Tent, air mattress, jacket and pack in the morning.


On the last evening of my hike I struggled up a rugged overgrown trail towards a high ridge.  I had left the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that afternoon for a side trail.  The new trail would eventually lead me to a trailhead where I would meet my brother and sister, but the word “eventually” was taking new meaning.  The trail had not been cleared of fallen trees in several years and brush had overgrown sections.  Whereas the PCT was known for its overuse of switchback (making for longer, gentler climbs and descents) the new trail was what I called a “billie goat trail.”  It climbed straight up the ridge, as if made for billie goats and not humans. I missed the PCT.

09-0816-methow-pass-north-editedIt was about 6 pm when I reached the top of the ridge and found a place to plop down.  The spot was semi-flat and a potential camping spot for the night.  I decided to make dinner and then decide if I would camp or hike further.  The rest and food restored my energy level and I decided to push on. “There will be another camping spot on the next ridge,” I thought.

As I walked down the trail into the next valley, I encountered a solo hiker, only the second party I had encountered since leaving the PCT.  We chatted for a moment.  He was climbing to the ridge top to take some pictures of the evening sunset and had set up his tent in the small valley towards which I was headed.   “That’s the last water source before you reach Devil’s Basin.  There are a couple of open campsites there if you want to stop.”

I hiked on down to the small stream and refilled my water bottles.  I saw his tent, but no other campsites were visible from the trail.  There was still an hour of sunlight and I prefer to camp high for the morning vistas, so I pushed on.

The trail to this second ridge was gentler, but when I reached the top there was no obvious campsite.  The trail was built into the side of the ridge with no level spaces in view.  Darkness was coming on and I kept hiking, hoping that I would eventually find a workable spot for my tent.


The trail up the scree field in the morning light

Earlier I had heard that the trail had a tricky spot.   The trail climbed a third ridge but made the climb through a scree field.  A scree field is a collection of loose rocks, smaller than footballs.  Imagine climbing a pile of rock and gravel.  Now I was approaching the scree field and saw no visible trail.  Darkness was deepening and I did not want to climb the field in the dark, even with a headlamp. No level spot was visible around me.

So I did the only sensible thing.

I camped right on the trail in the midst of the rocks.

It was not totally level, but it worked for one night.  I had a new air mattress that would smooth the rockiest ground.  I set up my tent, inflated my air mattress and crawled in for the night.

Throughout my hike, I embraced the serenity prayer.  First to be at peace with whatever I encountered; to have serenity about the things I cannot change, such as lack of camping sites.  The second was the courage to change what I could, which was my attitude.  Instead of despairing that I was camping on rocks, I saw it a new adventure, a test of my camping skills.


Tent, air mattress, jacket and pack in the morning.

Though I would not recommend camping on rocks, sometimes it’s the only choice.  In the morning I was rewarded with a spectacular view.

If you would like to see a video of the trail and campsite, click to my YouTube video
Night on the Rocks


I have written in the past regarding the difficulties I  have had “staying present” to the trail.  My mind would get stuck in some endless loop of worries, narratives, thoughts and concerns that often pulled me away from my time in the wilderness. I would be lost in some past experience or future anxiety; my thoughts raced everywhere but on the trail itself.  My 2016 trip had some of that, but much less than the past.  My daily practice of meditation has quieted (but not tamed) the wild beast.

04-0815-granite-pass-1-2Part of my practice on this trip was to deliberately take time in the morning to practice lovingkindness meditation, something I learned in my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living describes the practice

To practice lovingkindness meditation, we begin with awareness of our breathing.  Then we consciously invite feelings of love and kindness towards ourselves to arise, perhaps remembering a moment when we felt completely seen and accepted by another human being and inviting those feelings of kindness and love to re-emerge. . . . Then perhaps saying inwardly to ourselves simple phrases that you can make up yourself, “May I be free from inner and outer harm, may I be healthy.”  After a time we can then go on, if we care to, to invoke someone else, perhaps a person we are close to and care deeply about.   We can hold the person in our heart as we wish the person well: “May she (he) be happy, may she (he) experience love and joy.”  In the same vein we may then include others we know and love. (page 214-215).

I see this as a form of intercessor prayer and have adapted it to my own meditation practice.  On the trail each morning, I would invest time reciting the following prayer, starting with myself,

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be filled with peace and ease.
May I be strong and alert.
May I be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I then expanded the prayer to my family and to those I know.   As the hike went on, my circle of names grew wider and wider: the thru-hikers I met, the trail crews clearing trail, the National Forest administrators and staff.   Often I ended including the whole creation.


Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!  Young men and women alike, old and young together!  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. Psalm 148:7-13


Each morning, after my time of prayer, I discovered that I was centered and at peace.  I could actually be present on the trail through the rest of the day.

What forms of prayer bring you peace?


60 0819 am Rock Pass Camp (2)


Very early in the hike a single word came to mind, SAVOR.  To take time and simply be on the trail surround by grandeur and expansive space.  So I did.  Though I had many miles to cover each day, I also took time to simply stop and soak in the view.

60 0819 am Rock Pass Camp (2)To Savor

As the Serenity Prayer states, To Enjoy One Moment at a Time.

51 0818 Lupine 2 (2) compressIn my day-to-day world of ministry, my schedule can be filled  with meetings, appointments and tasks.  On the trail I wanted to embrace the empty schedule.  To simply BE.  To savor the opportunity to hike a trail surrounded by rocky peaks and steep valleys.

75 0820 Crater and Jack Mt (2) compressThe second night I noticed the tag line on my freeze dried dinner – Savor The Adventure.  I can honestly say I did.


28 0817 Savor Woody Pass (2)

Savor The Adventure

Psalm 46:10  Be still and know that I am God.

When and how do you savor life?

35 0818 Trail near Hopkins Pass cropped compress


35 0818 Trail near Hopkins Pass cropped compressI have hiked three sections (70-100 miles) of the PCT solo.  It has become my preferred option.  Though on the PCT in midsummer one is rarely alone.  Day hikers, overnight backpackers, and other section hikers were encountered each day.  The most intriguing of fellow travelers are the thru-hikers.

15 0816 So Done William frm Belgium cropped

“So Done” William

I probably encountered twenty of so thru-hikers during my recent trip. They started at the Mexican border and now 2600 miles later they were approaching the Canadian border.   William (trail name “So Done”) was the first I met.  He was from Belgium and had started in early May. He was a college graduate student who would go back to school when he returned to Belgium.  I hiked with him for about thirty minutes until his pace was too fast for me.

Many of the thru-hikers I met were from Europe: Sweden, UK, Austria, and Germany. Most were young males in their twenties.   You could quickly identify them by their beards, light packs and thin, thin physiques.

Two in particular stood out for me.  One was the morning of my day hike to the border and back (25 miles total).  I was up early and on the trail by 5:15 am.  It was a beautiful morning with the western North Cascade glowing in golden light.  I passed a sleeping bag by the side of the trail and a head poked out to greet me.  The young man’s accented English and scruffy beard hinted that he was thru-hiker.  I asked where he was from and he said France.   I asked if he would finished today and he cheerfully said yes and went back to sleep.  I hiked on.

42 0818 Monument with JVK 2 cropped compressAbout four hours later I was at the trail monument on the Canadian border, talking with some other section hikers.   I turned to see the young French man again, briskly moving down the trail, wearing only his pack and hiking shoes.  Nothing else!   I had read about nude hiking before, but this was my first encounter.  As he approached he said, “Oh, I guess I better put some clothes on.”  I decided nude hiking will not be my choice to lighten the pack.

As I turned back from the monument, a thru-hiker actually touched my soul.  He was older with some gray in his beard.  He stopped to tell me that he was from Prague in the Czech Republic.  He wanted to tell me how excited and grateful he was for our nation preserving the PCT.  “There is no trail like this in Europe.  I am so happy that your country shares it with the world!”  He was so exuberant in his praise for our country’s wilderness that I could only nod my head in agreement.   His joy was so contagious that it carried me the next few miles.

Being at our border for a short time allowed me to reflect a bit on being American and the gift our nation is to so many.  I pray that I might be as grateful as the hiker from Prague.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2

02 0815 Cutthroat Pass 2 crop compress


Last Saturday, I completed my fifth section hike on the PCT.  The Pacific Crest Trail starts at the Mexican border and snakes north near the crest of the Sierras in California and the Cascade mountains of Oregon and Washington.  I hiked the last 61 miles of the trail, from Rainy Pass in the North Cascades to the Canadian border.  Since I didn’t have my passport, I enjoyed an additional 40 miles to the Canyon Creek trail head where my brother and sister picked me up.

