There is a broad, flat mountain in Ontario near where we go fishing every summer. Well, it’s called a mountain, but it would hardly challenge the Himalayas. It is only the 117th-highest mountain in Ontario, but it sure looked high enough to me as we set out to scale it. It is called Sansawaju, and is sacred to the Anisnabae people, who in the past used it as a place of prayer and as a good place to spot moose and other tribes that may have entered their territory.
I would not have known anything about Sansawaju, except that the owner of the fishing camp, Jack Newton, told us that ever since he was a boy he had wanted to scale it. He figured now that he was 57, it was finally time for him to fulfill his dream. He invited others staying at the camp to join him, and thought that perhaps two or three intrepid souls might accept his offer. Much to his surprise, 12 of us stepped forward, ranging in age from 70 (me) to a teenager, with the others representing every decade in between. Few had any experience trekking. We packed lunches and a cooler of beer and pop and set off.
It turned out to be a very grueling bushwhacking trek through dense woods and over slippery rocks to reach the summit. At one point, we had to scale a 20-foot-high sheer rock cliff, which one member of the party referred to later as “the ledge of death.” The panoramic view from the summit of the surrounding terrain, with tall pine forests and winding rivers, was spectacular.
That evening as we nursed sore muscles back at camp, I reflected on what I had gotten out of the experience. I learned the following:
It’s good to attempt things you think are beyond your abilities, and possibly surprise yourself by exceeding what you thought were your limits. Sometimes the most confining limits are the ones we place on ourselves, such as, “I’m not strong enough to do that,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or “I’m too old to do that.” If someone else put such limits on us, we might rebel and test them. But when we set the limits, they are difficult to budge.
It is very helpful to have someone go ahead of you in a strange setting. I carefully watched where a more experienced hiker before me placed his feet and then did the same, understanding what it meant to “follow in someone’s footsteps.”
Robert Browning, when he wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” may have been very poetic, but not very practical. I was sure glad every time I found a solid small tree or rock to grasp to pull myself up a steep slope or to stop a slide down another slope. I found that I was not ready for heaven.
Where you stand determines how you look at the world. When I stood at the base of the mountain, it looked daunting. When I stood on top of it, I wondered what I thought was so difficult about getting there. That newfound perspective changed, of course, when I looked down the side of the mountain and wondered how I was ever going to get down again.
There are some things that just can’t be done alone. This trek was one of them. I saw the value of teams that help us achieve more than we could do on our own, and how that makes all members of a team feel good about themselves.
Above all, I learned what a special gift it is to be with someone as he fulfills a lifelong ambition. I could see how satisfying it was for Jack to achieve his dream of youth later in life, perhaps even sweeter for the waiting.