Don’t Follow Me

Lake Ediza

Dear Will:

When you’re camping in the backcountry, something tugs at you, and you pretty much HAVE to throw some water and a protein bar into a daypack and head off to find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. Thus on a recent trip to the High Sierras I found myself wobbling across a log bridge and climbing a massive chunk of rock to see what I could see. My climb took me into the midst of a tangle of streams where I beheld a lovely view of Lake Ediza below. But THEN, I looked back toward our campsite and beyond, through an opening in the distant trees, and I saw this:

Double Waterfall

Makes you want to grab your daypack and go, doesn’t it? I immediately declared to anyone who would listen and several who wouldn’t that tomorrow we were all going to head off in search of the double waterfall. Which we did. Now as it turned out, that cascade tumbled down the mountain just 10 minutes from our campsite, leaving us plenty of time to respond again to that familiar tug: “Where does all of this water come from? Let’s find out.”

So we kept climbing, following the stream up and up until we came to a glacier scooped into the base of some magnificent, jagged peaks. From underneath the ice, you could see the meltwater forming drip by drip, a beard-stroking reminder of where double waterfalls ultimately come from. Wow.

Meltwater

The trip back to our campsite seemed simple enough: retrace our steps along the intermittent path that meandered more or less along the stream. We talked as we clambered over rocks and ducked under branches, distracted by the wonder of wilderness. Imagine my surprise, then, when the path I had chosen spilled out onto the shore of the lake, well below the spot where we had set up camp. What?

Somehow we had lost our way. No, lost is too strong a word, for we knew where we were. We just weren’t where we intended to be. So rather than enjoy a whistling-and-skipping descent beside a mountain stream, we had to trudge and wheeze—up and up—to return from whence we started. (You know how Grandpa talks about walking “uphill both ways” to get to and from school? Well, that day we were Grandpa.) I look back on that pointless detour and I’m dumbfounded. Where did I make the wrong turn? How did I manage to make that hike so much harder than it needed to be? I just don’t get it.

And yet, I do. Figuratively speaking, you might say I have climbed this hill before. How many times have I made a muddle of things in life when a straighter, truer course had already been laid out before me? How often do I still find myself ascending a hill for a second or third time, or worse: straining up an incline I should never have had to climb in the first place? How often do I become distracted from my purpose or think I know a better way, only to find myself suffering some self-imposed adversity? So dumb. So unnecessary. And way too typical.

I know: It need not be this way. On Sunday mornings we sometimes sing that Jesus “marked the path and led the way.” All we have to do is follow. So I declare to anyone who will listen (and several who won’t): Let’s find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. But don’t follow me. Follow HIM.

meme-bible-john-way-truth-1341848-wallpaper

PW

Advertisements

Watch, Now, How I Start the Day

IMG_2139

Dear Will:

For Christmas, my daughter Bryn gave me a homemade coupon for a hike and a burger. Now I love a good hike and a burger (especially with one of my kids), so I couldn’t imagine a better present. But there was a catch. The hike was to the top of Mount Timpanogos. In Utah.

If only that had been the ONLY catch. In order to collect my free meal, I first had to fly myself to Salt Lake City, then BEGIN our hike at 1 a.m. “so that we can be at the summit at sunrise.” Then, of course, I had to cover 7.5 miles to the 11,749-foot summit, with an elevation gain of 4,580 feet. Which is fine if you live at altitude, but not-so-much if you live, like I do, at 190 feet. Not good. Oh, and I’m an old guy with the fitness of a console television. So there’s that also.

Well, the day unfolded about as you would expect. The higher we climbed, the harder it was to breathe. I wobbled and wheezed, stumbled and stammered, shuffled and puffed all along the trail. Although I threatened several times to fall off of the mountain, I didn’t, and somehow I crumpled onto the summit around 5:30 a.m., a good half-hour ahead of schedule. Bryn was delighted.

