Tag Archives: Rocky Mountain National Park

Wilderness Journey – Day Four

Last Night at Tileston Meadow Campsite

My last night on the trail involved one more thunderstorm. This time it was not the lightning that disturbed me, but the rain itself. In the alpine meadow on Mummy Mountain, the vegetation there absorbed most of the water. Here at the designated campsite, the tent pad was simply flat dirt. The rain splattered from the tarp to the ground to my ground cloth and sleeping pad. After a few minutes my ground tarp was splattered with muddy water and debris. I had pitched my tarp too high with too much space between the edge of the tarp and the ground. After the evening storm passed, I lowered the tarp.

I also questioned the wisdom of concentrating all backpackers to a few locations. I realize that many backpackers do not practice “leave-no-trace” camping, and that the national parks are trying to keep the back country as wild and pristine as possible. But the designated campsites create sites devoid of vegetation and wonder.

I prefer to seek my own stealth campsite off the beaten trail where I can create a wonderful sleep space for one night. In the morning I work hard to clear any trace of my having been there. Fortunately a hiker can use such techniques on the Pacific Crest Trail where I plan to hike a section next summer.

My last morning on the trail was uneventful. The sky was partly sunny and my body and mind were ready to leave. It was not that I was tired of the trail, but that I had set my expectations for four days and was ready to go.

My path on the Black Canyon trail was consistently downhill and I gobbled up the miles. My feet and legs were stronger now and I was thankful for my decision to use trail running shoes instead of my heavier backpacking boots. Only in the boulder fields on Mummy Mountain did I have any doubts regarding this decision. My feet seemed light and quick as I strode down the trail and I reflected on a sermon I once heard from Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary. He preached on Isaiah 52:7.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

He observed that most people would focus on the words or mouth of the messenger, but the text reflects on the feet. His observation is that the words or mouth of the messenger have no significance unless the messenger first arrives at his or her destination. Messengers need to use their feet and go.

As I hiked out, I was thankful for the opportunity to be on trail, but also thankful for the opportunity to go, live and serve among the people of Resurrection Lutheran Church. My feet and I were ready to continue the mission of announcing, “Your God reigns!”

Lord Jesus, show me how to announce that your kingdom comes.

Wilderness Journey – Day Three – Afternoon

As I continued my journey around Mummy Mountain I remained well above timberline.  I could see far down the West Creek basin, even spotting the place on a distant ridge where I had lunched two days before.

Gathering Storm Clouds

I also spotted a gathering thunderstorm to the west and I hurried my pace.

About 1:00 pm I ran into my first real challenge. The slope transitioned from a meadow to gigantic boulder field. I scrambled between boulders, always seeking a safe, secure route. This took time and energy. I slipped a few times. I also heard cracks of thunder in the distant and  felt a few  raindrops. I dropped lower on the slope, hoping to find fewer boulders. Dark clouds moved closer.  I started looking for a place to wait out the approaching storm.

Krummholz in West Creek Basin

I finally reached the open valley below the final ridge. It was free of boulder fields and had several small krummholz of alpine trees. These small dense stands of trees could give me some protection. As I looked over this isolated valley, I reveled at how beautiful it was, especially in the storm’s twilight.

My revelry was broken by the first splattering of large rain drops. I had to find shelter fast.

The thunder was louder and closer now. I headed toward a large boulder in the valley, close to a krummholz. Even though the boulder offered some protection, I realize the storm may last awhile and I needed better shelter. My problem was that I had not packed my backpack with such a need in mine. My trusty rain-tarp was at the bottom of my bag. I had to pull everything out into the rain to reach it. However, my experience of pitching a rain-tarp in wet Washington state proved helpful. In less than five minutes the rain tarp was set and my gear and I safely under it.

Shelter from the Storm

For the next two hours it rained, hailed, thundered and boomed. Counting the seconds between flash and thunder, the closest strike was less than a mile away. Fortunately, I was off the exposed ridge line, and away from the largest trees and boulders. I changed out of my wet clothes, fixed a cup of hot chocolate and waited. As the storm continued I wondered if I might have to spend the night here.

