We had to climb to the peak of that mountain and live to tell the tale. Unfortunately for us, we lived in Kansas, so the nearest mountain was over 600 miles away, in Colorado. My nephew Michael, and I, had the next best thing,…. a CHURCH,…. with a STEEP-HIGH-ARCHED-ROOF.
This death-defying climb required us to make our plans ahead of time because scaling such a colossal mountain peak would require supplies, secrecy, and……. a certain amount of luck. The roof of most churches are considered off-limits, like some type of super secret research lab. This meant that our climb had to be handled as a covert mission……complete secrecy.
We pulled out our army surplus green canvass backpacks and began packing for the climb. We lived in the town of Riley which was located along the north side of Fort Riley, so we had access to lots of different army surplus items. We knew quality equipment could make a difference, so we had scoured most of the better garage sales in town. We had army issued canteens and backpacks.
Since energy levels would need to be maintained during the critical ascent stage, we filled the canteens with Pepsi Cola. There are those who advocated water, but if you watched the commercials on tv, Pepsi was supposed to be “refreshing” and that would be critical.
We were planning on dealing with the high altitude physical demands by procuring well preserved food. We knew homemade food just wouldn’t last very long. We might become stranded due to weather or hiding from parents. We needed professionally prepared survival food with no expiration date. We packed a box of Twinkies.
Rounding out the food was a bologne sandwich and potato chips in a baggie. It was the only food consisting of ingredients we were able to collect from the fridge without attracting attention. I don’t think I have to tell you which we planned on eating first.
We had done extensive research and training for this expedition. It included numerous movies and field experience climbing the tree in the back yard and the roof of the parsonage. It was during our training on the house roof that we discovered the authorities would definitely have a problem with this expedition. It seemed that everytime we would sneak up on the roof, mother would either hear us moving around up there or she had some sort of alarm set up….. My little sister. It depended on whether we were getting along that day as to whether she might decide to sound the alarm.
Based on the movies we had watched, we knew that we needed to take take the family binoculars along. We had to be able to scan the country form the high mountain peak when we made the climb. Otherwise, it’d just be another mountain climb of no importance.
Helmets seemed to be something that everyone used when mountain climbing. Michael and I had helmets, but couldn’t seem to locate them. I think it had something to do with an earlier cave exploration, which you can read about called “The Great Cave Exepedition”.
The most important thing we knew was that the mountain climbers in the movies always tied rope to each other in case one of them fell from a cliff or into a crevice. The other guy could hoist him to safety.
I looked around the garage. All I came up with was a few extension cords, an old toy truck and a sewing machine motor. Those wouldn’t help us with this expedition. You would think a preacher with numerous kids, grandchildren, and pets would have a coil of rope. I mean he’s got to to be able to control them somehow.
At our house, though, we had the next best thing……dog chain. It was lightweight and wouldn’t tie in a knot, but the clasp on the end would hook to the belt loops on our jeans very nicely.
It was early evening when we had our packs, canteens, and dog chain ready. We had scouted the church,…. I mean mountain. We plotted a route that would get us to the top of the mountain peak undetected.
The initial climb to the first level would be critical because it required extra equipment and could only be done in a very public location.
One last equipment check and the operation was given the green light.
I grabbed a folding ladder out of the garage and crept to the bushes beside the house. We couldn’t take a chance on a church visitor or worse,…. MOM, seeing us with the ladder. Michael stepped out in the open and casually looked around. He gave me the secret all clear signal, which consisted of him saying to me in a loud whisper “It’s all clear”….. We weren’t too technical.
We then grabbed our packs and strapped them on. I quickly ran to the side of the church with ladder in hand. The one one access point was at the top of the ramp to the back door. At the top of the ramp, we could balance on the very top step of the ladder. This was just high enough for us to pull ourselves onto the first level of the roof above the church kitchen. It was right next to where the power lines went into the church.
The next step was a small act of faith, because we would kick the ladder over sideways and onto the ground. This way it didn’t appear that someone had just climbed a ladder onto the roof. Of course it also meant we had to find another method of getting back to the ground in one piece. Getting back to the ground was never an issue. We had faith in our abilities to do that. It was the “in one piece” part that was a little dicey.
As we stood there on the first level roof looking up at the steep arched roof it suddenly seemed higher and steeper than it had from the ground. No turning back now, though. We were committed. Besides, I was the older one and couldn’t appear to be chicken.
Now the most dangerous part of the climb would begin. Safety had to be our motto. So each of us clipped one end of the 10 foot dog chain to a belt loop of our jeans. Someone watching us on tv would surely swear we had to be professional climbers.
We slowly began climbing carefully and slowly. The shingles were slick and there was nothing to grab onto as we made the climb. You had to lean forward and hope that your shoes would maintain enough friction to keep from slipping. Every few feet I would look around below us to make sure our secrecy was being maintained. A stray visitor to the church office or, heaven forbid, mother, walking by would spell doom for us.
We had just about made it to the top when one of my feet, suddenly, lost grip on the roof shingles. I teetered there for what seemed like forever trying to regain my balance and traction. Michael reached up to try and grab me, but was too far below to reach me. I suddenly began to fall, but managed to twist around, so that I was sliding on my side and not tumbling backwards. I quickly slid past Michael and told him to hang on to keep me from falling all the way to the bottom. He leaned forward and braced himself to hold my weight when I got to the end of the dog chain.
As I gained momentum, I got to the end of the dog chain. Just as we had planned, the chain was strong and didn’t break. HOWEVER……
What I didn’t realize was that the denim belt loop of my jeans was no where near as strong. That clip on the end of the chain popped that belt loop off just as slick as if it had never even been attached. In fact, I don’t think I even felt it tug when it hit the end. So there I went flying past Michael and all the way to the bottom. The trick was that when you hit the bottom you didn’t roll or slide very far. You might end up flying off the edge of the lower roof and onto the sidewalk below.
