Tag Archives: backpacking

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.

PCT Reflection – Playing Hide and Seek with Mt. Rainier

States have notable geographical landmarks.  New York has Niagara Falls.  Minnesota has 10,000 lakes.  Arizona has the Grand Canyon.  Florida has the Everglades.  And Washington has Mt. Rainier.

pink mt rainier

When my father bought a lot outside of Bremerton, Washington, he made sure that our house took full advantage of our view.   The house sat on a hill overlooking an inlet of the Puget Sound.  On a clear day, Mt. Rainier rose on the horizon like the top of giant ice cream cone.  Granted, clear weather comes at premium in Western Washington with the weeks of grey, low clouds obscuring all mountain vision.  Yet when the clouds cleared, the mountain was always there, sunlight gleaming off the multiple glaciers.   In high school and college, I remember sitting on our deck, transfixed by the magenta alpine glow on Mt. Rainier at sunset.

When I decided to do the southern section of the PCT this summer, I deliberately chose to hike from south to north for the explicit reason of hiking towards Mt. Rainier.   Though I would be hiking near Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, and directly beneath Mt. Adams,  my heart and eyes were focused on Mt. Rainier.   And I was not disappointed.

First Glimpse of Mt. Rainier from Mt. Adams on the PCT

First Glimpse of Mt. Rainier from Mt. Adams on the PCT

As mentioned in my previous post, my first two and half days were mostly in the forest.  But on my third day, as I climbed the ridges surrounding Mt. Adams, I caught my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier.   For the next four days I played a game of hide and seek, wondering where the next view would come. There were several from Mt. Adams, but the best view of Rainier came when I entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area.  Though the haze and midday sun made photography difficult, I made sure my final  lunch stop included a Rainier view.

Last Day Lunch Stop

Last Day Lunch Stop

After such splendid views, I started to think again about hiking The Wonderland Trail.  Its 93 miles circumnavigates the mountain and offers many elevation challenges as one hike up and over the many ridges that radiate out from the peak.  Due to its popularity, access is limited to a kind of lottery system in reserving backcountry campsites.  But now I am convinces it would be worth the gamble.

I often use Mt. Rainier as part of guided meditation prayer that helps me stay grounded in Christ.  Also I sing a song based on Psalm 46.  “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.  In the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiest, beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth – is Mt. Zion on the side of the north, the city of the great king.”  From an early age, I have associated Mt. Zion with Mt. Rainier, both places of beauty, elevation and holiness.  And I know the mountain has brought me much joy.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the holy places in our lives.

PCT Day 1and 2: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I confess: I am a biased hiker. The high alpine country above timberline is where I prefer to hike.  The sweeping vista of snow-capped peaks and the dazzling array of alpine flowers strike the sweet spot in my backpacking experience.  I was exposed to this as a young child, making the annual family trek from sea level to ski level on the seventeen mile road from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge.  The Olympic Mountains remain spectacular in my humble opinion.

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

 

Start of the trail

Start of the trail

Still to reach timberline, one often needs to hike through timber.  This was the case in August when I hike my third section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in southern Washington.  The trail is aptly named in that it seeks to follow the crest line of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington.  Often the crest is above tree line, but not always.

For this portion of the PCT I decided to skip the first forty miles as it climbs through the thick forest of the Columbia River Gorge (the border of Washington and Oregon).  I started just south of the Indian Heaven Wilderness where a forest service road crossed the trail.  After my brother Robert snapped my picture, I plunged into the forest.

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I soon discovered that the wilderness area named Indian Heaven is not my personal vision of heaven.  Though dotted with dozens of small lakes, the trail was all below timberline.  Occasionally the trail climbed a small ridge where one could glimpse some of the distant peaks.  But mostly, for the first two and half days and 35 miles, I walked through a multi-green tunnel.

