Reaching the Highest Peak

Reaching the Highest Peak

On 25 August of this year, I climbed the highest mountain in Africa. I felt “on top of the world,” but at the same time, I felt very small and insignificant. Reaching the summit was the result of strenuous hiking and climbing over six days. I have never experienced anything like it, and during the climb, I learned a great deal about life and about myself. We are what we think; we achieve or fail according to our goals or lack of them. Although I decided long before that I would reach the summit of the highest free-standing mountain in the world, it still required my full energy, my undivided focus, and my complete discipline. As I reflected on that experience, I drew many parallels to the gospel and to life in general (Philemon 4:13).

Van Reenen

 On the expedition, we had wonderful guides who led us, encouraged us, and warned us of danger. We also had porters who, without complaint, carried everything we could not carry ourselves. In the Church, sometimes we forget how precious our leaders are—leaders who know the way, who know the dangers ahead, and who encourage us along the way. Sometimes these leaders carry our burdens with us, and they do so without complaint.

At times our guides would encourage us to increase our pace, but at higher altitudes they would remind us to slow down our pace in order to conserve energy and not exhaust ourselves. The air was so thin at high altitude that breathing normally was difficult. In life, as we reach new heights in spiritual growth and strive to be better, we are exposed to greater hardships and fierce elements.

However, our Heavenly Father wants us to climb higher and higher in our journey called life. He wants us to be a little better every day, a little more perfect every year. He has blessed us with everything we need to return to the highest peak in our existence, eternal glory with Him. He wants us to choose the right. We do not have to undergo elaborate physical endurance tests, but we can and must stay the course of life’s journey along the rocky and sometimes mountainous terrain of hardships, keeping the goals and covenants we have made to reach the highest peak in the eternal realms (D&C 58:27-30).

On Kilimanjaro I had varied experiences ranging from elation to downright disappointment. I formed part of a team of six: four men and two women. The flight from Johannesburg to Nairobi and then to Kilimanjaro went well. Spirits were high and there was excitement in the air. On the first day, we had to weigh our equipment. Each of us was allowed 12 kg in addition to what we were carrying ourselves. This additional baggage was carried up the mountain by porters and had to be limited, since they also had other items to carry. Panic set in as each of us weighed our equipment and realized that we had brought too much baggage. Most of the items we had to get rid of were not really necessary, though. They were simply creature comforts and not essential at all. As we rid ourselves of our excess baggage, we were reassured by our guides that we would be better off without it over the next seven days. We would be lighter and better able to endure our expedition.
Van Reenen

As I reflected on this experience, I realized that in life we carry excess baggage too, perhaps as painful experiences and sufferings, or even as unresolved sin. When we make the decision to embrace the atonement of Jesus Christ, repent and rid ourselves of our heavy burdens, we are better able to soar to greater heights and grow closer to our Heavenly Father (Matthew 11:28-30).

On the first day of climbing, we quickly learned that we should not exceed the pace set by our guides (Mosiah 4:27), because by that afternoon there were already some members of other teams on the mountain that were suffering altitude sickness and overexertion.  There were also those who became fearful because they were not well prepared, and they abandoned the climb even though we were only just above 2,800 metres.  In the scriptures, we are reminded that if we are prepared, we shall not fear (D&C 38:30).

Over the next six days, our endurance, strength, and determination were tested to the limit. We experienced severe cold and physical challenges, but most of all we had to fight the invisible. Our biggest challenges lay in our minds: the will to succeed or succumb. Our unseen enemies were poor discipline, bad judgement, and an unfocused mind.  Our thoughts were the catalysts for our actions, just as they are during our lives here on earth (D&C 88:67).

As we hiked higher up the mountain, it became clear that this was no minor feat. Climbing required hard work, dedication, discipline, unity, and a mighty resolve. On the final day before we reached the summit, we were at an altitude of 4673 metres. It was on my way to this final camp called Barafu that I witnessed the epitome of dedication and determination. I met a father and his son who were climbing Kilimanjaro together. This would not seem extraordinary under normal circumstances, but the young boy, age 17, had Down syndrome. I was uplifted as I saw him make his way to Barafu Camp. I later learned that he had not been able to reach the summit, but he was one of many who came close. I was strengthened by the courage of this young man. Although a disabled physical body may have handicapped him in this life, he was still determined to set an example to many others, with a bright hope of a better world yet to come (Ether 12:4).

Just as I needed determination, faith, focus, and courage to climb the highest mountain in Africa, we all need those same attributes to climb the great challenge of mortality. Our Heavenly Father has blessed us with inspired leaders, scriptures, and commandments as guides. He has also given us family, friends, and fellow Saints to help carry our burdens. Additionally, through the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can lighten our load and accomplish our missions. Even with the weaknesses we have due to mortality, we can move forward with courage and faith. 

Our Heavenly Father yearns for our return. He knows we will climb many great, challenging, spiritual mountains in our lives, but He is there, quietly encouraging us, cheering us on consistently to reach higher and higher, providing us with constant support from the Savior, from the Holy Ghost, and from our fellow Saints.
Van Reenen

I bear testimony of Him who is the Son of the living God, the beginning and the end, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.