Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I have loved being in the mountains since I was in my late teens. I started rock climbing after my freshman year in college and have loved it ever since. I have had my ups and downs with my ability to go climbing depending on where we were in life and available time but I have always kept the mountains in my heart. One of the most challenging things for me is when I first started to deal my neurological issues was the ability to go climbing and be in the mountains. Mountaineering is inherently physical and takes a certain stamina and ability.
As I started dealing with chronic pain I got out of shape, put on weight and generally felt lousy. The thoughts of pushing myself in an endurance activity like climbing seem unrealistic. That always pained me and when I would go climbing it would be so hard that I really ceased to have fun. At the same time I hated that because I felt like the disease was winning and that I was losing, and I have hated losing my whole life; just ask my folks or my wife. On second thought don’t ask them because they would tell you lots of embarrassing stories.
When I came to Kwaj I began to have more time since I wasn’t commuting and I started to use this time to increase my exercising. I had read that exercise was essential for people with my issues and so even though it hurt and really didn’t feel that great I began. When my enthusiasm would wane I remembered one of the members of my former congregation who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. He was such a fighter. He would be bed ridden and still fight by doing his finger exercises so he could use his hands. His determination to live fully and fight until the very end still inspires me to choose life and live strong.
So I began again to exercise and change my diet. I did it slowly and while it didn’t take away my pain it allowed me to feel more alive and stronger in the midst of my trials and issues. I got it into my head that if I really worked hard that my body could get strong enough to climb a peak again and actually enjoy myself. More exercise and better eating lead to weight loss of 20 pounds and 3 inches off my waist. The mountains seemed to become more of a reality in my life.
As it got closer to me going to the States I contacted my favorite climbing partner of 14 years and told him we were going to make a trip this year. He was thrilled and we decided that we should get another one of our favorite partners (his brother and my brother-in-law) to join us. After much discussion we settled on Black Peak in the North Cascades of Washington State. It had been over 10 years since I had been up the peak and being nearly 9000 feet made it a good objective.
Finally the day came and even though it was cloudy we made the drive and started off for the lake we would camp at. The approach went well, I only fell three times in the soft snow (having little or no feeling in one’s feet makes balance more difficult) and we made our campsite with little or no trouble. The climb itself wasn’t too eventful other than a rogue and aggressive mountain goat incident (which is a totally different issue) and we arrived on the summit before lunch. We were high enough to be above the clouds and to see only the highest peaks in the surrounding area.
It was so emotional for me to be on the summit. I tried to communicate to the guys that I was so happy I wanted to cry and while they listened lovingly they really couldn’t understand the power of that moment for me. I really thought my disease had taken the mountains from me and therefore taken part of me I didn’t want to give. It felt like such a defeat. To have been on that summit was to say yes to life and to prove to myself that I can live strong. It was an answer to so many prayers by so many people who asked our Lord to heal me. While I am not healed I am living healthier and stronger and therefore, I am filled with more hope and life than ever before. I wish I could be free of my pain and other symptoms but I am not, it is a thorn in my flesh. I am resonating with the Apostle Paul who said that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. The summit of Black Peak was God’s gift to me. That day serves as a symbol of the renewed hope I have through my Lord. It motivates me to keep choosing life and to push hard this year to see what next summer’s summits might be. My stronger body and stronger heath give me the ability to endure my symptoms and to be a better husband and father in the coming year.
Choose life, live strong, praise Christ Jesus.