My daughter Selah has presented a new challenge for me this year. She has asked me to climb Steeple Rock with her in Montana when we go there in August. I have a history with Steeple Rock, memories that make my first instinct be to say “no thanks” to Selah, but I want her to have the experience of conquering Steeple Rock. Let me share my experience to better explain the challenge I have ahead.
While we were in at Clydehurst Family Camp in Montana, I simply could not resist climbing up Steeple Rock. Every day there was a different group hike and I was excited to take part in all of them. But I was personally compelled to conquer Steeple Rock, which was being billed as the hardest and most dangerous hike of them all.
This to me sounded like a great challenge and something I could not resist taking on. Keegan and Dennis said no way, have fun. Dennis had climbed Steeple Rock 18 years ago and declared that once in a lifetime was enough. Keegan had heard the tales of Steeple Rock and thought I was simply crazy. Selah and Caiden were simply too young for a hike that was being hyped as this difficult.
So off I went, convicted with the determination that I would conquer Steeple Rock. For hours, we climbed up an incredible incline. My lungs screamed at me reminding me that I live at Sea Level and we were far above it. My asthma challenged me as well for hours. My legs ached from the unaccustomed position caused by the incredible incline. When we rested it was impossible to find a comfortable position because I either had to stand pointing up the mountain or down it and there were no level areas to rest. Trees had fallen across the path and as I climbed over, around and under them their dead branches tore at my clothes and exposed skin.
Finally we reached the boulder field caused by a rock slide which we had to cross in order to reach Steeple Rock. The rocks were highly mobile and ready to tumble down the mountain as I positioned my feet on them. The instability of the rocks and boulders lead me to walk across the field on my hands, knees and feet with methods that changed with every step. At this point I was wondering just how good the insurance was for family camp, or if I had signed some mega waiver that said if I took this hike my life was at risk.
The young guides with us kept saying, “There is no shame in turning back on Steeple Rock.” To which I mumbled under my breath, “over my dead body,” and I wondered if it would be literal.
After the bolder field was an incredibly steep incline of moving dirt. On my hands, belly, knees and feet I slipped down the mountain more than I moved up it. I gave an entirely new definition to the term “tree hugger” and clung to the roots, branches and trunks of every tree I could find. And occasionally to a well-placed out stretched hand of a friend who lifted me out of the spots in which I found myself helpless clinging only to moving dirt.
Once I had trekked across both the boulders and dirt area I stood at the base of Steeple Rock. I promised myself I would not quit on the way up this mountain and so I wondered aloud, only half joking, about the possibility of quitting when I finally reached the top. By this point I was covered in sweat and my entire body was shaking from exhaustion and fear. There was no way after all of this that I wasn’t going to pull myself onto this rock no matter how physically difficult, mentally challenging or how deeply my emotions wanted to give into the fear that rocked me.
With coaching, a cheering squad of other climbers, sheer determination and some helpful hands I crawled up the rock on my belly with carefully placed hand and foot holds.
When I reached the top I was rewarded with the most amazing view on the face of the earth, a cool breeze and a lovely cheerleading squad of others who had conquered Steeple Rock with me. I climbed to the very top of the rock and wondered and prayed about how I was going to get back off.
I was terrified of the return trip back down the mountain. I was informed that quitting was no longer an option. Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized just how frightened I really was. Facing the rock moving upwards was not nearly as daunting to me as the idea of getting back off of it now was.
My body shakes uncontrollably when I am deeply frightened and for some odd reason I put myself in that position often. My new goal became getting home to my family. Step by step I got off the rock, came through the sliding dirt and across the boulders. My legs were dripping with blood, whelps and bruises were forming and I was feeling every minute of my forty years in my ankles, knees and back. After stumbling my way down the steep mountain I walk into camp 6 hours later with the greatest sense of accomplishment. Soreness and wounds aside I had been stretched by the experience in a ways I never expected.
Looking back I remember the fears clearly, the pain that followed for days, but above all I remember the great sense of accomplishment that I felt having conquered Steeple Rock. As a mother I want my daughter to have the same experience. I’ve got four months to stay focused on my fitness to better prepare myself for the journey.