Long’s Peak Memoir – Adventuring With God

 

NEVER ALONE
Chronicle of an epic journey up a high mountain –
“Yes, though I walk upon the narrow ledge
overlooking the Valley of the Shadow of Death,
I will fear no evil. I will hang on diligently,
step carefully, but I will not fear,
for You are with me.”
L. S. <

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Fore-Words

People who have read things I’ve written might have noticed my infatuation with metaphor. For me, the use of figurative language like analogy, symbolism, simile, allusion, allegory, and metaphor, creates mystery. It creates complexity, and depth of meaning. Jesus, Himself, was adept at using metaphoric parables in His own ministry to make difficult concepts understandable to His listeners.
In my mind, nothing seems to me more metaphoric of a person’s spiritual journey than the illustration of a path, or trail, especially one going upward. As for myself, a difficult hike or climb on a trail and route to the top of a very tall mountain is the epitome of that concept .
I’m not going to say “read this all – read to the end”. It is long. Parts may bore you, or bring up impatience. If that happens, please skip ahead. Find the parts that do you good. Find the poem at the end. Just know I’m grateful you’re here with me!

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I once wrote a quick synopsis of my landmark adventure and posted it, but here, much later, I’m back writing in more detail on the same topic. I still think hardly anything is more metaphoric regarding one’s spiritual and physical journey through a lifetime than a long, difficult, arduous, joyous, successful, climb – a climb to the incredibly extreme, radically remote, impressively noble, summit of a majestic mountain.
   In the beginning, there is a goal, and to reach that goal there is a path, a trail, a way, which a hiker would be wise to follow in its windings, its ups and downs, its obstacles, its surprises, its challenges. Though the trail may be difficult, it is usually the best way upward through dense, cluttered forests, swampy places, chaotic boulder fields, and dangerous cliff edges. The trail maker/way maker intentionally builds bridges across impassable streams, and over treacherously deep crevasses, and dangerously impassible abysses. He skirts the worst obstacles and makes rock or log steps to decrease the difficulty of the ascent, and when the terrain really gets rough, where a definite trail is impossible, He marks the least dangerous routes, lest you get lost and find yourself in serious trouble. The metaphors are obvious.

I had never seen any mountains at all, first hand, let alone the spectacular Rockies, until I was about 23. That year I found myself in magnificent, huge, Rocky Mountain National Park looking up at Long’s Peak. Yes, both literally and figuratively found myself there, and also found that I was falling in love with that very special part of Creation, although it was unfortunate that I would not know our shared Creator for quite some time.

Forty one years later, at 64, after many, many skiing, hiking, windsurfing, camping and sightseeing encounters with my paramours, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, I found myself at the foot of that awe-inspiring mountain-of-mountains. My epitome of mountainhood! I was ready to introduce myself and begin an intimate relationship with her, understanding full well she would not be easy to get to know. Some said she was friendly, and quite hospitable. Others named her aloof, treacherous, and cruel. I had to find out for myself! My encounter with her would come to be the defining adventure of my lifetime.
   I must tell you that several years ago, in a miraculous encounter, I finally met her Creator. I recant. That was the beginning of the defining adventure of my lifetime! I am learning more and more about Him, and I long to get to know Him more fully. One good way to do that is through His creations. The benefits of that are astounding! The difference between belief and non-belief in the One Creator God becomes obvious, and affects, profoundly, the way life is lived, loved, and enjoyed.

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More Fore-Words:

At 14,259 feet, Long’s Peak is the only “fourteener” in RMNP, the northernmost fourteener in Colorado, and the most prominent landmark for the vast surrounding area.

Why did I want to climb Long’s Peak?
Because it is there.  (Well, of course it is there, wow!)
Because I can, was my thinking before I knew what it would take. (Well, maybe I can. It’s within the realm of possibility.)
Because it kept looking at me. (I stared at the mountain and it stared back)
Because it is visible to me, day or night, wherever I go.  ( O^O )
Because I was getting older fast and wanted to do it while my legs, etc, still worked.
Because I wanted to see the top before the beaver-rat eats it. (It is sniffing at it right now. See it on the left slope, near the summit?)
Because it transmits a siren-song that resonates in my frequency. (It calls to me)
Because it somehow MADE me do it.

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Things the attempt required :

Hours of research to determine what I was getting into and what to do once I did.
Good planning.  Mental conditioning.  Ummm, too many people die up there . . .
Good fortune (luck), or blessings.  Only 3 out of every 10 climbers who attempt the summit actually make it.
The proper equipment and clothing.
Adequate amounts of food and water.
Knowledge of alpine weather.  (It is predictably extremely unpredictable.)
Top physical conditioning.
Myself to hike 5.5 miles in the dark while gaining nearly 3,400 feet in altitude then climbing a difficult, sometimes highly exposed, 1.5 mile, nearly 1,500 vertical-foot  route to the summit. (“exposed” means a mistake results in serious death or injury)  :p
Good timing to be off the summit by noon to avoid lightning, rain, or snow-slickened granite.
Myself to avoid injury, especially foot, ankle, or leg injury.
Myself to avoid “summit fever” and be ready to turn back at any point due to adverse weather changes, or altitude sickness. (At 14,000 feet only 60% of sea level oxygen is available in each breath)
Myself climbing wearily and carefully down and somehow hiking back to ‘base-camp’. This is statistically the most dangerous part due to fatigue, exhaustion, weather concerns, and hypoxia.

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Preparation

I had officially started my quest to climb Long’s Peak, about six months earlier, in late March, when I finally decided to commit. Long’s Peak was calling! I had read many articles written by people, some who had succeeded and some who failed. Was I too old? Was it too dangerous? Could I get myself fit for the task? Could I learn everything I would need to know? A hundred questions. I decided No, No, Yes, and Yes! I would go ahead. From this point on, I would remain undaunted! It would be a very serious venture, but I’m a confirmed optimist, and moreover I was confident that God had my back. The Holy Spirit was, of course, supportive, and encouraging, and faithful.

My training involved walking extensively, hiking, playing lots of disc golf, working out on the recumbent bike, and using weight machines. I knew that there was no training like actually hiking at altitude on mountain trails, but this was the best I could do, and it would have to do!
   I sought purpose for the climb. I wanted to bring The Good News to someone while “on the mountain”, if possible, and not climb it only for my own pleasure. Surely God would back me in that!
I remember well the encounter I had with the Lord when I was walking the quarter-mile perimeter inside a large building. My right knee had been bothering me for several weeks. It felt like torn-meniscus pain. I asked God to heal it and take the pain away as I half limped along. “I will need this knee to work a hundred percent if I’m to climb up and spread the good news,” I pleaded. I was aware that my plea might have sounded like coercion, and wished I had thought of a better way to ask. Another half mile and it was hurting worse. “Father, what do I do?”
   “Keep going,” He plainly spoke into my spirit. I trusted that He knew something I didn’t, and I kept going. Normally, I would not have. I finished my two miles still in pain. I still had the feeling that I would be healed. Ibuprofen and prayer took me to bedtime. The next morning, I carefully stepped out of bed ready to limp to the bathroom. I was taken aback! The pain was completely gone! I remember it well. I was full of thanks and praise all that day. Amazingly, to this very day, the “meniscus” pain in that knee hasn’t come back anywhere nearly as intense and persistent as it was before that night. Another miracle – I’ve experienced quite a few – and I then knew that He had a plan and purpose for my trip. From then on, I was able to train intensively. I spent a lot of time doing extensive research and hiking the route in my mind. The Father had my back, indeed!

