Dispatches

No Quit on Mount Doom

She fought through aching muscles to keep climbing — but it was more than rugged individualism that got her to the top

Lt. Colonel Lisa Smith (second from left) and family preparing to climb Mount Doom.

I don’t know which intimidated me more: the Maori name “Ngauruhoe,” given to the 7,500-foot active volcano looming directly in front of me, or “Mount Doom,” the name given by J.R.R. Tolkien and portrayed by this very same peak in The Lord of the Rings films. Intimidation aside, there I stood on a beautiful New Zealand summer morning in borrowed hiking boots, ready to scale this daunting peak with my husband Kyle, two sons, a brother and sister-in-law and their two children. 

Mount Ngauruhoe

It started out as an exciting prospect—“Let’s climb Ngauruhoe!”—and to be honest, the first two hours were glorious. We followed a gently sloping trail, enhanced by beautiful New Zealand scenery and wild flowers and described as “suitable for children and older people.” No problem! 

It got more difficult as the trail turned into a staircase climbing up into the “saddle” between the two mountain peaks ahead. I pushed through until we arrived at the base of Ngauruhoe.

Then I noticed most of the crowd who had been hiking with us were veering away to another trail, leading them downward into Tongariro National Park. My husband pointed, “No, Sweetie, we’re going up there.” I turned to look up at the mountain, and my heart sank. I saw no trees or plants, just jagged rocks and loose gravel-like material called “scree.” At this point, the hiking guide shifted its evaluation: “The slope is about 45 degrees…this requires fitness.”

I couldn’t shake my deep-seated doubts about my chances of success as we started up the mountain. 

There was no designated trail up Ngauruhoe, and we struggled to get a good footing on the scree, so we decided to climb the narrow line of huge jagged rocks leading to the summit. Our hike turned into a mountain climb, and it was grueling. My lungs burned. I groaned as my less-than-fit muscles screamed at me for waking them up, but I kept going forward. Slowly. Laboriously. A sheer act of will when everything inside me wanted to quit.

I didn’t quit. I made it to the top of Mount Doom that day, but I wouldn’t have made it without the encouragement of my companions. My husband Kyle consistently offered his hand to help me up the mountain, enthusiastically and continually assuring me that I could do this. My sister-in-law climbed next to me the whole way, joining me in my pain. The kids, running circles around the adults, called out their support from their vantage point far ahead. Sometimes they would even back track, sliding down the mountain scree to offer their encouragement to keep me climbing. 

We finally reached the top and enjoyed a well-earned rest at the rim of the steaming volcano, along with a glorious view of Tongariro National Park. What an accomplishment! Today, a framed poster of Ngauruhoe hangs in my office, next to art that reminds me, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13) 

Mountains often symbolize trials or difficulties on our journey through life: obstacles we must conquer and overcome. That day on Mt. Ngauruhoe, I learned the power of an encouraging community, and how Christ can use that community to strengthen us to be victorious through life’s difficulties.

As I remember my encouragers on that day, I’m inspired to be an encourager for those around me. God invites me to offer a hand of support and words of encouragement to others facing unexpected obstacles, and difficult climbs. In those instances, the temptation to give up can be very real. Empowered by Christ’s love, it’s wonderful to know I can help others to find victory along this path that we journey together. 

Please, join me! Let’s do this together. I think you’ll find the view from the top absolutely breathtaking! 

Lt. Colonel Lisa Smith, program secretary for the West, lives in Torrance, CA, with her husband Kyle. Their sons Landon and Brennan are both studying in New Zealand.

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