Going to the Mountaintop

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Susan Bramel, Nancy Fichtner, Anne Storm and Teri Gundlach at the summit of Mt. Whitney.

“There are moments in life when the voice of a friend can sound like a choir of angels to the heart.” -Unknown

“The experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something extraordinary and push beyond our limits both physically and mentally,” Newport resident Nancy Fichtner said about her recent hike up Mt. Whitney with three friends.

“The climb was brutally difficult. The steep, boulder-strewn trail, coupled with the extreme altitude while carrying 25-pound packs, was harder than we imagined it would be. We needed each other every step of the way. Long before we even left for the Sierras, we encouraged each other and built up the mental perseverance necessary to complete the climb.”

The challenging 22-mile, 14,500-foot hike was the culmination of a three-year ongoing discussion between Nancy and friend Teri Gundlach, who also loves physical challenges and hiking. Friends Susan Bramel and Anne Storm completed the team and the women worked hard ahead of time to plan, prepare and pack for the experience. The preparation clearly contributed to their success, but each echoed that it was prayer and teamwork that took them through 97 switchbacks to the top.

“We prayed as we began our climb. We had many people praying for us at home and we felt those prayers in a huge way.” Nancy added. “We really need our friends. No matter what the challenge, our relationships are critical in life. No matter what the adversity, God puts people in our life to walk through it with us.”

Teri explained that while getting ready for the trip, God brought to her mind a Proverb in the Bible that says ‘Man plans, but God directs his steps.’

“We did our planning well but we knew there were things out of our control and we asked God for ‘His steps’ to help us,” Teri said. “God answered our prayers and we got the hiking permit, even though there were none available at first. Bad weather would have stopped us from making the top, but the weather was perfect! It actually snowed a day later where we camped at 12,000 feet. No one got altitude sickness or got hurt and Susan’s breathing is sometimes a problem, but she never needed her inhaler. My foot has a nerve problem, but never hurt for the whole difficult 22 miles! Those were all God’s gracious gifts for the hike!”

The women described their experience using a carousel of words like: daunting, difficult, depleting unrelenting, uncomfortable, exhausting, frightening, fun, exhilarating, energizing, monumental, encouraging, satisfying, and awesome. They all also said it was breathtaking, in every sense of the word.

Besides demonstrating the power of friendship, the hike was also a major personal accomplishment for each woman.

“I did the climb because it is something I have wanted to do for years,” Susan explained. “And since it was very close to my 65th birthday, it seemed like the time to go for it! I would not have made it without the support, encouragement and joy of sharing it with friends! We met unexpected challenges, persevered through difficult circumstances, and have the reward of having done it! The many varied components of this endeavor will stay with me forever.”

“I also felt completely connected to God and that He was giving me the strength, both physical and mental, to attempt he climb,” Susan added. “It was also a very vivid demonstration of His greatness, glory and majesty.”

Anne Storm was the only one new to camping in the group, but she felt strengthened by her friends.

“I went because I wanted to challenge myself on something that seemed extremely hard and definitely outside of my comfort zone,” Anne explained. “I’ve never camped before, but there was a lot of encouragement from the other three. Doing this with friends made all the difference; I would have never made it alone. We really depended on each other for support, information, experience, and levity when needed. There was no competition among us. Everyone was committed to the success of the whole group”.

“We were so overwhelmed by God’s incredible creation, reminded of His power and felt His protection,” Anne said. “We also saw that huge goals can be accomplished when broken into small steps. We didn’t talk about te mountain as a whole but sections to accomplish. There were times it was literally one step at a time. To pass the time we would alphabetically list attributes of God or adjectives for the hike, which went from beautiful to ridiculous. We laughed a lot. Probably at how crazy we were to even try this. My lesson was that with God’s help and the support of friends, you can do what you thought was impossible.”

Cindy can be reached at [email protected]

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