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A Side Trip

When thinking of plan and purpose, I was reminded of a hike I had taken a couple of years before, when God placed me right where I was needed.
I wanted to reach Emerald Lake, one of my favorite lakes high in Rocky Mountain National Park using one of my favorite trails. I was excited to use that trail because it offered an excellent view of the west face of Long’s Peak and, in addition, it skirted the banks of two other scenic lakes on the way to the third, Emerald, which is higher than ten-thousand feet in elevation. I needed to hurry because my family was waiting for me, so I ran where possible, and jogged, and just walked fast up any crude steps I found. I was in good condition for a 60+ “flat-lander”. Getting enough oxygen, however, was a challenge!  As I ascended, I stopped long enough to view Long’s several times, but suddenly was aware that a hiker up ahead was descending very fast. He looked worried as he ran past. After several minutes, I overheard a group of hikers talking about what sounded like a serious matter. I asked and was told that an elderly man had collapsed on the trail up ahead. He seemed to be having heart problems. I kept going at a fast pace, and soon I heard in my spirit, “pray for that man”! I did! With compassion and empathy, I did! I passed the beautiful Alberta Falls, and after some time had passed, a park ranger wearing a large backpack came running up the trail. Not far behind her were several more, actually running with a large, one-wheeled gurney. I was thoroughly impressed! “Pray for them too”, I heard.
I kept running, jogging hard, and hurrying upward, stopping to catch my breath and taking every advantage to admire the valley below, Glacier Gorge, and the awe-striking views of Long’s and Storm Peaks, as well as Pagoda and Chief’s Head farther to the south. Long’s is a mountain with “many faces”. From the Bear Lake area and Glacier Gorge, the north and west sides, the top of the majestic mountain looks roughly cubical – a massive block of granite. From the east or south sides, the peak looks pointed.
Soon I was within sight of the young rangers gathered around the gurney which now held the man whom they had placed upon it. They waved me on as I slowed with intention of saying an audible prayer for the guy. They were not going to allow it. I wasn’t surprised. “Keep praying, especially for them – they don’t know Me yet,” I heard. After passing by Nymph and Dream Lakes, it wasn’t long before I reached Emerald. I ate a snack, took photos (one of the selfies appears at the top, right-hand corner of my blog), admired the beauty of all the surrounding Creation, and thanked My Creator for placing me there in the center of it. Across the lake was the astounding chunk of granite which forms the East Buttress of Hallett’s Peak. I noted that Hallett’s would be a good mountain to climb one day, which aspiration I have since been blessed to complete with my son.
My family was waiting. I had made “good time” on the way up and expected to do better on the way downhill. I slipped into my pack straps and headed down, continuing my prayers and having conversations with my Lord. I didn’t stop to gawk except to rest briefly and catch my breath. About two-thirds of the way back I saw the group of rescuers stopped next to the trail. They had an I.V. going and were adjusting things for the man who was still alive, praise God. I slowed, again with the intention of encouraging the man with a prayer if he wanted it. Once again, I was waved on, this time with a few angry glares. I was only an intruder to them. They didn’t understand. I forgave. I started down a steep slope and noticed a little elderly lady standing by herself at the bottom. I’ll never forget her standing there in her white long-sleeved knit shirt and blue jeans, her hands clasped in front of her chest, looking up at “the rescue”, with an anxious look on her face.
“Hello. Do you know the man up there?”, I ventured as I approached her.
“He’s my husband.”
“Oh, ma’am, I don’t know if it means anything to you, but I’ve been praying for him for more than two hours.”
She got a strange look on her face. I thought “Oh no, not a believer” . . .
Time stood still, but then she said, “I have too, and I was hoping someone else was. We are Christians too. Thank you so much!”

“My pleasure, I think he’s going to be alright, God is with him and He’s with you. He loves you two! I’d be glad to stay with you on the way back.”
“I’ll be alright now. God provided me the word I needed and you’ve been a faithful brother to us. Please keep praying as long as you can. Thank you so very much!”
I was elated the rest of the way back, and I was fulfilled. I had been where I was needed, place, time, ready to pray, have compassion, and provide encouragement using His strength not my own. Plan and purpose!
Alright, story within a story, a little lengthy but relevant. Glory within glory!

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Essentials

By September, I was in good physical and mental condition. My feet and legs felt great. My back, which had undergone serious lumbar surgery a decade before, was ready for a moderately heavy backpack. My cardio-pulmonary system was strong, and I was optimistic and confident.  I chose mid September for the climb because the chances of good weather were better and all the snow had melted from the peaks that year. That’s a bit late in the season, but was the best I could do that year. Snow or rain on slick granite can be deadly, and some of the granite was reportedly already shiny from the wear of thousands of shoes. In addition, the summer rush would be over, and traffic on the routes would be much less. Rockfalls caused by careless climbers, especially in “the Trough”, should be much less of a danger. Most importantly, I felt strongly that I was supposed to be doing this.

Among the things I learned about, and that were essential to know:
Alpine weather – how it can change radically from blue sky to a lightning storm in fifteen minutes. There is no protection from lightning above treeline. People are killed by it every year just in the park, thus one needs to begin the trek at 3:00 am or earlier in order to be back down close to timberline by noon to avoid the almost daily afternoon storms.
Wind conditions can change quickly and gusty winds can be deadly at high altitude. People have been blown right off the mountain to their death.
Physical and mental health – The body needs to be in top condition. Just to reach the “boulder field” requires a hike of more than five and one-half miles and a gain in altitude of about 3,500 feet, then the real hard stuff begins. When the summit is reached, you are only halfway home. It seems counter intuitive, but the climb down and the hike back are statistically the most difficult and dangerous part. Exhaustion, fatigue, and the constant pounding on already taxed joints can cause dangerous missteps. Mentally, one needs to know what to expect, and how to pace oneself, and when to turn back if conditions warrant it. Fear has no place in a place like this, but concentration, focus, caution, and respect for nature’s whims are essential.
Dehydration is a huge concern and is believed to contribute to altitude sickness. Carry plenty of water and drink constantly even when not thirsty. Also carry light and portable food such as energy bars to keep carbs up and stay fueled.
Rockfalls – both natural and caused by climbers, can be deadly. Should I wear a helmet?
Altitude sickness can be deadly up there. Only 60% of sea level oxygen is available above 14,000 feet. Headache, nausea, dizziness, loss of energy, and irrational behavior can have dire consequences, not to mention a case of deadly pulmonary edema. If a person doesn’t get back to lower altitudes quickly when those symptoms arise, it could mean “worst-case-scenario”. These symptoms can happen to anyone at any time when “at altitude”. Ibuprofen is said to help stave off altitude sickness. I took one when starting off and one every 4 hours decreasing the interval when I got to 12,000 feet. I reasoned that its anti-inflammatory effects alone would be beneficial for my whole body.
Proper clothing, footwear, and supplies. Layers of clothing like I wear for skiing. New hiking shoes with good “tread” for sticking to slick boulders, sturdy, yet lightweight. Two Camelback (bladder type) water reservoirs with sipper tubes. They each hold about three liters. Rain gear. Spare socks. Sunscreen. Anti-UV lip balm and sunglasses.
Know the route. I would be using the Keyhole Route, which would require, a 15 to 16 mile round trip. That’s a long way to walk under the best of circumstances. It is essential not to get lost or off route, which might lead to putting myself in great danger.

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The Adventure

I drove nearly 1,000 miles to Colorado. I once lived much closer and was able to make many more trips up there in all seasons.
In Boulder, I bought an expensive new pair of name-brand hiking shoes which had nice “grippy” soles. They were expensive, but turned out to be lifesavers.
Camping in the Long’s Peak Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park was my plan. I found a nice campsite, there being an off-season lack of many other campers. Being at 9,400 ft. at the foot of the trail for several nights would be a perfect way to acclimate to the extreme altitudes at which I would be hiking. I’ve never had problems with altitude, but this climb would take me at least 3,000 feet higher than I’d ever climbed.
The temperature hovered around freezing at night and 60 degrees during the day. I did two warm up hikes of about four miles round-trip each on Sunday and Monday. I was sweating wearing summer hiking clothing. I planned to attempt the top very early Wednesday night/Thursday morning.

As it turned out, weather was going to be the deciding factor for deciding when to set out for the summit. Choosing my launch time was more difficult than I expected. I walked up to the station and talked to the rangers several times. They told me that the local weather was unpredictable enough, but the “fourteener” had what might be termed its “own weather”. The local weather stations predicted a low pressure system and a cold front that was due early Thursday morning. That meant possible rain, snow, and high wind on the mountain, any and all of which could be extremely dangerous. To increase my chances of success, I made the decision to move up my departure time by 24 hours. I would begin Tuesday night (early Wednesday morning) and be back Wednesday afternoon.

Tuesday evening I packed up. I double and triple-checked my gear and supplies beside the campfire. I would sleep in my 3-person dome tent in my nice warm sleeping bag and leave at 3:00 am Wednesday, which would give me about six hours of sleep and plenty of time to reach the summit by 10:00 am, after which there was a greater risk of storms and wind.

