ABOUT FAITH: Conquering the Lady
As a boy, I went with my family on a vacation through the Western states. We visited the most popular destinations: Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, but the grandest destination was Zion National Park, made memorable by my father’s mountain climbing adventure.
By the time we arrived in southern Utah, Dad was tired of the endless driving. He inquired of a park ranger what would be a good trail to hike. The ranger looked us over and recommended the Canyon Overlook Trail. “It’s easy,” he said, “about a mile, and not too much of a climb.”
“I don’t want easy,” Dad replied. “I want this to be a real adventure for us. What is the most challenging trail you have that doesn’t require mountain climbing equipment?”
“I guess that would be Lady Mountain Trail,” said the ranger, warily. “But I should warn you, a lot of hikers find it too difficult. It is not for the faint of heart.”
The warning made Dad all the more determined. The ranger filled us in on the precautions to take, and the time we should allow. The next morning, the daring ones in the family (among which I proudly counted myself) awoke early to make our assault. Lady Mountain (so named for its outline that seems feminine to only the loneliest pioneers) requires a 2,345-foot ascent over 1.6 miles. We had tennis shoes instead of hiking boots, and my Instamatic camera instead of hiking poles. We had sunscreen, but no water. I was totally unprepared for this encounter with the Lady, an experience I would repeat again and again as I grew older.
As we made progress toward the top, the challenges on the trail became more daunting. In two places, chains were embedded into sheer cliff for holding onto while our feet shimmied across a narrow ledge for about twenty yards. Above us, we could see no end; below was an 80-foot drop. In a third place, we climbed a towering steel ladder mounted onto the hillside. But what frightened me the most was a place where there was no hand hold at all. It was a sheer rock face which slanted down to the left as we traversed across it. The sandstone underfoot seemed to crumble as we walked, providing no stable foothold, and there was nothing to grab as our feet shifted on the rock. Below was a drop I could only imagine; the bottom was beyond my sight.
There were a dozen times when I transferred membership from the “daring” to the “faint of heart.” But with each obstacle, my dad offered encouragement and advice. “Place your left foot here and hold on up there. Now swing your right foot over here and reach for my hand. Try to keep your leg from shaking so much. You can do it!” By the time we got back to our rented cabin, I was a mountaineer extraordinaire, and, having conquered the Lady, was on my way to manhood.
Lady Mountain Trail has since been closed to all but experienced climbers. The chains and ladders are gone, and climbers must now bring their own ropes, carabiners and pitons. On that mountain, I left behind the sweat of fear, and took with me the understanding, deep in my bones, that my Father will guide me. “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you… For he will command his angels to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash our foot against a stone.” (Psalms 91:9ff). Sometimes the greatest challenges we face are the ones that God gives us to teach us He is there.
The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.