The end of July arrived, and we loaded up our gear and set out for Buena Vista, Colorado. Our drive up was beautiful and fun, though we were all somewhat apprehensive. We sang in the car, laughed a lot, ran in the rain to get coffee, and made it to the hot springs at Mt. Princeton, where our motel sat at the foot of the mountain. We ate a delicious dinner in Buena Vista, then set about packing and preparing for our hike up 14,196 foot tall Mt. Princeton.
We slept horribly.
We started out bright and early the next morning, with a foolproof plan for getting to the top and down before the afternoon rain. Though internet sites recommended that we start at a small parking area at 11,000 feet, we parked at 8,000. I mean, if you’re going to hike it, hike it…right? Francesca had hiked this trail before, starting at that very point. It really was a beautiful morning, and we made great time on the way up.
Soon, we came to a fork in the road, where some insane mountain runners were going off trail onto a debris field (read: “Field of Lost Hope”…you’ll remember this name from the previous blog about Wheeler Peak). We sort of shook our heads and continued on our way along the trail, which we believed would take us to the ridge that would ultimately lead to the summit. However, we quickly came upon two young girls who were coming down the trail toward us. They asked if we knew where the trail was supposed to pick up at the ridge, as it looked like…well…it disappeared up there. Francesca assumed that they were simply intimidated by the rocky transition in the trail that she expected to see at that point. However, when we got up there ourselves, we found that they had been absolutely right…the trail had been washed out by avalanches. The only way to the summit was through the extensive Field of Lost Hope.
We turned back on the trail and headed for that fork in the road, where we entered the debris field. Francesca alone knew what likely lay ahead, but she created astoundingly great morale. She became our biggest cheerleader. The going got tough, and on she cheered. The rocks were quite unstable, so our pace slowed significantly; and Francesca cheered louder. We navigated along the ridge by looking for carins, little piles of rocks that other kind-hearted hikers had left along the way to guide everyone to the summit. Francesca led…and cheered us on. Several times, we came to what we thought might be the end of the field and the beginning of our ascent to the top, only to turn the corner and find that there were miles more of it in front of us. And Francesca would continue to cheer, seemingly undaunted. A small-framed female trail runner bounded effortlessly by us, and we plastered ourselves against the rocks to let them by, getting a good look at just how high we really were. Oh – and we realized we could hear water running underneath the rocks.
We started to ditch our poles in favor of clinging to the rocks with our hands. We started having to take more and more breathing breaks. I panicked a bit when I looked down, and saw how far we had to fall if we made a mis-step.
It was at this point that I began to exist footstep by footstep. I had to. Otherwise, panic ensued. I started watching Francesca’s feet in front of me. Wherever she placed a foot, I placed a foot. One step at a time. I didn’t have time to look around, to panic, to think very long about where we were or what we were doing up there or whether or not I belonged out there. We were there, and I couldn’t be beamed off that hillside. My existence was just about feet. That’s all.
“This is epic….and hard.” Francesca said this to me, and I looked up at the summit. It seemed no closer than it had looked an hour ago. But clouds were beginning to gather above it. “Way to go, ladies!” Francesca cheered. We kept going.
The next thing Francesca said was so unexpected that I wasn’t sure if I’d invented her utterance in my own mind.
“I don’t know if we’re going to make it.”
We stopped. Elisa and Kellie caught up with us, and Kellie voiced what we were all thinking…about the instability of the rocks, the water rushing underneath them, the distance we still had to go….
“Let’s pray,” I said.
So we did. We leaned back against the rocks and prayed that God would give us wisdom and protection, that He would calm our nerves and give us clear thinking.
We opened our eyes and looked up at that summit again, where an outline of what looked like our trail runner had just about made it to the top. We estimated that we probably had another 2 hours to go to summit, and then we’d have to make it back through the debris field. I’m the one who said it: “I’m no mountaineer,” I began (which brought on a much-needed laugh), “but I just don’t want to be stuck on this debris field when those clouds decide to break.”
“I think we should turn back,” Francesca said decidedly. The firmness in her voice gave us all the confidence we needed in that choice. We were done.
Kellie led us down off the debris field. We made it back to the trail. We got passed by the female runner. We made it back to the car, back to the motel.
It never did rain.
You know, sometimes, stuff just doesn’t turn out the way you want…the way it feels it should. We’d all trained for this for the better part of a year. We’d planned and prepared. We’d attempted to make the best decisions we could. And we didn’t make it.