As I hiked through the forest, I explored my mental bias.  I recognized that forest hiking is part of long distant hiking.  Just as in life, one cannot always choose the surroundings one may prefer.  I also discovered that forest walking is a great place to practice both intercessory prayer and mindfulness.  As I walked I prayed for my family, friends and for my congregation.  I used a simple prayer of compassion.  For example, my prayer for Resurrection Lutheran Church was

May Resurrection be filled with loving kindness.
May Resurrection be filled with peace.
May Resurrection be strong and vibrant
May Resurrection live as children of God.

I would repeat the prayer several dozen times, as I breathed in and out.  A peace and purpose came with the prayer.

IMG_20140822_162010_988I also practiced mindfulness, dwelling in the present moment, experiencing each footfall and each touch of my trekking poles.  I try not to race ahead mentally to when I would reach the high country.  Rather let this moment in the forest be my experience.

It was not easy.   My mind still likes to jump around, bouncing from one habitual thought to the next.  Yet the more I practice, the more I see the reward of simply being in the moment, even when surrounded by a green tunnel.  And truly God is in the forest valley as much as the high country.

I was reminded of Psalm 1 as I hiked:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;  but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

And if one keeps one’s eyes and mind alert, strange sights can be encountered.   One can imagine all kinds of story on how a saddle ended up in a tree.

 

Lord Jesus, keep me alert to your constant presence.

 

Next, Reaching High Country.

Hooked on Backpacking

The destination we missed

My dad was leading our family on a short one mile nature hike to Marymere Falls in Olympic National Park. The trail was near my childhood home of Port Angeles, Washington.   I was about seven years old and enjoyed racing ahead of my younger siblings.   I sometimes hid along the trail in an attempt to scare them.   It is no wonder therefore that in the confusion of children running up and down the trail, we missed a critical trail junction and plunged deeper into the forest of Barnes Creek.

We probably went an extra mile or so with no sign of Marymere Falls.  As a child I thought we were deep in the jungle, all alone.   Then around a corner came three individuals, carrying large bundles on their backs.   They told my dad that he had missed the junction and that we should probably turn around.   “The trail gets pretty rugged up ahead.”   In a moment, the three were gone.

A more recent backpacker

But their memory stayed with me.   I asked my dad what they were doing.  “Oh they were backpacking.  Did you see those large packs?   They carried all their own food and tents to stay in the mountains.”   Wow, I thought.   To camp out in the woods, far from roads and car campgrounds –that is a real adventure!

Ever since that hike, I wanted to go on a backpacking trip in the mountains.   Then in the spring of 1969, a high school  friend invited me on a trip to Lena Lake in the Olympics over Memorial Day week-end.  I immediately said yes.   Even though it rained the entire two mile hike to Lena and I was soaked to the bone, even though I had a borrowed pack that did not fit me, and even though I made a fool of myself trying to light a fire, I fell in love with backpacking.  I experienced a sense of place and belonging.   I was hooked.

Over the decades I have completed scores of overnight backpacks, each unique and rewarding.  Last year I blogged about completing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in northern Washington state.   Tomorrow, I start another hike along a section in southern Washington.

Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks Wilderness are part of the trail this year.

Backpacking has become a kind of spiritual refuge for me, a time and method to be centered in God’s grace and love.  I am reminded of one on my favorite prayers from the Lutheran Book of Worship:

Lord God, you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I will be carrying good maps (and an extra pair of glasses – see here) so I don’t expect to become lost.  But if I do, I am confident that God will provide me with three strangers to guide and inspire me, just like he did years ago on the trail beyond Marymere Falls.

Where do you find your spiritual refuge?

Lord Jesus, guide us.

Day Two: Finding the Holy

The primary lure of backpacking for me is the opportunity to visit isolated high alpine country: where a trail breaks out above the tree line and the vista opens up to snow-capped peaks. There are several place where one can drive to such regions. Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park near my boyhood home of Port Angeles is one such location.

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

But simply driving to a vista takes away the challenge of the hike. As I started my second day of hiking, I knew that I would be entering my “sacred space” later that morning as I climbed towards Suiattle Pass, at 5800 feet. Shortly after starting, I needed to crossed Agnes Creek which had no foot bridge.

