My climbing partner, Dr. Juli Slattery, is a graduate of P90X, a runner who works out regularly and she is a veteran of climbing Pike’s Peak. I had climbed a Fourteener (the term used for a mountain over 14,000 feet high) a decade ago when my lungs were younger and my legs were used for more than going up and down stairs to do laundry. Though my partner and the mountain seemed several categories above my half-century old body, I knew the mountain was calling.
We were on the trail by 4:30am, our lights shining only as far as our next footstep. Our conversation remained steady through the wooded trail as Juli led the way. After two hours of walking, the eastern horizon turned bright magenta – a color only God can paint. Just as He promises every day, the sun rose bringing light to the trail, negating the need for my now sweaty headlamp.
I wasn’t gasping for breath nearly as much as I had anticipated and the forest ended up hearing a rather candid, animated conversation between two deep-thinking, spiritual women seeking to speak and live for God’s glory. We had been walking on a real-life inclined treadmill for over 3 hours and I only felt a little tension in my right hip. It is funny how deep conversation eases the pain and makes the trail seem easier.
Half way up Pike’s Peak we stopped at a cozy little cabin respite called Barr Camp. After almost 4 hours on the trail, I ate the best tasting protein bar of my life and the cup of coffee offered by the camp host soothed and awakened us at the same time. The short rest invigorated my legs and I was ready to tackle the top of the mountain. Juli had warned me that the last two miles were a grind but to just keep going and the view from the top and the sense of accomplishment would all be worth it. I believed her…so we climbed.
Several points along the twisting trail allowed us opportunities to look back and see how far we had come. The city of Colorado Springs sprawled out below us and the lush beauty of the vast green forest mixed with red granite was a sight I will never forget. We also saw vistas of the awesomeness of how far we still had to go. After all this walking, a huge mountain still loomed before us and the hospitable shade of the forest now gave way to a bare landscape where trees do not grow and very little oxygen exists.
With ten miles behind us and only three to go, I looked up and said, ‘Crap! What have I gotten myself into?’ I debated walking ten miles back down instead of reaching within to find the strength to climb this mountain. It was then that I started to pray! Lord I need You now. You know I don’t have what it takes in my own strength to get to the top of this mountain. I want to quit! I want to stop here and call it good. Isn’t this enough?!
The Lord was silent.
I was thankful for Juli’s bright pink shirt so I could still see her in the distance. I used what breath remained in my lungs to yell at her, ‘If I wasn’t nice, I would say ‘I hate you’.” She chuckled back and encouraged me, “You can do it!” I passed a sign that said ‘Pike’s Peak – 2 miles’ and I realized I had gone the last mile on willpower, a little water and prayer.
The black clouds now starting to roll over the Peak were extra incentive to try to force the non-existent oxygen into my numb legs. This quite possibly could be the worst two miles of my life! I yelled ahead to Juli, “I want to swear…but I won’t.” She assured me it was ok to swear but throwing off my old life, I screamed ‘SWEET JESUS!’ instead. Prayer sustained me as I continued to cry out for stength I did not have.
With a little less than 2 miles, uphill and over boulders, I realized I literally could not go more than 30 to 40 feet at a time without stopping to breathe in and allow my heart to pump oxygen to my weary muscles. Only with these short but frequent rests could I continue to put one foot in front of the other and make it to the top of this mountain. During one of these rests, God finally spoke…
“You need me Kathy. Like the air in your lungs, you need Me. It is only when you stop to rest that I can breathe My life in you so you can take your next steps. Rest and be prepared.”
Thunder cracked in the distance. “Ok Lord! Lesson learned. Now please get me to the top of this mountain before I am fried by lightening!”
Lighheaded from lack of oxygen, I passed a rusted sign that I swore said ‘16 Golden Steps’. I stopped counting after crawling over 25 boulders and wanted to put a curse on the person who lied and is telling people there are only 16! Two men passed me like mountain goats and said, ‘Only 300 feet to the top. You can do it!’ This encouraged me until I realized they meant 300 vertical feet which equalled at least 6 more switchbacks.
Stop. Breathe. Breathe. The miraculous ‘thump, thump’ of my heart carried life blood to a body too weary to move. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other until I was farther up the trail. Stop. Breathe. Breathe. Thump. Thump. Move.
Stop. Breathe. Breathe. Thump. Thump. Move. One foot in from of the other, one step at a time.
In a daze I looked up and saw a small woman in a bright pink shirt waiving at me from the now reachable Peak. I smiled as Juli beckoned me up the last few feet of the trail. I heard the sound of tourists who had arrived by sensible means such as a car or the Cog Railway and though they looked much fresher that me, I actually felt sorry that they did not feel the same sense of accomplishment as us. Juli met me with a hug and said “You did it!” I saw the view from the top of the mountain and I smiled. I was still in pain…but I smiled. We did it Lord!
Thunder cracked and the first hail hit just as we entered the Pike’s Peak Welcome Center. I sent a text to my husband and told him it was REALLY hard but I was at the top and still alive. I’ll forever treasure the message he sent back: Great accomplishments are never intended to be easy.
The next day I climbed a different kind of mountain. Juli recorded podcast interviews with me on 3 different subjects and God allowed me a chance to stop on this trail of life, look back and see how far I have come. What I saw behind me was ugly but is now painted beautiful in colors only God can create. He took every step with me and speaks with love and encouragement as I raise my eyes to see that the rest of the mountain.
Stop. Breathe. Breathe. Thump. Thump. Move.
Stop. Breathe. Breathe. Thump. Thump. Move.
It will not be easy but then again, being a warrior for the Lord has never been easy. I accept Your invitation to climb.