My love of mountains began in childhood. I grew up in the rolling foothills on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains, the main mountain chain in the eastern U.S. Philippi, West Virginia, where I grew up is about forty-two miles, as the crow flies, from Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state at 4,863 feet.
I don’t remember going to Spruce Knob, though. My family’s orientation to mountains was set to a larger scale.
The mountains I remember most vividly from childhood were along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which we would travel every other summer to visit my mother’s family in northwestern South Carolina. The parkway, now managed by the National Park Service, trends northeast–southwest through the Appalachian Mountains in western Virginia and North Carolina.
Not far before Asheville the parkway skirts around Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River at 6,684 feet elevation. We left the parkway at Asheville, North Carolina, to go to Greenville, South Carolina, where my grandparents lived.
Because of my father’s stories about the Minya Gongka, I knew mountains came much higher than Mount Mitchell. When I was twenty-four, my husband and I made a summer road trip from upstate New York to the Pacific Northwest and down the coast to California. Experiencing the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades for the first time I was gobsmacked by the sweeping views, extensive forests, and crisp air.
Then came my five years of living in Alaska, first on Kodiak Island during my husband’s stint in the Navy, and then Anchorage after that. It is no exaggeration to say that living in Alaska changed my life.
I discovered the joys of an outdoor lifestyle, the adventure of hiking and camping in the wilderness, the concept of endless mountains that went on seemingly forever. I became attuned to the intricacies of nature, drawn in by the scale of Alaskan landscapes that made me feel just an infinitesimal part of the marvelous whole.