A photo essay about my time on Mt. Rainier in the Cascades in February.
I woke up with a fever on Valentine’s Day. As I wrestled my way out of bed I discovered it also came with a heavy, runny nose and splitting headache. I laughed to myself - I get sick maybe once every two years, of course it would be today. I quietly unzipped the tent and stepped outside, hoping the fresh air and a mug of hot tea would clear my head.
I clicked the stove on and sat down in the snow waiting for it to boil. It was pretty cozy in my parka and fever, though I probably looked like that poor kid in A Christmas Story - more puffy down than human. Usually I spend Valentine’s Day at home, moping over my lack of flowers and candy. There would be no time for that kind of moping today - we were moving camp up higher to avoid an incoming storm.
I was on Mt. Rainier for a mountaineering course - one designed specifically for climbers hoping to clamber their way up 20,000ft to the summit of Denali, North America’s highest peak. I was the only one in the group of eight who wasn’t already on the roster for a climb this summer. I was also the youngest and, naturally, least experienced. We’d been on Rainier for three days, learning self rescue, roped travel, knot tying and the like. Today we were moving up to Camp Muir - an established camp with “cabins” at 10,00ft. The goal was to practice moving camp and traveling with sleds just like we would on Denali.
The idea of going to Denali had been on my mind for about a year. After I climbed Kilimanjaro, mostly on a whim, that post-trip depression set in. I started to feel that the Lord had written Denali on my heart. It had always been there, it just took one brush with high altitude to uncover it.
Over the past year I’d embraced the siren call of Denali with a vigor and passion that took even me aback. I’d been training specifically for this class since November. I’d lost 20lbs and gained strength and confidence. I spent every weekend outside with a 50lb prison cell / torture device known as a backpack strapped on. I was feeling pretty strong and excited for today’s climb, though still apprehensive.
We tore down camp, cached what we could and packed what we needed for the remaining 5 days in our packs and sleds. By 9am I’d downed ibuprofen, strapped into my snowshoes and pack / sled rig and was ready to go. Feeling good even.
I’ll spare you the details because at its core, mountain climbing is pretty boring. It’s essentially walking uphill at the pace of a snail, while your mind completely freaks out on you and tells you you can’t take another step. How people make movies out of this stuff, I don’t know. It’s pretty boring on the outside.
What I will tell you is I have never been so challenged physically, mentally or spiritually. In the six hours it took to climb 9 miles and 4,000ft, my pride was completely demolished. By the time I made it to camp, swearing loudly, I was empty.
I sat down on the bottom bunk of our shelter and ate a whole tube of ranch Pringles, vowing to never do anything like that again.
Upon reflection - and that’s what mountain climbing is: agony and then joy on reflection - I realized I’d been feeling betrayed by my own passion and consequently God in that moment. How could I want something so badly and then suffer so intensely when it was happening? I knew it was God’s desire for me to go to Denali; I expected him to make it easy for me. Give me supernatural strength to run up that mountain in record time. But that’s not what happened. That’s not how God works. He only gave me enough for the next step. And then the next. And the next.
Why do I seek comfort and ease when those conditions only suffocate personal growth? Everyone who has ever been through a trail of any kind knows they’re better for it. But why do we shy away from things that are hard? These are questions I will continue to ask myself.
In the meantime, Denali, I’m comin’ for ya.