100 Feet Ahead
A few weekends ago a group of 6 men from Orchard Hill – Strip District took a trip to Colorado to attempt to summit two mountains that are over 14,000 feet high. Our goals were simple: challenge ourselves physically, build a stronger community, and do something epic.
Nota Bene: hiking at elevation is really hard! This group was going from 500ft to 14,000ft in a very narrow window. We all expected to get altitude sickness and played it cautious.
Friday began with a greasy sub in Buena Vista. From the trailhead, we tossed on our bags and by 4:00 pm found the perfect campsite. We called it an early night, knowing that we’d be waking at 4:00 am for a long hike. The early start was necessary because it is not advisable to be above the tree line after 12:00 pm. Storms can rise very suddenly. Our plan was to make it to the first summit by 10:00 am.
No one actually slept. At breakfast (I use that term generously), we made up our mind that our group could split up. We ranged from 28 to 65 years old and all levels of fitness and experience. Our main goals were to challenge ourselves, hike at elevation, have a good time, and avoid coming home in a box.
Shortly after sunrise, we came to one of the most amazing sights. From the top of the tree line in the Horn Fork Basin you can see Mount Harvard, Mount Columbia (our two summits) and Mount Yale. We also saw a Moose that we named Bullwinkle.
After filtering water at the coldest stream in the world, we took our last group picture and split up. (Picture 2) One group went to check out Bear Lake, the other group went up. Closer to the top of Harvard, we began to encounter snow fields, mountain goats, and a lot of tiredness. Above 12,000 ft, every step is hard. You take a few steps and then stop and rest. The last 1000 ft of elevation is incredibly tiring. But finally, we made it.
Now we have a decision to make. Do we have enough time to do the 2-mile traverse from Harvard to Columbia, or do we need to head back to camp? It was 10:30 am. We decided to go forward.
The red line is our course. What we didn’t realize was that where the red line disappeared, we would have to descend almost 2000 ft down the backside of the mountain… and of course, hike back up it again! The first half of the traverse was easy. Downhill! We had fun carefully picking our way down this path and being careful not to drop a rock on the person ahead of us.
And then the misery began. 2000 ft back up to the peak of Mount Columbia. This was the most arduous physical thing I’ve ever done. There was no trail. Just boulder fields and snow fields. The hike took twice as long as we expected. By 2:00 pm, we were still on the backside of the mountain. Which meant there was no bail-out plan. The only way was forward. Every step was extremely difficult. We were now rationing our water. We discussed melting and filtering snow, but that meant backtracking. Low on water, my Milkyway bar went uneaten.
The psychological stress was the worst. From the bottom of a hill looking up, you couldn’t see a clear path. You don’t know if the hill ahead is the summit or if the summit is 30 minutes beyond that hill. And here is where my lesson was learned. The trek became so challenging that I couldn’t even think about the summit. It seemed too far. At least an hour away – maybe! How can I last an hour? Anything could happen in that time. We could be caught in a downpour in an hour. But what I could do is look 100 ft ahead and identify a rock. And I could tell myself: self, in 10 minutes, you’ll be sitting on that rock.
You and I need summits in our lives. If our lives are lived from the couch (metaphorically) we will be bored. We need the rocks that we point at from a great distance and say: that is where I am going. We need an adventure!
But sometimes the going gets tough and we want to give up. All we can see is the end and the end seems so far away. But what we can do, is look at something not too far away and work toward it.
Lots of things can feel too big: a project at work, raising your children, planning for the future, accomplishing something for the church. But today, you are not going to finish that project. The summit could be weeks, even decades away. So today, pick a point 100 ft ahead of where you are, and get there.
There is a verse from Psalm 23 that played through my head as we hiked. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshed my soul.” Regardless of how difficult the path ahead looks or how painful the journey is, you can have psychological rest that transcends whatever difficulty you are in.
Regardless of how difficult the path ahead looks or how painful the journey is, you can have ultimate rest, which transcends whatever difficulty you are in.
Afterward: everyone survived and took a long nap.