Two weeks ago this same morning, I sat breathless and teary-eyed on a thin perch of ice at 19,974 feet.
Summiting Huayna Potosi was absolutely, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever experienced in my life. It tested every muscle in my body and every corner of my mind. Each step was a battle, so it felt like I had conquered something beyond explanation when I reached that summit.
The two-day trek leading up to summit day was filled with crossing ice fields, becoming super friendly with my fellow climbers (that’s what happens when there is one outhouse and you’re sleeping 6 inches apart), getting running starts to jump over gaping crevasses, and learning to trust our harness, ice pick, and guide as our life lines.
The night before the summit, we slipped into our sleeping bags at 6 PM, dreading the sub-zero temperatures that awaited us in just a few hours. I can assure you none of us slept a wink that night, some because of altitude sickness, others because of jittery nerves.
We began the ascent to the summit at 1:15 AM and slowly traversed our way in the pitch black darkness with only our headlamps and the sound of our teammates’ ice picks guiding us. After two hours, we arrived at a sheer, vertical wall of ice. I looked at my guide David, and he casually said, “La vamos a subir pues.” Being at 18,000 feet at this point, I assumed my brain was not functioning in Spanish. But then he confirmed: We were definitely going UP that.
For what felt like an eternity and a half, we proceeded to ascend this wall of solid ice in a rhythm determined by our crampons and ice pick. *pick, left toes, right toes… pick, left toes, right toes… pick, left toes, right toes.* My life was suddenly thrust into this rust-colored paracord that linked me and my Bolivian guide.
After arriving to the top of the wall (we later learned that the wall was 50 meters high), borderline bursting into tears and every muscle shaking, I thought I had conquered the most difficult part. Oh, was I mistaken.
For the next 3 hours we continued to traverse our way up steep switchbacks with icy edges. Every single step was an internal battle- I’ve never wanted to quit something so badly in my entire life. But step after step, I reconvinced myself to keep going and God granted me the strength I needed for that one step, no more, no less.
Finally, as the first light of Sunday morning began peeking over the horizon, we reached 19,974 feet of Huayna Potosi, one of the highest alpine summits in the country of Bolivia. I sobbed as I watched the sun rise over my city, overwhelmingly grateful and desperately emotional for the lack of oxygen. It was one of the best moments of my life.
People often ask me why I do what I do. To be honest, it’s somewhat of a mystery to me too.
Why put myself through so much physical pain and mental torture? Why deprive myself of oxygen, basic needs, and all forms of comfort?
Why move to Bolivia for a year, away from all that’s familiar, for an unpaid job? Why expose myself to the darkness, to the cold, to the brokenness of the world?
Along the way, I’ve bloodied my feet and bruised my heart. I’ve seen glorious things that I hope to never forget, and awful things that I wish to erase.
Although they are painful, the blisters, scrapes, swollen feet and missing toenails are all part of this glorious experience of being a hiker, as well as a seeker of Jesus. The pain is part of this beautiful, wild journey.
When the Lord puts a path in front of me, there’s no other option: I must walk it. We must walk it. It is our duty to obey His commands for our lives. We first believed, now we must act on that with every heartbeat, every last step.
Seeing mountains lingering above my head, left unclimbed, is deeply frustrating. If it exists, I want to climb it. In the same way, I don’t ever want to leave God’s plans for me undone, unexplored. I want to take every trail that He lays before me, no matter how many snow fields, crevasses or walls of ice there are.
I want to go the distance. If He asks me to go one mile, I want to go with Him two miles (Matthew 5:41). I want to get scuffed up and worn out and broken in by wandering His path. The blisters and scrapes are battle wounds, souvenirs from a time well spent, a time in which you richly devote yourself to a greater existence. All that scar tissue is a living illustration of the thickness of His heavenly presence here with us. And man, have I gained some pretty gnarly scar tissue.
Suffering along the trail produces the most seasoned climber. He calls us to suffer alongside Him for His glory so we may be molded into His likeness, and He equips who he calls. He provides the harness, ice picks, ropes and guides that we will need. All we have to do is choose to put one foot in front of the other, step after step, when He sets a trail before us.
He tells us that we are more than conquerors, so why not live like it?