Reluctant to drive any further, the taxi driver informs us our ride stops here. A journey by foot must begin on the rocky, dirt road. We make the necessary payment and step out into the early-morning darkness. Three travelers and one experienced guide ,who will kindly point them in the right direction, take in the fresh air and quiet calm. Only the shuffle of trail shoes and rustle of water-resistant material disrupt the silence. A few idling stars consider taking their exit, while the sun makes preparations for its grand entrance.
Starting to move upward along a rather steep, grassy incline, I’m aware that there’s a shortness of breathe. The beginning of a hike is always an adjustment. Finding a comfortable cadence and settling on a breathing pattern takes a bit of working things out. But then it gets better…before it gets harder.
The only trails on the first half of this mountain consist of sporadic yak tracks, thin grooves warn down by herds of yak. Hiking straight up the slope for a bit and then finding rest in those tracks proves to be a successful strategy for this first leg of the trek.
Hints of warmth begin to tap us on the shoulder as we try to gain elevation quickly, so as not to miss the opening show, a one-man act performed by the vibrant Lhasa sun. Eventually we stop to watch its rays peak out from behind the mountain range, infiltrating the morning mist that lounges lazily in the valley, casting pools of brilliance onto the yellow mountainside. Divine and sweet. This is the stuff that loudly proclaims the existence of a creator.
Pointing out two peaks, the ridge in between and the best route that will take us there, our fearless guide waves goodbye and disappears back down into the valley. Here we go. I’m already painfully cognizant of the fact that I’ll be heading up the rear for most of this hike. My male hiking buddies clearly feel an innate need to conquer this mountain as quickly as possible.
As we continue, I notice the several feet of distance between my companions and myself, a gap that doesn’t seem to be decreasing. Am I making any progress at all? I’m not so sure. Part of me becomes more determined, while the other part wants to put on some fuzzy slippers and watch an episode of Gilmore Girls:)
At intermittent wind-sucking moments, when I feel like it’s time for a breather, I turn around to peer down the slope I still find myself in combat with. Awe. Progress. I’m GOING somewhere. I’m gaining elevation, a fact not very apparent to my heart when I look at all the distance left to cover. Seeing the final summit crouching in the farthest corner possible feels a little overwhelming and I decide to set small goals for myself.
“Ok, Holly,” I begin to coach myself, “Stop looking at how far those stinkin’ boys are and stop zeroing in on the final destination, just make it to that nondescript rock over there. Then you can feast on a bit of oxygen and enjoy the view.”
So this is how it went. One step at a time, one breathe at a time, I tried to give myself permission to go at my own pace. During the last couple of miles along the ridge, when I could almost taste the summit’s goodness, it became practically impossible to breathe. I literally had to stop every couple of yards to revive my contracted lungs.
With the final few steps came a genuine sense of excitement and accomplishment. Now, I don’t want to build things up too much here. This hike wasn’t all that technical or anything. Keeping pace, being last and trying to get enough oxygen were the most challenging aspects of my sojourn. And stepping onto that summit, with all its uniqueness, beauty and altitude felt completely rewarding. Duking it out with exhaustion, overcoming psychological barriers and being humbled by my own limitations…it was worth it.
Few people have surveyed the 360 view from that Tibetan summit or have tasted the breeze that blows above 17,000 ft. of elevation. I’ll take it, Father. I’m not anyone special, just another blade of grass in the grand scheme of things. However, the Creator gave me an opportunity to BE in a special place, and it burned a memory into mind’s eye that will never be removed.
Nature is the medium through which the Father often speaks most clearly to me. Hiking this day was no exception. We all take a path, each of our paths looking slightly different. We all have a comfortable pace, it’s unique to the way we’ve been made. Comparing ourselves to others on their paths never does much good. Perhaps just do the best with what you’ve been given and your Maker will lead the way.
He doesn’t typically give us the whole picture for our lives because He knows it would feel too daunting, even though we sometimes try and construct our own picture without consulting the Artist. Instead, he gives us what we need to take each step. Before we know it, we’ve overcome large rocks and tremendous slopes and are enjoying the view from above.
Thank you, my Maker, for graciously waiting as I make my way up. Grant me your strength and focus to take one step at a time, and may I faithfully walk along the path you’ve carved out for my feet alone.