The Worst Sunburn of my Life

Langley Summit

The worst sunburn I have ever gotten was on a three-day trip to the Sierra. It took two weeks to heal, covered my entire lower face and neck, and was painful and uncomfortable the entire time. And it was worth it. This is the story of how I got that sunburn.

It’s my first time above 13,000 feet, and it’s getting hard to breathe.

Every 500 meters feels like a mile. I console myself that at least I’m better off than the party of 4 behind me; their youngest member looks to be in his late fifties, and the entire group is spending more time leaning on their trekking poles than they are spending on forward motion. One of them looks like he’s considering turning around.

We lose sight of them at 13,800 feet as the ground begins to flatten and the last of the false summits passes by. I can hear my dad just behind me, struggling with his steps as we make good time, taking long strides and moving quickly over the broken chunks of granite beneath our feet.

I consider slowing down, but some deepset stubbornness keeps me moving. I can’t fail here; I can’t slow down, not for my dad, not for myself. If I want to take on greater objectives, become the climber and outdoorsman I want to be, this has to be easy. Then I’m standing on the summit marker. At 11:35 AM on May 25, 2014, my dad and I were the first on the summit of Mt. Langley for the day, and I had summited my first 14’er.

“Wow, check out the East Face!”

“That’s quite a drop!”

My dad and I aren’t professional alpinists.

But I’d like to think that what we did that day was a real accomplishment. We didn’t set any speed records, but we went pretty fast; we didn’t wrestle any bears, but we did see three marmots; we didn’t do any technical climbing, but we did get to use the ice axe. I’m a student, an amateur rock climber, and a runner – my dad is a programmer, an amateur aquarist, and he runs sometimes too – and together, we climbed a 14,000 foot peak.

Is being on the cutting edge really all that important? Or is any new experience equally valuable? Even the easiest of climbs, hikes, rides, and runs are important, if only just to gain experience. Experience builds skill. And at 17 years old but with lots of energy and lots of ambition, experience is what I really lack.

I want my life to be meaningful, and I want to make an impact. I want to do great work that will change the world. But I also want to do what makes me happy- and pushing myself in the mountains makes me happy.

I’ve promised myself that I’m going to keep getting out there with every chance I get, climbing rocks, summiting peaks and hiking as far as I can. Because I want to gain experience and skill. Because someday I want to be on the cutting edge, exploring the farthest reaches of the earth (and remembering to wear sunscreen). To that end, I need to build my skills, in the mountains and elsewhere. I’m going to keep believing that it’s worth it, though the callouses and soreness and sunburns. I’m going to keep moving step by step, climb by climb- and celebrate every victory along the way.

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