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When the summit makes it all worthwhile

Phoenician Steps climbing heaven

Shutterstock composite

Scarlett Rose Ford - published on 10/23/23

After climbing 921 stone stairs — in heels — I finally got a glimpse of Heaven.

Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall, I whispered at my high-heeled boots and jean cuffs as I carefully climbed each foot-high stone stair before me. My parents trailed behind, their labored breathing harmonizing with my own dyspnea as it echoed up the mountain. Google had read that there were only two kilometers between the Capri seaport and the chairlift needed to reach Anacapri, the only other town on the Italian island. Unfortunately, the map didn’t account for the hundred flights of ascending stones known as the 3,000-year-old Phoenician Steps, for which I was very inappropriately dressed. 

“Hi,” I panted in an attempt to greet passersby on their way down the steps, “Are we almost to the top?” Some people politely responded “Almost,” with an encouraging smile while others were more direct: “Not even close,” a man guffawed. 

Hearing this news an hour into our accidental hike, we had two options: give up and walk back down the world’s steepest steps, or make the most of our adventure. Luckily, we chose the latter, slowing our pace to focus more on the journey than the destination. The change in outlook was like exchanging old, fingerprinted glasses for a fresh prescription: The sea became a bright, glittering turquoise, highlighting the reefs below. The white mountain slopes were blanketed in lush, green vegetation that danced as the wind exhaled. Small crosses were etched into the 921 stone steps, leading up to the 15th-century Cappella di Sant’Antonioat the summit. As I tiptoed to peek through the grate on the chapel door, it was clear that the ascent was easily worth this small glimpse of Heaven alone.

Experiencing this hike in Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s motherland of Italy, I realized it is no surprise as to why he often compared Heaven to a mountaintop and encouraged others to go verso l’alto (to the heights). Both figuratively and literally, the journey to Heaven is not easy. There are arguably way more than 921 steps, and they are steep. We will huff and puff the whole way, but the summit makes it all worthwhile. 

While the town of Anacapri was pleasant, nothing compared to the journey and the resulting change in my outlook. I now aim to be more intentional in my pursuit of Heaven, taking each roadblock as an opportunity to slow down and admire the view. By hiking the Phoenician Steps, I learned that even in heels, the most difficult things in life tend to be the most worthwhile.


This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

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