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August 27, 2012

Monday, August 27 (Session 7, Day 9

I’m a person who loves challenges and will sometimes push herself too hard in order to accomplish those challenges. In coming to Summit, I expected to be challenged intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And oh, have I been challenged!

Today at Summit, we hiked The Incline. The Incline consists of a mile-long hike up over 2,700 stairs. It was an optional activity and it looked like a good challenge, so, of course, I signed up. I hiked to the top of Red Mountain twice, went rock climbing, and played ultimate Frisbee on three separate days for hours on end. I figured I would be used to vigorous exercise at such a high altitude after all that and I didn’t think The Incline looked or sounded too bad…until I tried it.

I’m from Minnesota. We have dense and plentiful oxygen in Minnesota. Not so much in Colorado.

That being said, “The Incline” became “The Climb of Suffocation and Agony” for me one of my Summit roommates and new friend, Hannah, who is also from the low-land state of Minnesota.

It didn’t take long for the steep climb and elevation to get to us. Honestly, I was a little surprised by how quickly she and I tired. The Incline trail that originally failed to intimidate and daunt me earned my respect in a matter of a few minutes of hiking that beast. What looked like a difficult climb turned out to be excruciating. Our lungs went first, then our thighs. So Hannah and I set goals for ourselves and huffed and puffed our way up the steep mountain stairway taking it several yards at a time to reach our short-term destination points, resting in shade when we felt like we would die if we didn’t stop to breathe (which, unfortunately, was often!), and taking turns carrying the backpack that held our water bottles and cameras. Our ultimate goal was, of course, to reach the summit of “The Incline” alive, but along with that we decided that we needed to do it in no more than an hour and a half’s time. Seriously, I don’t remember a time when I’ve been more exhausted in such short amounts of time as when Hannah and I forced ourselves to hike to each of our checkpoints, and we slowly but surely made progress.

So on we hiked. Finally reached the half-way point of the mountain trail. Finally reaching the “false summit”. We got to the point where all things were gone from our minds except for the pain we were experiencing and our need to reach the top of the mountain. We tried to distract ourselves from the pain by playing songs in our heads, because if we sang aloud, we’d run out of air even more quickly. That tactic didn’t really work, but on we hiked. We had maybe twenty yards left to hike on The Incline trail before we reached the top with only about three minutes left in our hour and a half hike goal. So we pushed ourselves and at last reached the top with only about a minute to spare. Our comrades who had reached the top before us cheered us on, as well as those who were behind us. We reached the top. Alive. Mission accomplished.

When Hannah and I finally reached the summit of The Incline, lungs and thighs burning, we found out that one of the guys made it up the entire Incline in 27 minutes, and most of the other boys made it to the top between 38 and 50 minutes. Our hour and a half looked ridiculous in comparison to such insane and impressive climbing times. These guys were really in shape and most of them came from elevations lower than the elevation Hannah and I come from. I guess coming from a low-land state wasn’t such a good excuse after all.

We rested a little bit and took a few pictures. Admired the view and magnificent landscape, celebrated that we accomplished the challenge even though our time paled in comparison to the guys’ times, and rejoiced in that the challenge was over. The hike down the mountain was delightful. We took another trail which consisted of a lot of switchbacks. We could actually breathe AND talk at the same time without needing to stop for a single breather. Glorious. Piece of cake after what we had just endured.

The whole time we hiked The Incline, I thought of it as a physical challenge and a mind game that I had to win even if it took me an hour and a half, even if I didn’t get the best time, and even if I almost killed myself while doing it. Honestly, as painful as it was to make that climb, I’d probably be stupid enough to do it again because it was so worth it. As I reflect on that hike, I realize all the spiritual illustrations that excruciating climb demonstrates.

First of all, everyone has their own mountains they have to climb in life - figurative mountains representing challenges that they must personally overcome such as breaking bad habits, resisting peer pressure, dealing with emotional pain, etc.

Some people, like many of the Summit guys, power-house through their challenges. They fly through their challenges and come out on top practically unfazed and unscathed.

Other people, like Hannah and I, take it slow. We struggle and gasp for air and sometimes almost crawl and take it one step at a time. We reach the top after a long, painful haul that definitely left its mark on us.

Nobody wants to be the one who struggles to overcome. Those who struggle all want to be like the guys who power-house through their challenges. But we forget that they started out like us.

Developing physical strength and strength of character to handle challenges doesn’t come without a cost. We have to endure sufferings in order to become strong and unshakeable. Romans 5:3-5 says, “We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” One must suffer many challenges and trials to develop the character, strength, and perseverance they need to overcome the mountains in life.  With determination and perseverance, we push on. It builds strength and character. And we have hope of something great that’s in store for us – the top of the mountain.

I realized three things from The Incline hike that will help me overcome the mountains of life in practical ways. 1) Set short-term goals. There’s the big picture and an ultimate goal of reaching the top of the mountain, but setting challenging but practical and small goals help one not become overwhelmed. 2) Don’t try to climb the mountain alone and share each other’s burdens. Have an accountability partner so that you can mutually encourage each other in your climbs up the mountain and in overcoming your challenges. Take turns carrying the load and carry each other’s burdens sometimes, like Hannah and I took turns carrying the backpack to give each other a break every now and then. And 3) It’s okay to fall down as long as you get back up again and keep pressing on. We’ll all have our weak moments in life as we try to overcome our challenges – we may even backtrack on our progress sometimes – but then we get back up again and keep moving forward.

Most important of all, we need to remember not to climb the mountains of life by our own strength, but with faith and trust in God’s goodness, love, mercy, justice, strength, and promises.

And when you overcome the challenge and reach the top of the mountain, you can look back down the mountain and see all that which you overcame. You can look at how it developed your character and made you a stronger person who is more dependent on God. A stronger person who is more dependent on God? That sounds contradictory. But a truly strong person who succeeds and overcomes is the one who relies on Christ and gives Him all the glory, for in Him alone can we have lasting hope and success.

In Christ Alone,

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  • August 29, 2012 // 07:15 am //  # 
    The Browns's avatar The Browns

    What a beautifully-written account of your climb and your thoughts, Alyssa.  Congratulations to you and Hannah on your perseverance!  Keep climbing!

  • August 29, 2012 // 01:27 pm //  # 
    Barth Zurbuchen's avatar Barth Zurbuchen

    I am glad you found the Incline. Have you met Stephen Campbell who also left a blog from your session? He Inclined as well. You and Hannah incitefully broke that thing up into pieces. You discovered how God designed your recovery and instiled a passion to continue. You celebrated quality(completion) over quantity(elapsed time). But don’t give the mountain credit. Take the credit for developing your character; it was your choice. Give God your heartfelt appreciation for the mtn, your physical ability, the opportunity to tackle the thing, your numerous recoveries, your hiking partners, anything else? Who knows what else He will throw into your path to build you up for a greater incline. Your life is not your own but your choices are. I am thankful you chose wisely.
    Barth Zurbuchen
      Father of Allisa who attended Summit 4 yrs ago.

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