Friday, December 11, 2020

The Light Shines in the Darkness

[Originally published in the Monroe News on December 11, 2020]

I’m guessing you know that feeling of walking into a darkened room, completely pitch-black, and fumbling around trying to find your way.  You probably move slowly to avoid any painful encounters with furniture or the stubbing of a toe.  You’ll put your arms and hands out in front of you to feel for anything that might offer a sense of place or direction. This kind of darkness creates a sense of unknown.

I’ve never minded the dark much myself.  In fact I quite enjoy spending time outside in late evenings or even early mornings.  While climbing mountains out west we would regularly have 4am starts at trailheads making our way along darkened trails following a single beam of light from a headlamp.  Such experiences help you see just how reliant we are on the light.  A sense of helplessness is often close at hand when contemplating what would happen if that single light would go out.  Needless to say, we always bring extra batteries!

Saturday, November 7, 2020


[Originally published in the Monroe News on November 6, 2020]

“Hope is like the sun, if you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.” This is a quote from Princess Leia.  If you don’t know who she is, don’t go looking through your geography textbooks to find out for which country she is royalty, you won’t find it.  This is Princess Leia from the Star Wars saga.  If you haven’t seen the movies or read any of the books, or you just dislike them, forgive me.

I love the quote though.  “Hope is like the sun…”  I think hope is a worthy topic for us to be talking about as human beings any day of the week.  It is something we struggle with. It is something our stories and our histories are full of. It is almost certainly something we yearn for.  When we face tough times we especially like to shift our focus to things which give us hope. When in darkness, we want to see that light at the end of the tunnel.

Princess Leia spoke of hope because she was the leader of a rebellion against the Galactic Empire.  She was leading a cause against all the odds to bring freedom to people she never met.  Her fight was built on the idea of hope.  How did her character come to such a bold resolve to continue onward in her goal despite all the odds?  Its really quite a story.  Did you know she witnessed her home planet being completely destroyed by the so-called “Death Star”.   She had to endure her son being lost to the evils of the dark side and turn into the menacing villain Kylo Ren.  She learned that her own father was the greatest villain of them all, Darth Vader.  Despite all of these despair-inducing revelations in her life she led people forward in hope. She never gave up the fight.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Secret of Facing Abundance and Need

  [Originally published in the Monroe News on October 2, 2020]

My brother and I just recently returned from an extended weekend trip to Grand Teton National Park. If you ever get the chance to see the Tetons or their nearby neighbor Yellowstone it is definitely a trip worth taking. We were hopeful having travelled to the land of grizzly bears and moose to see some amazing amounts of wildlife. We came up a little short on that wish. 

The primary agenda of this trip was to backpack a large loop around the Teton range. We’d spend three days carrying as little as possible so we could move as quick as possible and hopefully get through the 57 mile loop in one piece. Trips like this really help remind you just how little is needed for us to survive from day to day. Aside from a tent, a sleeping bag, and a mattress pad, we carried just a few other essentials. We didn’t even carry the kitchen sink out there! 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Teton Crest Loop

Table of Contents
Planning the Itinerary
Friday, Sept. 18
Saturday, Sept. 19
Sunday, Sept. 20

Most Americans are familiar with the Grand Tetons. We've seen the pictures from various vantage points of this jagged row of unmistakable peaks. They are undoubtedly a source of immense beauty. To visit the park ups the ante. Opportunities abound to see unique wildlife, at reasonable distances of course. There are ample trails and wonderful campgrounds to get one up close and person to nature and to this beautiful National Park.

The next step is to get into the backcountry. Its one thing to see the Tetons from their typical side on the east. Its another to hike around to their backside and to take in all new views of these majestic peaks. Not too many tourists into the National Park get further than a mile from the trailhead. To adventure deep into the backcountry, into the territory of grizzly bears and moose is where my brother wanted to head. We're no strangers to this kind of place and we've now long had a love for it.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Lower Grandeur Peak Loop

Grandeur Peak West Face trail to West Face Alternate trail
Trailhead Elevation: 4,962 ft.
Turnaround Elevation: 6,728 ft.
Grandeur Peak Elevation: 8,270 ft.
Distance: 2.86 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1,779 ft.
Start Time: 1:37pm
End Time: 2:56pm

Trip Report:
With just a couple hours to spare before I would be picking my brother up from SLC airport, I was looking for a fun hike to get the legs loosened up. I just so happened to have been shopping at the REI on the east side of Salt Lake and realized the west face trailhead for Grandeur Peak was just a stone's throw away. This isn't necessarily the main trailhead for Grandeur, nor is it the easiest trail, but it is the shortest route to the summit. I wasn't necessarily gunning for the summit with the limited time I had and I also didn't want to wreck my legs today. My brother and I would have plans for the Teton Crest trail over the next few days and I wanted to stay fresh.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Humpback Rocks (Blue Ridge Parkway)

Humpback Rocks Trail to summit, descent on Appalachian Trail

Trailhead Elevation: 2,371 ft.
Humpback Rocks Elevation: 3,117 ft.
High Elevation: 3,250 ft.
Distance: 4.00 mi.
Elevation Gain: 1,141 ft.
Start Time: 7:04am
End Time: 8:11am

Trip Report:
This hike didn't show up in our original plans for Shenandoah National Park and neither is it in the park. However some local searching for other trails for a morning trail run quickly turned this up as a great option. Its not so much a hidden gem as it appears it is a quite well used trail by locals and others alike. I was glad to have found it and given it a try this morning.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Blackrock (Shenandoah)

