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Right Climb Wrong Mountain

There are fifty-four mountains in Colorado that are over fourteen thousand feet tall. Fourteeners they’re called. Catchy name. Creative. Well when my wife, dog and I moved to Colorado, I had this crazy idea to climb every one.

The thought captivated my imagination. Maybe it was the call of the wild, the physical challenge. For whatever reason, the allure of the mountains was irresistible to me. I bought books. I memorized maps. I learned how to make GORP. I was seriously all in.

And so, early one clear June morning, my red Saturn crawled up this 4-wheel drive “road,” careened around one hairpin turn then another, nearly ran over a herd of bighorn sheep, crossed over a raging creek about three inches deep and finally parked at Guanella Pass in what could have passed for a Hollywood moonscape. Five hours later, I had “bagged” my first peak: Mount Bierstadt. Elevation 14,065 feet. An “easy” mountain, so they say. It kicked my butt.

The second “easiest” fourteener was a peak called Mount Sherman. The trail guide described it as a short approach followed by a long gentle on ramp leading to a summit that was so flat and wide an airplane once landed on it. Sounded good to me. Once again, I woke up early and coaxed my red Saturn to what felt like the nether reaches. I was glad to see a Chevy Trailblazer parked off to the side. Pulling in behind it, I started hiking. Ten minutes in, I saw the Chevy Trailblazers ahead of me. “Sweet,” I said to myself. “I’ll just follow them to the top.”

Thirty minutes later, I caught up to them. We exchanged pleasantries. I commented how I had recently climbed Mount Bierstadt and was hoping to bag this one before lunch. As hoped, they reacted with awe and wonder. I offered them some homemade GORP. They passed. I took the lead. Not a little impressed with myself, I’d glance back every once and awhile at the ever-increasing distance between the Chevy Trailblazers and me. Finally, the summit was in sight. A short, exhausting scramble later, I was on top, pumping my arms over my head like Rocky.

It was then I noticed it. The mountain directly next to the mountain I was standing on was taller. “That’s weird,” I thought. Looking down, I saw this odd-shaped canister on the ground. I found out later such canisters contain logbooks where people record their summit experiences. I untwisted the cap and read the first entry. It was written three weeks ago. It said: “We never thought we’d reach the top of Mount Sheridan, but here we are!” WHAT!? Mount Sheridan! Are you telling me I just climbed the wrong mountain? Off in the distance, I watched the Chevy Trailblazers slogging it up the gentle on ramp of the peak that was taller than the one I was standing on. All I could do was walk back down and start over.

I doubt that at any point during your life you decided, “Hey, I’m going to choose the wrong path.” Most of us, most of the time, make decisions based on what we believe will work out best for us. Unfortunately, and you know this from experience, what we think is the best is not always the best.

So what do you do? What do you do when you find yourself on top of the wrong mountain? Well, first of all, stop climbing. The wrong path won’t become the right one the longer you stay on it. That makes plain sense. However, looking back on my life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to “out-hike” my mistakes.

Second, ask for help. Again, this seems obvious. But man is it difficult. Especially for men! You have probably heard it said that the longest distance for a man is the eighteen inches from ones head to ones heart. Well, along those lines, perhaps the hardest word for a man to mouth is H-E-L-P.

Last, don’t be afraid to start over. God uses everything. No experience is lost. And it’s a long road. God has placed eternity in your heart for a reason. We have eternity to figure it out.

Ned Erickson

Ned is the Founder and Executive Director of the Winston-Salem Fellows, a non-profit dedicated to equipping people to live seamless lives as they grow into the men and women they were created to be. He is the author of four books, including the critically acclaimed novel Clay. He, his wife, two children, dogs, rabbit, guinea pig, turtle, and chickens live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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