The ultimate ending…

Posted: January 14, 2011 in traveling

The highest point...

We’ve had a monumental year in 2010. In fact we don’t know what we will do if God gives us another like it. Its one we will never forget. With all the changes, moving, giving, growing, investing, etc., etc….thank you Father for filling our cup to overflowing. And what better way to top it off than by climbing a 20,000 ft mountain. Here’s the end to an amazing year…

Misti is a strato-volcano, who last erupted around 4,00 years ago. You make no mistake when gazing upon her she is young and active last warning the city of her might with a tower of smoke in 2001; she’s one of three which surrounds this city of a million people. The  second is Chachani, an ancient volcano who hasn’t erupted for eons; dead, it no longer threatens like its sister. Occasionally snow crested and often masked by clouds this time of year Chachani stands watch over Arequipa, Peru like a sentinel, silent but always majestic in its stature. Pichupichu, the last of the three sits the furthest off often ignored and hardly seen thru the haze from the bustling city. However, after the rain, which only dampens the surface yet purifies the air bringing refreshment and excitement, you may gaze upon him for the afternoon welcoming his presence and thanking him for the added beauty in the scenic vista across this high desert of 7,000 ft. And of these three volcanoes we chose Chanchani, the highest of them sitting at 19,939 feet above sea level, to climb and conquer for the end of an amazing year.

Early on the morning of the 30th of December we left for base camp. There were 11 of us seeking this adventure: 2 guides, 2 tourists from the UK, 5 amigos, Alyson and I. We left the city behind and soon found the pavement turning to gravel, which then turned into no more than wheel ruts meandering through sandy brush filled terrain slowly climbing up towards our destination. The well-used 4x4s bounced and squeaked along chugging towards the drop off point where would begin our two hour hike. This hike would give us a taste of what was to come and take us to where we would set up base-camp. We carried everything we needed on our backs: two sleeping mats, sleeping bag, snow pants, a shell, two fleeces, hats, gloves, a second smaller backpack, headlamp, boots, crampons, walking sticks, 5 liters of water, snacks, and a tent per two people. Reaching our destination around 15,000 ft, extremely exhausted, out of breath, and with headaches we set up camp. We ate supper and went to bed early, before 6pm, for morning would come early.

At 1 am after a restless night of sleep on the hard ground, tossing and turning, while trying to remember to breath deeply a scratch came at our tent followed by ‘buenos dias.’ …time for the tough part. Crawling out of the tent with ice crystals flaking off where droplets of condensation should be, we suited up. We tried to wash down a couple pieces of frozen bread with a couple mugs of cocoa tea, which is known for helping with altitude sickness. After putting on every article of clothing we brought up and turning on our headlamps we commenced the daunting task before us. Slow but steady was the key. The night seemed blacker than black and the stars were closer than I have ever seen before. It was taking every bit of concentration to make my body function normally.  Breathing deeply it seemed like we were hardly moving.  It was good to hike in the dark, saving us the overwhelming feeling of the distance ahead when looking up. The small spotlight illuminated only the next step I could take allowing me to concentrate solely on my footing and avoid stumbling. It was all I needed, step after step, strain after strain. Often praying for Alyson’s strength I stuck close to her for the higher we went the less she faired. She feared she couldn’t make the whole excursion but was determined to make it ‘til daybreak, wanting desperately to see what she had achieved in the beautiful warm morning glow and desiring the much-anticipated heat, which our fingers and toes longed for. Inside my gloves I questioned whose thumbs they really were for the other digits didn’t recognize the feeling while trying to keep each other warm in a clenched fist. The numbness was quite overwhelming, not to mention occasional look down to see if my feet were still there.

The guide known by the locals as ‘the ghost,’ which was completely apparent as he would run up, leap to and from, sit quietly in the dark as you passed by only whistling softy to let you know you we’re being watched, stuck close always making sure we could find our way. There was an unforgiving distance between the pack and us. As soon as we would catch up, sit… no fall down, unload some weight, and catch our breath they would already be on their way.

As the morning light dawned I gazed back upon my beautiful wife, who had wished for a challenging experience and a time of bonding, in hopes of preparation for our challenge in Colombia- I saw a look I had only seen one other time in my life of 18 years with her. It was the look of total exhaustion. The exhaustion of when she gave birth to our son, Wellington. (50 plus hours without sleep of which over 30 were hours of labor and three of those, pushing) She had nothing left; she was empty. However there was something additional to this look, it was shade of violet due to the cold and lack of oxygen, I am guessing. It was time, time to turn back. But Alyson being the encourager and enabler that she is, would never forgive herself if she let me come with her, “finish it…” she said.