Well, “best laid plans of mice and men” . . .  I was completely awake before 1:00 am, gaining less than four hours of sleep. Not ideal, but I have performed well on less. There was nothing to do but get going.
With a prayer and a pack full of optimism, I took off at 1:30 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011. The air was cold – just above freezing, and I hiked with a heavy pack (at least, for me it was) into the wilderness. Under the nearly-full moon and glittering stars, for the next 5 1/2 hours until daybreak, I gained about 3,500 feet in altitude, and 5.5 miles in distance before I reached the flats leading to the Boulderfield Campground.

On the winding uphill forested trail, at treeline and beyond, He was with me, helping me upward. He had been close for the past 6 months through all my preparations and “training” for the challenge. Almighty God was taking me to the top! He filled me with elation, and with joy, because He filled me with His presence! We conversed in a way unique to us!
If I were to write down all my thoughts, perceptions, and emotions, there would be enough content to fill a large volume. I will only chronicle the high points here.

My flow of consciousness went something like this:

      “First sign the log book in the kiosk near the ranger station, not only to record my attempt but to tell what time I left and hopefully, returned. I’ve heard they don’t check it often, but a late rescue is better than none at all. That formality is done, and it’s time to do a mental checklist of everything I’ve brought with me as I begin my ascent up the slope with many wooden steps. Not too fast, now, don’t get too excited. Adjust my headlamp to light the trail about ten to fifteen feet ahead.
How easily I forget to pray. Lord, I open myself to constant prayer. Constant interaction. Let my every step be a prayer. Let each plant of my hiking poles punctuate Your praise. Let your wisdom come to me like second nature – first nature! Indeed!
Stay hydrated, keep sipping  water. Pace yourself. There’s the Eugenia Mine Trail turnoff that goes up to Estes Cone. I should do that hike someday!
Log bridges and rough plank bridges crossing rushing mountain streams. Maybe I should count them. Larkspur Creek and Alpine Brook if memory serves.
About two hours of steady increase in altitude, time to fuel up with a granola/energy bar. Feels good to take this pack off, rest my legs. Turn the lamp off. Enjoy the clear night sky. The bright moon. The sharp, crisp stars, like the sharp, crisp air. The Milky Way like a sparkling sash across the heavens. Too long! Get going before the muscles get cold.
   Almost to treeline. Trees much shorter. Trail more rocky. Sometimes have to pick my way carefully through them, don’t want to twist an ankle. I see hikers way up ahead and higher in altitude, their headlamps moving very slowly. Maybe a mile ahead? Up on the side of Mt. Lady Washington and moving to the right, which is roughly north.
The air is, thankfully, almost still, and I only have half my available layers on. Treeline is about 2.5 miles up. I’m at about 11,000 feet now and I’m surprised at how quickly the transition from forest to Krummholz (stunted, deformed vegetation), to only small plant life, occurs. Without trees in the way, I can easily see the lights of Estes northeast of here. A little higher and I can see Boulder, and there is the massive glow of Denver to the south.
One drawback of having to do this section in the dark is missing out on the jaw-dropping scenery I knew was ahead. The crags between Meeker and Long’s. The “Beaver”, the Notch, the Diamond Face. Not able to take pictures. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance this afternoon on the way down. Keep sipping water, it’s easy to forget when you’re not even thirsty.
I’m starting to feel the weight of my backpack. It’s good that it’s getting lighter, the more water I drink. Suddenly I’m reflecting on the last three hours up the incline – how I’ve never felt closer to You, Father.
Your presence is like the steady hum of “telephone wires” in the wind. That memory is from my youth, more than fifty years ago. I always wondered why they hummed. Now, phones are wireless and they also play music.
   Now I hear the happy “music” of the mountain streams in murmulation (my own word) beside the trail down in the forest. Your companionship is like that. You are a constant happy stream of goodness, kindness, love, wisdom, and strength flowing through my soul. Perceived by my mind and transferred to my body, arms, legs. Connecting me to the path and all Creation under my feet. I delight in this close communion with You, Lord. I wish everyone would seek it.

   Back in the woods when I was taking a short break, a guy passed by. He was moving fast. I was eager to promote Your name and I said something like “God bless your trip to the top.” He kind of grunted a quick “yeah”. O’ Lord, please send by people who need encouragement, who need to know You are with them. I want to fulfill the reasons You have for bringing me up this mountain! I want to proclaim You in the flesh, as well as in writing at Gloryteller, for You are indeed glorious!
Enjoy the heavens, soon the majesty of the night sky will be hidden.
I’ve been hiking for about three hours. Was hoping to make close to 2 miles an hour on this first leg. That’s easily my pace at home. I’m doing a little more than one mile an hour. The incline, decreased oxygen, and weight of this pack must be slowing me down, and I am stopping for rest breaks once in a while.
The trail has been flatter for the last half hour, but now there is a steeper slope up to the junction.
And here’s Chasm junction! Take a quick look at the sign in the beam of my lamp and follow the Long’s Peak arrow. The trail turns a bit to the right. I’m more than halfway to the Keyhole, but it’s still around five miles to the summit.
I just know there is some great scenery that I can’t see! The trail is steeper and rougher. I need to watch my footing because of rocky obstacles to negotiate as well as the smaller fist, to football, sized rocks that can flip or roll if they’re stepped on wrong. I call them “rollers”. Ha! Rocks and rollers!
Now it’s about a mile across the side of Mt. Lady Washington up to the saddle between her and Battle Mountain. The incline is not too steep, but there are lots of obstacles – large rocks – that need to be carefully stepped up and over and between. I need to pay attention to where I’m stepping. I’m headed northwest on the flanks of Mt. Lady Washington. I like saying that, it makes me feel clever. I doubt many people would see it that way, haha.
Just a steady increase in altitude.

I think I can see where the saddle is, which is named Granite Pass, up ahead. It’s the lowest and best place to cross the ridge that leads to the boulder field. Lord, You still there?
Of course!
Sorry, I tend to get wrapped up in where I am and what I’m doing.

That’s alright, those things are necessary!
      Granite pass! I did that last mile a bit faster. 12,000 feet up! 5:30 am. Four and a half miles in four hours. I think I’m stopping too much, haha. This pass is not only a milestone on the climb, but one in my life. My previous highest hike was to Emerald Lake, about 10,100 feet in elevation. Oh, remember you’ve been close to 11,000 feet on cross-country skis two or three times. That was near Breckenridge. What fun times back in the days of Telemarking on the slopes of Summit County, Colorado!

