It seemed an ambitious goal…to get all 20 Link School students, staff and friends on top of a 19,100’ peak in southern Peru. For starters, we would have to rise at 1:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and begin climbing the final 4,000 vertical feet from our base camp at 15,000 feet to the top of the volcano. The climb wasn’t mandatory for students and they had the option to sleep at basecamp while others sought the summit, so a successful 1:30 rising time was asking a lot. My guess was that about ½ the students might get up and try it, so when every student was up and ready for the climb this morning I realized I hadn’t factored in the fact that we have the most amazing students in the world! Not only did they all rise at 1:30, pack, eat breakfast, and begin hiking at 2:30, they overcame some of the many challenges high elevations can present, and each and every one of them arrived at the summit 5 hours later.
Although there are many beliefs associated with high elevations and the effect that it can have on one’s health and comfort, the students and staff who experienced difficulties had wonderful healings in a spiritually charged atmosphere. As we began our trek up the mountain in the dark, surrounded by little pools of light from our headlamps, I heard a hymn being sung in the group ahead of me. The singing spread up and down the hiking line, and those who could and were inspired, joined in. Many hymns were sung, but when the impromptu choir softly sang “O Dreamer,” I knew nothing could sound more beautiful, or speak more clearly about God’s ever-presence, than that hymn did in the 20° darkness with the Southern Cross shining overhead. Sitting on the peak later that morning, the recuperative effects of the day’s prayers were being made manifest all around me.
One of the greatest gifts of the day was the descent from the peak. Usually descending a peak can be grueling business through the steep rocky terrain – after hours of trying, physical effort, hikers turn their toes downhill and, step-by-step, fight gravity back down to the bottom. During this part of most peak days, if you’re not careful, it’s not unheard of to loose one’s toe nails (I lost both big toe nails on a the descent from Halealaka in Hawaii). However, on Misti we were in for a treat. As I’ve mentioned, el Misti is a volcano. Rather than spewing out lava over the millennia, el Misti has spewed out ash. Our descent down was almost entirely in heavy sand. Of the 8 hours or so that it took us to ascend the peak, it took us less than two hours of running down steep ash to come safely back to the cars parked six thousand feet below.