The best camping memories of my life happened in the Rockies. (This first photo is actually in Utah at a cute place called Tinney Flat, but they look similar.) My dad had lived and hiked those mountains for years and climbed many of the Fourteeners as a young adult. During the two years that we lived in Boulder, he took me and my older brother along on some of these amazing hikes.
We’d camp overnight and wake up early to begin the ascent. The first mountain in my story remains nameless because I can’t even remember. But the detail I’ll never forget; after hiking for many hours we arrived at a field of slate or shale. These rocks were dark and shiny, jagged. There was no trail. We picked our way up and through kinda like billy goats.
In case you scrolled past that super fast, look one more time and there's my brother hidden behind one of the rocks. There you go.
After what seemed like forever, we reached the top of this pile of rocks, and happy day, the view opened up and I could see our goal. The top of the mountain was just right over there!
Except it wasn’t. My dad explained that it was a false summit. I was devastated. How could I keep going when I’d already used up all my strength to get over that ugly pile of rocks? Well, we ate a snack and regrouped and I decided I could hike for a little longer. Remember I’m a young teenager in good shape, but this was my first mountain. My dad had chosen well. He knew how to pick a hike that would suit the needs of his two teenagers, and he knew we’d be able to do it. And we did. Oh glorious day. We finally reached the summit. The view! I’m sure there were angels singing the hallelujah chorus in the background. What I didn’t realize yet was that the descent would also test me. It wasn’t an out and back trail, meaning that our route down the mountain was through a meadow. Yay for not having to see that ugly pile of rocks again! This time I realized that precision and control would serve me better. My knees and my toes took the worst of gravity’s beating. By the time we arrived back in camp, I’d learned a lot of lessons. And my feeling of victory was complete.
After this amazing success, of course my brother and I were itching for more. The day came for us to try another mountain. The name of this one is etched in my memory. Mt Massive. Like the first, this one also towered over 14,000 feet high. Once again we set out early and carried some good trail mix and food. Hiking through the Colorado mountains will never get old. I loved all of the details. Okay, maybe not the switchbacks, but I loved the clean clear air, the rugged beauty of the forest, the sky, everything.
After hiking for a long time, we reached a point in the trail where it was time to stop. My dad had been watching the weather all day. He had been aware of every shift in the clouds, aware that a storm might be coming. This was before cell phones guys, we didn’t have GPS or a 10-day weather forecast. And that stuff wouldn’t have mattered anyway. When you’re up almost at treeline, your own keen weather observations are critical.
I will always remember my disappointment when my dad said something like, “I’m sorry guys, but this summit will have to wait for another day.” We could see evidence of a storm moving in, swiftly, we could feel the wind on our faces, and he knew that to be caught on the saddle out in the open would be devastating. His most important job was to keep us safe, not to risk it all for the thrill of checking a box that said, “Summit Mt Massive.” That day we had to adjust our goal, we had to change our plan and bend to a much greater force than our wills alone.
Why am I crying as I type this story? Well, sometimes our mountain climbing doesn’t go quite like we planned. Sometimes we see our summit and feel the thrill of victory. And sometimes we don’t. Obviously in my story, I learned more from the mountain I didn’t conquer. I learned that to bend, or to submit my will to my father’s was far more important than the goal I thought we were setting out to do, at the beginning of the day.
This has happened in my life, and I’m sure in yours too. We set out thinking it will go a certain way, and then a crushing disappointment changes our course forever. I never got back to Mt Massive and never did see the summit. And that’s okay. I’ve climbed other mountains since then. Why is life filled with tests that don’t make sense, experiences that tax our strength and stamina to the very core? Why is life so stinkin hard sometimes?
The rest of this essay is copied straight from Neal A Maxwell, one of my very favorite writers and philosophers. He also served as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ for many years.
The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him.
To paraphrase Anne Morrow Lindbergh, if suffering inevitably taught us, the human family would be a very wise family indeed (see Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, 1973, p 214).
It takes meekness to learn from suffering. Some know that for 25 years I have felt that one of the most precious verses in all scripture about discipleship was the one given to the Prophet Joseph in Liberty Jail: "All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" Doctrine and Covenants 122:7. The premise is that experience is valuable, and the only way to have it is to have it. And whether it involves adversity or whatever, then we are blessed. Notice these lines from Paul: "Knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope" Romans 5:3-4.
You may wonder, "Is there no other way?"
And I answer, "No, there is not. There is no other way." And thus, in this discipleship about which I am speaking, it is so essential that out of these experiences we form character. It is much easier in this life to be a character than to have a character. And we see characters before us in the media all the time. To have character, however, is a special and wonderful thing, but to develop it is not a pain-free process. The Prophet Joseph said:
"I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force...all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty" (Teachings, 304).
It doesn't happen in a day, and you and I see these collisions between members and challenges. Those who are meek handle them, and they become smooth and polished.
(The notes above were taken from Neal A Maxwell's book, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, in a file I've kept. Unfortunately, I can't cite it properly today because I can't find that book right now. It went missing or I loaned it out. But if you want to buy your own copy go here.)