I felt bad for Francesca. This was supposed to be a crowning adventure for her birthday…a literal mountain-top experience. But sometimes, stuff just doesn’t turn out the way you want.
You know what? She cheered us all the way down anyway.
Packing up for our hut-to-hut trip that night felt so much more somber than I thought it would. I don’t know if we were all just dead tired or…and this is more likely the reason…we were discouraged. And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that carrying discouragement is like carrying an elephant on your back.
Is it time for some definitions? I think so.
Discouragement: noun – a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness
Yeah – I think that’s where we were.
I had asked Francesca about the hut-to-hut earlier, “What if one of us gets hurt? Or has altitude sickness?”
“Your buddies carry you out,” she’d answered.
No matter what, no matter what the finish would look like, we would finish together.
Thinking back to this conversation changed my state of mind that night. Even if we didn’t make it all the way; even if my buddies had to carry me out; we would do it together.
There is strength that comes from knowing that you’re surrounded by people who aren’t going to bail on you when things get nasty.
Encouragement: noun – the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope
We weren’t exactly cheering that night. No one was giving high fives or handing out participation trophies. But I believe that we were each encouraged…given support, confidence, and hope, just from the others’ presence there.
Turns out…you don’t have to have the right words or massive demonstrations of care to encourage someone. You’ve just got to be there and walk the road with them.
I have a confession to make: Though it seems so simple, I haven’t always been willing to do this with people.
A couple years ago, a friendship took a disappointing turn. Now, the situation is quite complicated, of course. But essentially, I didn’t like the choices she was making; she didn’t feel she had any choice. I got angry with her, let her know my opinion, and then “put the ball in her court”. In other words, if she was willing to acknowledge that what she was doing was wrong and change, then we could be friends. If not, then I guess she didn’t want my friendship.
You can probably guess the option she chose.
Thing is, she had thought I was one of those friends…like Elisa, Francesca, and Kellie…who wouldn’t bail when things got nasty. But, with the ultimatum I made, I essentially bailed.
You know, if the tables were turned, I’d probably drop that friendship too. I’d say something like, “You can’t possibly know what my road is like because you’re walking on your own that, from here, looks pretty smooth and easy in comparison. So go enjoy your easy road while I struggle up this debris field.”
Pretty much, not one day goes by without me thinking about bailing on her while she was stuck on her debris field (remember…read as: “Field of Lost Hope”). Though what I had said to her was true, I’d said it in anger. It did not help her and it destroyed one of the only lifelines to encouragement that she had. In actuality, my angry listing of the facts did not cause her to have a change of heart. It only caused her to conclude that she could not have me in her life.
Could I have given her support, confidence, and hope while disagreeing with her actions? I think that’s possible. Do we have to agree with someone in order to lend them hope and confidence? Might there have come a point, as I walked the road with her, where I could have pointed out the facts in a way that didn’t cause her further loss? Could I have spoken the truth in love, instead of anger?
I wish I’d been more patient, and I wish I’d been willing to encourage her, the way Francesca had encouraged us on our debris field.
As I see it now, this is our role in one another’s lives…what it means to love as Christ loves us:
“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The things in red are the things I was not willing to do, because she’d made me mad. My “righteous” anger made me feel justified in not doing them. And the truth is that not all of my anger was righteous. Some of it was self-serving, some of it was arrogant, some of it was vindictive.
Notice in the verse, though, that there are no qualifications about real love…Jesus’ love. No matter what, love is these things, does these things. Despite my own poor choices, rotten attitude, selfishness, and blatant denial of Him at times, Jesus has loved me like this. The only One who truly never did any wrong absorbs all our wrongs and stays in relationship with us.
Because Jesus lavishes us with such love, He is able to give us the strength to love like Him…to lend hope and confidence on the debris fields of life, and to keep others from ever feeling like they’re going out in the woods alone. We just have to be willing to set aside our love for our precious selves and trust Him enough to do what He says.
And we have to leave the changing of hearts up to Him.
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4
Yeah – I did think lightly of these riches.
But I don’t now. And I believe that they are great enough to change us both…to change us all.
And just in case you need to know today…you’re never alone. Not ever. Even if people like me bail on you. No debris field is too great to trump the patient, enduring love of Christ. Though stuff in this life often doesn’t turn out the way it should, you’ve always got a Friend out there, walking right in front of you, step by step, all they way. If things are tough right now, make your life all about the feet…just take the next step. Wherever He leads, you go there.
You will slip. He will catch you.
And the best part is that He makes it His personal business to see you to a glorious finish.