When You Hit Rough Terrain

blog community difficulty friendship perseverance Jan 31, 2024

Blog by Gem Fadling

Are you now, or have you recently been, in a difficult situation? At any given point, most of us have at least one circumstance in our life that isn’t going the way we had hoped. Today I’m sharing a personal story of climbing a mountain at high elevation. Together, we’ll look at it literally and metaphorically.


This past summer we were in Mammoth Lakes, CA, enjoying a week with some longtime friends. According to our friend Doug, who has been visiting Mammoth for decades, it was a beautifully unique time. Mammoth had received 60 feet of snow over the winter, and even in July some of the roads into the area were still closed.


Because of this, the lake levels were high--sometimes up to the road--and the waterfalls and cascades were uproariously gushing. So much beauty!


On one of the days we hiked up to Crystal Lake, which sits at about 9,600 feet. Our trailhead began around 9,100 feet. We were assured by our friends that there were switchbacks and that, although it was a difficult hike, it was completely doable.


Unfortunately, on our way up the mountain, we discovered there were patches of snow that cut each switchback in half. This meant that we essentially had to climb straight uphill the whole time. Because I was oblivious to our elevation and the vertical nature of the route we were embarking on, I began the hike happy and energetic.


But it wasn’t long before we began to feel the effects from lack oxygen, the steep incline, and the absence of switchbacks. Our friend Doug, who has been taking his cardiovascular health seriously and is in great shape, was like a little kid, easily traversing the rocks, tree roots, and elevation. The other four of us didn’t have as much stamina, so we had to stop every 15 to 20 minutes to rest and breathe. To be fair, Doug said that this was the most difficult this hike had ever been for him. It was helpful having him as a guide to choose our path upward.


It is an understatement to say that trying to climb at that high elevation was very difficult for me. At one point I almost bonked and had to lie down. My friend Mary sat down on a rock and I used her lap as a pillow. I ate some grapes, drank some water, and revived.


That’s how it went for two solid hours of uphill climbing.


And then we reached the top.


Staggering beauty! Views for miles. We could see all the Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding forest, and we were now poised to hike a little farther to see Crystal Lake. And yes, it was totally worth it!


You can guess that when I reached the top I felt relieved and proud of myself for accomplishing this. I was also thankful for a community of friends who helped one another press on to the top. Together we held on to hope for what we would experience when we made it.


I share this with you because I became physically capable by the slow and steady process of working out. One year ago I wouldn’t have been able to do this hike at all. And the only reason I bonked on this climb was because of the oxygen situation, but my body was ultimately able to handle the physical exertion.


This was definitely a situation that became an experience I had not planned for. I thought it was going to be a hike, but it turned out to be a HIKE!


Isn’t life like that, though? You have certain expectations about what a situation could be, and then things take a surprising left turn. Your ability to cope is tested and you find yourself on an excruciating uphill climb.


You see others traversing the rocks and incline with ease, and you wonder about yourself for a moment. But you keep plodding along, making your way forward the best you can until you finally make it through.


Please hear me: I am not saying that all difficulty leads to a tremendous end with a great view. Sometimes life is simply hard, and it doesn’t feel timely, necessary, or fair. I have lived that as well.


Today I’m talking about those situations that are difficult but not overwhelming—the ones that test your mettle. It can be good to see what you are made of. There’s a chance to see some progress in your abilities. And you might even gain a little perspective.


Let’s swing back around to my opening question:


Are you now, or have you recently been, in a difficult situation?


If it is the kind that tests your mettle, here are a few questions you can ponder: 

  • What might perseverance look like at this point?
  • What new capability might show up for you in this season?
  • How are you relying on friendship or community as you make your way?
  • How might you take in the unexpected terrain to discover any new perspectives?


It might be difficult to address some of these questions if you are in the middle of difficulty. But if you are looking at it in the rearview mirror, it might be good to take time for reflection. Allow God to meet you as you craft the narrative of this season.