One of our favorite stories from our Peace Corps service happened to a friend of ours.
At dinner one night, Josie was served a heaping plate of rice, beans, ugali … something starchy. The details of what was on the plate are foggy, but the point of the story is that it was stacked high, and, as is common when visiting many countries, it is impolite not to eat what is on your plate. Josie told us that the copious amount of food was daunting … definitely more than she could eat in a sitting. Noticing her wide eyes examining the overstuffed plate in disbelief (maybe even fear?), Josie’s mama told her, “Pole, pole. You will climb the mountain.” Pole translates to slowly … and bite by bite Josie conquered that plate of food.
As we embarked on our latest adventure—this time in Great Basin National Park in Nevada—these words swam through my head, and rightly so. We were actually climbing a mountain … and it was definitely a slow and tedious process.
Wheeler Peak, the second highest peak in Nevada, is 13,063 feet high. The upward climb gains 2,900 feet in elevation over the course of 4.3 miles. The first two miles are deceivingly flat, and by the time we crisscrossed the meadows and were gazing down on two alpine lakes below us, there was no turning back. Nor did we want to.
But then the climb into the broken rock and quartzite scree began. Every step sounded like broken glass, and two steps up took us one step back (though it felt the other way around). The wind began to pick up. The sun tucked itself behind a cloud. I exchanged my long-sleeve shirt for a sweatshirt. We pressed on, traversing switchbacks and navigating slick rock. Slowly, slowly … we would climb this mountain.
We passed a patch of snow. Groups of hikers huddled next to wind breaks built out of the rock. I cursed my inability to think ahead and pack a hat and mittens. The wind continued to whip across the scree. We debated turning back, but decided against it. Slowly, slowly … we could climb this mountain.
We passed beside a ridge and the wind turned its harsh factor down a notch. Two alpine lakes turned into three, and we could also see the winding road leading all the way through the park. Up looked closer than down. We passed resting groups with more vigor … and suddenly, there we were—the very top of Wheeler Peak. Slowly, slowly (nearly four hours, in fact) … we had climbed the mountain.
I’ve hiked to high points before, but I’ve never hiked to a place where I was the highest thing as far as I could see. Climbing Wheeler Peak was exhilarating … an absolute must-do for anyone who makes their way to Great Basin National Park and has the stamina and endurance to do it. We basked in the view and felt as mighty as the birds that soared around us. Then we polished off a lunch, and slowly, slowly … we began our descent down the mountain.
Josie would be proud.