On the summit itself, the vista was spectacular. Facing west, we looked out across Utah Lake and the vast Salt Lake valley; to the east, the view stretched past Sundance and Deer Creek, out and over the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. As the sun appeared in the far distance, the eastern sky became awash with the reds and oranges of early morning.

On any other Friday, daybreak would have arrived and I’d have missed it altogether. But on this Friday morning, exhausted though I was, I got the full benefit of the rising sun. The moment brought to mind the words of Thoreau: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” But there on the summit, Bryn (and poet Mary Oliver) said it even better—a fitting invocation to start this or any day:

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light—
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

PW

Hope, Prayer, and a Whole Lot of Duct Tape

Busted Boots

Dear Will:

We were over 20 miles into a 50+ mile backpacking trip though the Golden Trout Wilderness in the High Sierras. With 35-40 pounds on our backs, we had completed the long, relentless slog up and over New Army Pass (12,300 feet) the day before, and somewhere on the backside of Guyot Pass (10,958 feet) my son, Seth, alerted me to a problem. My boot was coming apart.

I stared in disbelief. Clearly, the sole was detaching itself from the body of the boot, which seemed, upon reflection, sub-optimal to my purpose. I had come to climb Mt. Whitney—at 14,505 feet the highest peak in the contiguous United States—and the thought of doing so with half a left boot was untenable. As we tromped on, I kept rechecking the evidence (the way we do), as if on the fifth or eighth or tenth look I might discover that the previous nine had been an illusion. But a couple of dozen rechecks changed nothing. My foot was kaput.

When we set up camp in Upper Crabtree Meadow that evening, I considered my options, but not for long. The next day was Whitney, an all-day, 15-mile roundtrip requiring a 4,000-foot ascent, after which we would still be over 20 miles and three more mountain passes away from the trailhead. The manifest virtues of duct tape and hope (in that order) notwithstanding, the moment for prudence had clearly arrived. I tried to imagine it: Local Hiker Bags Whitney But Loses His Sole. With the welfare and safety of others directly affected by my actions, I just couldn’t take that chance.

There were 19 of us in total, six adults in various stages of middle-aged “fitness” along with 13 boys from 14 to 18 years old. I was by no means the leader of this expedition (outdoor competence being a necessary prerequisite), but I did feel responsible in a kind of paternal, ecclesiastical sense. And then of course there was Seth. Ten years ago I climbed Whitney with my oldest son, Luke, and while I can’t say that I relished the anticipation of the lung-shrinking climb to the summit, I did look forward to that trophy-shot of the two of us, hands on one another’s shoulders, the Sierra mountains stretching out behind us like a giant’s gnarled molars and bicuspids. Alas, it was not to be.

So the next morning the others began their climb to glory while I stayed behind supervising our campsite. I paced. I fidgeted. I fidgeted and paced. Anxiousness turned to worry as I tried to imagine my little group of intrepid alpinists. I knew, for example, that there are lightning showers every afternoon on Whitney, and if you don’t get off of the summit in time you may unwittingly become a Ben Franklin experiment. So you can imagine my state of mind as the hours passed and the afternoon rains came and my climbers were nowhere in sight. I quickly stowed our gear inside the tents, and then, with no other recourse available, I stowed myself inside as well, feeling helpless and useless as I imagined how I might report my experience later. (“How was your trip?” “In tents.”)

Seven hours. Eight hours. Nine hours passed. I lay in my tent, listening to the steady thrump of rain and praying for the safe return of my companions. Of my son. Finally, ten hours after their departure I heard the first voices. They straggled into camp, bedraggled and exhausted. Finally, over 11 hours after their 7am departure, the last of our group stumbled into camp.  I felt a surge of emotion that surprised me. We were safe. Together. At last.

I do not wish to overstate the significance of this experience for me. But I can tell you truthfully that what I felt that afternoon is not that different from the longing for togetherness—for homecoming—that I feel for you and every other member of the Santiago Creek Ward. I wait. Hoping to hear your voice. Praying for your safe return.

PW