Just as suddenly as it started, the storm ended. The sun broke through the clouds and I again marveled at the beauty of this rain-splashed alpine meadow. I repacked my gear, this time keeping my wet rain-tarp tied to the outside of my pack for quick access.

Looking south from the last Mummy Mountain ridgeI reached the final ridge shortly after 4:00 pm and crossed from the West Creek Basin into the Black Canyon. I quickly worked my way off the ridge and towards the forest below.

As I climbed down the ridge, I kept thinking about the thunder-storm and how it had humbled me.   I was not the master of this domain, but a simple wilderness wanderer.  The Israelites at Mount Sinai encountered God in a thunderstorm.

    On the third day at daybreak, there were loud claps of thunder, flashes of lightning, a thick cloud covering the mountain, and an ear-piercing trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp shuddered in fear. Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God. They stood at attention at the base of the mountain. Exodus 19:16-17

I reflected, “God is reminding me once again who is LORD!”

About halfway down, I spotted two rock cairns (small piles of stones) used to mark a way trail. Finally I had reached the improvised trail that leads directly from Black Canyon trail to Mummy Mountain. I followed it down, losing it a couple of times due to poor markings and tired legs and mind. Eventually I connected to the main Black Canyon trail and reached my campsite at Tileston Meadows about 5:15 pm, tired, but safe.

Lord Jesus, Let me never forget that you are LORD.

Wilderness Journey – Day Three – Morning

North Fork of the Big Thompson River

At dawn’s first light, I was up and on the last portion of National Park trail. I passed Lost Lake and quickly found a place to wade the North Fork of Big Thompson River (more like little Thompson creek at this altitude).

From here on, I would be off-trail, but I was above timberline and the slope was not too steep. I took my time, enjoying the unfolding view and relishing the challenge of finding my own route (which was no challenge at this point.)

By 10:00 I was on the wet plateau between Mt Dunraven and Mummy Mountain and I stopped for an early lunch.

Looking south towards Mummy Mountain

At this point I debated whether to climb Mummy Mountain, 13425 feet in elevation. It would delay me from climbing off the ridge and thus expose me to possible storms. However I figured I may never again have the opportunity to climb the peak and, like John Muir, I hungered for some mountain adventure. Just below the peak, at about 12,300 elevation, I dropped my pack near a large boulder and started hiking straight up.

Can you spot my pack?

As I climbed, I kept looking back to see where my pack was. I was glad I did, since after a while every boulder looked like another and I could have easily lost my pack.

I took my time, stopping to rest several times. The climb was challenging and I began to wonder if I might be one of the first people to climb Mummy Mountain this summer because of its isolation. Perhaps there would be climber’s log at the summit that would answer my question.

Looking West from Mummy Peak at Crystal Lake and Fairchild Mountain

At 11:10 I reached the summit. The peak has a spectacular view to the south and west. I could see Lawn Lake, Crystal Lake, the Saddle, Fairchild Mountain and even Ypsilon Mountain. I found the climber’s log in a plastic plumber’s pipe and discovered that I was the fourth climber that week! I realized that there must be an established route (directly up the ridgeline from the southeast?) and that I might be able to use a portion of it later on.

My pack remained a thousand feet below me so I decided to continue my original plan: to contour around Mummy Mountain, remaining in the West Creek basin until I came to the ridge above Tileston Meadow’s. The ridge was at 11,750 feet so I figured I could gradually lose some elevation as I hiked around the mountain side. I scrambled back to my pack and continued on.

The terrain remained mostly meadow with many large boulders. Occasionally I encountered large clumps of boulders that I had to go over or around. I generally chose to go around, dropping to a lower elevation.

Contemplating which path to take

As I picked my way along the slope, I reflected on what a seminary professor once regarding Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.   He said, “Remember that the lamps of ancient Israel where not blazing maglite flashlights by which you can see the path for hundreds of feet.  Rather they were flickering oil lamps which gave you visibility of only a few feet.  But that is all you need.  The text reminds us that God does not reveal the whole path at once, but just enough to show us the way.”