Now we get down to business . . . here begin the six or seven switchbacks that lead to the boulder field of Long’s Peak. Another mile and a half to the campground. The trail turns sharply to the left, from northwest to southeast and heads around the north end of The Lady. Again, I feel a personal humor. But she will laugh best, as this first incline is taking my wind! I stop to catch my breath many times! For the first time I feel as though this is an ascent rather than a mere hike.
I’m getting behind schedule, too, though when I stop, the views to the east and the peaks of the Continental Divide to the northwest are astounding. It is just beginning to be light enough to see them. A great distraction from the demands of this section. And it’s colder here. A cold breeze hitting my face. Go twenty yards and stop to breathe. Repeat. I’m really breathing hard. Take this hoodie off, I’m sweating. Getting a slight headache, time for another ibuprofen, and keep sipping water. The boulder field shouldn’t be far.
Finally, there it is! A sudden transition to a large, flat-ish, very gently sloping area covered with rocks – the boulder field! The sun is finally peaking up. I wonder how much the altitude affects sunrise up here. It seems much earlier. Time to turn off my headlamp and stow it in the pack. Did your job well, but won’t be needing you again today! The hairpins took my breath away, but this is truly breathtaking in a literal and figurative sense! The trail is mostly gone and there is hardly a place to set my feet that doesn’t involve an encounter with a rock. It will probably be this way all the way to the top. This is my first view of the western sky and I’m glad to see that it is blue with very few clouds in the direction the “weather” comes from. I need to adjust and find the safest and easiest route up to the campground. Do some rock-hopping and also skirt some hazardous places. The top part of Long’s Diamond face is in view! Beautiful! The summit is directly above it. I’m surprised that this section is so expansive. Different than it appears the pictures. There’s the Keyhole. It looks tiny from here, but I know it’s large. Everything up here is large. There is Storm Peak to the right of the Keyhole. I ascended about 700 feet in the last half mile. This place is more than 12,700 feet up! I’ve gained 3,300 vertical feet. I’m amazed at our ongoing conversation, and I’m amazed that you are letting me do this, Father – not only letting me, but encouraging it, enabling it, strengthening me!
This is truly the alpine zone where there are only relatively small clumps of alpine plants growing. They are green, and I can spot a few flowers at the tail end of their season. I’m seeing cute puffball pikas, little squeakers running about gathering and storing food for the fast approaching winter. I read that they dry the grasses and wildflowers on the sun warmed rocks before storage, to prevent mold and rot. They are not rodents, but are related to rabbits! Oh, and there is one of the ever present marmots . . . and another. Whistle pigs! They are rodents and these must be some of the last outside the den before hibernation.
Making good time here on the flat. Less than a mile between the switchbacks and the Boulderfield Campground. Almost there. Getting a good view of The Dove, a large, flying bird-shaped snowfield on the side of the mountain to the lower left of the Keyhole. For a dove, it has a freakishly long tail, but it is a beautiful snow-white. There’s the Agnes Vaille Shelter just under the Keyhole. I’ve done this so many times in my head, it’s almost like I’ve been here before, but that was the figurative version – I’m so fortunate to be experiencing all this literally, first hand, here and now!
There’s the famous Boulderfield Campground, I can see the two privies! I wonder if anyone is camping there . . . Yes there is a tent. The rocks are getting thicker and larger. As I approach the campground, perhaps I should make my presence known. I’ll make my pole plants on the rocks a little more pronounced. I need to find out what, if anything, God wants me to do with this person. I haven’t seen anyone else for a couple of miles. I’ll stop here, three or four yards from the tent. Man am I tired! Not exhausted, though.
The tent flap was being unzipped. “Hey, good morning,”  a young man poked his head outside.
“Yes, it is!” I was removing my pack and gloves.
“I guess you’ve been hiking half the night, huh?”
“Sure have. I left at 1:30.”
“Hi, how are you?” A young woman’s face appeared beside the man’s.
“Great! Tired! This place is awesome! Are you guys going to the top this morning?’
“Yes, we are excited! Ready to get warm, that was a cold night!”
Time to debate with myself. Do I wait for them or continue to solo this peak as I planned? Some company would be nice, and what if I got injured? Their assistance would be valuable. I saw two guys crossing below The Dove, going south to view the Diamond Face I assume. They are the only other people up here that I know of. And what of my purpose and wishes to spread news of the Lord up here? Is this couple part of your plan, Father?
“Of course, everyone is!”
That debate only lasted two or three seconds, now I hear myself saying, “Can I tag along with you? Unless you were planning a private time of climbing to the top by yourselves. I don’t presume to intrude.”

“Absolutely! We’d be glad for the company and the help,” they agreed, with smiles. “I’m G., the young man is saying, and this is my wife, K. . Just give us a few minutes to get ready.” They were both extremely pleasant and we quickly became new friends. Coincidence? I think not! I need to head for the much needed privies. This itself is a challenge as it is somewhat of an ascent over boulders.
I’ll sit here on this rock wall and rest while they get ready and eat a pair of energy bars. Drink some water. Have an ibuprofen. And a banana. I got here at about 6:45. Five and a quarter hours to go 5.5 miles. Previously I’ve only gone four or five miles per hike. I’m setting personal records here! This is like three hikes in one day. My brother and I once did a ten-miler mostly above 9 – 10 thousand feet, but it took two nights and two and a half days because we camped, and I was a lot younger then.
My sense of wonder is going wild. This place is ethereal. Like a completely different world. I look up at the Keyhole and the Agnes Vaille Memorial Shelter. They are only about 0.4 miles away according to the maps, but look farther. And higher. The slope of boulders is steeper and the boulders larger.  Much different from this angle than in the photos of others. The Keyhole is around 13,000 feet up – from here, kind of like climbing a 240 foot ladder. A little intimidating when I remember talking to some men my age who had attempted the summit two days ago and decided to turn around at the Keyhole because of exhaustion. Not surprising. More than half the people who attempt the summit turn back before they reach it. And more than fifty people have died up here, but I’m still undaunted. I’m going to join the thousands who have succeeded! I feel like I can do this!
I really would like to climb that big sloping rock pile to the south and take a look at that massive east rock face of Long’s. The sun is shining on The Diamond so pretty and making it look a brilliant rusty red. Now that’s a rock wall! Maybe another time. I need to be conservative. Keep the primary goal in mind.
They must be eating breakfast and packing up. I’m getting cold. Put on the hoodie, there’s a slight breeze and it’s chilly. I hope the wind stays down up in the Keyhole and beyond. Wind on the Ledges and especially the Narrows could be a trip killer. Okay check supplies. I should ditch some of this water. I started with close to one and a half gallons – more than twelve pounds – and it looks like I drank a little over two quarts, four or five pounds. I think I’ll take only two quarts up. Remember, lots of water helps stave off altitude sickness . . . I still think that will be plenty, and I’ll save four or five pounds of weight. Significant! I’ll just transfer some from one hands-free bladder to the other and leave that here along with my poles. They will be of no use for scrambling.
Okay, I have my wind back, a few minutes has stretched out to forty, and I’m eager to go. I’m on the edge of getting stiff with cold muscles. Need to do some stretches. Now we are ready to set out and it’s 8:15 am. That should give us plenty of time to summit and get back here at my target of 12:00 to 12:30. That would get us back down to treeline by about 1:30 to give some protection from possible afternoon lightning storms. There’s very little shelter up here on “the rock”. Here goes – two miles of tricky, dangerous, exhausting scrambling, climbing, route finding, and gaining another 1,500 feet in altitude. I’m ready! Let’s go!
I’m stepping from boulder to boulder, leaping at times. Some of the largest are as big as refrigerators and cars. Other smaller rocks are kind of “tippy” – watch your step. These grippy shoes are great on these granite rocks! I’m having to stop for breath more often. This section is harder than I thought it would be. Following the cairns and piled up rock markers helps some. Now it’s really getting steep. I’m scrambling with both hands and feet. Heading for the shelter out of curiosity. There are huge slabs of granite on each side of the Keyhole formation, itself being composed of a thick jutting slab that seem to hang out impossibly far. Kind of reminds me of a lion’s head, or a warrior’s face. Breathing hard, I’ll go into the shelter and sit down for a minute. Take a picture out the door. Fantastic shot of Storm!
   Eat an energy bar. Breathe. They went a little farther to the right and are going through the Keyhole. There is Storm Peak just to the north, and way down there is the campsite. Just a dot of color. That leg took much longer than I expected. Load up. A short scramble and I’m through the Keyhole. Making it this far is an awesome accomplishment in itself! Thank you God! Standing directly under the many tons of rock just cantilevered there has an element of danger. What are the chances of it letting go right this moment? I’ll not tempt fate, haha.

The view down the back side of the ridge is spectacular! We are in a jumble of boulders that look down on a very steep drop-off that ends way down there in beautiful Glacier Gorge. There’s Mills Lake to the north, been there, and Black Lake, Blue Lake, and Frozen Lake. There is Spearhead, McHenry’s Peak, Chief’s Head, Pagoda and the top part of the Keyboard of the Winds. We need to take lots of photos of the scenery, of each other, and of each other with the scenery! We are all elated to be here, but we need to get moving. The sky to the west is an amazing blue with a few white clouds. I’m back down to my windbreaker.
We are really on the west side of the mountain now, the back side I call it. We need to scramble between and over some boulders to get to the route. I’m saying “This is where the Summit Team begins to rock!” They politely laughed in agreement, and then we looked at the amazing view across the dangerous half-mile traverse called the Ledges. There are four demanding sections to negotiate in the next mile and a half to the summit, with lots of class 3 scrambling and some serious exposure. Exposure means a slip, misstep, loss of balance, or mistake could mean serious injury or your demise.  There are several places where a misstep, a trip, or a slip could result in a fall of several hundred feet.  I prayed for us constantly and He gave me the ability to concentrate, focus, make good decisions, and problem-solve, all of which I have trouble with in the lowlands. Hahaha!

