The 10,000-foot peak above our campsite lifts our eyes towards heaven.
We see it when we get up. When we have breakfast. When we’re fishing. When we crawl into our tents at night, when the moon creates a monster silhouette.
It guarantees a spectacular view from the top.
So it’s no surprise that we decide to summit the thing. What else were we to do? It was just a matter of time before one of us said, “Let’s go climb that mountain.”
Jeff takes the lead. “We’ll follow the creek to the rocky ridge, and go up from there.”
The ridge he’s talking about is a rock-strewn mound that sits just above the treetops about three-quarters of a mile away.
But the path we’re on quickly vanishes into the trees. Jeff leads us along the fast-moving creek as the “path.” We’re soon bushwhacking our way through trees and bushy growth up the hills to the mound.
At least at the base of the mound we have an unobstructed avenue to its top. We pick our way among boulders and the tops of granite buried deep into the hillside. The angle of ascent puts pressure on the lungs and the legs – we’re ready for a lunch break at the top, where it flattens out and there is a small clump of trees for some shade. Our damp shirts cling to our skin.
If it’s pretty here – and it is – we look up to the summit with anticipation while munching on our food. A few swigs of water and we’re ready to press on. It’s getting hotter as the sun swings directly overhead.
There’s a differing opinion about the best route to take. Josh and Rob opt for a “down the hill, then up the hill” approach, and Jeff and Katie take an “around the side” path they’ve picked out of the rocks. Now it’s a competition: who will get to the meet-up point first?
We soon disappear from each other’s sight, as Rob and Josh dip down into a small swale before heading up the hillside again. The focus is on picking their way through sharp-edged granite boulders, and then faced with a long slide of scree to scramble up, not keeping track of each other.
The face of this mountain is a sheer cliff. To summit the thing, we have to swing way around to the left, a good quarter mile or more, to what appears to be a sloping side with a ridge that leads upward. Both teams are aiming to meet up at the middle of the cliff’s base, about a quarter of the way up.
Scree is awful stuff. It’s loose rock, strewn across the mountainside, several layers deep. Created by what some might call a landslide, it is very unstable, providing very little in the way of reliable purchase to move up – or down. Each step can suddenly unleash a slide of rocks that gains size and momentum in the downward move, much like a snowball effect.
But it’s a competition, and we’re not thinking about such things. Nor are we thinking that much about the steepness of this scramble upwards. It’s only when we hit an impasse that we are suddenly confronted with the angle – over 30 degrees, and feeling like 45 degrees. In a word, steep. Very steep.
Josh and Rob pause for a much-needed rest, using the stop to assess the next move up. To the left is a clump of trees that offers hope. To attempt the straight up perspective we’re looking at would be to invite disaster.
Then we hear Jeff and Katie above us. They win! With several minutes to spare and not nearly as winded, either.
Rob and Josh gather themselves to make a sideways move to the tree clump. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch.
Then Jeff calls from above. “We can’t make it from here. Too far, too hard, no clear path. We’re coming down.”
We try to discourage them. It’s too steep, the rocks too loose. They work their way to the trees and find them too thick to work their way through.
A few-sentence pow-wow and the two teams agree to retrace their paths. We’re only about 20 feet from each other. But this mountain is having nothing to do with our connecting.
Jeff and Katie begin working their way back up to the ridge they had followed, and Rob and Josh look down the slope covered in scree and start thinking about some kind of a path down.
It’s a nasty business. Short zig-zags along loose rocks, the exposed tops of occasional boulders, the odd bit of exposed earth. Anything to gain some semblance of solid footing. Rocks slide and tumble. We take turns leading, then following as the mountain drains away our strength.
No thoughts are in our minds but one – to find firm footing and to move down, down, down to the flat area of scattered boulders and grassy earth. No thoughts of home, grandsons, Orlando, work, campsite, weather, fishing, or the drive back.
One thought, one thought only. Firm footing, then another firm footing, every muscle, every tendon, every ligament, fingers working overtime, to avoid setting loose rocks spilling into a rockslide while moving down, bit by bit, bit by bit.
Fear doesn’t penetrate our minds. We’re too focused on the task at hand. Doubt, too, has no room to creep in.
Suddenly we find ourselves at the bottom. Wondering how we managed to get there.
We gaze back up. Exhilarated at the accomplishment, forgetting for a few moments the bad judgment that put us in the tough spot we were in.
There’s a saying that you enjoy life more when you learn to live in the moment. Less worry, less stress, and more commitment to what is happening at that moment in time.
It’s a truism practiced in Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s biblical. It’s philosophical.
The trip down that mountainside, a mere 100-plus yards, is a lesson in focus, a life-lesson in living in the moment. Josh says, “Imagine if we lived our whole lives this way.”
It would be nothing less than astonishing. Powerful. Dynamic.
What God intended.
Another life-lesson for the journey back to the parks.