As I worked my way around Mummy Mountain, I thanked the Lord for each small section of path that I could see.

Lord Jesus, show us our path for today.

Next: a stormy afternoon.

Wilderness Journey – Day Two

I awoke early, packed my backpack and headed up the trail. The trail climbed steadily as it followed the North Fork of the Big Thompson River. Breaks in the forest gave me opportunity to scout the high country near Mt. Dunraven.

I anticipated an easy day of backpacking to my next campsite, Lost Meadows. This was only a mile below Lost Lake, a high alpine tarn that is the end of the maintained trail. It was only five miles between campsites so I decided to take a side trip.

Looking toward Mummy Mountain from Stormy Peaks South campsite.

About halfway between Silvanmere Campsite and Lost Meadow was a spur trail that climbed the north side of the canyon to Stormy Peaks Pass. I left my backpack at the trail junction and started the 2000 foot climb to the pass with just lunch and water. The trail started out a series of switchbacks that quickly climbed above timberline. Here I encountered a flat shelf in the ridge where the National Park located the Stormy Peaks South backcountry campsite. It certainly had a spectacular view of the upper Big Thompson canyon, Rowe Peak and Mt. Dunraven.

The trail continued an additional 1.5 miles to pass. As I climbed towards the ridge line, I had to stop several times to scout how the trail proceeded. There was some thick growth of evergreen bushes and small trees where the trail seemed to disappear. I would be merrily hiking along and suddenly there was no trail beneath my feet, just alpine meadow. Now the meadow was fine for walking and I could find my own way, but the trail used the most efficient means to climb the ridge. It became a sort of game to find the trail in the midst of meadow and brush.

I was reminded of a conversation Jesus had with his disciples. In John 14, Jesus is preparing them for his coming crucifixion. He says to them, “I go to prepare a place for you. . ., that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas responded, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and life.”

Jesus is the way, the trail, that we seek to guide us through life. But it can be so easy to slip “off trail”, to think that I know the way on my own and don’t need Jesus. As I searched for the trail that morning, I reflected on who is my true trail guide.

Looking south towards Mummy Mountain from Stormy Peaks Pass

I finally reached a small peak just south of the pass. I knew that the next day, I would face the most difficult part of my backpack, climbing up over Mummy Mountain Ridge and down into the Black Canyon Trail. From the overlook near Stormy Peaks Pass, I could see the first half of my next day’s climb. It looked challenging but doable, so I hiked back down to my backpack and continued on to Lost Meadow campsite.

As I settled in for the night, I knew that the next morning I would be off trail for about eight miles, a serious challenge for me.  But I also knew that besides my map and compass, I had a good trail guide walking beside me, giving me encouragement, hope and wisdom. My simple prayer was, “Jesus, stay close and keep me on your path.”

Lord Jesus, you are the way.  Keep me close to your path for my life.

Wilderness Journey – Day One

As a young boy, my favorite playground was the large tract of woods behind my house. Port Angeles was a lumber town, with five mills busy turning Douglas fir into paper and lumber. My neighbors were loggers who cut the tress or drivers who transported the huge logs to the mills. The huge forests of the Olympic Peninsula were a magnet for my imagination. Only later did I see the devastation that clear-cut logging created.

North Boundary Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

I remembered my childhood fascination with the forest as I started my four-day solo backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park last week. Since I wanted to do a loop route, I started from Cow Creek trailhead and headed north along the North Boundary Trail. I normally see the mountain forests as a transition zone that I quickly want to ascend so as to reach the open alpine areas with their vast vistas. For me, the forest was only a prelude to the main event.

Yet I knew that my first day would remain in the forest. The North Boundary Trail ascends three ridges, each time descending to a mountain stream. The constant up and down challenged both my legs and my lungs. There were a few open meadows where one could see the higher peaks to the west, but mostly it was the forest that surround me. I yearned for the high alpine country ahead.

