Reaching the Summit, a lesson in Ego

 Mt. Chocorua, Tamsworth, NH just 20 feet from Summit.

Mt. Chocorua, Tamsworth, NH just 20 feet from Summit.

Mapping out a trail plan, I carefully mark cutoffs, inclement weather alternatives, elevation, mileage, grade percentage and weather. I make a list of essential items to pack and double check the GPS coordinates for parking. I complete my pre-hike checklist and pack the car. Charging my watch and headlamp I feel prepared for the excursion I have planned.

The alarm sounds at 4:30 am and I wonder why I thought this was a great idea to get such an early start, but recall the 2 hour drive to the trail. I want to make sure I leave plenty of time for climbing without the added stress of racing daylight. My stomach feels a bit off, but I shrug it off as a a bi-product of the 10-mile solo hike in the almost hourly changing weather of freeze and melt I have ahead of me. While traveling, I listen to podcasts because I find they give me plenty of ideas and self investigative topics to explore on my 4-5+ hour hikes.

This particular podcast was an Oprah Winfrey, Super Soul Sunday -fitting for this Sunday drive. In this special edition, Oprah speaks of her book, "The Wisdom of Sunday's"  . Her book provides insights from some of the most insightful Super Soul Conversations. One quote in particular struck me in this podcast. It was Wayne Dyer's definition of Ego. Quite simply, he said, "Ego means to Edge God Out." In the moment I recall thinking, "what an interesting concept." But then I continued on the drive.

I reach the parking for the trail and there are surveillance cameras for the private property you park at for the winter. A sign for a $3.00 fee is listed on a yellow sign with a camera and the directions, "pay at house" with an arrow. I reach in my wallet and of course I only had $2.00. Chock that up for one thing I missed on my pre-check. The closest gas station is 15 minutes one direction but I have no choice. Now I have added 35 min extra (5 min to go in) to this travel.

When I finally get back to pay the parking I am almost 45 min behind my schedule, but still I feel confident in this hike. I have climbed more than 30,000 ft this month and seen a plethora of terrains. I strap my backpack on, set my watch and GPS to track my climb. 

I come to the first sign of the hike. I am taking the Piper Trail and the arrow points straight to continue on this path to lead to Middle Sister. The All Trails app says to follow the Piper Trail so I decide to go straight. I bet you can guess just by the mentioning of this particular directional note that this was NOT the correct way to go. The trail does not in fact connect to Middle Sister. It goes straight up to Mt. Chocorua summit. That part is actually okay. Most of the trek is slushy and balmy. You sink 4-5" down in the slush. It becomes just enough to fatigue your legs and make your pack feel like you are hauling a small hobbit on your journey to the Dark Tower. ha ha.


Once I get 2 miles into the hike the slush becomes sheer ice and tree roots. It's an exhilarating combination of elements for any hiker. Finally I break the tree line and catch a glimpse of the mountain top of Middle Sister and Mt. Chocorua. The visual makes all the slogging worth it. I carefully place my footing up the icy boulders and dig my crampons in firmly to ensure solid footing. Just .8 mile away from the summit, the challenge becomes a rock scramble over icy ledges and the winds have reached 35 mph. Feeling the wind beneath my wings, becomes more than a Bette Midler hit from 1988. My hiking poles are being swept up and my footing is getting less and less stable.


Finally I can see the last boulders I must ascend to reach the true summit of Mt. Chocorua. A huge wind gust comes and almost rips my pole out of my hand while simultaneously almost dislodging me from the rock face. My heart races and I cling to the side of the rock. A scripture runs through my head out of nowhere. Psalm 107:28, "Then they cried out LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses."


I took God's not so subtle hint that the 20 feet between me and summit would remain unclaimed. I sat down for a moment to let it sink in. I planned this trip, every trail marker and snow drift and even checked underground weather reports. I knew my skill and felt confident that I could summit this mountain. It's all I thought about. I mean, no one creates a plan to summit a mountain to go halfway up and say, "ehh nevermind."

I felt like this is exactly what happened to me. It felt like I was giving up and throwing in the towel. But how many times in our lives have we set out on a goal and when we miss it in our first attempt find ourselves spiraling down into the self-pity valley and swept away in the river of "i'm not good enough."? The truth is that if you look at some of the most successful people in business, sports and health they have failed far more times than they have succeeded. It's the failures that give us the lessons we need to emerge stronger. This is similar to the muscle breakdown in a workout that is necessary to build strength. We need that breakdown (hit failure in a rep series) to build up our muscles. So look at failure as your way of building mental strength. Try digesting that metaphor staring at your "so close" summit.

The lessons didn't stop at the failed summit. As I descended down the mountain I got my crampon caught between two boulders and almost slid down an sheet of ice off a 50-foot cliff. My heart was on overdrive and adrenaline was coursing through my veins. As I slogged through the last 3 miles I lost my crampons in the snow twice because I kept post-holing (dropping into the snowy, ice mix) and I had to build a bridge to cross a river with downed trees and two rocks I could lift. So what lessons did I learn from these experiences? I learned perseverance. I reminded myself why I wanted to summit the mountain in the first place (my "why" statement). 

I finished that climb with more determination than ever to set a new date, create a new plan and conquer that mountain. That day was not my day to summit, but I refuse to let it be the end of my story. You have a choice in your goals. Let a setback or failed summit convince you the journey is lost, or let it expose what needs to be strengthened, trained and adapted so you finally reach your summit.

Whatever you decide, don't let your EGO convince you that you are a failure. Even if you don't believe in God, you can see Ego as "Edging Greatness Out". Don't let your greatness fall short because Ego makes you doubt. I was reminded that God created the mountains and He can move them from my path. But that sometimes he leaves them there for me to grow, learn and elevate my thinking. Let us all elevate our mindset and THRYVE ON.