02 0815 Cutthroat Pass 2 crop compress

Cutthroat Pass on the first day

Rather than write a day-by-day travelogue as I have done in the past. I plan to reflect on my hike through the selected use of single words.  If you have read any of my blog over the past two years you will note that I have been growing in my practice of mindfulness, being present in the moment.  I carried this practice into the hike and wish to share it here over the next few weeks. One post at a time.

12 0816 Trail below Methow w Pack  cropped compress

Pack with tent and trekking poles

One aspect of backpacking that I enjoy is how simple it is.  I carry only what I need for the trail.  I aspire to be a lightweight backpacker with a basic (no-food) pack weight of under 20 pounds.   My basic pack at the start was about 18 pounds with an additional 10 pounds of food and water, for a total of 28 pounds.

I want my writing to be as spare.  So one word (and a couple of pictures) will be my focus each post.

There is one body and one Spirit, . . .  one Lord, . . .  one God and Father of all.  (Eph 4:4-6)

Pasayten Wilderness

New Hike Begins

Today I once again strap on my backpack and walk a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.   This summer I am doing the far northern section of the trail in Washington, near the Canadian border.  I will be starting at Rainy Pass in the North Cascade National Park but most of my hiking will be in the Pasayten Wilderness.   This will wrap up my hiking of the PCT in Washington.

Pasayten Wilderness

Pasayten Wilderness in Northern Washington

As in years past I will post pictures and reflections when I return.  My intentions on this solo hike will be to use it as an opportunity for contemplation and meditative walking.   I plan to hike about 65 miles so I will have time to slow down and be still.  I’ll let you know how it went.

If you are curious how past years went, here are some of my posts from previous hikes.

My 2014 hike in Southern Washington starts here 

My 2013 hike in Central Washington starts here

My one attempt at a backpacking cooking show is here

The joy of the Lord is our strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA

Broken and Unbroken Promises

I have been neglecting my blog for several months for no good reason.  Recently I was contacted by the congregation where I was confirmed, Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA.  They are celebrating their 70th anniversary this fall and was seeking stories from former congregation members.  My confirmation experience became a kind of crossroads in my spiritual life so I will share it here as well.

Emmanuel Lutheran BremWA

Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA

Pastor Orville Crawford was my 9th grade confirmation teacher and our class of about twenty boisterous teenagers met most Wednesday evenings in the basement of Emmanuel. We struggled to memorized Luther’s Small Catechism. Being a good student, I struggled less than others. God had given me a sharp mind that grabbed new concepts quickly. I was also active in the small Sunday afternoon Luther League activities, so Pastor Crawford knew me well.

In the spring, as our Confirmation Sunday drew near, Pastor Crawford had a concern. At that time, communion was restricted to confirmed members and thus our first communion would come the Sunday following our confirmation. We were to receive communion as a class, sitting together in the front of the church, just as we would do on our confirmation Sunday. Pastor Crawford was concerned that not all the class would be present for the first communion because it would fall on Memorial Day Week-end that year. So he asked me, “John, how many of your confirmation classmates will be there for the First Communion?” I had no idea, so I said, “I don’t know, but you can count on me being there!” I remember how confident my promise was to him.

Our confirmation Sunday went smoothly. I was very excited to confess my faith in Jesus Christ and become an active member of the congregation. However, that afternoon some friends approached me about going on a backpack trip the next week-end into the Olympic Mountains. It would be my first such trip. I was torn. I remembered my promise to Pastor Crawford, but also wanted to try backpacking. My parents said it was my decision, since I had completed confirmation. With only a brief hesitation, I decided to go backpacking.

Lower Lena Lake

Lower Lena Lake where we camped. It rained most of the week-end.

When I returned I discovered that I was the only member of my confirmation class not present for the first communion Sunday!

Yet when I next came to worship Pastor Crawford did not chastise or judge me. He simply welcomed me to the Lord’s Table, delighted that I was there. I felt loved and forgiven.

What I learned from that experience is that God’s Grace is not about what promises I make to God, but about God’s promises to us. I might make lofty promises to God or God’s people, only to discover that I fail to keep them. Yet God does not hold that against me. God is always willing to welcome me in love. Jesus promises to forgive and heal us. “This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Also as an ordained pastor, I have worked to follow Pastor Crawford’s example of grace and hospitality.

The ironic thing is I learned to love backpacking as a member of Emmanuel’s Luther League.  Every summer during high school we made a long hike in Olympic National Park. That love (along with the love of God) continues with me as I prepare to return to the PCT in Washington next week.