The Climb

I was browsing through my older blog from a couple of years ago and came across this crazy story. I LOVE this story! I called it "The Climb," but I probably should have called it, "Insanity At It's Finest!" I love how God speaks to us so clearly through our experiences, and I felt prompted to share my story again today. I hope you are inspired and encouraged, and I know you'll get some good laughs. 

Michael and I moved to Littleton, Colorado in 1999. We fell in love with the Rocky Mountains and spent a lot of time exploring them. Those two years we lived there have shaped my spiritual growth more than any other period of time in my life so far.

Michael and I hiking on the Grizzly Lake Trail-Colorado

Here is the story of one of my adventures...

I met my friend Anne shortly after we moved to Colorado. We were both nurses in the Burn/Trauma unit at University of Colorado Hospital. We became fast friends: I loved her contagious laughter and great smile. But more than that, I loved how she LOVED Jesus. I had never met anyone like her at that point. She loved God's Word, quoted it often, and wasn't afraid to challenge me with it. She had true freedom in Christ, and she trusted Him with the details of her life (something I wasn't doing well as I battled infertility).

Anne and I at her wedding


She not only challenged me spiritually, but also physically. Anne ran marathons and ran races up mountains. I started doing some hiking with her and I also started running. I joined a Bally Total Fitness near our apartment. I was in the best shape of my life. So when Anne suggested that we attempt climbing Longs Peak, I said, "Sure, how hard can it be?"

I had no idea what I had just agreed to. NO IDEA.

Longs Peak is one of Colorado's 55 "fourteeners," which means its elevation is above 14,000 feet (Long's Peak is 14, 259 feet). Longs Peak is the highest point in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The elevation change on the hike would be 4,850 feet over an 8 mile span (About.com/climbing). When Anne mentioned we had to start our hike in the middle of the night so we would have time to reach the summit before the afternoon storms rolled in, I should have known I was in over my head.

Longs Peak


So in August (2000), we started our climb at 2am, each wearing a head lamp so we could see the trail. There was not another soul in sight and it was pitch black as we started our hike. I wondered if I would be afraid...

I realized I wasn't afraid, but it was definitely a little eerie, and very quiet. All you could hear was our excited chatter as we hiked. We did this for about 3 1/2 hours, and then the sun started to come up. It was something I will never forget. The beauty of the mountains and God's creation is indescribable to me. Nothing makes me feel as close to God as the mountains do.

Sunrise-Longs Peak


Several more hours went by... I was feeling pretty good. Yes, I was really tired, but I was thinking to myself, "We've got this, we are doing great!"

And then we got to the Boulder Field at 12,800 feet.

The Boulder Field


A perfect description. A field on side of the mountain filled with massive boulders. The trail was still there, but it took you over some huge rocks. I remember my already too heavy backpack started to feel like I had cement in it.

After the Boulder Field is the Keyhole, a pronounced notch at 13,150 feet. Anne said, "This is where people say it gets really hard. We only have a mile to go, but it's mostly straight up." I got really nervous: I had already thought it was hard enough. I had hoped it wouldn't get much harder. I was so naive. The word clueless comes to mind.

The Keyhole


I was not prepared. Our trail was gone. Our only guide now were the yellow and red painted bulls-eyes on the rocks at crucial parts of the climb. Our conversation died. Now it took all of our focus and energy just to keep going, and to stay on the right path.

The bulls-eyes to mark our path


I was not prepared for the wind either. At the Keyhole, it started whipping and blowing us around - it was so strong. My backpack kept throwing me off balance. This is when I started to notice a pounding headache like I have never experienced before. The altitude was starting to affect me. I took a bunch of Ibuprofen and kept going. I was starting to freak out a little... I started praying to myself over and over, "Lord, protect us. Lord, have mercy on us."

We then entered an area called the Trough. There were more huge boulders, but now mixed with loose rocks and slippery gravel too - super fun when you are climbing straight up! The last last 30 feet of this area was a huge pile of square boulders stacked on top of each other (see picture). We did not have climbing gear (which would have been useless for me, I guess, since I had no idea how to use climbing gear!).

The last boulder after the Trough was so big we couldn't pull ourselves up over it. We tried a bunch of different ways, but we couldn't do it. We were so exhausted. We sat down and bawled, and prayed. We knew we were going to have to turn around unless God intervened. I felt bitter disappointment rise up in me. I was scared and tired, but I wasn't ready to quit yet. I new Anne felt the same way. We sat and waited, neither of us sure what we waiting on. A miracle, I guess.

And then we heard voices coming from above us. Several guys, on their way back down the mountain, peeked over the huge stone. "Do you girls need help?"

I think they may have been angels. They literally pulled us up and over that last huge rock. Thank you Jesus! We could keep going! We had new life in us again.

The place Anne and I almost had to turn around


Then they said, "You better keep moving if you want to reach the summit. The storms will be coming in soon, and then it will be very dangerous for you."

I started to feel some panic. I had heard over and over about the dangerous lightning on Longs Peak if you are above tree line during a storm. I could see panic on Anne's face too. What should we do? "God, what should we do?"

We decided to keep going. We had come too far to quit because we were scared.

I looked up and saw the next section of the climb called The Narrows. I almost started laughing. Almost.

We both started crying again, and praying, "Jesus, help us!"

The Narrows is basically an exposed ledge on the side of the mountain, only about 4 feet wide in several places.

