I climbed Dog Mountain today. If I wasn’t so tired I would walk into the back room where my phone is on the charger and look up just how much of an elevation gain Dog Mountain is. It is less than three thousand feet but more than two thousand, eight hundred. If you are curious enough to know just how much it is you’ll have to Google it. I’m just too tired right now to do it for you.
Suffice it to say, it is the most consistently vertical limb that I have ever made! I have made similar climbs back in the early 1970’s. The first was on a trail from Devil’s Postpile campground to Minaret Lake. That lake rests at nine thousand and eight hundred feet above sea level. I do not know how much elevation is gained from campground to lake and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. At nine thousand feet such matters are of small importance. The fact that you are that high ensures that any incline will beat the stuffing out of you, and the last quarter mile was so steep that I emerged into that high valley so exhausted that I sat down on a large rock in the sun and tried my best not to puke while my friend Warren went on to find a place for us to camp.
Warren and I also picked a trail that led from the floor of the Yosemite Valley up the north wall to the rim. That monster was a succession of switchbacks that seemed as if they would never end. In fact, I have no idea if they end or do not. At some point we said “To hell with it” and returned to the Valley floor. To our credit, we proceeded up to the east end of the Valley and climbed to an almost paradisiacal camping spot far away from the usual run of Yosemite visitors.
But neither of those climbs, both made when I was twenty one and twenty two years of age, come close to the effort that I put out today just thirty one days shy of my sixty ninth birthday, and three years after having bypass heart surgery. From the trailhead, only a few feet above the high water mark of the Columbia Rover, I and five friends from my church joined a horde of others in ascending this mid-sized mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. I made it to the top with my quadriceps, gastrocnemious and soleus muscles screaming, my hamstring and achilles tendons in revolt, and my lungs pulling in air like a bank pulling in home loans in 2008. But I made it to the top.
This success was the result of a very good surgeon who split my chest open like a spatchcocked chicken and bypassed the plugged coronary arteries which threatened to grease my way to a reunion with Mom and Dad, who passed some years ago, and a bunch of beloved cats. The ministrations of a number of nurses and phlebotomists and other technical geniuses at that hospital, and an absolutely exceptional naturopath, plus a new devotion to eating mostly meat, vegetables, fruit and good fats, have resulted in my ability to grind up a trail such as I did today.
Also important in that climb, or the ability to make that climb, is the grace of God. There’s no way that I can account for my ability to make that climb or, what was worse, the descent, without accepting that God has gifted me with the health to do so. After two years in Vietnam dodging Viet Cong bullets and wading through pools of agent orange, and nearly ten years of civilian life after the military in which my lifestyle can only be described as near-suicidal, and finally after the heart attack and surgery, I climbed up that mountain like a normal guy. OK, maybe more like an old Hudson in granny gear, but I still got up it, all right?
One could attribute my success to good DNA, expert medical attention, and a careful observation of nutritional and dietary guidelines, and I’m certain that those things played a large part in this day’s success But I am more inclined to believe that someone who I and a lot of other people call ‘God’ has chosen to give me more time on earth with the ability to get out and live my life in arduous engagements.
This is not to say that those who are not physically able to do what I did today are living lesser lives than mine, or are less loved by the same God who created and cares for them as He does for me. I am only saying that God has chosen for me to still be able to engage in physical activity and that is all. I don’t know why I have been given that ability and the next person has not. I just know, or at the very least believe, that in my case a continuance of the ability to climb grades like Minaret Lake and the north side of Yosemite and Dog Mountain has been granted to me near the end of my seventh decade of life, and I want to publicly thank God and give Him the glory for that gift.