Tag Archives: Pacific Crest Trail

Prayer

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.

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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?

 

One

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)

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

Path to Mindfulness

Nearly three years ago I started a path that eventually lead to my own Christian mindfulness practice.  Over the next weeks I will describe my journey.

The vista was spectacular, what I had dreamed it would be.  But my mind kept jumping to internal perspectives.

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Beauty surround me but I had trouble seeing it. 

I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) near Glacier Peak in Washington State.  I was in the middle of an eight day hike that I had been planning for months.  That day the trail followed a high ridge whose side dropped a thousand feet into a deep green river valley.  Beyond the valley were several snow capped peaks.  The sky was clear, the alpine flowers brilliant and the view stretched for miles.  Still my mind could not stay centered.

IMG_3289As I walked I noticed that my mind kept jumping back to Minnesota, to worries about work or family.  Who could I find to help with the church stewardship drive next fall?  What sermon series would be helpful to the congregation?  How were my children doing, each starting new work adventures?  These were not “bad” thoughts, but they certainly distracted me from being centered on the present path.
I remember stepping back (inside my head) and noticing how these different trains of thought were jumping around.  Who exactly was this observer inside my head noticing the jumps? I prayed, asking God to care for these different concerns, but my prayers seemed only to add to the confusing cacophony of thoughts and ideas rolling around in my head.

IMG_20130817_143516_947As the trail began to descend from the ridge, I was surprised to be passed by a fellow solo backpacker.  He was moving at a fast clip with a light pack.  He had the harden look of a PCT thru-hiker, but he was southbound. May a yo-yo hiker, I speculated.  I watched him quickly disappear around a corner.   My mind thought, “Moving that fast he must be missing out on truly seeing the spectacular view.”  But another thought followed, “But are you any different, with your mind jumping around?  Are you present to this moment?”

I knew that I wanted to change my busy mind but unsure how to go about it.  So I asked Jesus for help.

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  (Matthew 7:7-8)

Next post: Introduction to MBSR

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.

Days Six, Seven and Eight: A Peaceful End

My final days hiking on the PCT had a certain lightness of being. First, my pack was becoming lighter as I consumed my daily granola, tortillas and trail mix. Second, my legs and heart had strengthened during the daily routine of hiking up and down mountain passes. Third, after my fall in Sitkum creek, my loss of glasses gave everything a kind of dream-like quality. Finally, I had been using my phone as a camera and the battery began to die so I took fewer pictures.  All this meant that I simply tried to be in the moment.

On day six, I was traveling along some of the most beautiful alpine country in the North Cascades. The alpine lupine and Indian paintbrush were abundant. The clouds cleared from around Glacier Peak and it remained the dominate peak to my north even as I hiked south.

Another blogger’s picture of Lake Sally Ann.  (Theo’s Roaming and Rambling)

The temperatures rose and I decided to take a quick dip in Lake Sally Ann. The cold water renewed me after miles of dusty hiking.

Blocked TrailAfterwards I came to a section of trail where a winter storm had blown down scores of trees across the trail.  Later I met a trail crew that was slowly clearing the many down trees. I say “slowly” not because they were lazy, but rather because in Glacier Peak Wilderness Area they could only use hand tools. No gas power chain saws were allowed.

That night I camped at a small campsite near a small stream, thankful for the trail crews, the silence and the trail itself.  The trial has many similarities to life.   Though the path may be blocked at times, God shows a way around the obstacles.

On day seven I enjoyed a fine lunch on Grizzly Peak and a delightful afternoon swim in shallow Lake Janus.  I had one last look at Glacier Peak before the trail dropped over a ridge.

My last look at Glacier Peak

My last look at Glacier Peak

My final campsite was by Lake Valhalla, only six miles from Steven’s Pass. The last morning on trail had a relaxed tempo. I knew that three of my four siblings would meet me on the trail around noon, so I took my time packing my tent and eating breakfast. I even relaxed in a mountain meadow to read for a time.

