Lessons from the Mountain

October 8, 2012

From a very young age I loved the Rocky Mountains.  Although, I grew up in north central Texas, our family regularly vacationed in Colorado during the summer. As I got older we began to snow ski.  By the time I was a senior in high school I was determined to go to college in Colorado and to learn a trade that would allow me to live there the rest of my adult life.  Everything was going as planned after high school graduation. I went off to college to Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colorado to study anything that would lead to a career near a ski area in winter and a peak to climb in the summer.  However, my plan was interrupted by what interrupts most young men’s plans, a woman.  Yep, I was in love with a Texas girl.  A pretty one. A kind one.  A smart one.  That was also the order of importance to me at the time as well.  Well, after one semester of studying freestyle snow skiing at Purgatory Ski Area and some incredibly mediocre grades at Ft. Lewis, I returned to Texas to see if I could have a future with this girl.  To shorten the story - I married that girl 31 and a half years ago, had 3 daughters, who grew up, married, and are in the process of providing us with a bunch of adorable grandkids. 

 

Most of the past three decades I have lived in the beautiful scenic areas of Abilene, Ft. Worth, Pasadena, and Sugar Land, Texas communities; great people but not very many mountains to climb or slopes to ski.  There was one small diversion in the middle of those 30 years.  From 1992-96 we lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  I was in heaven!  Got the girl, had the three healthy kids, in the daily shadow of Pikes Peak and worked with some neat people (in of all things) a psychiatric hospital.  It was heaven to me.

 

I thanked God every day for letting me live my dreams of family and vocational calling in what I thought was hobby heaven.  One of my hobbies at this time was termed “peak bagging.”  Peak bagging was climbing as many of the 54 peaks in Colorado as possible which were 14,000 ft above sea level. I was lucky to have a close friend and work colleague named Tim Sanford who was an incredible mountaineer.  He had the gear, the skill, the knowledge, and the compass to lead the way on many a trek up mountains all over Colorado.  I was blessed to go along with him almost twenty times during the three years we lived there.

 

Each climb was different and unique but I remember one far more than all the others.  We were climbing in the summer up to the summit of Mt. Harvard, the third highest peak in the state.  These climbs began early in the morning before dawn due to the changing weather patterns in the afternoon.  Afternoon rain showers are common so the plan was to get to the top, eat a sandwich, take a picture, and get outta there.  The first thing I saw when we reached the summit were several old campfires that other climbers had made who were there previously.  These “campfires” were black spots in the granite all around the top of the mountain (which was about the size of a 2 car garage).  Being the newbie “conservationist”, I made some smug remark about how those other climbers were desecrating the natural beauty of the summit.  Tim informed me at this point that those were not campfire remains at all.  They were, in fact, spots where lightning had struck the summit and had charred the rock with a gazillion volts from God’s paintbrush.  Whoa, I thought to myself.

 

We began to take in the view and it was beautiful.  In every direction it was phenomenal, breathtaking, and inspiring.  In one direction about ten miles away were clouds, dark clouds, ominous clouds.  Tim said, lets eat and get outta here!  Tim was a mountain goat and he had not used hardly any energy to summit this peak.  I, on the other hand, was more of a Texas farm goat. I was beat and wanting to rest and be inspired and all that.  He relented just a bit so we sat and ate our sandwiches and talked.  After only a few minutes, Tim made it clear we needed to get going.  As I started putting on my windbreaker I heard a sound in my jacket that sounded a little like someone crunching up paper next to my ear.  I turned and saw nothing to have made such a sound.  We start meandering down the hill and after going less than a hundred yards I heard it again right behind my ear.  Again, I turn, look and see nothing.  We go another hundred yards down the mountain and Tim stopped, turns around, looks at me with a much different expression and hollers, “Did you hear that?”  I responded with, “Was it something like a crackling crunching sound?”  To which he yells, “Go! Go! Go!”  He then started running, like a mountain goat, hopping from one boulder to the next, covering much ground in a short amount of time.  I too am running but more like a farm goat, covering about half as much ground.  At this point, Tim was no longer my friend because I knew he was sacrificing me to the angry mountain gods who, for some reason unknown to me, I had offended.  The cloud was now on us and I heard a low level buzzing for the next few minutes.  We did make it down far enough to get cover in of all things “the cleft of the rock.”  Sounds like a song doesn’t it?

 

Tim, at this point, explained to me that what I was hearing was static electricity (or something scientific like that). “That is the sound you hear before lightning strikes”- which it did a few times around the summit after we had departed. We had a great time reflecting on that particular climb on the ride back home.  I have since moved back to Texas away from hobby heaven and I certainly miss the Rockies. I sure do have great memories from there. I reflect on that particular day often and I think I learned a few things that I never want to forget.

 

1.  School’s not over for any of us.  We had better not change our posture as a student.  We have plenty more to learn.  We haven’t arrived.  We are not finished products.  The pride that causes us to think we know all we need to know will be the thing that wrecks our marriage, our parenting, our career and our mountain climbing trips. I thought I knew everything I needed to know to go up the mountain and return safely. I didn’t know quite enough.  I needed Tim’s experience and knowledge to get me home safely.

 

2.  Life is an adventure.  In an adventure, planning is helpful, necessary, and even essential.  We had raingear, we checked the weather report, and we had done reasonable homework. However, I realized there are elements in the adventure that are out of your control.  Be courageous on your adventure.  Be brave on your adventure.  If you’re pushed down the mountain even by lightning, then regroup, make a new plan, go at it again.  There are storms in life that you don’t plan on- and when you find yourself in the midst of them, don’t panic.

 

3.  Be sure and go with friends. Life is short and it’s friendships that make it rich. Love your family. When and if you marry, love your spouse. Love God. Make peace as much as you are able in relationships wrapped in conflict-if you can’t make peace-then move on. Make new friends. Select wise friends. Select many of them-most adventures require a small group or a team of people.

I know you’re thinking, “You sure did get a lot out of that one day on the mountain!”  You’re right.  I’ve thought about it a hundred times since then.  Everyone should get an opportunity to run from lightning.  It’ll change your life!

 

And last lesson of all from the mountain:  The view is worth the climb and the risk.  So as climbers say once they’ve done all their preparation, “Climb on!”

 

Have a great day.  I welcome your comments.  God bless.

Matt.

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