmth to all that they do. Intuition orients their feeling to the new and to the possible, thus they often enjoy working to manifest a humanitarian vision, or helping others develop their potential. ENFJs naturally and conscientiously move into action to care for others, to organize the world around them, and to get things done."

Having grown up believing I was gross, foul and disgusting, I was shocked by this description that immediately felt true. I had been seen.

Pat and I arrive at the trailhead and there are lots of other cars in the parking lot. A harbinger of what is to come. We head up the Blueberry Ledge Trail toward the summit of Whiteface, a 4,000-footer that happens to be between us and our goal of East Sleeper.

We immediately start seeing wildflowers and I am snapping pictures right and left. You know, when Pat and I first started hiking, I would walk right by the wildflowers, taking notice but not really caring. Now I want to look, I am in awe of each flower's unique beauty.

Our conversation that began in the car continues on the trail.

"Why is it that we fight the very thing that we want most in life?" I ask this question with surprise and disbelief in my voice. I mean why would we do that?

This question comes on the heels of me making the connection that the thing I want most in life is to be seen, and it is one of the things I never had growing up. As a kid, I perfected the art of being invisible which kept me out of the direct line of anger and venom spewing all around me at home. I was often afraid to come home; never knowing what mood my mother would be in. I was really good at not being seen, and not being seen meant safety. It was my way of coping as a child and I continue to live that way, even though the reason no longer exists. I refuse to see myself and I rarely let myself out to be seen.

As I'm taking close-ups of the wildflowers, it occurs to me that I am really seeing them for the first time. But they are showing up to be seen. They are not hiding. They are right next to the hiking trail, smiling their beautiful petals at us. Huh... to be seen, I have to want to be seen. I have to own my beauty and then share it with the world. Like the wildflowers.

Just before the ledges our connected conversation ends as we start running into lots of people heading for the summit. We meet a young man and his German Shepard. I ask him if I can pat his dog and he says, "Sure." As I stroke Rocky's back I notice that he is standing very still and doesn't seem happy to have me there; he isn't wagging his tail. I should have registered what the dog is showing me, but I don't. I lean down to nuzzle him and he goes for my nose. Wow! He scares me. I learn an important lesson.

We get to the ledges on Whiteface and up we go. Whiteface was our first 4,000-footer and I was scared to death on the ledges two years ago. There are a lot of places where it is hard to find good footing and handholds, especially for short people. But today I know what I am in for. I can feel the fear come back, but I hold my ground, and, with Pat's help, get myself up and over without a lot of trauma.

We arrive on the top at 1:15 and have lunch while a bunch of teenage boys are yelling and running around the summit. The peace of the summit eludes us.

We head off toward the Kate Sleeper Trail. When we hit the monorail of snow on the trail, we high-five with glee. We lugged our snowshoes all the way up the mountain and if we are going to bring them, we might as well use them. On they go, we walk a bit, balanced on the monorail of packed down snow, but then hit dry ground. We take our snowshoes off and walk a bit more before we run into the snow monorail again. Sighing, I put my snowshoes back on. I don't know how many times we take them off and put them back on, but I reach the oh-my-God-you-have-to-be-kidding stage of exasperation. There are rocks and brooks and branches and downed trees and rotten snow that doesn't support our weight and lots of postholes made by people who wish they had snowshoes.

About mid-way to East Sleeper I voice my concern that it is late and really slow going and should we -- I can't even bring myself to say the words. This is our 4th attempt and we don't want to turn around. But it is already 3 pm and we still had maybe 6/10th of a mile to go on very rough terrain before we reach the summit and get to turn around. Pat sees me. She registers my concerns. She says she is sure we will be able to get back to the ledges in daylight and suggests we keep going. We arrive on the summit of East Sleeper at 3:48, take a picture to prove we were there and immediately head back to Whiteface.

This time we put our snowshoes on and just walk across whatever happens to be under our feet -- snow, branches, mud, river, rocks, dry trail - we just keep walking. We meet a few guys who are eyeing our snowshoes with envy, but we're on a mission to get back and don't let in how smart we are. With big relief we arrive back on Whiteface and head down the ledges without resting. I am nervous about going down, but it turns out it is much easier than going up. I just sit down and slide on my butt.

By this time my feet are killing me. I have small feet and narrow heels and have not been able to find boots that are right for me. I had brought my sneaker-like Merrill's and I change shoes and immediately feel relief.

Our conversation rekindles once we are over the snow-filled ridge and past the ledges.

"Why can I see you so clearly? Pat asks me.
The answer comes immediately. "It's the mountains," I say.

Pat and I put ourselves out in the midst of nature, through all four seasons, and challenge our bodies to get up and down these peaks. And something happens to me in the process of climbing. It's like I sweat away a protective layer that envelopes me in society, so that by the time I am on the top I am left with just me, totally exposed, just the truth. It just happens. The physical exertion and the natural splendor and the incredible expanses on the summits push me into my heart where I can only be fully me. So if I am scared, Pat see it. If I am overjoyed, Pat sees it. If I am tired, Pat sees it. I am whatever I am. Back in my normal life at sea level, I am not so vulnerable. The protective layer returns and it is not so easy to see my emotions, or the raw feelings and truths that make me, me. I don't let them out on the streets as easily as I do in the mountains, except at home with my husband. Another place I let out enough of me to be seen is in my writing. But writing is one-step-removed. I am not looking into your eyes as you read this.

But, if I want to be seen everywhere in my life, then somehow I need to find ways to allow the me inside, the soft vulnerable truth of Nancy to come out and be visible so people can know me. So people can see me. So I can be loved.

We arrive back at the parking lot at 8:15 surrounded by dusk. As the sun is setting we look back over the fields to the mountains that just held us with gratitude.

70 out of 100 Highest in NE