12 January 2017

Another Way to Climb a Mountain

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.

It 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.

Now, 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 themselves seriously.

But 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.

The 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.

And these guides were perhaps the people who most moved me.

I 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.

I 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.

And 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.

I 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 afterwards.                        

No comments:

Post a Comment