My wife Jackie and I just finished a wonderful week with some Texas friends in the mountains of Colorado. And as I typically do I sought out another high mountain to climb before the week ended. One of our friends and I decided to tackle 13000' Notch Mountain, not as popular as the oft-climbed 14ers that we and others typically choose, but a climb with glorious views of Mount of the Holy Cross nonetheless.
But as soon as we began to climb I was reminded again of the rich senses, impressions, thoughts and emotions I would experience and desperately needed, ones that I miss so often in everyday life. Let me share a few.
We began our climb in the dark as the wafting smell of the pines woke my mind and soul to what was yet to come. I couldn't help remember that unique and fresh scent that had so captivated me even as a child. You can't find it just anywhere.
Minutes later the light began to rise in the east and the coming sun appeared as a mountain halo soon to glow like a bright ball of welcomed warmth. It was a special and fleeting moment. And yet it is easy to miss these simple, mysterious yet wonderful experiences that cannot be bought. I am glad we did not run past this one only eager to conquer our goal.
Soon one sunlit ridge became dozens and it was difficult to take it all in. The majesty of God, always present, seemed inescapable now and we felt again that we had entered a holy place.
But the world of the mountains is rarely one of mere joy. The trail soon became steep, the footing rocky and the air thin. My breathing felt more labored, my legs ached and every step seemed heavy. The switchbacks were relentless and appeared unending for a time. Rocks were ubiquitous and intense concentration was required to continue without injury.
My body was fighting the mountain now and I knew from experience that my mind and spirit must engage my movement and urge me to not quit the climb. My physical energy drained quickly as I sought for something deep within to prevent me from turning around. And yet in the middle of the struggle I felt oddly invigorated discovering an ultimately powerful determination within to keep going and to conquer this huge task in front of us.
There was a deep passion to overcome that I both hated and welcomed but that I rarely encounter in my daily life.
I again thought how often I prefer the easy road, the comfortable and the familiar and miss how something greater always grows and changes me. I realized that there is something almost more impacting in the journey, in the climb far beyond reaching the summit.
I learned anew that sometimes, most of the time, the way to overcome our mountains is to just survive one more stretch of the trail even when our lungs burn and our strength seems gone. This is also the time when perhaps God's nearness is felt most, when He both gives us a boost but whispers simultaneously, "Keep going."
But then often comes that special moment when you take those last steps to the summit, with breaths still labored, feet aching but you know you have made it. As I like to say, "The view from the top is worth it." And it was. We experienced another sacred setting with only us, the quiet and God's beautiful creation there as our companions.
When summits are achieved we are free to enjoy them, embrace the thrill of victory stolen from the agony of defeat.
However, we cannot live on the summit. We must go down. That is where life is lived. So we descended, yes with less of the fight against gravity stealing our strength but a new dilemma emerging in the context of our joy at the top.
I found myself even more tired. The glow of summiting remained but I had given so much to persevere on the way up. Different muscles ached and more pain was added to the already strained sore spots. But isn't life like that? We give and give with God's help to overcome but we have fewer reserves for a while as a result.
So we get emotional In the least likely of times, snap at those we love and dread the idea of another challenge coming too soon. As my legs seemed only to have enough strength to keep moving, my mind nearly erased all I had enjoyed for the past 5+ hours. But this is when we must remember again that God uses mountains and all the good and bad that comes with them to make us better, stronger and deeper people.
Going down is a key part of the journey and the growing. It's all part of the process of being stretched, molded and made better.
I read recently that we would be wiser to spend more of our money on experiences and less on things. Another mountain climb affirmed for me that nothing could be further from the truth. What will be your next mountain experience? It may not be granite but it must be bigger than you are. Think of one now. You can't afford not to.