3 Lessons learned from a recent hike

Yesterday was the last day of my three week “semi-sabbatical.” I call it that, because it wasn’t quite a sabbatical, but was a bit more than a vacation. More on that perhaps another time. My two boys and I have a love of hiking and backpacking. This has become such a great point of connection for the three of us in our lives. So we decided to take yesterday and hike to a place called Chasm Lake, just below Longs Peak (one of Colorado’s 14’ers) in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Chasm Lake hike is one that cannot be taken on a whim. It’s a 9.5 mile round trip hike with nearly 2500′ of elevation gain to almost 12.000′ above sea level, well above tree line. Additionally, the weather this time of year (mid to late summer) around Longs Peak is fairly predictable: after around 1pm you can expect somewhat severe storms nearly ever day. For this reason, hikes into this area should be started early, with plans to return back to the trailhead before the afternoon storms build up and unleash their fury!

I’ve been hiking in high mountains for nearly 15 years, first in the Sierra Nevada of California and now in the Rockies, multiple times above tree line, and a few summits of Fourteeners as well (a Fourteener is a mountain the is over 14,000′ in elevation. In the Continental United States there are no peaks higher than Mt. Whitney in California at 14,496′), and I consider myself a somewhat experienced hiker. Throughout this time, I’ve always been a very conscientious hiker, carrying a pack that is sometimes perhaps “overkill” in that I overpack to ensure I have what I need for the hike and just a bit more “just in case.” I’ve taken a few chances here and there, but never anything crazy. Interestingly enough, one of the worst situations I’ve found myself in was an unexpected thunderstorm while hiking Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, a towering mountain at 5,945′! So with all of this, I had no trepidation taking my 10 and almost 8 year old sons to Chasm Lake yesterday.

Let me say this, the Chasm Lake hike is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever taken. The lake sits in a high mountain cirque below Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker with several waterfalls cascading below and a high alpine, grass covered meadow fed by waters from the lake. Just above the lake is the formidable east face of Longs, and when you’ve arrived here, you know you’re in a special place. To this point, the hike was spectacular, the boys were hiking strong and enjoying the beauty and looking for added “adventure” by scrambling over any rocks I would let them. Riley even wanted to do a little “bouldering,” but in my cautiousness, I said “no” because even a twisted ankle at this altitude and distance from the trailhead could be very serious. At the lake’s edge we enjoyed our lunch, took some pictures and got ready for the hike down

Boys edit

So, all of that to get to the point of this post. If you look at the photo above, you’ll see a few clouds starting to creep over the summit of Longs. “Ooh adds a little drama to the landscape” may be a first thought, but in the high mountains that’s not a good sign. I noticed the cloud while we were there having lunch, and in mind there was concern- we needed to get down. We got packed up, and started down. About 20 minutes after the above photo was taken, a rumble of thunder echoed down the cirque. Oh man…. About that time, I began to pray, “Lord, keep us safe, and let us get back down okay.” I was concerned. I looked back and took this photo:

Clouds edit

The peak that 30 minutes before had a whisp of cloud on it was now completely enveloped and the clouds were moving downhill quickly. About 30 minutes later a bit of sleet began to fall on us as we were still above tree line, the sleet quickly turned to pea-sized hail and the rumble of thunder turned into a bit more of a roar (I will say this, we never did have any close lightening strikes, but at that altitude and exposure, any lightening is bad lightening). With the rain, hail, cloud cover and elevation the temperature quickly dropped as well, so we were out in a thunder storm, with no cover, being pelted with hail, getting soaked and getting cold. That’s not a good combo.