Putting on the crampons preparing for the hard and slippery snow the group was entering, I kissed her good bye… knowing she would be disappointed when she wouldn’t be experiencing the triumphant feeling of conquering the mountain with me. She showed no doubt that I would make it. Now saddened by our departure but convinced more than ever I would make it, for if we are one, then she could experience the victory thru our entwined lives. I left, often gazing back but could never quite see my love, but knew she was secure descending with ‘the ghost’ guiding her safely back to camp.

No longer satisfied with the back of the pack I pushed myself, knowing full well this was the hardest thing I had done in my life to date. I pushed and pushed always yearning for the next resting point. I helped how I could, as I passed my fellow climbers not being able to give much more than words of encouragement, which was a strain as my lungs noticed the absence of oxygen. As I passed the English man I helped secure his crampon, knowing he would need all his concentration for finishing not worrying about malfunctioning equipment. The exhaustion showed on his face. There was a small gap between the third person and I. I would look up to the guide and be beckoned by his waving arm as if he was saying…’it’s easy you can do it!’ I found myself sometimes wondering why I thought this would be fun and can I really do it. I pushed the thoughts out as quickly as I could filling the void with the concentration of breathing… “in thru the nose, out thru the mouth” and the certainty of each step. The stakes were getting higher and higher, for if I lost my footing it would take too much to recover the ground I would loose sliding down the mountain. The angle grew steeper and steeper. When I looked back I saw the gaps between those behind me grow bigger and bigger knowing exactly how they felt, I wish I could help all of them but there was nothing more I could do, I had nothing more to give. We finally could see the top as we came upon the ancient rock-forming opening of the dead volcano. It was amazing to think that God used this huge tool in creating these magnificent mountains so jagged, cold, unforgiving and lifeless looking yet unmistakably beautiful. The guide pointed which way to go as he turned back to make sure the others were safe and would make it to their final destination. I arrived third to the top and touched the cross at the highest point of the mountain in a final act of desperation. Success. I did it. I made it. I mumbled with what breath I could muster. I wish Alyson were here! I knew what I wanted to do next: I laid down, got out my Bible and had an amazing time with my Father. I had never seen His creation from this vantage point and never felt so close to Him. He shared with me exactly things I needed to hear as I read His words in the first chapter of James. He began with “To all God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world…” I knew this would be the closest I would physically be to Him with my feet still on the ground. It truly was a mountain top experience. That quiet time was worth the 6 hours of pain hiking to the top, the feeling of dying, plus two more hours going down, and the last two hours hiking back to the rigs with our heavy packs.

There were so many parallels God spoke to me during the hike: being prepared so its not so difficult, seeing only the next step, realizing its only His strength that can do it, He’s always there like the guide, how I am to share my life with my spouse, on and on… but what I want to concentrate on is what my Father said to me a few days after arriving home safely and having time to let it all soak in. Here’s a journal entry after coming down from the mountain top experience both literally and spiritually. Alyson and I are entering the valley where He wants us to work and be His light…

1/2/11 Hebrews 1 – A Servant, A Flame

…”He has spoken to us by his son whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful Word…He makes His angels winds, His servant’s flames of fire but about the Son He says Your throne will last forever and ever…in the beginning, O Lord, You laid the foundations of the earth…they will parish but You will remain; they will wear out like a garment…like a garment they will be changed. But You will remain the same…” Going on the Chachani excursion helped me grow closer to God and His Son. While hiking through, around, over and down massive rocks that are eons old, I couldn’t help but feel small and insignificant. It’s not like I was the first nor the last to explore this place and the rocks have seen many things and many people. Knowing Christ and my Father made this so long ago…being so powerful and me being so small, They still care enough to spend time with me. I am their servant, a flame that can easily burn out but They keep me fueled. They keep me burning. May I be their tool to consume what needs to be burned, to shine brightly where light needs to go, to warm those who are cold and without love. May I play my small part in this eternity He has created. For if the mountains that I tread humbled me how much more the One who created them and can change them like a garment. Father I am in awe and feel insignificant in comparison to Your creation but can’t thank You enough for the love You show me which gives me my meaning and purpose for life.

  1. Jillian says:

    Absolutely amazing! I had to stop reading for fear of crying at work! 🙂 What beautiful pictures and what a beautiful story… I can’t wait to read the rest when I get home tonight.
    I sent something to you this weekend- hopefully it arrives soon!

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