Can We Keep Going?
Perseverance is hard
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to develop a sense of adventure and exploration.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
- Have available an image of the north face of the Eiger and the means to display it during the assembly. Examples are available at: https://tinyurl.com/ydybxacx and https://tinyurl.com/y69bvh33
Leader: The Eiger is one of the highest mountains in Switzerland.
Show an image of the north face of the Eiger.
Reader 1: The north face of this mountain soars 1,800 metres vertically from the valley floor: it is a treacherous and unstable wall of shattered limestone and closely packed ice. The north face’s base lies right in the small village of Kleine Scheidegg. Climbers mix with tourists in a cluster around the railway station before going on to their accommodation: some to put up their tents at the campsite and others to lounge on the balconies of comfortable hotels.
Leader: In July 1938, two Austrian climbers, Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek, set out from Kleine Scheidegg to attempt an ascent of the north face. They followed in the footsteps of several other climbers who had attempted the ascent. Some had been forced to retreat and others had died a horrible death, whether frozen in a storm, left hanging from their ropes or swept off the mountain by falling rocks.
Reader 2: July is a beautiful time in the valley. The sun beats down, the views are spectacular and the air is clear and still. Thousands flock to the area on the remarkable railway that carries passengers from the town of Grindelwald to the highest station in Europe, at the Jungfraujoch. Kleine Scheidegg provides a fitting halfway stop for a drink and a bite to eat.
Leader: By the end of the first day, the two climbers had gained a significant amount of height and tackled the Hinterstoisser Traverse, one of the most difficult sections of the climb. They left a fixed rope in place in case they were forced to retreat. Later, they were astonished to see a second pair of climbers – Anderl Heckmair and Ludwig Vörg – approaching them. Heckmair and Vörg had set off a day later with the same intent and had been able to take advantage of the fixed ropes to make a swift ascent.
Reader 1: In the village of Kleine Scheidegg, sets of binoculars and telescopes are located at various points so that tourists can observe climbers on the face. From the complete safety of the valley, it’s possible to have a close-up view of what’s happening on the mountain.
Leader: On the north face, conditions were harsh for the climbers, who’d agreed to combine and form one team. An avalanche nearly swept three of them away. Rock falls were a constant danger. Ice melted and soaked their clothing as it poured down, only to freeze in the sub-zero temperatures of the night. Yet their sense of commitment was total.
Reader 2: Many of the tourists found watching the climb boring after a while. Even when a crisis happened, it produced only limited interest. So, the tourists continued their journey or settled back into the comfort of their accommodation, particularly when the weather took a turn for the worse, as it often does in the mountains.
Leader: Conditions were very tough on the face. One slip could have swept the whole team off the mountain. By this time, they were in uncharted territory. No other climbers had reached such a height on the face. They progressed painfully slowly, taking turns to lead, living in a constant state of high anxiety, totally dependent on each other.
Reader 1: At last, on 24 July 1938, the climbers conquered the final section and reached the summit! Their sense of relief, achievement and satisfaction was overwhelming. They were famous. They were the conquerors of the most feared rock face in the whole of Europe. It had been tough, but now it all felt worth it.
Reader 2: In the valley, the observers only knew that the climbers had gone out of sight. Had they been successful or had they failed, like so many before them? It was impossible to know. The tourists turned from the view to find something else to engage their attention.
Time for reflection
Leader: So, what do you reckon? Are you in or are you out? Are you one of those people who wants to get involved or are you someone who prefers to watch others getting on with it? It’s like that in many sport and leisure activities: there are those who spectate and those who do it. It’s not about possessing great skill or having the right body: the London Marathon shows that. It’s about doing, using the moderate health and fitness that we have, rather than watching. Getting involved may entail some discomfort, some sacrifice of time and effort, but, like those climbers, the end result is a sense of achievement. The same is true throughout life. What we get out is usually linked to what we put in. It’s about our relationships, our work, our passions and our concerns.
The lessons learnt here are very important at the moment. We have all faced a tough time in recent months. Some of us may have faced bereavement and loneliness, and some of us may have experienced fear. For all of us, the times have been unprecedented and unexpected. Now that we are back in school and partway into the term, we may have got used to the different routines, but some of us will still be struggling to adjust.
I wonder what each of us will face today. There may be opportunities, crises, choices, more change . . .
However, the story that we heard shows us the importance of encouraging one another. The climbers needed one another. Without each other, they wouldn’t have achieved their goal and might not have survived. We need each other!
Jesus was very clear about the importance of getting involved and helping one another. He praised a stranger who helped a man who had been mugged when others had passed by and declined to do anything. He talked about the resources that we each possess and how we use them. He suggested that it is far better to invest our resources and develop them, rather than hiding them away. He described us as being like lamps that are made to shine in a dark land rather than be hidden under a shade.
Thank you that each day is different.
May we face each new situation with commitment.
May we choose to help each other.
Please help us to cope with change and to continue to persevere.
‘We’re all in this together’ from the film High School Musical, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlRvE9dKWQc (4.07 minutes long)
‘The climb’ by Miley Cyrus, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmUGwK_43Tk (3.59 minutes long)