The route requires lots of scrambling. It runs along the top of a slope which falls steeply down to the right and there is more or less of a back slanting wall on the left. I see some bullseye route markers ahead. Bright yellow circles inside bright red rings. We need to follow those rigorously. Getting off route here can bring serious trouble. About halfway I can see The Trough which is a “couloir”, a steep narrow gully. When I skied all the time, we called that an “avalanche chute”, and joked that the word couloir was French for “frozen ravine of death“. Here is the big block of rock that forms an obstacle that must be negotiated to proceed farther. There are steel rods that the Park Service has drilled into the boulder as hand-holds. It would be much harder without them, and I feel a bit exposed here. This is where climbing companions helping each other is a comfort.
Now I see the part of the route that slopes downward before it meets the Trough. Now we are in that French ravine, and it is every bit as daunting as it’s reputed to be. Much of it is talus covered, and it has been described as a “scree field”. We are taking some breaks together and conversing. Now I’m below my mates, so I need to stay to the side where I won’t be hit if they dislodge a rock. It is steep and there are lots of loose rocks and I surely want to avoid getting hit in the head or any other part, for that matter. That’s the nice thing about this time of year though, can you imagine what it would be like if dozens of inexperienced people were kicking through here and every few seconds you hear “Rock!“, meaning that something deadly is bouncing uncontrolled at a high rate of speed toward someone below the shouter.
There doesn’t seem to be a way straight up, I’ll need to route-find and wind my way up. Stopping to catch my breath more often, but I do like this kind of climbing, and . . .  ugh, something’s wrong . . . I don’t feel so well . . . weak . . . dizzy . . . headache . . . nausea . . . altitude sickness! It hit so quickly – without warning. Never had it before. I feel like I “hit the wall” and can’t go on. Fatigue. Drained. I’m done. Shoot! I need to turn back according to everything I’ve read . . . So dejected . . . having gotten this far . . .

Just breathe a minute. Bend down and get some blood to your brain,” I heard The Voice say.
After a few minutes, I’m not panting so hard. Nausea and headache abating some. Dizziness too, that’s a really bad thing to be up here – is dizzy!

“Hey, are you alright,?” my two partners are asking, not being very far from me. “You look a little pale, do you need some help?” 

“I just ‘hit the wall’, but I’m starting to feel better. Thanks, just give me a minute . . .”
I don’t remember reading that A.S. can pass quickly, but it seems to be passing. I feel much better. Drinking water and taking another ibuprofen. It’s about time anyway. All symptoms fading, and the depressive dejection as well.
The whole episode was only five to ten minutes, Thank You, gracious Father, Thank You! I’ll continue with You . . . cautiously.
There are some tough scrambles. We’re boosting and pulling each other up. It is slow going and, I just looked, and we’ve been on the Ledges and Trough for over two hours! We did stop to take some photos . . .
I’ve been praying constantly for myself and more earnestly for my companions. I do not want to see one of them get injured or worse. Could that be part of my purpose up here, to intercede for them?
Twenty minutes ago, I noticed a lone figure way down below us. He was ascending quickly up the gully. Now He’s passing us. It’s good to exchange pleasant greetings up here. He’s the only other person we’ve seen up here. Now he’s climbing over the large boulders up ahead. He appears to be in very good condition! And here I am having to stop and catch my breath all the time!
Finally we’ve come to where we need to ‘scramble’ over the large obstacles at the top of the Trough. The Narrows beckons.
As soon as we top the final boulders, we know we are “in deep” now. Looking down on the narrow passage and the steep drop-off of death on the right takes one’s breath away. I’m not afraid. Fear takes away concentration, and distracts from what needs to be done. I sense fear in my companions. I quickly pray, and carefully edge forward making certain of each footfall and handhold. In some places, the granite ‘path’ is so narrow that it is worn smooth by all the feet that have been forced to walk the same twenty inch route. I’m thankful for my good leather gloves and my great new climbing shoes. The clouds had been building, but don’t look stormy. We are above the cloud deck and can’t see the valley below very clearly when I dare look. This is the south side of the mountain. I wish I could see the Wild Basin area down there. And they say there is a large, black, rock formation appropriately named The Hearse right down below somewhere. But this is no place to think these things, even for a second. Focus! Right hand, right foot, left foot, left hand. Concentrate! I’m so thankful there is no wind to speak of. I’ve heard of people being swept right off places like this. Keep going, get this section behind us . . .
I followed them all across the Ledges and up the Trough, but I’m leading across the Narrows. I can hardly believe it. Adrenaline is a powerful hormone! I don’t think I’ve ever had so much! Now I’m almost to the end and I’m faced with a steep ‘wall’ of small, loose rocks and boulders. I’ts steep but there seem to be plenty of footholds and handholds. Just to the right, the fall line is straight down. This feels very precarious . . .
I’m studying the rock trying to decide the best way to get over the cliff-like edge of the last huge boulder when suddenly a face and arm are appearing and reaching down! I hesitate. “Come on, I’ll give you a hand!” He said with a smile. It was the man who passed us back in the Trough. I smile back and offer my hand. We lock hands. He’s not very big, but has a strong grip. I choose my footholds carefully, and with this new friend’s help, I’m over the top. Thanks, Mr. Lee! Soon, K. and G. are up too, with his help. “You’re almost there,” he states, pointing at a very steep, very impressive ‘slab’ of smooth granite, “I’m heading up, see you at the top!”

I’m thinking, yeah, so close! Crossing an easier semi-flat place, and here I am. The Homestretch! The last section before the summit is a 45 degree slope of smooth granite. So tired, but this is no place to be tired . . .
It’s daunting, but pick a route and get up there! Long’s Peak’s summit is calling, and I must go!
Oh great and merciful Father, You have made me a way up this far, I just need this final one!
There’s a nice looking crack on the left. Two cracks, with a sort of narrow ‘sidewalk’ between them. See you guys at the top, I’m shouting to the resting K. and G., who seemed to be trying to persuade each other to do this last, tough stretch. Putting my fingers in the crack on the left, I start up the granite slope. It’s amazingly smooth from the wear of thousands of shoes. I need all four points of contact here. Thank God for good Vibram soles and a tenacious grip! Soon, I stop for breath. This is fourteen thousand feet! I’m overwhelmed with the reality! Looking back I see my companions below. I’ve been so focused on the mountain, I failed to notice that the clouds have been filling in around us and our visibility is much less. I can still see some dark rusty brown spires of rock to the south, maybe a hundred yards away. No sign of Mr. Lee, he’s already up!
Halfway there! Stopping to take some photos of my companions below.

And I’m here! The edge of the flat summit and now I’m up! My longtime goal is met!  My Everest is conquered! It’s overwhelming, and Mr. Lee is here in welcome. Thank You, Lord!

My cohorts are arriving now and we all are hugging and congratulating one another. It is said that only 3 out of 10 people who attempt the summit actually make it, so we are feeling good. “I wonder what the other 7 are doing”, I quipped. We are taking pictures. Mr. Lee is heading for home after making sure we are alright. He has been up here several times. I now have his email address. G. finds the register, the summit log sheets, rolled up inside a cabled PVC tube in a crevice between two large boulders. I’m pretty sure the taller one is the absolute highest point on the peak. I should climb it and stand upon it, but that would only be a hollow gesture, and besides, I am completely spent. I’m happy to just rest here beside it and record my name along with G. and K. on the list of Spartans who made this climb. I’m in a state of joyful delight – blissful pleasure.
Now I must praise my Father and Lord who brought me here, enabled me, strengthened me, encouraged me, and blessed me. I’m convinced I could not have done it using only my own meager resources. 14,259 feet above sea level! Not on my own power, but Yours, Father! Now the race is run, the task finished, the goal reached. I’m spent and elated and filled with joy!

^ ~  ^ ~  ^

The Summit

Here, I’ll depart from my flow-of-consciousness, my present tense, the ‘in the now’. That stream is hard, for, no matter how much I want to, it’s impossible to relate every thought, emotion, and nuance of one’s state of being, especially given the light-speed rate at which they happen . . .