Already I was missing my trusted Leki hiking stick that I had used for years. I had forgotten to place it in my airline duffel when I packed my gear. Still I carefully waded across Agnes Creek without a problem, the ice-cold water reaching above my gaiters. In yesterday’s rain I had hiked in wet shoes; a stream crossing was no different. (Somehow I forgot that lesson three days later.)

As I climbed up towards the pass, some vistas did open up, especially towards Cloud Pass. I kept climbing towards Suiattle Pass and I looked forward to seeing deeper into Glacier Peak Wilderness. However I soon learned that Suiattle Pass, in spite of its higher elevation, is mostly forest with a few small meadows. The alpine flowers were gorgeous, the views less so.

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As I trekked down the other side of Suiattle Pass towards Miner’s Creek and eventually Suiattle River, I caught my first glimpse of Glacier Peak. Clouds surrounded the peak, but I could see a few of the many glaciers that cover it. Glacier is volcanic like Mount St. Helen’s and Mount Rainer and it is the fourth highest peak in Washington. It would take me two days to hike around it, mostly due to the arduous descents into and tougher climbs out of the deep river canyons that the melting glaciers feed. I was expecting some tough days ahead.

Glacier Peak from SuiattleAs I descended deeper into the forest, the trail became less rocky and more pedestrian. I found my pace quickening as I approached Suiattle River. I had heard stories about the old crossing of this river. In 2003 a rainstorm flooded the river and the bridge was wiped out, leaving fallen log for hikers to traverse.

Until 2011, the only way across the Suiattle River.

In September 2011 a new bridge was opened but it was built two miles downstream at a (hopefully) more secure spot. This added four miles to this section of trail, two miles down one side of the river and two miles up the other. I was anxious to get back to the high country, so I did not look forward to an extra four miles of river-bottom hiking. My disappointment turned to surprise.

After completing eighteen miles, I found a cozy camp site near the river. The next morning, I finished the hike to the new bridge and started back up the river along new trail.

As I trekked, I slowly realized that I was hiking through some old growth forest. Most of western Washington was heavily logged in the last hundred years, but for some reason this section was missed. Huge western red cedars stretched to the sky. I felt like I had stumbled into an ancient temple; the feel of sacred space surrounded and surprised me. I was awed and humbled.

A short video clip from the forest (you may need to “full screen” to see it.)

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. Psalm 104:16

What space or place has surprised you with holiness?

Lord God, evoke within us the holiness of your kingdom.

Day One: Walking Wet

The start of a hike has not only a loaded backpack but also plenty of emotions and thoughts: worries that I might have brought too much, too little or the wrong equipment; excitement for the unknown that I will discover or the challenges that I must endure; curiosity as to whom I will meet on the trail or what self-revelation will surface. Eight days and 104 miles proved to be enough time for all kinds of emotions and thoughts to bubble up.

Preparing to kayak with my brother Rob and sister Kris prior to hike

Preparing to kayak with sister Kris and my brother Rob prior to hike

My brother Robert graciously drove me from Seattle to Lake Chelan in Central Washington and accompanied me on the ferry to the far end of the lake. Without the assistance of my awesome brother (and sister Kris) I would not be able to complete many of the mountain backpacks that I have accomplished over the past decade. Gratitude for family was an underlying emotion from the start.

After 2.5 hours the ferry reached the village of Stehekin. The only vehicles in the village have been shipped by barge including the shuttle bus that rattled over 16 miles of dirt roads to High Bridge, mile post 2580 on the Pacific Crest Trail. I quickly picked up my pack and started down the trail.

Full pack at Stehekin

Full pack at Stehekin

Actually it was up the trail, since High Bridge was the lowest elevation (1587 feet above sea level) I would encounter on the trail. I was in a deep river canyon, slowly making my way to the high alpine country I love. After stopping for a trail lunch, I steadily climbed into a forest that was thick with brush in places making it difficult to see the trail at times.

