The first time I remember hiking it wasn’t even called hiking. I was an 11-year old military school cadet and we were sent out on a road march into the hills of northern Nigeria. We were given a map, a compass, and told when supper would be served. We had some water and no snacks. Just a dozen young boys out in the woods looking for clues. It wasn’t a fun experience although some of the scenery was breath-taking. My team got lost, couldn’t find any of the clues we were supposed to when we were supposed to, and bickered amongst each other for hours. By the time we made it back to camp, the food was almost gone. I didn’t make any vows that day but let’s just say words like camping and hiking were relegated to the recesses of my memory bank.
Fast forward a few years and this time I’m a 19-year old college cadet. Another road march; a very familiar scenario. The environment, a bit more controlled. Woods, yes but bound by a fence line. We were on a large military base in the midwest of the U.S. This was a test of our ability to survive and operate. Figure out what was edible and what wasn’t. Learn to take cover, avoid being seen. There was a sense of adventure on this one and of course, every thing I’d learned in military school came back to me. I was calmer this time. I fell into a natural role as the cool, calm, and collected cadet offering suggestions when needed and calming fears when they arose.
Then there was “The Rock”. This time I’m a lot older and in a more hostile environment. I was an advisor at a base in South West Asia located in a valley and surrounded by mountain ranges and outposts said to have been built by Alexander the Great’s soldiers. We were already sitting at 7,500 feet. Those assigned to this location were challenged to climb “The Rock” at least once before their tour was over. And what would one get? You guessed it…a t-shirt! It was a tough climb up to 9,250 feet and very thin air. I remember the gasping like it was yesterday. It took about 3 hours to get to the top and another 2 hours to get back down. I did get a t-shirt and proudly counted myself among those brave enough to dare take on and conquer “The Rock”…not Dwayne Johnson. 🙂
So today I find myself in yet another valley, this time in Bavaria and the view is breathtaking. I’m reminded of the words to a song my mom would sing when I was little:
“When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee, How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
[The hymn “How Great Thou Art” is based on a Swedish folk melody and was adapted and written by an english missionary, Stuart K. Hine based on his experiences in the Carpathian mountains.]
There’s something about mountains that inspires us inwardly. That adventurer I thought I’d pushed away time and time again came rearing its head and I decided to not only admire the beauty of God’s creation, but to also experience it by hiking. At first I took the tourist option and climbed the Zugspitze with the cable car and oh what a view it was! I was on the highest point in Germany and on a clear day, I’m told you can see all the way to Italy. I looked down and saw hikers who looked like ants from where I stood. I was inspired by their courage, sense of adventure, and resilience. From the bottom it was a 5,900 foot climb and most people did it in two days. I hadn’t climbed or walked that far before, well airplane rides don’t count. So I signed up for a guided hike as soon as I could. A week before the big hike, I decided to go on a day-hike just to evaluate my mental and physical readiness. I’d had mixed experiences in the past but this one was all on me. The Krammerspitze Mountain sat at about 6,500 feet and I was told the hike took about 5-6 hours (not counting stops for lunch, etc.) I made some mistakes on this outing; like forgetting my trekking poles for example (you definitely need those) or not packing enough electrolytes (cramped muscles are never fun) or not getting a good idea of where the peak was actually located (thought I was done when I still had an hour of climbing left, lol). Thanks to friendly fellow hikers, I made it up and back, with needed rest and lunch, in 8 hours. My knees and feet didn’t appreciate the trek, but my mind did. I took what I learned that day and prepared myself to tackle the Zugspitze.
The following week, temparatures had dropped slightly, it had rained almost everyday and we knew it had even snowed at the top of the mountain. There were 11 of us in the group aged 12 to 60-something. We pushed-through, we talked, we stopped to take pictures and at night we slept in the closest quarters I’d ever seen. Amazing how quickly 11 people with one focus can bond. By far, this turned out to be the best hike I’d ever been on (although my hike total sits at only 1/2 a dozen). It was everything I expected it to be: Grueling, cold, wet, picturesque, exhilarating, and a priceless sense of accomplishment at the end.
I can now say that “I’ve been to the Mountain Top” and I’m glad God “allowed me to go up to the mountain” and that He let me “look over” and “consider all, the works His hands have made”. To Him Be the Glory!!