Then I was sitting there next to the eight-foot tall “summit boulder” of Long’s Peak in euphoria, dining happily on the beef jerky I had brought for the occasion. How much of the euphoria was from oxygen deprivation? That was a humorous thought. I wasn’t as hungry as I expected to be. I guess I was too full of water. The euphoria was being replaced by the fog of reality in small increments, thought by thought. Figurative fog and real fog too! I looked at the flat-ish, football field-sized summit. The fog was rolling past in waves. So this is what it’s like being in a cloud! Cloud 9, but a cloud, nevertheless! Sometimes everything was visible, then mostly not. I lamented not being able to see Chasm Lake, Mt. Meeker, Wild Basin, Mt. Lady Washington, the eastern plains, the western mountain ranges.  Funny, I had hardly noticed the fog until now. It moved in like a prowling cat. My watch showed 12:30 pm! How had it taken so long to get here from the Keyhole? I’d planned to summit and be back down at least to the campground by now. I’ve been on my feet for most of eleven hours! O Lord, please hold back the thunderstorms! The breeze isn’t strong, but it’s cool. This rock is hard – and cold, but at least I can sit and rest a while. I want to walk around, maybe look over the edge of the Diamond Face, but alas, I’m very tired, and that is what makes the trip down so dangerous and scary – fatigue. Fatigue! O Lord, how am I ever going to get down this steep rock, let alone all the miles of trail back to camp?
“One step at a time, fear not.” 
The fear that tried to come vanished again. Peace came over me, and I knew I was wrong again – the race was not run, the task not finished. I had completed only half of a marathon and had a new task before me – getting home (back to camp) alive and uninjured. I felt optimistic again, and “positivity” returned. It was really pretty pleasant up here! Except for not having recliners, the summit was comfortable today. I had companions! What more could I ask? Nothing!
After conversing, celebrating, resting, and recovering for about forty minutes, the weight of our circumstances pushes us into motion. If that smooth granite gets rain on it . . .  So we saddle up. As I said before, the descent is statistically the most dangerous part of the trip. If people perish, it most likely to happen on the descent. Fatigue is the culprit, and we now have the concerns of the time crunch we’re facing. Hurrying is not a good option, so now we are at the mercy of the weather. We need the ultimate Source of mercy more than ever! The fog has hampered our visibility of the skies – the skies that we are now standing in! We hear no thunder, but lightning storms can develop quickly. It is almost 1:00 pm. We should be nearing treeline by now, but we are uncomfortably exposed up here above treeline for at least the next two or three hours. I feel much better, physically, after resting, but my muscles have already gotten cold and stiff, so I do some stretches. I don’t want to strain a muscle, ligament, or tendon up here. Human help is many hours away.
Only 7.5 miles to go . . . That’s a pretty long hike itself.

Descent  

Time to hitch up my resolve. Looking over the edge of the lip of the Homestretch, I’m taken aback at its steepness. How to do this? Then I remembered an extremely important piece of advice from my son, the experienced and accomplished rock climber. He told me to down-climb a steep slope of rock instead of walking down, butt-sliding down, or inverted spider-walking (facing away from the mountain). Those actions could result in an unrecoverable slide or tumble. Down-climbing affords the security and safety of three-point holds every one of which you can choose, and if you do slip or slide, there are many opportunities to recover your stability. In addition, you can see both up-slope and down. It’s like climbing down a ladder. You don’t want to face outward! So I turned around, faced the rock, and went over the “cliff edge” and down. It worked! Looking down between my feet, I felt very secure all the way down to where I could turn around and walk. Goodbye, Long’s Peak summit . . .
The fog wasn’t quite as bad as I down-climbed again down to the Narrows. My companions were not down-climbing, so I kept praying, and concentrated upon crossing that ridiculously-exposed section. At the west end of the Narrows, we had to climb up and inch around the precarious point of rock at the top of the Trough, after which more down-climbing technique was needed. Poles would have come in handy for going down that steep chute. Descending may be easier and faster than ascending, and it doesn’t make me breathe as hard, but it surely pounds and stresses old joints. The “kids” didn’t seem to be having any problems, though, and that made me smile. Then we found the bullseye marker where we had to enter the Ledges. We had to ascend to get to the traverse, and the Ledges traverse itself seemed to be a gradual upward incline all the way to the Keyhole. I could understand why it took so long to cover this section on the way up. It’s just a lot of scrambling. Tiring scrambling. I wasn’t drinking water as often as I had been, but didn’t have much left anyway. I assumed that altitude sickness was no longer a concern, but dehydration probably was.
The fog came and went, but halfway through the traverse, the fog became a light mist. I was glad to have help and companionship. We had become friends by this time and had a good “working” relationship.
Finally! There was the Keyhole formation! We couldn’t even see Glacier Gorge on the left, so we eagerly went through the Keyhole and started down-climbing the boulders of the Boulderfield. No stopping at the shelter, because the sight of the privies and the tent way down in the distance was enticing. The “hard part” was almost behind us.
All seemed to be going well until the mist turned into drizzle. The granite was getting wet . . .
More down-climbing! Although there was no longer a single path worn by herds of Vibrams, I had to choose my steps carefully.
It was much slower going than we wanted. Time wore on, and so did I. The Boulderfield seemed to be fighting me. I was really tired again. But, I was once again thankful for my new grippy-soled shoes.
At last! A privy to call my own. It was 3:45. It took two hours and forty-five minutes to get down here from the top and it felt good to be back at the low altitude of 12,700 feet. Haha!
Unfortunately, the marmots had thrown a party while mom and dad were absent. Their ground pads and some other things had become snacks for the giant rodents. Why they would chew on that is a mystery to me.
It was getting colder, and sunset was not far off. I retrieved my hiking poles and water bladder. I was glad the big squirrels had not chewed holes in that. (I did protect it under some rocks). I fueled up with a couple more energy bars. I figured I only needed about a quart of water to get home, so I packed a little extra and dumped the rest. It never hurt to have a reserve. It was getting colder. I hoped it would not start snowing. I put all my clothing on except for my rain gear. So, at 4:15 or so, we were ready to go. I was about four hours behind my planned schedule. I thought I could easily get back by 5 pm and that’s what I wrote in the trailhead log book. God, are you laughing at my silly plans? Still He preserved me this long and the regular afternoon storms held back today. It should be a relatively easy walk back. One step at a time!
It took 5.5 hours to get here this morning, so maybe 3.5 to get back? I should be home by 8 pm if all goes well. Three hours behind schedule. Would the rangers send someone to look for me? Would they even notice? Was I being silly again? I smiled. Our walk to the switchbacks was fast. I was thankful my pack was much lighter, but I was pushing myself to keep up with those young legs. They looked like they were fresh. Of course I had hiked much farther than they had today – eleven miles already. Farther than I’ve ever walked in one try. Keep going!
Then, sometime before the switchbacks, I looked to my left about thirty feet up on a ridge of rocks and stopped in my tracks. There was the silhouette of a wolf! It was sitting and could see its head and a little of its shoulders. The head was bigger than a coyote’s and its muzzle more boxy. Its ears were pointing straight up, and – it was looking straight at me! I took my pack off and dug out my camera to take a photo. No one would believe me otherwise. When I turned, it wasn’t there any longer! I began to wonder if I had imagined it. No! I was fatigued, but not addled! By the time I replaced my pack and hurried on, G. and K. had stopped down in the switchbacks to wait for me. They asked if I was okay because I was breathing hard in my hurry to catch up and I told them about the wolf. Their reaction was as expected – you had to be there . . .
They kept getting way ahead. I couldn’t keep up. I knew they needed to be in Estes Park by a certain time and needed to hurry. Besides that, they only had one flashlight and it would be dark soon. It’s hard to negotiate a trail if you don’t have your own light. And there’s another life metaphor! There was only one solution – ” You guys need to get down fast. Go ahead and get to Estes. Don’t worry about me, I’ll make it fine!” I said. They protested about leaving me by myself. We had bonded, and we cared about one another. I finally won out, and we talked about our wonderful day together, our summiting together, all we had done and been through together. We hugged and exchanged email addresses and vowed to stay in touch. They still felt bad about leaving me alone, but I told them I wasn’t alone – not ever! That was the most important part of this whole day. By now, they knew of my faith, Who I believed in, and why, because of things I had said during the day. I hope they remember me and my relentless faith. I hope they one day find Him for themselves. That’s my fondest desire for everyone I interact with . . .
   So, okay, they hurried away and soon were out of sight. It wasn’t long before I reached Granite Pass, and then the traverse on the side of Mount Lady Washington. I picked up my pace, picking my way down the rocky trail. My knees and hip joints were taking a beating, not to mention my lower back, but my poles were helping a lot. Where the drops between steps were large, I’d put my hands atop the grips, plant them ahead of me, and swing myself down, all my weight being on my arms. That was good, because my arms had done very little all day. They became indispensable appendages to help my extremely tired lower ones.
The drizzle had been increasing and finally became a light rain – a very cold, light rain. I stopped, dug my rain gear out of my pack, and put it on. I covered the pack with a rain cover I had brought and continued on, but soon became annoyed at the flapping of my too big rain pants, so I decided to remove them. I rolled them up and put them away, however, putting my pack back on, the left  strap tore free. Expletive! Sorry! Defective piece of . . .  What do I do now?
“Fix it!”
Yes, there must be some way (what would Macgyver do?) . . .  And there was. It was time-consuming, but I used some materials I had on hand. I tied a few knots, to make a long story short, and got back on the trail. It wasn’t long before dark closed in. I got my headlamp back out, not expecting to need it again today. I took comfort that I had brought spare batteries. Then I realized my mistake. What if the lamp itself failed? I had no backup! Mistake! More prayer needed! Less than four miles to go. How am I going to walk four more miles?

