My wife and I love to hike, and we once went with some friends to climb a mountain not far from our home. It was a cloudy, rainy day, and there wasn't a whole lot to see as far as views were concerned, but we were enjoying ourselves anyway. We had no way of knowing on our way up, though, that we were going to be treated to a very special experience when we ran into another group of hikers who also were ascending.
was a group of about 15 people, ranging in age from about
14 to about 65, it seemed. The most interesting
thing about the group, though, was that at least seven of
the hikers were either blind or severely impaired
visually, yet there they were on the trail, heading up to
the top of the mountain. And the most remarkable
thing about them was that they were in training--this
group of blind hikers was training for a hike up Mt.
Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
I don't know too many people who would be able to make it
to the top of that mountain, over 19,000 feet high.
But to think of doing it without the benefit of sight is a
pretty difficult thing to imagine. I like climbing,
myself, but this will be a seven-day climb for them,
meaning that they'll be carrying plenty of equipment and
food with them. They'll be on the go pretty much all
day, every day, having to maintain an extremely high level
of focus the entire time if they're not to injure
watching this group was an extremely inspiring
experience. There was no one asking for special
favors when we saw them, no one complaining, no one
bringing attention to their visual impairments. It
was simply a group of people with a common aim, and the
willingness and desire to achieve that aim.
blind climbers were certainly very careful, but they were
by no means any slower than most day hikers that I've
seen. Some of them carried sticks or staffs, using
them to "feel" the ground before them.
Others held on to another, sighted person for
guidance. Still others walked on their own, guided
by another person who was describing very facet of the
trail as they moved.
these guides were perhaps the people who most moved me.
was very impressed with the blind climbers, and I hold a
great deal of respect for them. But I was amazed at
the patience and the dedication of the people who were
guiding them up the mountain with a never-ending
monologue. "There's a step about six inches
high right before you; it's clear for your right foot;
snow coming up on your left, so step carefully; you'll
have about four steps in the snow; then clear path for
eight steps; now a bunch of rocks together. . .
." and on and on.
can't tell you how impressed I was with that type of pure
giving, that kind of love, that kind of unconditional
acceptance of the way things are and simply dealing with
it. This was pure giving--hour after hour of
focusing on the needs of another person and making sure
that those needs are met. Without the constant
speaking, the blind hikers never would have made it up the
mountain, obviously. And thinking forward, they
would need to continue this all the way down the mountain,
too. As patient as I like to think myself being, I
have to admit that I'm not sure that I would be able to do
such a thing myself. I'm not sure that I would be
able to stay focused, that I would be able to continue to
give and give in that way without getting something back.
sure, I know about the awards of satisfaction, the sense
of accomplishment that comes from a job well done, the
gratification that we can feel when we help others.
But this was a lengthy, drawn-out sort of giving that
brought out in me one of the strongest feelings of
admiration that I've ever experienced.
have no doubt that this group will be able to climb
Kilimanjaro, and I wish them all the best when they do
so. Our hike that day was a blessed one, for we were
able to witness and experience something that was truly
inspiring: blind climbers who were not kept at home
by their impairments, and loving people who were giving
all that they had to make sure that the blind climbers
could achieve their goals. It was a beautiful thing
to witness, as well as a very humbling experience, and
everyone in our group was just a little different