The clouds thickened and a light drizzle began. I considered using my rain gear but decided my own sweat inside the rain jacket would be worse. I hiked on as the drizzle became a steady rain. With the sections of thick brush, clothing was soon soaked. I marched on.

Having grown up in Washington, I knew rain. If one keeps moving, the body stays warm. I was thankful that my recent purchase of a broad rim hat kept the rain off my face and glasses.

Here is a short video of the wet brush, (you may need to use “full screen” to see it.)

I arrived at Cedar Camp at 5:30 pm, ten miles from High Bridge, soaking wet. I set up my tent, changed to drier, warmer clothes and greeted the others camping at this site. I discovered some were from Holden Village, a nearby Lutheran retreat center. I met Ben Stewart, a pastor and professor from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. I informed him that a new presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, had been elected at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the day before.

As I talked with other hikers from Holden, the forest continued to drip with mist and showers.  I was reminded of a phrase that I learn when I had visited Holden years ago, that as Christians “we walk wet.” The phrase was a reminder of our baptism into Christ. Though the water of our baptism may have long evaporated, we are still renew each day by the promises of our baptism, that we are beloved children of God, empowered by the Spirit. That thought warmed me as much as the freeze-dried chicken-and-rice meal I ate. I was “walking wet” in the wonder of God’s creation.

How do you walk wet?

Lord Jesus, thank you for the gifts of creation, family, church and renewal.

Superior Hiking Trail – Day Two

On day two of my hike I awoke to clear skies.  I climbed out of my tiny new tent and prepared a breakfast of granola, mocha and an energy bar.  By 6:30 I was on the trail and climbing onto Blueberry Ridge.   I was feeling strong and prepared to push my limits.  “Perhaps a twenty-mile hike today,” I thought.

IMG_20130529_090022_559By midmorning I was hiking  upstream along the west bank of Split Rock River in sunshine.  There are many cascades and falls along this section so I stopped several times to soak in the view.

IMG_20130529_095152_488I reached the bridge that crossed the river before noon, pausing to take a few pictures.  The trail continued back downstream beside the river for a mile or two and then turned east.   I stopped for several trail mix snack breaks.

As I climbed another ridge I spotted the Split Rock Lighthouse for the first time. By now I was starting to feel fatigued and wondered if my twenty-mile goal was such a great idea.  My ankle was sore and my back was tightening up as well.   I still had miles go to reach a campsite, so I picked up the pack and pushed on.   Along this section of trail, I passed four other backpackers heading west. They would be the final people I would see on the trail during my trip.

The trail guide describes this 11 mile section,

SHT croppedThere are many steep ascents and descents that take one through a wide variety of forests – much birch, maple, and aspen as well as impressive stands of cedars and white pines. The section also traverses part of the Merrill Grade, one of the historic logging railroads. Many sections of the SHT traverse long ridges of table rock, or follow long outcroppings which form walls for the SHT.

In other words, it was a lot of up, down, up, down, up, down sort of hiking.  I took a long lunch break in a pine forest, lying on a bed of moss.  A short nap ensued.

When I started hiking again, I knew I faced a choice.  I could try to push it to Beaver River campsites which would give me 19 miles or I could call it a day when I reached Fault Line Creek campsite at 14 miles.  There were no other campsites in between.

IMG_20130530_063237_398I reached Fault Line about 4:30 in the afternoon.  Even though it sat by a beaver pond, it was not a very scenic campsite.  There was still plenty of sunlight and even at a slow 1.5 mile/hour  pace I could have reached Beaver River by 8:00 pm, plenty of time to set up camp.

During the day I had sung, On Eagle’s Wings and remembered the verse, but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31).  I noted that waiting on the Lord came before the renewal of strength.

So I decided not to push on.   I listened to my body for once.   With my fatigue, it was much easier to stumble and fall, causing possible injury. I pitched my tent at Fault Line.

That night it rained.