The rain was falling lightly but steadily now, but there was no wind, and that I considered a blessing. Finally, the trail turned away from the Lady and I knew Chasm Junction wasn’t far. It was dark as midnight, but my trusty headlamp was still bright. I kept going around rocks and boulders that were half buried, mostly buried, or lying on the ground. I continued using my poles to cushion sharp drops and big steps. I reached the junction at about 6:15, took a quick look at the signpost, and kept going. I probably was not drinking enough water. I didn’t think about eating. I wasn’t hungry. I thought about time and distance. I had covered about 2.5 miles since 4:15 including the conversation time and pack repair time. I was almost halfway back to camp and the easiest sections were ahead. Three-plus miles to go. Maybe I could do it in two hours . . .
It was less than a mile to treeline. I couldn’t believe I was still above treeline. I should have been down there hours ago! How blessed I was that my miscalculated schedule planning had not caused me a serious problem! It was less than a mile down Mills Moraine to treeline, and only a 600 foot drop in elevation. Fairly flat. I made good time. Was it just me, or had the rain been increasing? Also increasing, were scrubby vegetation and twisted, stunted trees along the trail. I made good progress, and soon I was at the marker that said “Ranger Station – 2.5”. Though it was getting foggy, the rain was cold and falling hard on my hood and shoulders, and my breath was condensing in front of me, I smiled and headed in the direction the arrow pointed.
After ten minutes or so, I began to feel just a bit uneasy. The trail didn’t look quite right. Of course it was dark when I covered this section early this morning. I wondered if my mind was playing tricks on me, after all it must be getting fatigued. I was still above 10,000 feet. My brain had been operating on four hours sleep, and had made tens of thousands of decisions nonstop for the past sixteen hours. Foot and hand placement. Do this, do that. It had processed unprecedented sights and sensations, much of it with a low oxygen supply . . . I kept going, but couldn’t shake the feeling of unease. I crossed a bridge across a small, fast running creek and came to a grove of willows at the end. Willows? I didn’t remember willows near a bridge. Soon, I noticed that the trail seemed to be ascending slightly, but steadily. I stopped, bewildered. Turn around, came a faint suggestion. I went a few more steps and tried to see what the trail ahead looked like. Turn around, came stronger. Surely, if I kept going, I would regain my certainty. This was not rocket surgery! Several more brave steps, and, . . . TURN AROUND! It wasn’t a suggestion. I sensed His presence. It was my Shepherd. I turned. I went back to the bridge. Was I lost? Had I branched off this trail I was on? This was serious. I had forgotten about Him for hours and I felt dumb and somewhat ashamed.
“Turn around.” What a metaphor those two words were for repentance on the trail of life.
I carefully, trustingly, made my way back, hoping that I could find the sign again. I didn’t see any forks or branches that might have deceived me, and after time stretched confusingly, I was back at the sign. It seemed miraculous. Thank You, Father, Son, Shepherd, Spirit!
I got close to the sign and tried to see where I erred. I had “misread” the funny little arrow in my haste. I was still disoriented, though. Which way had I come from? I checked the trails and recognized the characteristics of the trail which delivered me here from Chasm Junction. Then that must be the correct way to the trailhead! Yes, this way, came a confident word, and soon I felt much better. I was descending down a smoother, wider trail.
On a side note of reflection, I realize how easy it is to get off-track. Through the relationship, you get to know the Shepherd’s voice, but I had forgotten to listen. The sound of my own unworthy voice was too loud, and when you are trying to discern what your own voice is saying, there can be that other one trying to mimic yours. It’s the voice of the enemy, always working against your good, always trying to steal, kill, and destroy. Always trying to cover my Good Shepherd’s voice. This time, it tried to get me lost . . .
However, I came to my senses and stopped listening to those other two, listened to The One, and was saved. Another metaphor. Got to love it.
So, by this time, I’m really fatigued, physically, but mentally uplifted a bit. I knew how to persevere, I knew how to grind. This would be a serious grind. I had lost close to thirty minutes, and most of my strength and power. Now I would have to rely on any of those things God would give me. It was always so, whether or not I perceived it.

It was very dark. A deep cave kind of dark. It was raining even harder. On a positive note, my headlamp was still shining brightly. I knew I had gone a half mile when I came to the sharp turn in the trail that switched from east to north. You could have fooled me on the directions. I was soaked from the hips down. Rain was running off the bill of my cap. I started thinking about predators. I was the only human prey on the mountain by now. Black bears. Mountain lions are worse. They stalk you. I made sure I could quickly access my two sharp knives. They tell you to fight back, and I would if I had to. Perhaps the weather would keep any predators holed up. I prayed again.

Time passed, and I thought two miles in this section of trail shouldn’t be too bad if conditions don’t worsen . . . They did. It rained harder. I didn’t think it could. No lightning, though, and no hail or snow. It wasn’t quite cold enough for snow, thankfully. Even a small amount of snow would cover the trail, its hazards, make it hard to find,  and then I’d be in a pickle. I drew near to a stream several times. I could hear the water rapidly moving down what seemed a “fuller”-than-normal watercourse. I began to think about flash floods. They killed people as surely as lightning. I began to pay closer attention to the sounds upstream. Perhaps I could detect a wall of water coming and climb to higher ground. I remembered the Big Thompson flash-flood disaster of 1976, and the sudden flooding all along the front range in September of 2013. It happens in watersheds as extreme as these. 

After more time passed, splashing through puddles and slogging through muddy patches, I reached a split-log bridge which I remembered, and then some familiar switchbacks which were steep. I was now on the part of the trail I had hiked Sunday and Monday for acclimation and warm-ups. I was waiting for a “second wind”, a “third wind”, or any helpful “wind”, but none came.
This would be the sixth time I’ve covered this section. I shouldn’t get lost here, I thought. But I kind of did. Three or four times, what I thought was the trail ended against a barricade of boulders, a copse of aspens, or a pile of rocks. Behind the aspens, I could see an abrupt drop-off.  I was grateful that those things had stopped me before I went very far wrong. Only short reversals were needed to find the main trail. Everything began to look the same. “DO NOT GET YOURSELF LOST”! I Repeated. I began to imagine myself finding some kind of shelter under a fir tree and huddling there until daylight. KEEP GOING, do not stop for anything.” I sensed that if I stopped and sat down to rest, I would not be able to get going again.

Due to heavy use, the trail had been worn concave in many places and had become a flowing stream of rushing cold water. There were shallow pools behind the rock steps and anti-erosion log steps. By trying to walk on the higher sides of the path, and also choosing rocks to step upon, I tried to avoid stepping in water over my shoe tops, even though they were filled already.  That made the trek much longer and more difficult, but the water outside my shoes was just a lot colder than that inside them. Except for my squishing footsteps, pole plants, hard breathing, and rain sounds, it was completely silent. Downright spooky! Was this Goblin’s Forest? I began to feel like the only human on the planet, and I missed seeing the next three signs I had memorized before. Goblin’s Forest, Eugenia Mine, and one other. I was only looking down. That’s where all the important action was. There was another set of steep switchbacks somewhere around a mile in. I did recognize those. The Eugenia Mine Trail sign would have told me I was thirty minutes from camp, had I seen it. My watch told me another hour had passed.

