Field Notes


An outdoor addict weighs risk versus reward during an adventure gone wrong.

Pete Thomas Tally Lake overlook Photo by Marc Obrien

Colton Born

he sound of Charlie’s trekking poles rang in my ears, the electricity making them fizzle like a frying egg. The hair on the back of my neck, arms, and cheeks stood at attention.

“Let’s get off this thing!” Charlie said, wide-eyed. I was already moving.

We careened downward, like ants fleeing a bonfire, off the ridge we had gained moments before. Thunder shook the mountain. We were two light bulbs plugged into the ceiling of the world, hoping nobody flipped the switch.

We were bailing 15 minutes away from the summit of Mount Jackson, the fourth tallest peak in Glacier Park. After 8 miles of wet underbrush, incessantly chanting “Hey bear!” and a 4,000-foot ascent through crumbling scree to reach the summit ridge, our goals changed as we raced for our lives.

I was focused. My hands, feet, and breathing worked together in an adrenaline-induced synchronization. Yet, in the midst of tunnel vision, a thought slid into my consciousness, blown in on the breeze.

“Is this worth it?”

In other words, I’m addicted to the outdoors. And a moment that was supposed to be a mountaintop became my rock bottom.


My legs moved, but my mind paused: that question had never occurred to me. I’ve spent years trail running, scrambling, and rambling in the forests and mountains. Maps spill out of every cubby in my car. Text threads and coffee conversations revolve around the next outing. I fall asleep pondering unexplored lines.

In other words, I’m addicted to the outdoors. And a moment that was supposed to be a mountaintop became my rock bottom. Immediately, I thought of my wife, our wedding only six months prior. I thought of my parents. “When was the last time I talked to them?” I thought of my best friend Charlie, running on my heels.

“Is this worth it?”

To our front, I couldn’t avoid stealing a look at the massive panorama of the Two Medicine and Nyack valleys. The Blackfoot Glacier basin unfurled in silver waves beneath us, recounting millions of years of glaciation.
It was beautiful and humbling. Overwhelming gratitude welled up from a deep place within, even as that same terrible wonder now threatened my undoing. I was more than happy—I was fully alive.

Above, the clouds told the story of our deception. The northern sky was a ripening morning blue. The southern sky—hidden from us on our approach—was a dark, angry sea. Directly above us, the hazy gray fringes of the lightning storm bridged the gap.

“Is this worth it?”

Out of that same gray sky came the answer: “Of course it is.”

For what is life without a little gray? For me, the blurred lines of risk and reward add dimension to an otherwise placid existence. They expose me to the wilds of both success and failure. That tension is my home, a place I can go to be reminded of my identity. A place that I can’t wait to return to, even after it’s shooed me away like dust under a broom.

Returning to the trailhead in one piece, Charlie and I laughed about how we were here only hours before, though it felt like a lifetime had elapsed. We drove away already planning our return trip. Next time, however, we’d take a better look at the forecast.


Colton Born (@coltonborn) loves taking the scenic route whenever possible. He’s a husband, pastor, and Director of Stoke @hellroaringrunclub.


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