Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 19, 2017

Advice From A Mountain

Mountains figure prominently in the biblical narrative. Many key events happened in the solitude of high and rugged places — everything from tests of faith to the giving of the Ten Commandments to amazing personal encounters with God.

When the psalmist felt threatened, he lifted his eyes to the mountains and beyond to the One who created the mountains. “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come?” He concluded that his help came from the Lord, “who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

I have long admired those who set their sights on summiting mountains. From George Mallory whose Everest summit bid in 1924 ended in his death to Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who were the first to stand atop the highest point on the planet in 1953. Like so many before them, these intrepid adventurers were drawn to high places.

Although I am not a mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination, I am drawn to high places. In 2014, at the age of 58, I set my sights on solo hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak. Rising a modest 8,750 feet above sea level, Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas.

Standing at the summit of Guadalupe Peak triggered something deep inside me. I knew then that I wanted to trek to other high points in Texas. So, I set my sights on summiting all of the 8,000-plus foot peaks in the Lone Star State. Last week, my friend Doyle Lowry and I summited our fourth peak in the Guadalupe Mountains, El Capitan.

Hiking and bushwhacking to the tops of these peaks has caused me to reflect on lessons I am learning from mountains. I offer these lessons here as part of a growing list of life lessons gleaned from my few treks to the tops of Texas peaks.

Plan Ahead — Before setting off on any of my modest mountain adventures I make it a point to plan ahead. That means studying trail and topo maps, reading online posts from those who have gone before me, watching the weather and packing accordingly, and making provision for contingencies. After all, I want to live to adventure another day.

Pace and Place
— This has become my mountain mantra. I constantly remind myself to hike and climb at my own pace and to watch where I place my feet. Moving toward a summit requires a huge commitment of energy, so it is best to hike at a pace that will help you to get to the top. Getting in a hurry and not watching where you place your feet can lead to disaster. So, pace and place … pace and place … pace and place. Remember that a mile is a mile no matter how fast or slow you hike it.

Keep Moving — The one common denominator of moving toward the summit of any mountain is this: every step will eventually lead you to your goal. Sometimes you will lose elevation in order to gain it. But, ultimately, every step will lead upwards. So, keep moving even when you go through sections where you lose some elevation.

Progress Hurts
— I am a sea-level born and bred kind of guy. I grew up in a place so flat that a fellow could watch his dog running away for three days, maybe four if he stood atop a tuna fish can. So, hiking trails that take me ever higher has introduced me to aches and pains I have never known. But, that’s ok because I know that every painful step will ultimately lead me to my goal.

Manage Fear
— Last week, my friend Doyle Lowry and I summited El Capitan, the signature peak of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This is my first peak that was not accessible by trail and required navigating by landmarks and through a lot of brush and scree. Bushwhacking is hard and painful. Skirting the western edge of the ridge was a bit scary. Keeping my eyes on the summit helped me to push past my fears.

Enjoy the Views — Paying the price to reach a summit offers its own rewards — magnificent views in all directions. The joy of seeing beauty as far as the eye can see has an impact on your very being and gives you a perspective that is sobering. Take time to breathe in the vistas.

Celebrate Your Accomplishment — Accomplishing a goal is a good feeling. I enjoy celebrating at the summit and again when I return to the trailhead after the trek is complete and in the books. Reaching the summit of El Capitan and seeing so few names in the summit log was affirmation that we had accomplished something hard. And, that’s a great feeling and something worth celebrating!

Look Toward the Next Peak
— Summiting another peak was motivating and invigorating. Now, I can hardly wait to trek to the next peak on my list. I want to always make sure that my dreams outnumber my memories — and that means looking ahead to the next adventure.

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