Today, looking back, we had an adventure!  Yesterday, it was a…challenge. This morning I was thinking about the trip and a few lessons came to mind. Lessons learned and lessons used. They can be boiled down into three words:

1. Discipline

2. Preparation

3. Discernment

1. Discipline:

Proverbs 6:9-11 says this: “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” This verse has always stuck with me, but I have to admit, not always does my life reflect the lesson this verse is teaching. It’s about discipline. Discipline to live a life of intentionality and purpose and not lackadaisical wandering. So often we don’t have what we want or achieve what we want, because we lack discipline. Oftentimes, we complain and despair, because our lives are not full of the accomplishment so many of us want. Sure, there are always extenuating circumstances, but I have come to learn the hard lesson that, too often, the lack I see in my own life is not God’s punishment or some sense of the world being against me, it’s my own lack of discipline. I don’t “arise from sleep” when I should and do a little too much “folding of the hands.” So what in the world does this have to do with getting caught in a hail storm on Longs Peak? I slept in a little too long yesterday, literally. My experience hiking has taught me that we needed to get an early start so we could get to Chasm Lake and back down before the afternoon storms rolled in. I said as such to the boys the evening before. We needed to leave the house no later than 7am so we’d be on the mountain by 8am. Even this timeline was pushing it, but it was my last day of vacation…. So how did I prepare? I stayed up too late playing Call of Duty (one of my stress relievers, I’ll have you know!) and got to bed way after I should have. When the alarm went off at 6am, I did a lot of “snoozing,” and we didn’t get on the mountain until after 9am. That hour would have made all the difference. We would have been back down in the trees, and below the level the hail was falling. My lack of discipline led to us being caught too high and too late, and we felt the sting of the hail! This is a lesson throughout our lives, opportunities missed due to lack of discipline in our lives holds us back, of our own accord, to so much God wants to do in and through our lives. Where is a lack of discipline affecting your life? What sort of God dreams have you had that still need to be accomplished?

2. Preparation

The next two lessons are a little more positive in that they are lessons I’ve learned and heeded before and during our hike. I can be very much the planner, not always, but  most of the time. This includes preparing for anytime I’m going to be in the backcountry. Simple day hikes can turn disastrous  when the proper preparation is not in place. Longs Peak is a supreme example of this due to its location in Rocky Mountain National Park. RMNP is a beautiful place just north of Denver and easily accessible by tourists throughout the year. When the tourists, or new Colorado transplants visit they are immediately drawn to Longs Peak which dominates the Park and is a seemingly, easily accessible Colorado 14’er. But the reality is that gaining the summit of Longs is one of the most (if not the most) difficult, non-technical (does not require rock climbing or other mountaineering skills) climbs of any of the Colorado 14’ers. But folks see it nearby and think “I’ll hike up that.” I’ve climbed four 14,000′ peaks now including the tallest in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney, and a technical mountaineering climb of Mt. Shasta in Northern California, and I know there isn’t a single one you can just “hike up.” Additionally, anytime you are hiking above tree line, conditions can change rapidly with little warning. What this all means is any time you’re going hiking in the mountains you need to be prepared. So many injuries, or worse, in the mountains,  are due to lack of preparation and understanding of the task ahead. Jesus said in Luke 14:28-30 “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” Whatever the task ahead, and no matter how much God may be behind the task, it requires understanding and preparation. The boys and I got caught high on the mountain when a cold, hail and thunderstorm blew in. That stunk, but we were as prepared as we could be. The night before I laid out our rain jackets and warm jackets (fleece for the boys, down jacket for me), just in case. “But Ben, it’s August for crying out loud!” You know, I thought exactly that, and almost didn’t pack the warm layers yesterday morning. Extra, unused weight is just more to haul up the mountain. Saving two pounds in the pack is two less pounds that has to be hauled nearly 10 miles and a couple of thousand feet up. But, my experience told me that even in summer it can get cold (last year my oldest son and I were snowed on in August on another Colorado 14’er), and storms are an almost certainty in the afternoon. So I counted the cost and knew it was best to prepare for anything, and I packed the rain jackets and the warm layers, and we needed them. So my lack of discipline got us in trouble, but my preparation got us through. What’s in front of you? Has God given you a vision for what’s next? Go for it! But make the necessary preparations to complete the goal well!

