A month ago my family and I visited Whistler, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We biked fairy tale forests and fished pristine lakes, but the mountains beckoned. We headed up, only to discover all Blackcomb Mountain hiking trails were closed due to the late snow melt. My sons engaged one another in an epic snowball fight.
Back in the hotel lobby we discovered a Mountain Adventures brochure offering scrambling and multi-pitch rock climbing. Being the non-experienced kind, we settled on scaling the Via Ferrata the following day.
Via Ferrata, Italian for Iron Way, is “an engineered vertical pathway with permanently fixed cables for protection and metal ladder rungs to ease your movement over the rock…It does not require any special skills; all technical equipment is provided.” Well, I decided, anybody could do it. We’d practically run to the peak needling the azure sky. The views from up there must be the stuff of dreams. Bring it on.
Maybe it’s a good thing I didn't know what it required of us: packing crampons in the event the glacier proved unnavigable by hiking boots, roping ourselves together and committing to stopping an unwanted slide with ice axes, clipping ourselves into the cable running parallel to the rungs as we scaled hundreds of feet of headwall, and seeking our own handholds and footholds when the iron rungs ran out. I burned far more calories thinking about what I was doing than actually doing.
I prayed, mostly without ceasing, for those four hours. In the off moments I offered and received any advice and encouragement. We six needed one other. And none of us could have gained the summit without our guide Nat.
What does this have to do with writing? All of us have written safe pieces. Then God draws our eyes to His mountain and bids us come. It’s close enough, and easy enough, we reason, so we jump in with reckless abandon. Then reality hits: this endeavor is going to cost far more than we reckoned and scare us more than we dared imagine. It will sift us. Skills, motives, reputation, discipline, time, money are tested in the crucible. We spend thousands of lonely hours crafting while craving the insight and affirmation of fellow writers heading up. We are desperate for the Holy Spirit to lead us—and our writing—into truth.
One unnamed Jackson wanted to return to terra firma after putting his hand to the karabiners. Nat reminded us all that climbing down is far more difficult and dangerous than climbing up. Climbing—and writing—is a point of no return. We six did return, but not unaltered. Every one of us dealt with demons of doubt, fear and shame. But at the summit, where we saw endless chains of Canadian Rockies rippling across the horizon, we were bolstered for the next upward call.