Picture this scene from the end of the movie “The Sound of Music” where Maria and her family are hiking over the mountains of Austria and the Nuns are singing “Climb every mountain, search high and low, follow every by way, every path you know.” This song best describes who I am and what I’ve learned in life.
Having been born in the state of Colorado where there are 52 – 14,000 ft. peaks called “Fourteeners”. It was inevitable that I climb at least one.
The first Fouteener I climbed was called Mt. Sneffels, which means Snow Fields in French. At the foot of the mountain, is a beautiful valley called Yankee Boy Basin where my parents used to take me and my brother and sister jeeping when we were young. When I was 22, and had just graduated from college and was looking for a job, I decided to climb Mt. Sneffels with two of my friends.
We had to be at the top by noon because lightning storms would come every afternoon. So we started hiking before sunrise and hiked for four straight hours up rocks called scree that moved every time you stepped on them making it difficult and unstable. As I hiked, I compared this to the difficulty of trying to find a job during a recession. One step forward and sliding two steps back. I graduated in Graphic Design and could only find two part-time jobs to afford to live on my own. My future and climbing up Mt. Sneffels seemed to be synonymous. Finally, we made it to the top and the view was unbelievable. It was a spiritual experience that gave me strength in my faith in God and encouraged me to keep going on with my career. Within a year, I landed a job at a newspaper where I met my husband. Two years later I found myself back in Yankee Boy Basin with my husband on our honeymoon. It was the future fulfillment of that Rocky Mountain high I had experienced from the top of Mt. Sneffels.
The next pivotal mountain in my life was when I turned 40 and wanted to prove that I could still climb another Fourteener. By then, I had three sons and our dog, Spice, who I brought along to climb a mountain called Mt. Democrat. My oldest son, Matt, was a teenager and just starting high school, Marc was 11 and Mike was 5. Climbing Mt. Democrat with the boys was difficult because they complained, moved at a snail’s pace and I had to encourage them at each step to keep going even though my breath and energy were depleted. Climbing with them was like an introduction to what it would be like raising teenagers. When we finally got to what we THOUGHT was the top there was a huge snow field, and we still had several hundred yards to go. It was a false summit! Just as we slowly trudged across the snow field, another family and their dog ran past us. The boys saw the challenge and raced after them. I wondered at their energy. Where did this come from? We were at the top in no time and the view was magnificent. You could see one mountain range after another and my hopes and dreams for their future abounded. It was a feat that I kept near my heart each time my teenagers would challenge me.
After that, I usually climbed a mountain each summer on the anniversary of my father’s death, who had many lung diseases and to climb a mountain meant to be without any air and each step was painful. One year, I asked my husband to come along with me since it was our anniversary. What better way to spend an anniversary than climbing a mountain? It was a long hike of 6 miles to Mt. Belford. Once we reached the top, you could see another Fouteener just on the other side called Mt. Oxford. My husband said, “Hey Babe, let’s climb it too.” and prodded me to keep going even though I longed to lie down and rest. So after seeing his enthusiasm, I decided to hike up one more mountain. At one point on the trail, he took my hand and pulled me up this steep rocky face looking down a sheer cliff. After resting on the top of Mt. Oxford, I reflected that this was like our marriage when he had led me through uncertain times and I had to rely on him to keep going.
Having climbed 12 Fourteeners, I’ve learned many life’s lessons and know that the difficulty of walking on unstable rocks are similar to getting through tough times like finding a job, raising teenagers or working through problems in marriage. But when you reach the top there’s always a magnificent view and you get an endorphin high knowing you’ve accomplished something so difficult. My mantra in life continues to be like the Nuns’ song in the Sound of Music, to climb every mountain, every day of your life, for as long as I live.