About twelve years ago I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in seven hours. I had no idea if I would make it to the bottom, or back to the rim if I did. The day before as we were checking out the canyon we saw several signs that said “Do not attempt to hike to the river and back in one day.” I had no goal of reaching the bottom, and certainly hadn’t trained for this in any way other than I just like to hike, and do a lot of it. All I wanted to do was what I always wanted to do when I saw such beauty; immerse myself in it.
The next morning I got an early start and headed down into the canyon with a cup of coffee in my hand. I saw the sun rise as I followed the switchbacks down along the Bright Angel Trail. I reached Indian Gardens and refilled my hydro-pack, and just a little further down I saw the trail that led deeper into the canyon. I was awestruck; the canyon was huge and ever so inviting. My desire was stirred to keep going; I made my way down the trail as it snaked in and out of the canyon walls making it impossible to see what was around the next corner. At some point caution entered in and I wondered if I should keep going, but then my desire shifted to making it to the river, and after all, it could be just around the next corner. Desire won, and I kept going.
I made it to the bottom and sat down in the cool, swift waters of the Colorado River–loving every minute of it. I didn’t stay long because I knew the hike back to the rim was going to be a monster, and honestly I was thinking that if they needed to send the rescue helicopter I wanted it to still be daylight so they could easily find me. I made it to the top and it was the most beautiful, epic hike I had ever experienced. I smile even now as I think about the innocence and joy of that hike. No goal, no training, and no idea what was before me.
I’m in my late forties now and preparing to climb Mount Shasta in Northern California next month. I have a connection with this mountain from my late teens. I lived in Arkansas, but had a job transferring rental trucks that often took me to the west coast. I’d driven by Mt. Shasta several times on I-5–sometimes in daylight, but my fondest memories are of seeing its snowy summit glowing in the light of the moon. I don’t know, there was just something majestic about it–I found it calming. I saw a lot of mountains during my years on the road, but none stood out to me more than this one.
Now, almost 30 years later, I live only an hour away from Shasta. I can see it from the upstairs window in our apartment, and I knew when we moved here six months ago that I was going to climb it. My heart comes alive thinking about it. In fact, Id love to get out of this chair and go do it right now. But, the fact is that I’ve never climbed on ice and snow, and I need to do some preparation, which is also new to me. I’m hiking it with a good friend who has mountaineering experience, and with my brother in-law with whom I’ll be doing a lot of training hikes over the next few weeks. All of this preparation is good, and necessary, but I’ve noticed a shift in me over the past few days that I am not comfortable with.
The shift is trying to pull me from taking an adventure with God to a determination to make it to the top. Well-meaning people give encouraging words like “don’t worry, you’ll make it,” but what does it mean if I don’t? Statistically only 1 in 3 reach the summit. What’s to say that they didn’t want it, or prepare for it, or train for it as much or more than me? The shift from desire to determination is one I’m familiar with, and from that experience I can tell you I prefer to go partway up the mountain with God, than all the way on sheer determination. Bragging rights are hollow compared to feeling the gleam in my eye from doing something with a Father who knows me, and brings my heart’s desire to fruition.
The most encouraging thing I’ve heard yet was from an older man at a local outfitter who gracefully said “The point is to have fun, and if you don’t make it to the top this time, well that mountain ain’t going anywhere.”
The fun is in the journey, and in the “with.” And if I do happen find myself at the top of Mt. Shasta with my brothers, I’d much rather smile in the warmth of knowing that I took every step in an adventure with my wild and generous Father, than to think I accomplished something through rigorous self-will. I know that it was God leading me through the Grand Canyon as a father who knew the gift would be perfect, and lasting; giving his son smiles for years to come. I feel His presence in this adventure as well, and I don’t want to miss any part of it being distracted by determination.