The Narrows


I knew that I had to be completely out of my mind at this point (And I probably was due to the altitude). It was crazy. This Indiana girl had lost her marbles (and Anne was originally from Iowa for goodness sake!). I tried not to look over the edge as we hiked along the ledge.

Finally, we got through The Narrows! The Homestretch (the last section before the summit) was in sight, and we were still alive! Honestly, I was so surprised. I might actually get to see my husband again!

The problem was that the Homestretch was 300 feet straight up a slippery rock wall, and required some very tricky hand and foot holds. The other problem was that I didn't have any energy left. My legs and feet were screaming for me to stop. My arms felt like rubber. I was nauseated. My headache was still there, accompanied by occasional light-headedness (as a nurse, I know that's probably bad!).

The Homestretch-some hikers heading back down


I'm pretty sure God pulled us both up that rock wall, gently shaking His head at His crazy children.

10 1/2 hours after starting our journey, we reached the summit of Longs Peak. We had made it! Woo Hoo!!! The view was breathtaking. We had such a feeling of accomplishment. We signed our names in the log book as soon as we reached the top: proof we had been there.

The view from the summit


There were only two people at the top with us. They quickly started their way back down and said to us, "Don't stay up here long. It's getting late. The storms are coming." It was about 12:30. We both started to realize that we should have started our climb earlier; we hadn't given ourselves enough time for the descent.

I looked to the west and saw some dark clouds gathering. Fear rose up in my gut. I felt God speaking to me. "You need to go. You need to start back down. Go now!"

I looked at Anne. She felt the urgency too. We started down immediately. We didn't eat lunch, we didn't take any pictures of ourselves.

They say you need about 1/2 the time to get back down as it took to climb up. I would say we went even faster than that. We were going as fast as we could without falling off the mountain.

Apparently, it still wasn't fast enough.

The wind picked up, even more than before. Thick, black clouds were gathering above us. It started to get very cold. The atmosphere of beauty and excitement that had been there when the sun was out was replaced by fear and dread. A strange, eerie quiet was present, other than the whipping of the wind. There were no other hikers around, just us.

And then we heard the thunder. And it shook us to our cores. Thunder in Indiana is very different than thunder on the side of a huge mountain in Colorado! It was terrifying because we knew what that meant: lightning was going to follow! We were still above tree line! We started running.

A storm on Longs Peak


We had just gotten back through the Keyhole (we had stopped there to quickly put on our rain gear and some more layers) and were starting back through the Boulder Field (remember, a huge, open field of boulders). We were totally exposed to the storm coming, and powerless to do anything about it. There was nowhere to hide. So we just kept going as fast as we could.

I looked back at the Keyhole to check on the storm's progress. What I saw will always be etched in my memory. A huge, black cloud was literally pouring through the Keyhole and descending down on us. I could see the sheets of rain starting to come across the Boulder Field toward us. And I saw hail. And then I saw lightning above the mountain, almost directly over our heads.

In that moment, I experienced a clashing of two, extreme emotions. I was completely terrified and totally awestruck at the awesomeness of God. No one can ever tell me there is no God. After being on that mountain, I know that just isn't a possibility. His Presence was so thick around us I could barely breathe. We were completely at His mercy. I wanted to scream in terror and run faster. But I also had the urge to throw myself on the ground and worship Him.

Screaming in terror and running faster won out.

We were crying and praying again. We were getting pelted with rain and hail. I kept my head down, wondering if we were going to die. Would we be struck by lightning. I kept thinking, "This is absolutely crazy. What were we thinking by coming up here?"

Suddenly, I looked up and saw trees! Praise God, we had made it to tree line! The trees felt like a shield as we ran into them. But I knew Who our real shield was. I had desperately want to live, and He had let us live. Hallelujah!!

We still had six miles of hiking left once we hit tree line. I wasn't sure I could do it. I have never experienced that kind of exhaustion. I was limping. My feet hurt so bad: I couldn't feel my legs. As gross as it sounds, by the end of our hike, we didn't stop to go to the bathroom on the trail, we just went in our pants. We knew if we stopped for anything, we wouldn't start again. I left everything on that mountain: blood, sweat, tears...and yes, even urine.

Finally, after more than 15 hours, we saw our car parked at the Longs Peak trailhead. We had made it!
There were many times I had wondered if we would ever get back.

I slept for two days, only getting up to go to the bathroom and eat. My toenails turned black and several fell off. It took about two weeks before I felt "normal" again.

Do I regret going? No way! God taught me too much on that adventure. I saw His power and beauty, and I had a crash-course on learning to trust Him.

There are so many parallels in life as I think about that climb. I believe God was preparing me for what was ahead in my own life. The beauty, the adventure, the joy, the trials, the pain, the exhaustion, the unknown, the fear. The total dependance on Him and His mercy. A truly beautiful picture of how God uses His creation to teach us.

The beauty of God's creation


Thanks, Anne, for being that kind of friend to me. You challenged me in every way and you showed me what really loving Jesus looks like.

I love these verses:

His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. - Psalm 97:4-6

Lord, thank you for answering my prayer for life to be an adventure! Thank you for challenging me and stretching me through good friends like Anne. You are my shield when I feel exposed and afraid. I think You are awesome and Your power is awesome. Thank you for using Your creation to teach us about life. Amen!!

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If you are an imperfect wife, mom, daughter, or friend, struggling to stay focused on God in the craziness and find joy in the heartache, then we have something in common. I am a recovering perfectionist and daughter of the King, slowly learning to fully trust the One who sees me just as I am, and is already pleased. I’m so glad you are here.

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