Luckily for me, I was able to catch myself at the bottom and avoid the fall to the sidewalk.
In my mind this was an expected part of the adventure. In every mountain climbing movie we had watched, there was at least one moment of drama when someone falls to the very edge. Of course I have to admit there are a lot of those movies where the guy just kept on falling off the mountain, never to be seen again. Luckily I was in the first group and not the latter.
After the fall, we both just froze for several minutes. We had to make sure no one had noticed someone falling down the side of the church roof. If they had noticed, no doubt their first thought would have been, “I wonder why that dog chain didn’t hold?”
Slowly and somewhat painfully I began the climb back up the mountain. Anyone who’s spent anytime on a shingled roof can attest that skin scrapes very roughly when drug across shingles. It was sort of like road rash from a bike crash. I carefully made my way back to the top where Michael was waiting for me.
We sat on the precipice of the arched roof. It seemed like we could see forever. We sort of felt invisible to all the people moving around town. I suppose we were sort of invisible because people weren’t used to looking at the top of the church and seeing two young boys sitting there. I think that was a big part of the thrill of it.
We each pulled our army canteens from our belts and toasted our success with lukewarm Pepsi-Cola. It didn’t do anything for thirst, but at the top of the church roof, was more along the lines of champagne. We were celebrating our achievement despite the near tragic fall.
We got the binoculars out and looked around town to see how far we could actually see from that height. After several minutes of enjoying our secret success, we shimmied down to a cubby hole area next to the bell tower where we could eat without being spotted.
It was about this time that we heard a small commotion down in the church yard below us. We crept back up to a point where we could see the yard between the church and the parsonage. To our surprise and amusement, we watched dad carrying the ladder back to the garage.
SUCCESS!! He apparently hadn’t spotted us on the church roof or suspected we might even be there. He had no idea of the secret mission we were presently engaged in.
Buoyed by the apparent success of our mission, we returned to our little cubby hole where we toasted again with warm Pepsi. We then broke out the bologna sandwiches, potato chips, and twinkies.
It was the meal of champions. Not too healthy, but yummy nonetheless.
After our meal, we looked around with the binoculars a while longer. Normally, explorers such as us would post a flag at the summit, but this was a secret mission. A flag of any type at the top of the church would cause quite a stir. At some point suspicion would fall upon us. No, we would have to remain anonymous. Our great feat would be lost to the ages.
We waited a bit until there seemed to be no one close enough to the church to spot our movements. The sun was beginning to set, so darkness was not too far away. This was good becuase it would help hide our descent, but we still had the last part of climbing from the lowere roof down onto the ground. I wasn’t sure about doing it in the dark. We had gathered our packs up and climbed back to the top of the roof. When the coast was clear, we carefully climbed our way down to the first level roof.
I crept out far enough on the lower roof to make sure it was clear. I again gave the secret signal that the coast was clear. I turned and loudly whispered…. “It’s all clear.”
We both crawled across this section of roof to remain unseen. We got to the edge of the lower roof beside the power lines. I leaned out and verified that it was a long drop to the cement below. The only spot to get a foot onto was the top of the handrailing for the ramp at the back door. It was far enough that we’d have to hang off the roof by our hands and try to find the railing with the tip of our toes. Since niether one of us was a weight lifter, we probably wouldn’t be able to hang onto the edge of the roof too long before our arms gave out. So this had to happen quickly.
Ever so quietly, Michael and I crawled to the edge of the roof. Just to take the edge off, I took a quick swig of lukewarm Pepsi from the canteen…….”Smooooth”…..I said through gritted teeth……..Actually I’d taken too big of a drink and the bubbles from the warm pop shot up through my nose causing my eyes to water.
I then swallowed hard and swung myself over the edge. My fingernails dug into the edge of the roof as I realized how truely weak I was in upper body strength.
So there I hung like a limp noodle, clinging to the edge of the roof for dear life, legs throbbing from the shingle slide, and still wincing from the extra stiff drink of warm Pepsi that just shot up my nose.
I hung there blindly moving my legs around in the open air. With the help of Michael acting as spotter, I was able to just feel the top of the steel hand rail. I then carefully lowered the rest of my weight and both feet onto the top of the railing. I then jumped down onto the concrete ramp.
Michael then swung his body over the edge and I helped him get his feet onto the same railing. His arms weren’t as long as mine so it was touch and go for a few moments. He finally got down onto the ramp and jumped the rest of the way to the concrete.
As twilight began to overtake the evening, we crouched there, looking and listening for anyone in the area. I couldn’t hear anyone so we both ran for our lives to the back of the parsonage. The last thing we needed was to be discovered at the very end.
We made it to the house and slipped into the garage where we unpacked our supplies and drank the rest of the warm Pepsi. It took a bit for the adrenaline to begin wearing off. It was at this point that my arms really began to feel like limp spaghetti. As the last of the Pepsi was drank, I smiled because I saw the ladder hanging on the garage wall where dad had placed it. He had no idea that we had watched him from the top of the mountain.
We couldn’t ever tell dad of our exploits, which was sad in a way. Everyone remembers Neil Armstrong or the Wright Brothers. No, we would be among those unknown, but mighty people who did things that changed the world forever such as the inventor of the lava lamp.
A great explorer once said the reason to climb a mountain was because it was there. For a preachers kid the reason to climb the church roof is the same….because it’ is there.
Of course the great explorer didn’t have to worry about…………… MOM!