End of the Trail with Kris and Rob

So thankful for my sister Kris, my brother Rob, and my sister Kathleen (taking the picture) who gave me a ride back to Seattle.

Less than a mile from Steven’s Pass, my siblings spotted me and we took a couple of pictures. They still wanted to hike a bit more, so they continued on up the trail while I headed to the car to clean up and change clothes.

In spite of the fall in Sitkum Creek and the lost glasses, I truly enjoyed my trip. The high alpine meadows, the majestic forests, the craggy peaks and the meandering trail all speak to my soul. I felt renewed and refreshed as I drove with my siblings back to Seattle. Though the Psalmist in Psalm 48 was writing about Mt. Zion, I take a much broader perspective, seeing all mountains with such beauty.

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of the whole earth.

I am already pondering my next mountain trip. And yes, in case you are wondering, I will pack an extra pair of glasses and my hiking stick.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your peace that surpasses all human understanding.

Day Five: Pride Goes Before the Fall

IMG_20130818_134449_651Day Five of my backpack started much like day four: the glorious beauty of Glacier Peak surrounded me and I felt tremendous joy as I ambled down the trail. My feet felt as light as my heart. With my lightness of feet I jumped a couple of streams. I thought, “It’s going to be a wonderful day.  Thank you, Lord!”

The Cascade Mountains are a named for the many streams cascading down from the glaciers and snow fields. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses many of these streams. On major rivers, there are often bridges. Some of these have been battered by the spring floods. I wondered how long Kennedy Creek would keep its bridge.

Kennedy Creek Bridge on the PCT

Kennedy Creek Bridge on the PCT

Shortly after crossing Kennedy Creek, I came to Sitkum Creek. Sitkum is rather small and has no bridge. I stopped to consider my options. I noticed several larger stones that could be used to boulder-hop across. I also could easily wade across since it was less than 6″ deep. I did not have trekking poles and my shoes were dry. After a moment’s reflection I decided to try boulder hopping, thus keeping my shoes dry.

Sitkum CreekI loosened my pack and started across. One boulder, two boulders. . .  .

Suddenly my foot slipped and I fell into the stream. Unable to catch myself with my hands, my face slipped below the water and my head hit a rock.

I heard a crunch and felt the sharp blow to my head. I quickly scrambled up to my knees. I felt my forehead and discovered a rising lump above my right eye. I also discovered my glasses were gone, swept away by the stream.

I got to my feet and splashed across to the far side of the stream. I took off my pack and took stock of my situation. Other than the bump on my head, I had no other scrapes or bruises. I went back to look for my glasses in the stream, totally oblivious to how wet my shoes had become. Though I looked and felt all around the area where I fell, no glasses could be found. I suspected that they broke in the fall (the crunch sound I heard). Since I was packing light, I did not have a spare pair of glasses with me.

LumpAfter a fruitless search, I considered my options. I am nearsighted and usually wear glasses, but I am able to see okay without them. I could clearly see the trail, trees, stream, and rocks around me. I had not blacked out in the fall, nor was my vision more blurred than normal. I was at least twenty miles from any trail head and still forty-five miles from Steven’s Pass. So I picked up my pack and marched on.

I must say I was having a small pity-party as I hiked. “Why didn’t I simply wade in water?” “If you had brought your hiking stick, you probably would have regained balance before falling.” “A spare pair of glasses isn’t that heavy.” There is plenty of time for self incrimination walking down the trail.

For a moment I thought, “Why did God let this happen?” Then I remembered what I have so often said to confirmation students and others, “God gives us free will. He does not wrap us in Kevlar bubble wrap that keeps us from experiencing the consequences of our poor choices.” Upon further reflection, I thought it may have been God’s voice telling me to “wade in the water.”

I covered more than sixteen miles and several thousand feet of elevation change that day. I passed several people who could have helped me if I needed it. Even though I was in some of the most scenic alpine country, it was all blurry for me.

I joked to myself that I was hiking through a Monet impressionistic painting.  (Perhaps Monet’s Bridge would fit over Sitkum Creek.)

