Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mountain Climbing, Extreme Skiing, and the Art of Losing Everything, Part 2

Yesterday I mentioned that I see myself as a fairly courageous person. The hard part for me is separating courage from recklessness.

In my brand-new book, If God Disappears (now for sale from your favorite online book retailer), I talk about my own adventures in extreme skiing or glissading. What follows is an abridged version of what I wrote…

As a young man, I loved to hike through the Cascades and Olympic mountains in western Washington state. Twice my father, brother, and I hiked into Glacier Peak (no small feat, since all roads stop long before you reach the mountain) and then traversed up its steep sides.

During our second trip, we decided to go straight up the mountain’s largest glacier, a steep 12,500-foot diagonal climb, digging out every hand and foot hold for twelve straight hours until we reached the top of that glacier (only a few hours from the summit).

Until that point, we had been staring at hard packed snow and ice all day without a break to rest, let alone eat. Suddenly, we could look out over the Cascade range. It was breathtaking.

Then came the urgent work of staking our tents as securely as possible before howling winds hit with hurricane force. Anything that wasn’t secure blew away. Half the night, I thought that might be our fate, as well.

Morning dawned with a strange quietness. Long before sunrise, a huge cloud cover had swept over the north Cascades. All we could see, besides the top of Glacier Peak above us, were four other mountain peaks in the far distance. Worse, we quickly realized, the clouds were rising. All plans to reach the summit before lunch were abandoned. Instead, we broke camp and prepared for a rapid descent.

Given the extremely steep slope in front of us, I proposed that our group glissade down the glacier. (Picture stepping off a ledge and dropping feet first at thirty to forty miles an hour while skiing on your boots.)

It would be impossible to fall backward, I argued.

What I should have added:

Avoid rolling forward at all costs. And watch out for truck-sized rocks near the end of the glacier.

What took us twelve hours to climb up took us less than five minutes to descend. We dropped 4,650 feet in elevation. It was the adrenaline ride of a lifetime.

Afterward, I realized that one false move while glissading would have meant almost instant death.

So much for making my own rules whatever the cost.

It’s ironic that our society is bent on the idea of trying to become more rebellious, less legalistic, more risk-taking, less inhibited, more outrageous, less self-controlled. Many blame these trends on the 1960s, but the reality is—people have always have always been bent away from self-control.

This bent against self-control, however, inevitably hurts our community, our family, and our friends. Ultimately, it hurts us.

Out of pure selfishness, you and I should decide in our hearts that we want God’s help to be self-controlled.

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