Recently while in Alaska, my husband and I hiked a mountain. The birds chirped and the skies were blue with big puffy white clouds. We chuckled at the “Beware of Bear” sign as we passed it. We crossed several flowing waterfalls as I photographed flowers, marveling at the beauty of Alaska. Nearing the half way point, my husband asked me several times if I wanted to turn around. We were not dressed properly, with hiking boots or gear of any kind except for borrowed bug repellent in his backpack. We were wearing tennis shoes and jeans. A tiny bit of foresight made us grab a bottle and a half of water.
As we passed the next marker, my jacket went into the back pack and I pulled up my sleeves. Even though I have had ankle and feet issues recently, a challenge was before me. Determination kicked in and the natural beauty kept calling me forward.
Even though it was June, the sun was becoming unusually warm for Alaska. Sometimes the breeze whisked a slight coolness and I was reminded to take in deep breaths of the unpolluted air of this vast state. It smelled so clean and fresh. Those little whispers of breeze felt like the Holy Spirit as we hiked along basking in the sunny glow. In every direction was indescribable beauty of mountains, lakes, glaciers, trees and sky. I began to comprehend why my friend has lived there for thirty years.
About half way up, the path began to change. Instead of going straight for long periods it began to take sharp alternate left and right turns. We would head in one direction for fifty yards or so, and then another as the grade became steeper. A sign made an impression on me as we took our seemingly endless left and right switchbacks.
It said, “Do Not Cut Switchbacks.”
I supposed there was a good reason for the rule on that sign. One could surely slip on the rough terrain by trying to cut straight up, which could also cause rocks to fall on someone below. It seemed it would take much more time hiking these back and forth paths parallel to the mountainside, but we obeyed the signs. I was getting more nervous as the drop-offs were straight down and the path only a couple feet wide.
Sweating and weary, we sat on a big rock, sharing the few swallows left in our second water bottle. As we started up again, I was thankful a few places had chains or bars to grab along the path. It couldn’t be long now. People on the hotel grounds below looked like little specks. With my fear of heights, peering towards the bottom began to make me unsteady. Craning our necks to see up to the ski lodge, it didn’t look like it was too much farther.
We continued on many more switchbacks. I actually began repeating the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” so I wouldn’t groan and complain to my husband. Then came a big surprise! We came to place with snow on the ground with a rope laying there. It resembled a tow-rope that you use when you’re snow skiing, but with no motor involved! My husband told me to go first-I think he felt he had to do the “manly” thing. He might have some minuscule chance to help me if I fell…or we’d die together if I knocked him over tumbling down the mountain.
I took hold of the rope straining with both arms pulling myself upward one hand over the other. My feet kept slipping, but if I pulled tightly with my glove-less hands, I made slow progress. I doubted I could do it-I had not been working out. With my husband coaching me on from behind I finally made it to a flatter clearing where I laid down breathing hard. He hasn’t been working out either, but as fairness goes, his upper body strength brought him up easily.
A different rope continued here and it was so steep we couldn’t see where it led. We trudged on, one hand in front of the other, and made it to the next knoll which was very close to the ski lodge. The lodge was only half way up the mountain, but another sign announced we had climbed 2,300 feet. This was quite a feat for two fifty-some-things who had never hiked a mountain before. Never-mind the families and humongous back-pack laden guys who passed us and didn’t appear tired. It had taken us over two hours but we had accomplished something I never thought we would.
There were hikers and mountain climbers who enthusiastically continued up the second half of the mountain with backpacks full of gear. I watched in amazement as they treated the first part of the mountain like walking a flat sidewalk in Michigan. One young guy even hang glided from the ski lodge a few times during the morning hours. I convinced myself these must be Native Alaskans who did serious hiking weekly or hauled heavy fishing nets into boats every weekday.
It was Sunday morning, and I wanted to hold our own “church” when we made it to the top. Nature was astounding in Alaska on that summer day. As we sat in the sunshine, one part I read from my phone bible, was Psalm 98:8-9b…”Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy: let them sing before the LORD”
We headed to the restaurant in the ski lodge for lunch and a rest. With a sly smile my husband asked if I wanted to climb back down, or even try the second half of the mountain. I was the first to run to the next tram which gave us a quick, smooth ride down. And…we didn’t see a bear that day.
In life, when I come to winding paths which are rocky, slippery or difficult, I want to cut across and make the path quicker. I think my way would work best. Switchbacks seem so long and tedious. But if I’m not God’s desired path for me, I could slip or the rocks of life may hurt me. I could cause stones to fall on others, injuring or making them stumble. Other times it’s scary because I can’t see the top of the mountain, I’m afraid I’ll fall, or don’t know where God is leading. If I stay in the Word and follow His paths I can make it through the challenge. The Lord gives rails and ropes to help us through frightening places. He has not promised us an easy life, just that the Holy Spirit will always be with us.
Proverbs 3: 5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
When have you found something to be hard or scary? What happened to help you make it to the top of that mountain?