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Climbing Higher

by Brandon Learned

 “Help,” Steven said without much urgency in his voice. He’s always trying to be funny, even if it means making a joke out of his own embarrassing situations.

Jarod and I laughed, and Moriah had a big smile on her face as we all turned around and  looked back at Steven.
“What are you doing?” Jarod asked, trying not to laugh.
“I slipped on this dirt and gravel, and I can’t stand up,” he said as he lay on his belly.
Walking back over to him as if to help, Jarod instead reached into Steven’s backpack and pulled out his camera. “No, not the camera,” Steven said. “I seriously need help getting up!”
But Jarod proceeded to traverse back over the steep slope to where we were standing as  his newly resoled and restrapped Chacos slipped and slid as he tried to keep his balance.
“Steven, tell me where you are,” Jarod said after turning on Steven’s camera and putting it in video mode.
“I’m, ah, climbing up Parriot,” Steven answered.
“You don’t look like you’re doing much climbing to me,” Jarod remarked.
“I can’t start climbing again till you stop videotaping and help me!”
“OK, I’ll stop right now,” Jarod said with a laugh as he shut off the camera and walked back down to help Steven.
It was just three weeks before graduation at DayStar Academy, which is located in beautiful Castle Valley, Utah. On the south side of the valley stands Porcupine Rim, a large mesa that runs the entire length of the valley. On the east end, the majestic, often snowcapped La Sal Mountains tower high above sea level, with some of their peaks exceeding 12,000 feet. At the west end the Colorado River runs perpendicular to the valley. On the north side, three smaller mesas—Parriot, The Priest and the Nuns, and Castle Rock—rise high above the valley with cliffs 400 to 500 feet high. The name of the valley comes from the most famous of these, Castle Rock, a tall, skinny spire of rock protruding from the top of a mountain.
The reason for our climb is that at DayStar we have an interesting tradition during  graduation weekend that we call the “Fire Fall.” Two staff members climb up Parriot, the largest of the three mesas, and build a large bonfire at dusk during the graduation ceremony on Saturday night.
After the service is finished and it’s dark enough, everyone goes out onto the lawn in front of the ad building to watch as the staff members on top of the mesa push the red hot coals and flaming logs off the edge. It makes a beautiful display, like a waterfall of lava.
To make the Fire Fall possible, wood must be collected and piled up at the edge of Parriot, which is what we were setting out to do. Steven, Moriah, and I were getting ready to graduate. We wanted a great Fire Fall, so we planned on collecting as much wood as possible.
After about half an hour of traversing the slippery dirt slopes, we came to some boulders. “Hey, you guys, try climbing up these boulders. It’ll be a lot easier than climbing on the dirt,” Jarod suggested.
He was right. 
“Well, that’s it for that part,” I said as we reached the base of the cliff on the east side of the mesa. But our climb was still barely half over.
“Where do we go up Parriot?” Steven asked.
“On the back side,” Jarod told him, referring to the north side of the mesa.
As we got closer to the mesa’s north side,  hard-packed, dirt trails became visible and made our climb easier.
“Here’s the cable,” Jarod announced. At this point, a cliff that dropped about 30 feet offered only narrow, uneven ledges to walk on. To make a safer crossing, someone had anchored a cable to the rock for climbers to hold on to. Even if you didn’t need it, it still offered a great sense of security, just knowing that if you slipped, the cable was there to keep you from falling.
Shortly after the cable crossing, we came upon another obstacle—a crack that we had to climb up through. The worst part was, at the bottom of the crack was a cliff that dropped down about 150 feet. Luckily, someone had put a rope through the crack.
“Don’t put all your weight on the rope,” Jarod said. “It should hold, but it’s been out here in the weather for a while, so I wouldn’t put too much weight on it if you can help it.”
After climbing through the crack, we didn’t have much farther to go before reaching the top of Parriot. Then we came to the rocks with “cheese holes,” holes in them that are good places for hand holds. After we climbed those,  just one more hard spot awaited us before we reached the top.
“The Chair” is a small ledge on the edge of a 100-foot cliff that you have to climb on. To  reach it, you have to climb up five feet. After you’ve finished traversing it, there’s a six-foot climb to the top of the mesa. This is kinda freaky, I thought. That’s a long way down with no ropes or cables to hang on to!
“Parriot Mesa!” Steven sang as he did a little dance when he reached the top. We all followed close behind and high-fived each other when we’d made it.
“This is awesome!” Steven shouted as we reached the south side, which faces our school.
In celebration we spent a few minutes walking along Parriot’s edge and taking pictures before we got to work collecting wood.
After doing our best to prepare for a great  Fire Fall, we headed back down the mesa the way we came. On the climb down, I thought about the incredible parallel between my experience that day and my journey in life as a  Christian.
Like Steven, I’ve slipped and fallen along the way. Afterward, I needed God’s help to stand back up again. The closer I got to school, I realized that though there had been some obstacles and somewhat scary parts of my Christian climb, it had been well worth it.
Revelation 2:2, 3 popped into my head: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. . . . You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (NIV).* Those words encouraged me.
Three weeks later we had a very nice graduation. After the ceremonies we stepped outside to watch the Fire Fall. The beautiful  glowing-orange waterfall captivated everyone’s attention. It made the work, the climb, and even all the slipping and sliding worth the effort.
*Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Brandon Learned writes from Minnesota.

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