Why you should tell the story of the mountain you climbed

My husband, Gary, and I climbed several mountains during his cancer years. The highest elevation we ever reached was a trail ending at an icy-cold lake in the Colorado Rockies — 13,850 feet up.


Rocky Mountain hiking (photo: Gary Johnson)

I am now a cancer widow and my goal is to hike all the central Oregon trails that were our favorites. Alone. It’s part of my brave-making campaign. To practice being courageous. 

Yesterday I climbed a mountain. Tumalo — standing at 7,775 feet in elevation.

The trail, littered with rocks and tree roots smoothed by thousands of hiking boots, begins uphill through thick evergreen growth. 

After several switchbacks, the terrain opens out into volcanic ashy sand and a few wind-stressed trees as it keeps ascending.


All remaining photos: Marlys

Yesterday’s trek reminded me of a mountain Gary and I climbed that took us thirteen years. The trail started out with a job lay-off. It steepened when we eventually sold our home and depleted our retirement investments. 

Through the switchbacks, we picked up my mother and carried her as she was slipping into Alzheimer’s.

And then we came out into a steep, desolate terrain—a terminal cancer diagnosis—that almost did us in because we had already been climbing uphill for some time where the air was thin and the weight was heavy.

And now there was no shade. Just ashy sand. And those few weather-beaten trees.

But then …



I began noticing brave wildflowers in the barrenness. Adding color and beauty in a place where you wouldn’t expect much color or beauty.


Mt. Bachelor peaking through the weather-beaten trees

Gary and I eventually discovered beauty in our barren places. And we began sharing with other cancer survivors and caregivers best methods for uphill treks:

  1. Practicing gratitude
  2. Getting plugged into community
  3. Accepting love and support
  4. Taking care of ourselves with rest, good nutrition, increased physical activity
  5. Giving back
  6. Leaning deeper into our faith

And then widowhood paid me a visit. Which meant the trail got steeper. But I was already conditioned for uphill climbing.

Here’s the thing about taking on steep trails: the sense of achievement and the views from the top—those views that represent not giving up on life—are so worth the struggle and discomfort.

My reward after yesterday’s uphill hike was viewing the majesty of three distinct peaks in my ‘backyard’ of the Cascade Range. 


From the top of Tumalo Mountain, l to r: South Sister, Middle Sister, and Broken Top

One more mountain trail got checked off my brave-making list yesterday. But there is something of greater importance than checking things off to-do lists.

More than anything, I want our thirteen-year-long, uphill trek to matter.

This thought from Morgan Harper Nichols:

Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.

What if?

What if telling the story of our hard, grueling places could be part of someone else’s survival?

What if we tackled the thing we’ve been putting off that will get us out of comfortable spaces and add some adventure, or new faces, or new experiences to our books?

What if our stories could speak courage and hope into the lives of other people walking this same steep path?


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  1. Reyna

    Oh this is just so beautiful . THANK YOU!

  2. Kathi D.

    Marlys- I so look forward to your weekly blogs, as they inspire me every single time! Sometimes, the subject isn’t relevant to my situation, but I am still moved by your positive attitude, gratitude, and genuine caring. Love and hugs to you dear friend. K.


    Thank you Marlys for sharing your wonderful perspective on life. I’m sure it encourages many as it does me. We got to visit the Grand Canyon this year which is so beautiful and amazing. Love to you, Carol

  4. Dawn Shipman

    This is lovely, Maryls. I have my own mountains, many of which I have not be willing/able to share. But your story and these wonderful pix are SO encouraging. I love central Oregon with a passion and have also experienced a bit of the Colorado and Canadian Rockies. Hard, hard trails–but the view is worth it at the top. 🙂

  5. Dawn Shipman

    Oops! Sorry I misspelled your name! 🙂

  6. Bryn

    What a great read, mahalo!

  7. Sharing our story can be a blessing to others and a blessing to us. 🙂

  8. Peggy

    Beautiful story, powerful metaphor. Thanks Marlys. I so appreciate your stories.

  9. Grace Lawson

    Thank you Dear Marlys for your always encouraging words !! I recently had a birthday and got a gift card from my son’s family and then I lost it. I prayed and now I have found it !! Thank you Lord !!!

  10. Sue Mickelson

    Your message is so incredibly inspirational. I have a different kind of story, but God is good, and the journey is so worth it. May God bless you and travel with you to every peak that He leads you to.

  11. Ed

    Thanks for touching my heart with this particular story. The mountain has gotten steeper this past year, the air thinner, but my eyes are still on the goal at the peak. Bless you Marlys!

  12. Kit

    Oh, Marlys. This is so moving. Stunning photos and perspective. Thank you!

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