We cooked dinner and went off to bed at midnight, looking forward to hitting the trail. At 2 a.m. we groggily dragged ourselves out of the warm sleeping bags into the freezing night air. There were about 25 students gathered, warmly layered with packs stocked full of water and PB&J sandwiches.
We set off in our bubbles of light as we silently pushed on in a hypnotic cadence where all sense of time was quickly lost, the miles and altitude literally falling away behind us, my focus solely on where to place the next step. The group quickly split to accommodate those going different speeds. Ours rarely stopped, and only ever for a couple of minutes at a time.
The path eventually shifted from hypnotic switchbacks to snake its way through woods. My new companion Emmanuel and I turned around realizing the rest of the group had fallen behind. The sky was the faintest of greys hinting at the sun to come. We knew we couldn’t wait. We pushed harder than we had before, exhaustion falling away to the knowledge we were close.
Finally the end was in sight, a quarter mile climb of rock steps zigzagging up the shoulders of the mountain right before the infamous cable climb up the back of the dome. Even without much weight on our backs, each step was a challenge. At this point the combination of distance and extreme gain in elevation had already reduced our legs to jelly. Each step was punishing. On a route where we would normally rest regularly to catch our breath and give our legs a break, we knew that time was against us, so we pushed on. Breathlessly we tackled the final 400 feet of elevation pulling ourselves up the slick rock face too steep to climb without cables bolted into the rock.
We had made it with only a few minutes to spare. We turned to feel the sunlight wash over us. Nature’s beauty was overwhelming, and as the beauty of God’s creation so often does, pushed me to quietly reflect. How easy would it have been to stay in those warm sleeping bags and take the route with the rest of the crowds the next day? Instead I found myself on top of the world with the satisfaction of a challenging journey tackled, a grin on my face, a new friend to share the experience with, and the inspiration only creation can provide.
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