Late that afternoon, I met a younger man who was hiking in the opposite direction. After I shared with him a bit of my story, he looked at my bruised head and said, “And I was going to complaining about my blistered feet. I am going to stop my complaining right now.” We both agreed that simply being out in the beauty of creation is sufficient.

What I would have seen if I had still had my glasses.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your protection even when I fall.

 

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.

Seething White-fire Enthusiasm

Monday I am headed to Washington state on vacation to visit family and to backpack.  I am looking forward to spending about a week on the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking north of Steven’s Pass.

I feel in love with the mountains as teen-ager. My first backpacking trip was at age 15 with some friends to Lena Lake in Olympic National Park. I continued to hike as often as I can. Recent hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail and in Rocky Mountain National Park have become posts on my blog.

I find spiritual renewal in being on trail. I have been reading selections of John Muir’s writings from Richard Cartwright’s book Baptized in Wilderness: A Christian Perspective on John Muir.  Muir’s travels in the wilderness of the American west evoked spiritual rapture. Writing about his first summer in Yosemite Valley,

John Muir, American conservationist.

John Muir, American conservationist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now we are fairly high into the mountains, and they are into us. We are fairly living now. What bright seething white-fire enthusiasm is bred into us–without our help or knowledge. A perfect influx into every pore and cell of us, fusing, vaporizing by its heat until the boundary walls of our heavy flesh tabernacle seem taken down and we flow and diffuse into the very air and trees and streams and rocks , thrilling with them to the touch of the vital sunbeams. Responsive, we are part of nature now … How glorious the conversion. (p 11)

When I read Muir I am reminded of the psalmist who writes that all creation can give glory to God.

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!  (Psalm 148:7)

Though I do not worship the creation, the beauty and glory of God’s creation can fill my soul with “seething white-fire enthusiasm” and wonder.

How does the wonder of creation touch your soul? Are there special places where you find God’s Spirit present?

Lord Jesus, renew me through the wonder of your creation.

Wild: Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Spade Lake along the PCT

After my solo backpacking trip this summer, I am already planning for a longer trip next summer. I would like to do a 100+ mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Washington State. The PCT is a 2600 mile trail that runs from the Mexican border into Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington. I completed a segment of the PCT with my son Jonathan in 2009 that was both challenging and spectacular.

So when some friends told me about Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I quickly found an audio copy to listen on my daily commute.  I later discovered that it had received plenty of positive reviews from various book critics.

The book is a memoir that describes both Cheryl’s hike on a long segment of the PCT in 1995 and her grief journey after the death of her mother in 1991. Both pieces fascinated me. The hike was primary but her grief reflections were poignant for me because, as a pastor, I often accompany people on their grief journey. And to top it off, Cheryl was from Minnesota when she decided to hike the PCT. The inspirational trail book that sparked her hike was purchase at the same REI store that I have shopped.

First off I must write that Cheryl is very frank and explicit in her language and dismissal of any traditional faith. She does not believe in God or a faith community. Without such faith, her grief became even more devastating and potentially destructive. Her mother had been the center of her life so her death left such a vacant hole. The epitaph on her mother’s tombstone,“I am with you always,” is almost a direct quote of Jesus’ last words in Matthew 28.  Cheryl’s hike on the PCT became a literal grief journey as she tried to make sense of her life without her mother’s physical presence. As a Christian, I am thankful for the assurance that God keeps his children safe, even after their death. Because I trust in Jesus, I trust in the resurrection of the dead.

Second, Cheryl is a very funny writer. She admits that she was totally naïve as she started the hike, having never backpacked prior to the trip. She packed way too much gear, waaaay too much. Her description of how she packed her pack the first morning and then tried to lift it from the floor of her motel room is priceless. Over time she learns to lighten her load and to acknowledge her limitations. As I read the book, I was won over by her perseverance and humor. I did not learn anything new regarding the PCT or backpacking, but I did learn to laugh with Cheryl and hopefully at myself as well.

Lord Jesus, give me the grace to be persevere in difficult situations while laughing at myself.