Virtue Number 3- Courage

The Greatest Adventure of Your Lifetime is Loving Another Wholeheartedly, Without Bounds. 

When I was a young girl, in my pre-teens and teens, I lived in flat, below sea level Houston where the degrees never went to the minuses but hovered around 45 and 50 in the winter.

My family and I escaped to the Colorado Rockies each summer where we backpacked into the mountains and camped directly below large mountain peaks and stood on some of the highest points in the US, where the air is clean and the altitude is high.

My Dad would plan for weeks for our backpacking expeditions. We were a family of five on a limited income, so he made beef jerky (some of the best I have ever had) and a special treat that was dense with dark chocolate, dried fruit and nuts. We called it “gorp.”

I remember each evening in the hot Houston summers strapping a backpack on which he filled with lead weights approximately the weight I would be carrying. We walked around the suburb neighborhood  at night. Nowadays no one would take a second look at someone with a  backpack on. Back then, as kids it was a little embarrassing.

The summer of my 16th year, my father had planned the most adventurous trip yet. Our favorite place to visit was outside of Aspen, Colorado- Maroon Bells. It is one of the most photographed set of mountains. Three mountains appearing to be folded into one another like accordion cut-outs  that turn a maroon color at dusk each evening became our sacred place of beauty.


Our adventure was to backpack around the entire set of mountains through three major passes that were in the 12-13,000 feet range. We were all psyched and ready to go.

A chain of events surrounded my family that began with a viscious flu-bug the week before the trip. It ran through our household weakening each one of us enough to be bed-ridden. This was followed by finally getting on the road and before entering Aspen on the narrow road of Continental Divide our camper gave out. We spent the night on an edge of a tiny cliff with the camper swaying to and fro.

The next day we were able to drive down into Aspen and then head for the Maroon Bells Campground, where we immediately put our gear on and started our trek.

Two days later, my little sister was experiencing extreme altitude sickness. We were approaching our first pass-an ascension on the left side of the mountain (see picture above). Now this was in July when snow was rare in the mountains but still possible.

I’ll never forget the day. The sun was out and the day was beautiful. We were in a meadow just an hour before we began our ascension. Two fellows passed us and said a friendly hello. I was struck by the fact that here they were out in the middle of the field with clothes more suited for the city. They did not have light jackets and only madras plaid shirts on. One was tall and the other short. Both had blond hair ( I thought they were both really cute!).

They were going in the opposite direction of the peaks. Two hours later, we were above the treelines and practically glued to the side of the mountain due to the steep angle. Only a very narrow path differentiated the direction from the large rocks (skree is what the term in used for large paths of rocks and boulders). Each one of us had to walk in front of the other. It had been snowing. The sky was turning a dark purplish gray and clouds were rolling in where that had been blue sky only a short while before.

It looked as if snow was coming. That’s not good. My brother and I were in front of our parents with my dear little sister, still extremely sick and weak, staying with them. I should mention we also had our large, german shepard-Heidi. She was muzzled because she was very protective of us all.

We were almost near the top of this very precarious pass. The path was muddy beneath my clunky climbing boots. Snow began to drop on my shoulders and head. Somehow (most likely due to my impatience), I was first.

Suddenly, the path gave way and I was sliding down the side of the mountain. It happened so fast that I wasn’t necessarily afraid. But when the wet of the mud acted as a way to stop me from falling completely over the jagged rocks below, I realized I was in a bad state. My tin cup, tied on the outside of my 45 pound backpack, fell off and richocheted off of each part of the cliff. Needless to say, I never heard it hit bottom. Now, I was scared.

There my brother stood, helpless. My parents and sister (and dog) came around the bend and saw where I was. There was no manuvering for someone to take their backpack off and slide down to get me. I tried to pull myself up the mountain, but the heavy backpack was a counterweight to my center of balance.

And then in a matter of minutes, they showed up! The two men we had greeted hours before appeared out of nowhere. They still had only their khaki pants and madras plaid shirts on, but they were free to come down and get my backpack and me. I remember seeing their clean pants quickly becoming muddy as they climbed down to get me. I kept thinking, “They are getting dirty for me.” I smiled at them and shouted a “Praise the Lord!”

The two of them easily pulled me up and then put me back on the path. I was in a slight state of agitation, so I didn’t recall what happened next. I only remember being completely covered in mud and cold and my mother wrapping me in the light space blanket we carried.

We climbed a few feet to the top of the mountain. The snow stopped. As we climbed to the backside of the mountain, the sun came out. Weather changes happen that quickly when you are in the mountains.

I never knew until a few years ago when I was talking with my mother and sister what happened to the two young men who rescued me. My mother said, ” I turned around to thank them and they were gone!” My sister agreed,”We were visited by angels.”

I tell the story of my fall on the side of a 12,500 foot mountain pass because it has been a story to remind me of my own courage and of the unexpected.

What I haven’t mentioned is that my sister was dehydrated and the next morning we broke camp and had to head back to lower altitude. I was terrified. I was shaking and begged my father to go on. The other passes had to be better. But even as I protested, I knew we had to go. My sister was not able to keep water down.

It was a sunny day- no dark clouds in sight. But the path was still a dark ,moist black. This time my father stayed right beside me. He guided me and held my hands at times. I saw the place where I had fallen- a smeared section of nothing. We were making our own path.

The rest of my family followed close behind. I was so mad and terrified at the same time. Why were all the bad things happening on this trip? What was keeping us from fulfilling our dream? Why were we having to turn back on our adventure?

We came off the side of the mountain safely. We were able to get to lower altitude quickly and in 24 hours my sister was compeltely well.

Courage if anything is not about bravery as much as it is about being open to what may come. Something was keeping us from a trip that could have been even more dangerous. For some reason, a greater good was being played out for us.

Many times we cannot see the greater good. We are sadly disappointed that things did not go our way. We are heartbroken that the relationship we believed to be the “one” did not come to fruition. We have to surrender to the bigger picture. We have to continue to be courageous in our pursuits, and to never give up even though we may have to yield to the situation at hand.

And most of all, we have to believe in the miraculous surprises that are not in our control, but come when we least expect it and most need it.

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