Reaching the peak of Mt. Katahdin is a memorable moment for anyone. It is another self-exploratory and defining trip for our students, and is an especially transforming experience for struggling young men. While our program does not allow for such a long hike as the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, we do occasionally hike the “100 mile wilderness” prior to our summit of Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park. I have a particular interest in scaling Mt. Katahdin for both its beautiful above tree-line views, any time of the year, and for the physical, emotional, and intellectual challenge within its difficult ascent.
There are not many one mile high mountains remaining in the United States that lack service roads going to their summits. Although these roads are spectacular in their ability to offer the beauty to the physically disabled and elderly, they take away from the challenge and delayed gratification contained within the hike to the top. Much of our society narrowly focuses on instant gratification, which robs our young people from learning how good it feels to truly earn something that DEMANDS effort in order to achieve it. It’s such a therapeutic lesson to learn, and it is a lesson that is less and less available in our “quick fix” society. Simply put, Katahdin can only be achieved by the truly committed, since little more than goat paths exist on the mountain. If one wants to see the view from the top, and feel the success of achieving something great, one must put in extreme effort for countless hours, enduring physical stress, pain, and near exhaustion conditions for that time, in order to experience a few precious hours of achievement at the top – only to have to turn back and endure the challenges again. It is a view that only those who have truly earned it have ever seen. There is no other way to achieve the epiphany. Sometimes in life there is no easy way out; the accomplishment of worthwhile goals require passion, ambition, drive, and perseverance.
In the “Summit Ceremony” we have a discussion about these abstract thoughts and how they relate to real life. The concept unfolds, “Some of you took one look at this mountain from miles away and thought there was no way you could possibly do this. Hours into the hike you were probably thinking about quitting. Now you are here. You have done it because you didn’t quit. This mental endurance will carry you through anything in life.” The conversation continues, “Now you’re at the top… The funny thing about accomplishing your goals is that your work is never done once you do… I can guarantee none of you thought about what work needed to be done after we reached the summit. However, the reality is, now that we are at the top, our work is only half done.” Like in all our adventures and our daily work we relate the real life philosophy contained within the experience.