for the love of rock

Serious mountain climbers attend very closely to the nature of rock. Is it crumbly? Does it take a piton? In addition to the historic routes to the summits of mountains, guidebooks often mention the condition of the rock.

One thing I care about is the kind of rock I’m climbing on. Climbers’ guidebooks seldom mention this because, I suppose, the authors don’t care and/or they don’t know. When it comes to mountains, I see guidebooks as a teaching opportunity. Without becoming a geology textbook, guidebooks could easily note the name of a mountain’s rock formation or the principal rock along a climbing route.

NPS Glacier Park

I’m surprised that mountainous national parks, some of which have climbers’ guides, don’t mention the kinds of rocks or the specific rock formations (in passing) along with the recipes for getting to the summits.  Or, if that’s too much trouble, the park service could even create a guidebook that addresses geology for a park’s major peaks–as a self-guided tour, perhaps, that would be suitable for those who view the mountains from a road or trail as opposed to climbing them.

The rock within a mountain or a mountain chain has an interesting history, often beginning as sediment deposited in an ancient sea during the Proterozoic eon and–as one might say for Glacier National Park–carved by water and ice for 60 million years to create the spectacular sights we see today.

Or, perhaps only a mountain climber who loves geology would care.


My novels set in Glacier National Park include: “Mountain Song” and “The Sun Singer.”

High Country Euphoria

In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty. – Robert M. Pirsig, in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

There are two kinds of high country: mountains and meditation. When you climb a mountain, you experience euphoria at the summit even though your dead dog tired and may only have very little time to spend a few precious moments there. This is physical and mental transcendence.

What a wonderful climb. – Wikipedia photo

When you meditate and slow your brainwaves to an alpha level, you reach mental heights that are often inaccessible when you’re working, commuting, and cleaning up the house. You are in an altered state without the physical danger of physical mountains, exhaustion, or high altitude sickness. Nonetheless, the euphoria is just as real as what you experience on a mountaintop.

While within this euphoric state, we know many things and understand deep in our souls that we are without limits. What powerful moments. The challenge, whether you have climbed a physical mountain or taken a transcendent mental trip is to avoid relapsing to mundane goals and fears when you return to level ground.

The euphoria is like a drug that slowly wears off; the feeling vanishes day by day as the slings and arrows of the temporal world slink back into your thining. The best medicine is climbing another mountain or meditating into the places where the air is thinner and facts and images become less certain.

You can stand upon mountain tops in your meditating, whether you imagine yourself to be there or take a shamanic journey higher and higher into the thin air of dreams. When you return, your friends may think you’re on drugs when, in fact, you’ve had an experience with no equal.

The euphoria is not, however, like being high on drugs. It’s more of a realization of who you truly are and what is truly within yourself. As we used to say years ago, you are at one with the universe. That’s better than fame or money or even your favorite wine.

Before my knees and ankles turned to dust, I loved Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. Now, I’m exhausted climbing the flimsy drop-down stairway into the attic. I prefer mountains over meditation, so age has cramped my style. And yet, meditation still takes me to these summits where I see heaven and earth combined.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Mountain Song,” set in Glacier Park Mountana.

Briefly Noted: ‘Sunrise from the Summit’

When I spent a summer at the University of Colorado, I signed up with the mountain recreation department and climbed mountains every week. I always planned to go back and see how many of the state’s 54 14,000-foot peaks I could climb. Never did. Wish I had.

sunridesummitGlenn Randall climbed all of them. Better yet, he took pictures and put them together into a beautiful book. The book groups the photographs by the Front, Sangre de Cristo, Mosquito, Tenmile, Sawatch, Elk and San Juan ranges.

From the Publisher

“Award-winning photographer Glenn Randall dedicated seven years to climbing each of Colorado’s 54 peaks over 14,000 feet with one goal in mind: to capture the glory of sunrise from each summit. His quest required hundreds of hours of planning and preparation, then scaling the peaks in the dark while carrying a pack loaded with camera gear. Randall’s reward and yours is this beautiful collection of unique and dramatic images that will put you on the summit just as the sun gilds the far horizon.”

In his the introduction, Randall writes, “Summits are magical places. Reaching the summit of a high peak gives me the exhilarating, humbling and awe-inspiring experience of being a tiny speck on top of the world. To me, mountaineering is a metaphor for the human condition. It embodies in concrete form the way we reach for the sky, yet can only climb so high.”

I agree. The pictures in this book are beautiful and give a small hint about what it’s like to be standing in the high country experiencing the view.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novella about a granny and her cat vs. the KKK in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s. 99 cents on Sunday, March 8.



Freshly washed woods

GorgeMost of us don’t like hiking in the rain. Last September, my brother and I got caught in a very cold Glacier Park thunderstorm near Mt. Gould. Before we got back, we had also been pelted with hail. Without umbrellas, we were drenched.

Fortunately, we found a warm fire in the hotel fireplace after the hike

When my brother and I, along with our wives and a spirited nephew hiked in light rain at Tallulah Gorge in the Georgia mountains last week, we carried umbrellas. We weren’t as cold as we were in Glacier. And we weren’t hiking in a hurry because–unlike the Glacier hike–it was raining when we started.

MalcolmLesaTallulahEverything was fresh and the scents of wet rocks, wet earth and wet leaves were a far better than anything thing you can buy in an aerosol can at the grocery store. When we were kids, we walked and rode our bikes in the rain on purpose. Whether it was our feet or our wheels, we splashed through the biggest puddles we could find.

We avoided the puddles at Tallulah. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the freshly washed woods. It reminded me of childhood walks.

It reminded me of how much we miss by purposely setting up most of our hikes under sunny skies. Within moderation, there’s much to be said for night, wind, rain and snow.

So-called “bad weather” is a face of nature we miss by staying inside.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” available as an audiobook (shown here), paperback, and e-book.

Lawn Mowing for the First Time This Year

mower2My wife tells me that if we’re going to hike in the mountains late in the summer, we need to start getting in shape now. Walking from our house to the main street and back again is two miles, round trip. After mowing the lawn today for the first time this year, I see it’s time to star walking that walk.

Every muscle aches as though I spent the day playing football rather than walking behind our relatively light-weight rotary lawn mower. The first-of-spring grass-and-weed combination was almost too high for the mower, so my excuse is that things ache because I had to do more pushing.

I can tell you from experience, the first adventure in lawn mowing gets harder every year. Goodness knows what a five mile hike at 5,000 feet of elevation would have been like.

When I lived in Florida, I went to a college summer session at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It took me weeks to get used to the elevation. When I came back, though, I felt like Superman in my Gulf Coast World.

I’m hoping that means that when we get back from the mountains this year, I’ll feel half my age while mowing the lawn for the last time before winter, such as it is, in Georgia.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasies, “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande,” are set in the mountains of Glacier National Park, Montana

Read it now on your Kindle
Read it now on your Kindle