Crossing West Creek along North Boundary Trail

During my trip I was reading Baptized into Wilderness: A Christian Perspective on John Muir by Richard Cartwright Austin. In the book, Austin emphasizes Muir sensuous emersion into the wilderness. Muir became present to the trees, birds, insects, life of American wilderness, experiencing God in the midst of all of it.

Muir suggested that the path to the Spirit is not away from the world, but deeper into the world, deeper into communion with nature and with the primary forces where is Spirit is lightly clothed. Probing the simplest elements to discover their full character and vitality, he developed an incarnational understanding of God’s personality incarnate in Jesus (p. 25).

God’s presence was all around me, in the beauty of the tall lodge pines and the tiniest of mushrooms. Could I simply open my heart and mind to experience the wonder and beauty of God’s creation?

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12 let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth. Psalm 96:11-13

Lord Jesus, open my heart to see your beauty all around me.

Trail Crew

Trail Crew near Lake Haiyaha in Rocky Mountain National Park

A final thought from Labor Day. While hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park last month, I encountered a trail crew building a new bridge. As a teen-ager I had thought trail crew would be the greatest job. They were paid to hike in the wilderness, surrounded by the wonder and beauty of God’s creation. Their work had tangible results, a path that leads from point x to point y.

Only later did I realize how hard their work truly was. Rocks, streams, trees, even mountains block their route. The crew had limited resources, mostly assorted hand tools, to construct the trail. Earlier that I had seen a crew moving large stones with only shovels and pickaxes so that the path could pass through a large boulder field.  They had to battle rain, heat, cold, mosquitoes and biting flies, while eating only the food they carried in. Watching them work, I realized their job is not as idyllic as I once thought.

The Bridge below Lake Haiyaha

Still as I watched, I gave a silent prayer of appreciation and thanks for the work they were doing. For years I have hike mountain trails, prepared and cleared by others. I realize that a small part of my tax dollars go to pay for this as does part of my user fees. Still I am benefiting from other’s labor. I am thankful for those who planned, surveyed, built and maintain our national parks and wilderness areas.

I am also mindful that Jesus has prepared the way for us to the Father.  He cleared the trail for us.  He lifted the heavy burden of our sin off our souls and buried it in the deepest sea. He continues to maintain the path that leads to eternal life.

You show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy; Psalm 16:11.

What path are you following through life and who constructed it?

Lord Jesus, place me on the path that leads to yourself, that I might become what you created me to be.

Mountain Guide

First, I want to thank Sarah Storvick for being my guest blogger last week.  I appreciate her thoughtful reflections on participation in a “fake” book club and our call to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ.  I am so thankful for having gifted co-workers to share the call to trust, live and serve.

Pastor John Atop Hallett's Peak in RMNP

Second, I am thankful for a refreshing vacation.  I had some great hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, including the top of Hallett Peak on the Continental Divide.  While atop the peak, I met a volunteer ranger named John. He named all the surrounding peaks for me and told me stories of some of his past hikes and climbs.  He was carrying an ice axe which was not needed on the hike up.  He informed me that he was planning to descend via Andrew’s glacier, an alternate return route that I had been considering.  But seeing his ice axe caused me concern since I did not carry one.  I asked, “Do you think I could descend the glacier without an ice axe?”

He responded,  “I honestly don’t know, but you are welcome to follow me and together we can find out.”

Ranger John preparing to descend Andrews Glacier

Ranger John lead me across the boulder-strewn divide to Andrew’s Glacier and there he stopped to attach some light hiking crampons to his boot. He then directed me on the best angle to descend the ice field and how to navigate beyond the small lake at the glacier’s bottom.   His guiding presence gave me peace and confidence through some tricky parts.

Shortly after John and I parted, I wondered if I would have been as patient and caring to a fellow hiker?  Ranger John certainly was enthusiastic about hiking and proud of the many hidden splendors of Rocky Mountain National Park.  He was a natural evangelists for the park and especially the back country.  Am I as enthusiastic about my journey with Jesus Christ and the high country through which he guides me?  Are you?

Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17).

Lord Jesus, guide me this day along the path you have given to walk.  Prepare me to be companion guide for the people I meet.