3. Discernment

Discernment is the ability, or spiritual gift, of recognizing the truth and reality behind a situation or person. I believe all of us have a certain degree of discernment to understand situations and people we encounter. The challenge is using it when our emotions are all over the place. Here is a random example of this that has just popped into my head: so many of us are plugged in and text, email, Facebook, etc with others. How many times have we received a cryptic text that has sent our thoughts flying all over the map as to what may be the hidden meaning behind the text message or Facebook comment? We start stressing and worrying about what may or may not have been implied. Now, how many times have our worst fears about the meaning behind the text message proven to be completely foundless? They put the smiley face emoticon with the tongue sticking out in there as a joke, not because they were trying to tell us they were mad by passive-aggressively expressing their anger/frustration at us through a small yellow circle on our smartphone. Now, what does this have to do with discernment? If we were having the conversation face to face, or even over the phone, we would be able to discern facial expression, body language or tone of voice. We would hear the joke or see the silly raspberry they gave us and laugh with them. Instead, we limit our communication to 140 characters and some silly Japanese invention of tiny icons to communicate. Discernment is so crucial to navigating life with people that are often good, sometimes bad, yet ultimately sinful. We worry about insignificant issues and fail to address the serious, because we fail to use our God-given discernment to examine the people and situations we find ourselves in. The author of Hebrews writes in chapter 5, verse 14, “ But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Not only do we have discernment, but we need to practice and train ourselves to discern the world around us better, to “distinguish good from evil.” So back to the hike, a couple of things happened yesterday where I had to put my discernment to the test. First, before “the storm” my middle son fell and scraped his knee on a rock. Now there was some blood, as in a tiny little dot. When he fell and began to cry I immediately went to him as there were a lot of rocks and it could have been a more serious situation. At the same time, I know my son (and really just about any kid), and there can be times where a small dot of blood is paramount to amputation. I needed to discern the situation. Did he require a rest, a band aid, something more? Or could we just “throw some dirt on it” and move on? I picked him up, encouraged him and we moved on. I didn’t dwell on a minor issue. Later, “during the storm” my oldest son had delayed putting his rain jacket on, wearing only his fleece, and as the rain and hail continued to fall and the temperature began to drop he got soaked and cold. I had been pushing the boys to keep moving as fast as possible as this was the best recourse, get down in the trees. Riley (my oldest) had been leading with Ridge in the middle and me at the back making sure everyone kept up. At one point Riley dropped to the back of the line as we continued on. Somewhere in there, Ridge stopped and looked back and said “Riley has stopped.” Now, Riley is a tough hiker, and has made me proud by already summiting two 14’ers by the age of 10. I had never even seen a mountain that tall until my late 20’s and he’s already climbing them! He gets hurt and keeps going, he gets a bit cold and keeps going, but at this point, yesterday he was stopped in the middle of the trail nearly doubled over shivering. I asked him if he was okay and he responded, “I’m so cold.” All three of us were cold at this point, but this was different. Discernment told me this was a little more than just being chilly. We were high, it was raining, it was cold, and Riley had stopped walking. This wasn’t a minor boo boo, but a true situation to immediately address, perhaps even bordering on hypothermia. I pulled out my down jacket and his rain jacket and wrapped him up. At this point he’s wearing two warm layers and a waterproof layer in the middle of August. Over the next 20 minutes he continued down the trail and warmed up and finished the hike with laughter and jokes. This wasn’t a time to just tell my son to “suck it up” and keep moving, action needed to be taken. Fortunately, I discerned the difference. What is happening in your life that needs discerning? Are there minor issues you’re over-thinking and major issues your missing or avoiding? God gives us discernment to recognize good and evil, and we need that tool everyday.

I hope these lessons are helpful. I certainly don’t intend this posting to sound arrogant. The reality is, we had a great hike, but I messed up and put the boys and I into a situation that was not a good one. If I had been more disciplined and gotten us on the trail on time, we would have had a wonderful hike and I would have never even needed all that I had prepared for or needed to discern the severity of Riley’s need! But God uses all things according to His good purposes and some lessons were reinforced yesterday, and at the end of it all, we finished the hike with a smile on our faces and a warm heater in the car!

Finish edit

All Scripture references: English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.



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One thought on “3 Lessons learned from a recent hike

  1. Carrie M. says:

    Way to go, Pastor Ben, Riley, and Ridge! I appreciate your learning some life’s lessons to teach us a few. Rock on!

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