Never Stop Climbing!

By: Marcy Barthelette
Ken and I love the outdoors! Each of us has spent a lifetime, individually and then together, engaging in many types of outdoor activities. Our first “date” was a challenging hike with our kids to Missouri’s tallest waterfall, Mina Sauk Falls. It begins at the highest point in our state, Taum Sauk Mountain, and is considered moderately difficult with some strenuous sections. It was a breeze in 1983, but when we decided to repeat it on our 30th anniversary, it had become much longer and more difficult than on that first trip. But we persevered and were rewarded with lots of tumbling water (it was April in Missouri) and a few scrapes and bruises.

Traveling this beautiful country of ours and witnessing its magnificent vistas has always been our choice for leisure time. Ken hiked and camped under the stars in the incredible Sierra Nevada Mountains during his time in the military, the two of us have explored the treasures of the awesome Rockies and clung to the side of Pike’s Peak during a horrendous thundersnow. We have braved the infamous winds and freezing temperatures on Mt Washington in the White Mountain range of New Hampshire, but the mountains we love best are the comfortable, worn-down Smokies. Maybe it’s because we discovered their beauty later in life and it fit our older personalities or, perhaps because the connection between Appalachia and the Ozarks is so strong. But whatever the attraction, those rounded peaks covered in diverse vegetation keep drawing us back. It’s like coming home and we’ve always said that if anything could draw us away from the Ozarks, it would be the Smoky Mountains.
We’ve hiked numerous trails there, been thrilled by the sight of grazing herds of elk, shaken our heads as mama bears with cubs were followed from a very unsafe distance by eager photography buffs. Humans seem to lose all common sense when they spot wild animals. We’ve studied the history of the migration of Scotch/Irish immigrants who settled the beautiful fertile valleys nestled between peaks. They were faith-filled people who hunted the land, fished the streams, raised livestock, and farmed where they could. As eastern populations expanded, they moved further westward, many settling in our own Ozarks because it reminded them of their homes in the Smokies. Thus we are kinsmen.
Ken has fished the streams for wild brook trout. We’ve camped alongside tumbling waters and nestled among the hills, but there is one thing we do each time we visit the Smokies. I guess it has become our challenge just to prove to ourselves that we can still do it. It’s one of our very favorite places from throughout our travels; that quarter-mile, very steep trek to the top of the highest peak in Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s called Clingman’s Dome and we have had some truly amazing experiences there. Our first trip offered a vista of tree-covered peaks as far as the eye could see but by the next climb, many of those trees had been decimated by nature’s more cruel forces. We’ve seen the ravages of wind, the destruction of fire, and decimation by insects. But nature always heals itself…it was created to do just that. So each trip we travel to the top to discover whatever those magnificent hills have to offer. On one occasion we were witness to a phenomenon viewed only by a few. It was a very cold and windy day but we bundled up and climbed. From our treetop perch, we witnessed great clouds of moisture rising from the forest on one side, passing over the mountain and then dropping snow on the opposite side. We stood absolutely mesmerized, actually watching snow being made before our eyes. It was so very cool…pardon the pun!
But the climb I wanted to share with you happened in May of 2019. We had detoured through the Smokies on our return trip from visiting family in Florida and Ken had been talking about hiking up to Clingman’s Dome from the time we began our trip plans. I was not too keen on trying it at 74 years of age but he had made his decision and I didn’t want to wait in the parking lot. He promised to rest whenever I felt the need and we gathered our gear. At the base of the trail, we encountered a woman in a walker who planned to make the trip. She had family to encourage her and a wheelchair if needed, but she was determined. A short distance up the mountain, we shared a bench with a very overweight man whose breathing was very labored. He said he had some heart issues in addition to his weight but his friend was going up and he was determined to reach the top as well. Their will to make that climb despite all their adversities challenged me to be just as strong.
We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Hebrews 6:11-12 NIV
The hike went faster than I expected and we reached the top before either of our acquaintances. We took lots of photos and then sat down to rest and rehydrate before our descent. At a pause in our conversation, I glanced up to see my giant of a friend appear with a smile so radiant it actually beamed as he plopped beside me in a very ungainly fashion and simply whispered, “I made it!” We talked for a bit and he shared stories of his heart attack and subsequent pledge to lose weight. This brought an extra measure of substance to the accomplishment he had just enjoyed. Then we noticed that people were gathering at the tower rail and pointing at something. The approach to Clingman’s tower is a long sweeping spiral much like a flyway on a major highway exchange. The reason for all the “buzz” became apparent as our little lady in the walker made her way onto the platform amid rousing applause and finally allowed her family to seat her in her wheelchair. There on the top of a mountain in Tennessee, people from all over the world were offering a nod of appreciation or a pat on the back for a challenge well met. A stranger came forward with water for her and her service dog and a grateful family said their thanks. They had used all their water making the climb.  
There we sat, three unlikely climbers, at the top of the peak. My struggles were not obvious. I had mostly overcome the physical issues that, added to my advancing age, made that climb a triumph for me. My giant of a new friend was overcoming the stress of the climb but his issues remained very obvious and yet, he was there. And our little lady in the walker, who had been passed by every other climber on the tower? I’m sure they all thought, as did we, that she would never reach the top. We were ever so glad to be wrong. It was truly a blessed moment!
I guess my message to everyone is that whatever happens in life, we must keep on climbing. You may have no desire to scale real mountains but there are plenty of challenges in life that require some fancy footwork and lots of perseverance. When life seems like you’re facing one seemingly unattainable peak after another, take some time and talk to God about it, dive headfirst into His guidebook, set your spiritual GPS, and put your trust in His promises. He’ll always get you safely to your endgame, even if there are a few detours and potholes along the road. TRUST HIM!!

One Response to “Never Stop Climbing!”

  1. Thomas Johnson says:

    My daughter and I have made that climb once, on our way to ACRO Nationals where she completed. It looks so easy at the beginning. We to meet people just like you and they made it to the top too. What joy it was to see them reach their accomplishment. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing.

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