The waterfall was beautiful. I thought it was well worth the four mile hike to see it. We had spent a good while soaking in the awesome beauty that God had placed here in the mountains of North Carolina.
I was at a camp deep in those mountains where I had brought some of my students to attend a leadership conference, and this afternoon we had hiked further into the mountains to view a magnificent waterfall. I was glad that I had not had to cancel the trip down from Pennsylvania. It had bee only a week and a half since I had smashed my right wrist. But I came anyways with a pin through the wrist, arm in a sling, and plenty of pain killers! So far it hadn’t been too bad, except for just having to watch most of the activities instead of participating. That is why I jumped at the opportunity of a hike through the forest. It had proven to be no problem at all, and I thoroughly was enjoying the falls.
I asked one of my students if I had heard correctly – he confirmed my fears. It had been a leisurely four mile hike to the falls, but our guide had said that we were only one mile from the camp. I lifted my gaze in the direction that I knew the camp was. To be only one mile back meant…my eyes slowly scanned the cliff in front of me…yes, we would have to climb and climb and climb…
Of course, one of the guides offered to take those of us who felt unable to climb Mt. Everest’s little brother back the long way. I was ready to jump at the chance, when my macho teacher side took over. I looked around for my students and sure enough, they were already heading towards the cliff. I had always followed the principle to do things with my students not just watch them. I wanted them to learn to face the challenges, not just watch others met them. I tottered between sanity and insanity. To go back the long way would be the sane thing to do; to go back by scaling Little Everest with only one healthy, working arm was insane. No one ever accused me of being sane.
The first part of the Grand Teton was not too bad. My biggest difficulty was keeping my balance and keeping up at the same time. I calculated about a forty degree pitch, so I allowed my fears to roll on back down, thinking “This won’t be so bad after all. I’ll just need to take my time; a couple of the kids aren’t going that fast either.”
Pike’s Peak got rougher. I was still making decent progress; but except for a couple of girls who were also struggling, the rest of the group was already nearing half way. It was not that I was out of breath or worn out; it was just that I had to be careful. Having only one hand to grab with when I lost my balance was a definite disadvantage. I took slow, careful, deliberate steps. “Just one at a time, make sure that I am leaning the right way, then take another.” I kept repeating the plan that I had cleverly worked out. “Just don’t start leaning backwards, lean into the cliff.” I could just picture myself falling backwards bouncing like a pinball against the rocks. I could imagine the rocks turning red and flashing, “TILT, TILT,” as I ricocheted off of them.
I estimated that Mont Blanc rose above me at around a seventy-five degree angle. I stopped and watched as the students in front of me gingerly picked their path, choosing carefully each step. One of them knocked a stone loose. I braced for the avalanche and only began breathing after I watched the stone roll past me and on down into the gorge. “Be careful, some of these rocks are loose!” The warning did nothing to reassure me. I wavered between determination and despair. I realized that I now was at the point of no return. To go back down was as far and dangerous as to go forward. At least if I went forward, hopefully I would have help from the students if I found it impossible to continue. The thought that someone was near enough to go for help was some, but not complete comfort. I wondered if the rescue squad would arrive before dark.
Mount Fuji was beginning to get the best of me. I placed my foot on a rock and reached up with my one good arm to grab another. It was then that I noticed my legs shaking and my ankle began to shoot pains up my left leg. “Great,” I thought, “all I need now is for that ankle to swell up!” (When I had smashed my wrist, I had also sprained that ankle and had just got off my crutches a few days before coming down.) I shifted my weight and hoisted myself up. My legs shook harder. I leaned forward balancing myself so that I could free my hand to grab my knees one at a time. All I needed now was to start an earthquake! Having squelched the tremors, I reached up for the rock above my head. My arm felt like rubber. “Perhaps,” I reasoned, “since it is steeper, I could lean my right shoulder onto the larger rocks to lesson the stress on my left arm.
At this point, I became determined to conquer this adversary. My only regret was that I was fighting with one arm tied…well, not quite behind my back; but close enough. I watched as one of the girls moved one step closer to the summit. “If she could do it with two arms, I can do it with one!” I tried to convince myself, as I took another chunk out of Vesuvius. Vesuvius began to fight back. Whap! I lost my balance and instinctively raised my right arm to grab something. I did manage to get hold of something, but not before I had smacked the end of the pin in my wrist. Knives shot into and up my arm. I screamed and slammed my eyes shut as they welled up with tears. By this time my painkillers that I had taken before this insanity, had went on break. I felt my stomach turn nauseous as the wave of pain swept through my body. The mountain began spinning so I grasped the rock with my left hand so hard that I must have left an imprint on it. I stood, if you could call it that, for several minutes without moving or making a sound. If I played dead, then perhaps the pain would behave like bears are said to do and leave me alone. WRONG!
“Are you OK? Do you need help?” One of my students had climbed back down upon hearing my screams. I really wanted to tell him to push me off the cliff and put me out of my misery, but I had to do the macho teacher thing.
“I’m OK.” It wasn’t really a lie, I was OK except for being insane and encased in pain. Besides, my cast only had a dent and not cracked. I took a deep breath and resumed my conquest of Kilimanjaro.
I gasped! I had in my insanity imagined that the worse was over, I was never so wrong. I peered up at the eighty-five degree angled wall in front of me. Mount Aetna rose high above me! I wondered how many other insane persons had come along this way. I scanned the face of the cliff for the bones of those who had failed to make it while thinking that they should be able to easily identify mine, the one with the cast. As I scanned the cliff, I heard a voice calling down, “You have to use the rope.” It was then that I realized that someone had thoughtfully tied a rope to help an insane…the thought struck like lightening…”they put this here for those with two hands to use…how am I going to do this with ONE hand?”
I grasped the rope and began scaling the white cliffs of Dover. It took me a while, but I did finally - in spite of the insanity and pain - figure out a way to hoist myself up. I pulled my arm out of the sling, grabbed the rope and charged! I hoped, really hoped, that my arm would go numb from the pain within a couple of minutes. My hope was not even a far distant cousin to reality. Hand over hand, step by step I continued my assault. I did my best to ignore the pain, but my mouth made sure that no one else could.
I glanced up in desperation at the summit which seemed no closer than when I started. In actuality I was no more than a few steps from triumph. It was then that I noticed my cheering section. There stood several of my students cheering me on, while one of them reached down to help me complete my conquest. “He definitely gets an A+!” I resolved not to allow such tremendous compassion go unrewarded. I took one more step and Everest sprawled beneath me, CONQUERED!
The flood of victory washed away the pain from my body! I survived and conquered! I slid my arm back into the sling. “Let’s go, we have less than a mile back to camp.” My wrist began to throb, my legs returned to their rubberized state, and pain washed my victory back down into the Grand Canyon from which I had just escaped as I raised my head and took a step into the Amazon Jungle laying between me and the camp.