As my climbing partner and I walked into the ranger station in Lone Pine, California, we wondered what the conditions were like on Mt. Whitney (14,496 ft). It was October 14 and somewhat late in the season to make an ill-equipped summit attempt up the tallest peak in the lower 48 states. The ranger advised us that there was snow and ice on the trail above tree line and crampons were "highly recommended." Crampons are the piece of equipment a mountaineer straps to their boots so they don't slide off the ice while climbing. Unfortunately, in an effort to pack light, my climbing partner and I had left our crampons at home in Arkansas. "Highly recommended" to a person like me just means climbing without crampons was going to make for a wilder adventure. No way was I going to be this close to Mt. Whitney and not make a summit attempt.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, we parked our car by the trailhead and layered up for what was going to be a 22-mile round-trip climb up and down the Mt. Whitney trail. There was one other group of three climbers gearing up at the trailhead nearby. I could not help but notice that they had all the latest gear strapped on to their brand new Osprey packs. The gear included trek poles, ice ax, and one thing I was wishing I had--crampons. I had a clue that they might be "over compensating" first timers when I noticed they were layered up more for a trip to the North Pole than a fall summit up Mt. Whitney. We left them behind to continue their packing and began our slow climb at 4:15 a.m. Within 15 minutes we could see their headlamps quickly approaching. Five minutes later with a look of determination they blew by my partner and I, which made me chuckle inside. At that point, I could tell for sure that this was their first big climb. I told my climbing partner, "You watch, we'll be passing them within the hour." No matter how well-equipped they were, experience told me they were climbing too quickly. Thirty minutes later we passed them sitting on the side of the trail shedding unnecessary layers of clothing.
We continued our climb; and by 8 a.m., we moved above tree line and on to the snow and ice covered northeast face of the mountain. We moved slowly along the trail trying to avoid ice as much as possible. It wasn't too bad going up the trail across the snow and ice, but I knew that the descent would prove to be a different story. As the heat of the day begins to melt the snow and ice, the trail gets much more slippery. We would be coming back this same route some time in the early afternoon. At 11:30 that morning we reached the summit of Mt. Whitney after a grueling seven and a half hours. Thirty minutes of rest and a few peanut butter and crackers later, we were making our way back down the ice-covered trail we had just climbed moments earlier.
The Mt. Whitney trail is carved such that the first two-third's of the climb is along the eastern face, and the final one-third summit push snakes along the western ridge. As we hiked down along the western ridge, I kept thinking about how treacherous it was going to be walking over the ice on the eastern side of the mountain. A small slip at just the wrong time could mean serious injury or even death. I was really wishing I had added a little more weight to my pack and brought along my crampons for the journey down the mountain.
We reached the saddle of the mountain by 1:30 p.m. and crossed over to the more treacherous eastern face. Seated on the side of the trail near the crest were those three well-equipped first-time climbers. They had abandoned their summit attempt and were preparing to descend. All their brand new equipment and zeal for adventure had not proven enough to get them to the top of Mt. Whitney that day. A thought ran across my mind--90 percent well-equipped, 110 percent determined. That proved the difference between my partner and I and those three younger guys. It is always nice to be 100 percent well-equipped and prepared. But in life just as in climbing, preparation only takes you so far. Both are important as I was reminded while slipping, sliding, and crashing my way down the eastern face of the mountain without my much needed crampons; but determination brings the victory.
Keep those God-inspired dreams moving even when you feel unprepared for the next steps forward. Remember Clarity Comes with Momentum. Determination is a most critical component when walking the successful life in Christ.