Hail and rain poured down on my little tent. Even under the tall spruce the heavy rain found littlest places to come in with me. The wind sounded like I was camped at the end of a runway. It roared across the mountains and through the canyons. It was bad. There was no sleep that night.
The next morning gave a reprieve from the storms and I was up early to hike. The air was cool and damp. The trail although pocked with random puddles was good. As I began this, the second leg of the hike, I watched the mountain tops. Up there above tree-line things are different. Clouds rolled around covering the peaks. Not good. The last thing you want to do is walk into a storm a dozen miles up on a mountain. That is what happened two years ago. I did not want to feel the agony of turning back again so I pressed on.
The planning had taken months, time off work and expenses. I had a week and I needed to make every day count. At 13,527 feet Kings peak is the highest point in Utah. It is also number 7 on a list of 12 tallest peaks in the United States my youngest son and I had set as a goal to hike. The difference this time was he had just started a new job and was not going to be able to make it so this would be a solo hike. I had never done that before and I didn’t know how I would feel about it. What I did know was I was going to check this one off. I needed one.
I was four hours into the morning when I got to the foot of the peak. An hour or two straight up and I would be there. Looking up the conditions were the same, you could not see the tops. Thick clouds, rain, hail and snow were all a part of those kinds of clouds, I know them. I sat and asked God, “Lord, Jesus, what do you want me to do. I gotta have you give me some help here. I don’t know if I can handle another failed attempt. I did not like his answer. Go back.
I was emotionally wrecked. Yes the altitude and a tired body plays into how you feel on the mountain but this is the second time I missed the top. I only get one try a year, I was all the way here, again.
When I was a small guy the teacher announced that the Science Fair was coming. I signed myself up and was excited to see what I would win when they saw my incredible project. The weeks went by and the day finally came. In a last minute rush I created a disastrous abomination of a project. Looking back I can’t believe I had the guts to even turn it in. Years later I was thinking about it and I don’t remember my mom or dad ever asking me about homework, after school projects and specifically this one. My dad was a brilliant man who built go-carts from old wagons, hand built mini homes and worked in a chemistry lab. Mom was a homemaker who made everything from scratch. Where were they? Surely an encouraging word, a few tips from either of them would have gone a long way.
As I sat in the truck after walking 12 hours off the mountain that day I was crushed. I called my wife to report in. I did not want to talk to anyone. I texted my youngest and told him, he would be the one that knew the heart of defeat at the foot of the mountain. It was he and I two years ago when we hiked 2-days to the foot of the glacier on Gannet Peak in Wyoming. The weather turned dangerous and we had to go back. Even knowing it is the right decision it is hard to leave and feel defeated.
One last call that day was to one of my buddies. I needed to get a guys input on the shame, guilt and feelings. He would be a good listener and I could trust him with my emotional roller coaster. After talking with me he said something that I did not expect. “Why don’t you go back. You are there, you came all that way. You have the time. Go get it done.” What, could I do that? That was when Jesus and I went into conversation.
Turns out I had friends not far from King’s in Sundance, Utah. My youngest had Friday and Monday off for some reason (Jesus). I had a flight voucher I needed to use. Jesus orchestrating the story.
My youngest arrived in Utah on Friday. We packed up Saturday under blue skies and hiked the same trail I went up just 4 days earlier. It was wonderful to have him there to talk with. We had not talked like that in a very long time. Five hours in he picked a beautiful camp spot just past where I was days before. A view of the amazing valley, lakes and grazing sheep. A small campfire kept us warm as the sun went down and the stars came out.
We peaked Sunday at noon in the most beautiful weather you could ask for. After the peak pictures we came straight down and packed up camp. After a full 13 hours on the trail we arrived at the truck. Done. We completed another peak. We did it together like we had all the others. It was an emotional moment. Tired, hungry, stinky and happy all rolled into one big ole joy bomb.
There are a lot of “God” moments in this whole adventure. Moments with my son, alone in the storms, the emotion of turning back, again. But none were more poignant than the words from my buddy, “Go back.” The encouraging and heart felt words of a friend. The words man to man drawing from that spirit he understood inside every man and every boy. He knew my heart, he knew what I needed.
Failing to summit earlier in the week had me feeling like my Science Fair project all over again. I wasn’t prepared. I did not have what it takes. I was destined to fail, alone. How would it have been for me as a boy desperately wanting to build a science fair project to have had the encouraging words of my dad. “You can do this. I believe in you.” Oh how we long for those words from our father or trusted friends.
The men in our churches, men’s groups and our KOZ boys need to see, hear and be invited into some fundamental things from us. They need an adventure. Men and boys must have it, it’s core. They have to know we are committed to them. It can be a lot of work to be a good friend and most men just don’t put out the effort. Boys need men committed who show up when they say they will and enjoy the time together. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Your heart just has to engage. “Go back, get it done, I believe in you.” God speaks to us and uses us to do His works. Mountain top experiences included.