By Don S. Otis, Special to ASSIST News Service
SANDPOINT, ID (ANS – October 29, 2015) — Los Angeles was not the best place to grow up if you had a sense of adventure for the outdoors. I was always looking for escapes. I found mine in the wildness of the high country. No, I never worshiped creation but I always had a sense of God’s goodness from seeing His handiwork. For me, the mountains represented challenge as well as beauty. There is an intrinsic goodness in creation that even people with no faith sense – The vastness. The trails littered with bouquets of Columbine, Indian Paintbrush, Sky Pilots, or Lupine. The colors. The randomness.
It seemed natural for me, even at a young age, to explore, to set goals and look for challenges. My dad, George Otis Sr. set early examples of doing the impossible, ignoring the odds, and defying the negativity that often keeps us from risking. Maybe his own determination came from his working with Bill Lear, the great inventor. I don’t know for sure. I just know he was always risking and that’s how we find success in life, in faith, in relationships. Today, far too many people live vicariously or find themselves in a fantasy world consumed by technology. Just as our faith must be lived individually so too must our everyday lives.
In September, I realized a dream that even now seems implausible. In the lower 48 United States there are 66 peaks that exceed 14,000’ (4267 meters). After spending five years tromping through the high places of Colorado – Aspen, Breckenridge, Telluride, Durango – I finally put a foot on the last of the 53 high peaks in that state and joined an illustrious club of completers (author Phillip Yancey is one of these). I had already climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington State and several of the high peaks in California but as 2015 dawned I was determined to see if I could finish off the rest – which included three trips to California from my home in Sandpoint, Idaho.
Our lives, our faith – is a journey of sorts. And like all journeys, we find obstacles. Mine included 300,000 vertical feet – the equivalent of climbing from the base camp on Mt. Everest to the summit twenty-five times. More than half of the 66 peaks I climbed alone, not because I am a loner by nature but because our goals in life often require that we move ahead regardless of whether others join us. I fell twice in the Rockies, one time ending up in the ER to have my head stitched up. And in the Sierras, I spent an uncomfortable night bivouacked at 13,000’. It happens. And if we live through our hardships or foolish choices in life we learn, we grow, we stop repeating the same mistakes. But we also see providence and protection in unusual places.
I have felt the sting of being alone and apprehensive. I have stood at trailheads wondering how I would ever make it. But we take one step at a time, one challenge at a time, one obstacle at a time. If we persevere we discover something amazing; we eventually do reach the high place – often a place of supreme difficulty. But like all summits, real or metaphorical, we must return safely. In climbing the old adage says you are only half way once you reach the summit. I have left trailheads in the blackness of night; working my way into unknown places in hope that light would emerge and the winding path lead me in the right direction. In the high places, as in life, we cannot predict or control every contingency. We move forward. We trust the many small decisions we’ve made to get to the place we are. We trust our instincts. We learn to read the subtle signs. And faith is like this too.
The Final Challenge
My own journey ended on an obscure peak in the Sierras in September. At 14,058’ Split Mountain is a serrated multi-colored giant infamous for the worst trail of all the Sierra peaks. We wound our way through three climate zones – past snakes and prickly pear cactus, through ravines, and up dust chocked scree, past giant fir, and eventually into Red Lake at the base of the peak. The winds picked up and by early evening the 30 mile per hour gusts scattered ash and dust into our eyes and in our tents from the Sequoia fires. We slept fitfully and waited for 5:00 am, hoping again the skies would be clear. They were. We had our window.
We methodically gobbled down our freeze-dried breakfast and headed out of the alpine zone donning headlamps and picking our way over loose talus. We soon reached the glacial moraine climbing directly below the North Face of Split. A sharp ridge separating the crest reaches the northeast ridge. This funneled into a ten-foot-wide opening that spilled out to the western slopes. We were now just 800’ below the summit. Only then did it dawn on me how close I was to finishing a goal that had once seemed impossible and implausible. Until then I had kept the emotions stuffed beneath the surface. Now, there was no more vertical to climb. No more steps – the journey was over.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes “A person finds meaning by striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a chosen task . . . painful or dangerous experiences often transform the people who survive them.” We find our greatest satisfaction from experiences, especially those that seem difficult or even impossible. Many of us surrender before we start because we cannot see the end – the elusiveness of a summit. But we succeed one step at a time, one challenge at a time, and one peak at a time – methodically persevering, overcoming fear, the elements, finding our way in the dark to places we’ve never been, unsure about what’s to come.
“At the end of our lives, it is not important if we are rich or wealthy,” says mountaineer Reinhold Messner. “At the end of our lives, its important how many experiences we have lived through . . . mountains without danger are not mountains.” To live life without risk, without danger, challenge, or adventure is not to live as our Creator designed us – boldly, daringly, and passionately. For life is short and the adventures endless. And new ones are always beckoning us to embrace the existential distress that makes living far more rewarding.
Photo captions: 1) Coming off the summit of 14,092’ Snowmass Mountain in the Maroon Bells near Aspen. 2) Summit of 14,034’ Red Cloud Peak in the San Juans of Colorado. 3) Don S. Otis.
About the writer: Don S. Otis is president of Veritas Communications (http://www.veritasincorporated.com), a Christian publicity agency. He is the author for five books and dozens of articles. He recently completed his quest to reach all 66 peaks in the United States over 14,000’, finishing the last in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. He can be contacted at email@example.com .
** You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net).