Last week I sat alone on a 13,000 foot mountain pass. Elk Mountain peaks shot skyward around me. A westerly wind pulsed erratically, numbing my fingers slightly and bringing with it the chill of fall. I gazed out to the dual points of Snowmass Peak, followed her ridge to the chunky shape of Hagerman Peak, and then down to where Snowmass Lake sat glittering in the sunlight. In the comfort of familiar mountains, I was searching.

Curiously, four years ago nearly to the day, I sat at that same spot. The westerly wind blew, my fingers were numb, Snowmass Lake glittered. I searched. My inagural Colorado summer was ending and I faced uncertainty: what now?

That search spurred a monthlong solo roadtrip around Colorado where I paused in any town I thought I could call home: Marble, Crested Butte, Silverton, Durango, Durango again, Crestone, Colorado Springs, Golden, Frisco, Leadville and Buena Vista. Along the way I climbed peaks, met strangers, met friends, slept under stars, slept in my car, skied down sand dunes, meditated in temples, drank beer and marveled at the enchanting golden hues of fall in the Rockies.

As the weeks wore on, however, I was feeling worn myself. Opportunities existed in Durango, but I wasn’t sold. I felt like there was more to see, yet as my meager funds began to dwindle, the shadow of desperation crept in.

At a coffee shop in Frisco, the barista, Clair, boosted my morale. “You’re on the road?” she asked enthusiastically. “I just packed up everything I own and moved here from New York! If you need anything, or if you decide to live in Frisco and need a place to crash here is my number.” She scribbled her digits and I felt a surge of new energy and support. On the road again, I drove through Alma (elevation 10,578, population 179), Breckenridge and into Leadville. I had an idea.

Somewhere along the trip, a gypsy friend of mine had mentioned that Rock and Ice magazine was in Carbondale and that somebody he knew had interned there. A quick email sent to the editors from a Leadville coffee shop confirmed that the internship was open. I set to work on a cover letter, molding my future with each sentence. That night I slept at a trailhead on Independence Pass, my tired body caccooned in a down sleeping bag in the backseat of my VW Golf. The next morning, on arrival into Aspen, I got the acceptance email that secured my fate to live in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Four years rocketed by, years filled with blissful powder days, hair-raising climbing leads (and inevitable falls), miles of backcountry hiking, guiding climbing, writing, exploring. Eventually there was Nepal, and a brief break in mountain life spent in San Francisco. But then it was back to the Roaring Fork.

And now here I am, or there I was, resting on that saddle of Buckskin Pass, facing a new but similar uncertainty: what now? Though life in these mountains charms and invigorates me, I feel deep within myself that the time to search has arrived again. This valley, though it is beautiful, is not the only beautiful place to live, learn and find inspiration. Perhaps I’ve outgrown it; my time here satisfied some deep physical need for the outdoors, but now the need has shifted, to an environment more intellectual.

So I’ll do what I always do to find what I’m looking for: Travel.

First to San Francisco, then Seattle, then perhaps Vancouver (after my recent trip to Jasper, I’m hooked on Canada). And eventually? Boulder, I think. Or Fort Collins. Both offer close proximity to peaks in addition to universities and learning environments. I’m letting things evolve, staying open.

This strategy is as unnerving as it is freeing. But if I’ve learned anything over my short life of travel and movement, it’s this:

When you open yourself up to what life can bring, oftentimes what you get leaves you pleasantly, delightfully surprised. And most often, it’s just what you’re seeking.

Morning light on North Maroon, en route to Buckskin Pass, August 2008.

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