Tuesday, August 04, 2020
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Mettle on the Mountain: A story of courage and providence

by Bob Shillingstad
| August 1, 2020 1:00 AM

In April of 2019 we did a column about a local Trail Life troop led by Steve Meyer at Candlelight Church. Trail Life is relatively new and began as an alternative to Boy Scouts. Steve had an amazing story of how he led a group of teenage boys on a mission to build a boat starting with cutting down a tree! He sent me information and pictures of his troop’s latest adventure — an early July trip to climb 12,281 foot Mt. Adams this year. You might wonder how this fits into a series of columns about a Biblical worldview, however it makes perfect sense when you read about Steve’s mission to impart values and wisdom concerning maturity and life. The rest of the column is Steve’s account of this adventure:

“The weather on the mountain was brutal. The windchill was at four degrees below zero. Forty-mph winds hurled snow and ice pellets straight down the mountain. Whiteout conditions had set in. One climber after another passed us coming down the mountain saying it was impossible to continue. They were turning back.

The day before, our party of 22 boys and dads had made an 8-hour slog 3,500 feet up through the snowfields to set up a base camp and get us in position to summit on Sunday morning. The wind howled as the storm system blew in and the temperatures dropped keeping us all awake for most of the night. I honestly didn’t know if anyone would be crazy enough to get out of bed when the 4:30 a.m. wake-up call went out on a morning like this. One by one boys started to appear wrapped up in every piece of clothing they brought.

We assembled, said a prayer, strapped on crampons, grabbed our axes, and began to ascend the 2,000-foot headwall of snow and ice. As we climbed, the weather worsened and clouds of blowing snow made it increasingly difficult to see anything beyond the climber directly in front of and behind us. We soon found ourselves alone with our climbing partners. Fatigue set in and each step became a struggle. We began questioning ourselves — “should we even be on this mountain?” We had trained for 6 months for this climb — ascending thousands of floors on the stair machine at the gym, hiking miles and miles carrying packs around the steepest hills we could find, and running endless laps around our backyards. We had prepared for this challenge, but this was far more than we signed up for.

Minutes turned to hours and the snow fell harder … ice began to build up on the boys’ faces as we passed through the 11,000 foot mark. One by one, boys started to drop to their knees in the snow, too tired to go higher — gasping for air, grasping for strength, longing for warmth, and praying for endurance to finish the climb.

A month earlier Sam had asked me if I thought any 15-year-old with type-one diabetes had ever summited Mount Adams. I told him it’s possible he might be the first. Little did I know he was a couple hundred feet above me struggling with frozen hands trying to administer an insulin shot with his dad at the most treacherous part of the headwall.

In the weeks leading up to the climb we had studied a verse in Romans 5 that talks about how suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character leads to hope. That’s exactly what was happening on that headwall for those 22 climbers … suffering … lots of it. Learning how to persevere — how to will yourself to take one more step, even when it hurts — how to become a young man that doesn’t give up when life gets hard. This climb was a test of character. What do I do when I’m exhausted and I don’t think I can make it to the top? I go one more step … then one more step … and wait for God to show up.

Our group was at a breaking point on that headwall. Our boys were beyond their limits … they had been on that face for three hours and the top was completely socked in by blowing snow … the climb was too much. Stan had been saying all along that our God was a God who parts the waters. At that moment, when our boys were ready to quit, the sky started to clear. The clouds of snow that had blocked our vision parted and the top of the false summit was visible. It was only 500 feet above us. Immediately, exhausted boys started pulling themselves up and taking steps again … the goal was in sight … this was really possible … God had parted the waters. When we got back to base camp I asked the group the question: ‘Was this the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life?’ Almost every boy in the group raised their hand and said ‘yes.’

Was it miserable? Absolutely! Did they want to give up? For sure! Was it worth it? Yes! Why? The camaraderie was amazing, the views from base camp were incredible, glissading on your backside 2000 feet straight down was an adrenaline rush, but I think there was something deeper going on. An experience like this answers a question that every boy struggles with in becoming a man, ‘Do I have what it takes?’ For most of us on that mountain that day, the answer was NO … on my own, I would have failed, but with the help of God and a band of mountaineering brothers, the answer was yes! I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for us on the mountain next time!”

Thanks to Steve for a great story, sorry it had to be abbreviated for our column. Thanks also for those men who commit to mentoring and leading young men and giving them a worldview to live by! For more information on Trail Live go to traillifeusa.com.

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Bob’s religion columns appear Saturdays in The Press. Email Bob: bjshill@mac.com

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Trail Life troop led by Steve Meyer at Candlelight Church climbed 12,281 foot Mt. Adams in early July. (Courtesy photo)

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Trail Life troop led by Steve Meyer at Candlelight Church climbed 12,281 foot Mt. Adams in early July.