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The Rev’d Michael Armstrong is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Hunters Hill, and a long term supporter of ABM. He recently participated in ABM’s Larapinta Fundraising Trek, and writes this story about his experience of climbing Rwetyeome (Mount Sonder), part of the trek.
Shortly after our arrival we were welcomed by Craig, an elder, to Arrernte Country, which includes Alice Springs, and much of the Larapinta Trek which we were about to walk to raise funds for ABM.
Craig shared a dreamtime story of his people about Mount Sonder, which would be part of our trek, which is more accurately known as Rwetyepme, the Pregnant Lady.
In the dreaming a man and a woman, who were not permitted to marry due to their kinship relationships, had run away together. The woman was pregnant. They were hunted down for their breaking the law, and the man was killed. The woman was allowed to escape. However, she was so grieved by what occurred that she laid down on the ground and died.
If you look closely at a picture of the mountain you can see her laying with her head back, and her pregnant stomach in the air.
On the fourth day of trekking, we rose at 2am to gather at the feet of Rwetyepme. It would be several hours of walking, or more accurately climbing, to reach the summit where we would watch the sun rise.
Our guide was a great encourager – sharing enough information with us about the walk to prepare us, but not too much to scare us. He said, “The first 20-30 minutes will be hard going, and steep climbs. But after that, it’s not hard at all – you’ll be fine!”.
The first part was incredibly hard. It was steep. There were large steps up rocks, loose paths, sharp edges; parts of the trail sometimes disappeared in the dark. When we reached the top of that section, I had already stripped down to my T-shirt despite the temperature being below zero.
We stood at the end of this part, catching our breath, and through heavy puffing I said, “Well we must be a reasonable way along now”! Our guide politely laughed, placed his hand on my shoulder said, “We’re up to her ankle”.
While the next part of the journey was not as hard as the first, it was by no means easy. I was pleased we were walking in the dark, for if I’d seen what was ahead of me I may have chosen to stop and turn back. There were a couple of moments when we reached the top of a peak (her knee, her stomach, her breasts) where we could see lights ahead of us, way up high, of the walkers ahead of us, revealing how much further we really had to go.
The walking was hard, but what I was least prepared for was the cold. I began, as I said, in a T-shirt, and by about 2/3 of the way up the mountain I was wearing a thermal shirt, a T-shirt, a light jacket with a hood, a heavy jacket, a beanie, gloves and then my rain coat over the top. Those who know me would laugh as more often than not wandering about with a shirt and no jumper or jacket back in Sydney. I was cold.
There were a few moments when I came close to panic as I realised how far we had to go. I certainly wondered how much a helicopter would cost to fly me up and out! The cold certainly made it worse.
I found myself praying, often, for the strength to go on.
Suddenly from the steep hill above an orange glow began. Despite being exhausted, I found myself then annoyed and anxious that we might miss the sunrise – especially after such a huge effort. I pushed myself even harder to make it. My knees and feet are still paying for it.
However, we did make it, and we saw the sun rise from the top of the breasts of Rwetyepme.
Despite the cold, and the pain, it was an extraordinary moment; to bask in the sun and having achieved that. The whole group was abuzz.
Having risen so early we then had plenty of time to walk down the mountain, and so we were able to walk down at our own pace.
I was pleased about this because my knees and feet were very sore!
I found myself praying intensely most of the way down the mountain. Several times I had to prompt myself to watch my feet!
My prayer turned to the story of another mountain, and a treasured memory from a time in the Philippines with a group of young people on Pilgrimage as part of an ABM Adventure – seeing firsthand the work that is done in partner communities.
In a village in the Mountains in the Northern Philippines, ABM had provided assistance to the people to be able to pipe clean water to their village, which was in a mountainous area. The village was called “Megasusu”, which the men told us many times meant “Large Breasts”, because the mountains they lived upon looked like large women’s breasts.
Piping the clean water meant that the women, who had the responsibility each day to get collect and carry it upon their heads (several kilometres up and down the mountain), no longer needed to carry it so far. Now it came to a central tap in the village. This meant the women had greater time for other work, but most significantly it had an immense impact on their health, particularly in terms of their ability to conceive.
The Head of the Mothers Union told me, “Since the pipe has come we have not had one miscarriage, and for the first time in years we have the sound of babies crying in our village”.
The memory of standing in two sacred places, lifted up by the strength of women, and the prayer that accompanied it, brought me back to reality of why I was making this trek.
I am deeply thankful to my parish, family and friends who helped us raise $12,000.00 for ABM and its incredible work. The amazing trekkers, despite complexities with COVID-19, have raised almost $90,000.00 for ABM which will be well used to support those in need across our world, bringing a little more love, hope and justice.
I am deeply thankful for the privilege of having walked with such an inspiring group, on such sacred space, for such a worthy cause.