Oh, Lord, I need help. I’m at the end of my rope . . . “I WILL TIE A KNOT. YOU HANG ON!
I was literally slogging, plodding, and trudging, shoes and gloves sodden and heavy with water as my brain was sodden with fatigue when the end of the trail back to camp was near. But it was not near – not like I thought it was. I saw no lights, and no signs where I thought they should be. Was I lost again? “NO, KEEP WALKING” He said firmly. I trudged on and on, now understanding much more personally the meaning of that word, and also of oppressive fatigue. Endlessly . . .
I might have crumpled if not for my poles. My legs were not responding properly to my brain’s commands. It was as though I were intoxicated, but in my spirit it was an intoxication of wonder and of faith, for . . .
I thought I saw a glimmer through the trees! The fog was less! Am I really seeing them? Another thirty yards. Yes! There are the lights I expected way back! I am going to make it! Another thirty and I could see the rail fence where the trail turned toward the parking lot. I wobbled to the kiosk where I could finally stop and record my return time. It was the first time I had stopped moving since the Battle Mountain sign. It was 9:00 pm. I was four hours past my generous estimate of a 5:00 pm return time in the log book. I could feel my last tiny drop of adrenaline coursing through me. My last bit of excitement. I was drained of everything else. I had just hiked, and scrambled, and climbed the vertical equivalent of a 486-story building, logged between fifteen and sixteen miles, and I had been “on the mountain” for 19 1/2 hours, but I was fairly lucid as I wrote: WET, COLD, EXHAUSTED, HAPPY in the “comments” column, and proudly checked the “successfully reached destination” column.
Then I took a photo of my penciled notation and joyously, unsteadily, made my way downhill, footsteps splashing in the water covering the empty blacktop parking lot.

The last 200 meters from the kiosk to my camp seemed to take hours to walk. When I finally staggered down the campground road and into camp, it was still raining hard and I was delighted to see my faithful pickup waiting where I left it. My tent! I was home! But my heart sunk when I saw it sitting in two inches of water. The tent pad wasn’t draining. I quickly used my camp shovel to make drainage holes in the raised pad, then I removed my rain gear and shook off the water before unzipping the rain-fly, and climbing in. The base of the tent had leaked a little. It wasn’t supposed to. However, only the foot of my sleeping bag was wet, and I was thankful it was not the whole bed.  What a struggle it was to remove wet clothes sitting down while fighting an aching fatigue! Everything seemed to resist! In time, I had toweled dry and installed fresh, dry, sleep clothing. I forgot gratitude, but every part of my being was smiling, and I’m certain I wasn’t the only one. There at 9400 feet, with the delightful sound of rain hitting the fly, my body feeling half alive, and my emotions super-alive, I went to sleep instantly, and slept “curled up” for nine hours straight without dreaming, rousing, or even moving.

The next morning, I awoke to birds singing and squirrels chittering. I thought I would just climb out of the sleeping bag, get dressed, and greet the sun. Nothing doing! I could hardly move due to the pain. Almost every part of me hurt. Muscles were stiff and sore. Joints were inflamed and aching, but it was one of those “good kinds of hurt”. Pain meant I had survived! I was alive in the best sense! And I was very hungry, essentially not having had a real meal for 36 hours. I remembered the gratitude I had forgotten, and lavishly thanked my Creator Lord and Savior, my Shepherd, Guide, Constant Companion, and my Wonder, my Friend, Loved One, and Lover of unworthy me. Glory to the One Mighty God, all the glory belongs to Him! I felt relieved and rescued. Fortunate and fulfilled!

Struggling into my clothes and out of the tent into the chilly but sunny morning, took far too long. It was a great feeling to drive again. I went into Estes and indulged in a huge breakfast, but on the way I stopped in a pullout to look at “my” mountain. I could hardly believe my eyes! She was covered with snow! While I was coming down in the cold rain, it was snowing on the peak! The cold front that had been expected this morning arrived last evening. I could well imagine the front with its cold air and snow following at my heels as I descended to lower altitudes. At 9400 feet it remained a rain, but at 11000 feet, or treeline and higher, it was a snow event. I could see that Meeker and the Lady were also covered in white. How blessed I was not to have been caught in that snowstorm!

I spent all that day exploring RMNP by vehicle. It was a day of euphoria, of recovery, and of rejoicing. Adventuring with God is emotional stuff . . . richly exhilarating . . . that is my testimony to which there is no end, except to strongly suggest that you go — go now, and find your own.

A Keyhole Glimpse

Through a keyhole,
I caught a glimpse of Heaven.
I dared to walk and climb
Upon a wonder of Creation, where
I learned more of its Creator’s wondrous attributes.
It must have been a thin place,
Thin of air,
But thick with grace.
We almost touched.
I almost felt the golden gates,
Up high where Jesus led and is
The only Trail, the Path, and Route,
The Way to the sacred Peak of Gates,
The only Channel of Locks, 
The only Passkey.
And He is the Gates,
And He is the Keeper of Gates,
He is the Marker of Routes,

and He is the Marks,
He’s the mysterious Wolf at dusk,
The Mountain Lion,
Full of pursuit and power. 
He’s the Bridge,

And the clear Living Water beneath.
He is the Light at my feet,
And He is the only Aperture
Through which to peep
The glimpses of Heavenly Wonders
Long, high, wide, and deep.

* * * * * * ^ * * * * *

After-Words

    So many things could have gone wrong, but hardly anything did. 

   It had its harrowing parts. It had excitement and joy. It was exhausting. It was enlightening. It was a sampler of many emotions, but there was no fear the whole time. There was an underlying peace.
   I was thankful that God woke me two hours early, lack of sleep notwithstanding. I might never had met my companions. I might have gotten back at 11:30 pm. I might have gotten lost in the snowstorm. I might not have gotten back at all, but for grace . . . The thing is, “might” is supposition, the reality is that it all happened just the way it was designed to, within grace, purpose, plan, and faith!
   I stood on the pinnacle, but that is only the tip of the iceberg of MY meager understanding of Creation’s astounding complexity. There are higher mountains on earth that I have imagined myself standing atop, and, for that matter, there are even taller mountains on other planets, in other galaxies, upon which I can only imagine raising my hands in His praise. Perhaps, in eternity, Jesus will take me to those and countless other wonders.
   
Thank you, dear reader, for persevering through this memoir of my lifetime event. You truly complete the cycle of the wonderful writing/reading relationship. I’m eternally grateful.
Your Gloryteller.

 

© Copyright by Lenn Snider 4-10-21
           All rights reserved

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laura Bennet
    Apr 13, 2021 @ 10:42:33

    Wow! What an incredible experience. I don’t know if you’ve written this in a book, but it would make a good one with some tweaking (in my opinion.) And I agree, the metaphor of our journey with Jesus and hiking a mountain are perfectly suited!

    Reply

    • Gloryteller
      Apr 28, 2021 @ 16:32:43

      Thank you so much, Laura! I do have plans for including it in a book! So sorry to have taken so long to respond to you, but I’ve been away. My sister, I so value your comments. You have my thanks and my appreciation. Peace be yours. L<

  2. My Father's Child
    Apr 11, 2021 @ 19:10:35

    My dear cousin, this is absolutely priceless, precious, and beautiful!! Thank you so much for sharing your story. The Holy Spirit can speak to so many others through this testimony!

    Reply

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The Basic Christian Library

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"The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. Another converted atheist presents His compelling case for believing in Jesus.

"Left To Tell" by Imaculee Ilibagiza. This profound work is her own extraordinary story of endurance, discovery of the Holy Spirit, grace, healing, and an astonishingly compelling account of the necessity for forgiveness.

Compelling Christian Fiction Reads

"The Circle" 4-book series by Ted Dekker.
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"This Present Darkness" and "Piercing the Darkness" by Frank E. Peretti. Tales of spiritual warfare from a unique perspective. Stirred a small controversy, but sold millions. What are we Christians afraid of? Hey, it's fiction!

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