Beaten by Nature

For a long time, Mt Washington held the world record for the highest recorded winds at 231 mph. The summit is covered in snow and ice from September to June, and temperatures can drop to -30 degrees below Fahrenheit. It is considered to be one of the more dangerous mountains in the United States.

Challenge accepted.

We left at 11pm and drove through the night to arrive at the base of Mt Washington the next morning.

The weather was perfect - just chilly enough to keep us cool once we began hiking. There were a few clouds here and there, but nothing scary - blue skies and the sun told us it was going to be a goody day.

We set off, eager to claim our first mountain. It had rained a day or two ago, and the forest was vivid and green.

It wasn't long, however, before we found ourselves walking on ice. The cold temperatures of the night had frozen over the recent rainfall.

We began to slow down considerably.

We had to stop to let a team of Canadian hikers pass by. We drooled over the 1-inch spikes in their boots that cut into the ice like butter.

One of them looked down at our Timberlands and Merrells and said, "You don't have spikes?"

We shook our heads.

He made a face as though we were a bunch of crazy idiots. Fair enough.

It wasn't long before we realized that it was only going to get worse. We decided to try the only other route. If this one failed, we had driven all through the night for nothing.

Luckily, however, the second route was not nearly as icy (shown above). In some of the hairier spots we grabbed onto nearby branches to hoist ourselves upward.

Finally, we made it to the treeline. We quickly began to bundle up now that we were exposed to the wind.

We looked up, and there was the summit of Mt Washington, illuminated by the sun.

"We could get there in an hour!" we told ourselves.

Still tired from little sleep and a long hike, we eagerly munched down some snacks, mentally gearing ourselves for the final stretch.

We started off strong, following the trail as it began to weave around the ridgeline. But the summit was a lot farther away than we thought - about twice the distance.

As we hiked, we saw a dark cloud begin to form over the summit. We trudged on, quietly without a word, no one daring to mention the doubt creeping up in our minds.

When we entered the cloud, the world changed. Rhine ice began to form on our clothes and beards. The wind peeled tears from our eyes.

The whole experience was unreal. With 200 yards of visibility, I could barely make out some of the other hikers, heads bent down under the relentless onslaught of the wind and flying ice.

There was nowhere for us to walk without risking a bad slip on the ice. One of our guys took a spill and slid a good 20 ft before coming to a halt.

With damaged pride, we turned our backs on the summit and began to head home.

At the time, we didn't know how close we were - but we later found out that we were less than a quarter mile from the summit when we turned back. Had we only known how close, I am sure we would have pressed on.

I would have been much more upset if I wasn't so in awe of the power of nature. In a world where we make nature our slave, I consider it a blessing to experience how feeble we are in comparison to the wind, ice, and sheer height of the mountains.

But our hike back told us that we made a good decision. We almost went down a wrong trail that would have kept us on the ridgeline for miles and miles. Our quads and calves cramped up.

An hour or two later, we made it back to the treeline, exhausted yet jubilant to be safe and sound.

But the downward-sloping and icy path between the trees wasn't done with us yet - we still had a few more miles til we reached the base of the mountain.

Too tired to care, we sat ourselves down on the slippery ground, and literally slid down the trail, catching ourselves on rocks and overhanging branches.

Finally, with cold and wet bums, we reached the base. We sprawled out and used our backpacks for pillows, reflecting on all that had happened.

"Throughout Holy Scripture, mountains have been used as a physical location where man comes into contact with God. In Genesis 22 God commands Abraham to take his only son Isaac upon one of the mountains and offer him as a sacrifice. In Exodus Moses came to the mountain of God at Horeb where God revealed Himself through the burning bush. In the New Testament, Peter, James, and John follow Jesus up to a mountaintop where Jesus is transfigured in the presence of Moses and Elijah, and where the voice of God reveals Jesus to be His beloved son. It is at the intersection of God and man on the mountain that we see transformation happen. Abraham's faith is put to the test, and after proving his faithfulness to God, he enters into a new covenant with God. Moses encounters God's heart for his children, and is given the command to set the Israelites free from slavery. Peter, James and John are convicted to stay and pray on the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. In all of these stories, man is transformed by encountering God in the heights.

"Despite the blow to our pride, failing to summit the mountain did not break the trip. We overcame some very difficult conditions with less than ideal gear to even get with a quarter mile of the summit. What we learned is that we could overcome the challenge of summiting the mountain with the right conditions and equipment. We also left Mt Washington with a greater sense of brotherhood because we fought together to climb the mountain. Each of us left that mountain being transformed in some way through the experience, whether it was an encounter with God, with brothers, or with self-realization."

~ Ben Huntley, SPO Missionary


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