Appalachian Trail/Blackrock Summit Trail to Summit, descent on Blackrock service road

Trailhead Elevation: 2,908 ft.
Blackrock Summit: 3,087 ft.
Distance: 1.26 mi.
Elevation Gain: 217 ft.
Start Time: 11:08am
End Time: 12:08pm

Trip Report:
The Blackrock Summit loop is billed as one of the great short and easy family hikes in Shenandoah National Park. The loop is just over a mile, is fairly easy in elevation gain, and is wonderful with the scenery and ability to scramble on rocks. For us this checked all the boxes.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Hogback & Hawksbill (Shenandoah)

[Hogback] Appalachian Trail from Little Hogback Overlook to Hogback Overlook with detour to Hogback Mountain summit.

[Hawksbill] Hawksbill Gap up Lower Hawksbill Trail to Hawksbill Summit, descent on Salamander Trail to Appalachian Trail to Spring Cabin Parking area.

Trailhead Elevation: 3,031 ft.
High Elevation: 3,464 ft.
Distance: 1.81 mi.
Elevation Gain: 586 ft.
Start Time: 1:27pm
End Time: 2:28am

Trailhead Elevation: 3,367 ft.
Hawksbill Elevation: 4,050 ft.
Distance: 2.56 mi.
Elevation Gain: 670 ft.
Start Time: 3:42pm
End Time: 4:37pm

Trip Report:
To hike Hogback Mountain we decided to try a shuttle hike. It is entirely along the Appalachian Trail which runs almost entirely along the Skyline Drive. We figured this would be a family-friendly hike and the only way to pull it off, short of doing an out-and-back, was the shuttle option. So we dropped everyone off at Little Hogback Overlook and then Lisa and I drove the vehicles to the Hogback Overlook at the end of our hike. We left one vehicle there and then came back to the starting point. This worked out great for us.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

A Time for Everything

 [Originally published in the Monroe News on August 28, 2020]

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably struggled with emotions and how to digest the events of the past 5 months.  No doubt we’ve felt stress and emotions of sadness and sorrow.  Yet I have had no shortage of days and moments where I also felt joy and happiness and love because of what was near me in my life.  In many of those joyful moments and days I have to confess, there was a pinch of guilt that came with it. There was this little voice somewhere near my conscience that was saying “how can you laugh and be happy when people are suffering”.  Have you had this experience? Do you struggle with it too?

During our weeks in the stay-at-home order in April and May my family was for the most part enjoying ourselves.  We had much more time together.  We were absent many of the distractions that would have otherwise been a part of our daily lives.  I didn’t have meetings to attend. The kids didn’t have after-school functions. Our calendar had been emptied out.  So what did we do? We found ways to make the most of the situation. We spent time together. When the weather allowed, we took walks in the neighborhood and even partook of a few trails at our amazing state parks. Yet there were times when I felt awkward sharing this with others. Can I talk about the joys my family feels when others are hurting?  How do we reconcile this?  And don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our fair share of sorrowful moments too.  We’ve lost several friends and loved ones during this time. The kids have missed their friends and their time in school.  I’ve felt the challenges of ministry and not being able to see members in hospitals and nursing homes due to restrictions. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Kroenke Lake and Brown's Pass

North Cottonwood Trail to Kroenke Lake Trail to Brown's Pass
Trailhead Elevation: 9,961 ft.
Kroenke Lake Elevation: 11,530 ft.
Pass Elevation: 12,547 ft.
Distance: 11.23 mi. (my Forerunner 235)
Elevation Gain: 3415 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Start Time: 5:50am
End Time: 11:55am

Trip Report:
The 2020 July monsoon ran in full force. Many would say "well that's just 2020". If it can happen, it will happen. We're used to seeing rain in the forecast daily in late July, but much of the time its a 50/50 thing and more of than not things work out. This year? Not so much. Today's forecast was something like 20% chance rain til 10am and then 80% chance rain the rest of the day. This again foiled our hopes of going for a big summit and spending good time above treeline. We played it safe in our decision making.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

High Dune (Great Sand Dunes NP)

No trail, open route up to High Dune
Trailhead Elevation: 8,242 ft.
High Dune Elevation: 8,709 ft.
Distance: 1.93 mi. (my Forerunner 235)
Elevation Gain: 850 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Start Time: 9:44am
End Time: 10:49am

Trip Report:
We hit all the nails on the head with our visit to Great Sand Dunes. We had read on the NPS website beforehand about the potential for 2-hour waits for entry at midday on weekends. We were planning to head down there on a Saturday morning before my brother and his family had to leave town. We made it down there just after 9am and had only 2 cars at the entry booth ahead of us. When we left later on around noon the line may have been 30-40 cars deep. Arriving early also helped with parking. The Dunes Parking lot is definitely not big enough to handle a busy summer day. The lot was probably 90% full when we arrived. Later as we were leaving cars were hunting spots in the lot and ending up parking along the road or in the picnic area up the hill. We also hit the weather well today. Temps were low 60s and almost felt cool with a light breeze upon arrival. The temp maybe hit low 70s when we had left. The cloud cover stay consistent and so the sun never really had a chance to overheat the sand. All of this made for great hiking weather.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Immovable Mountains

[Originally published in the Monroe News on July 24, 2020]

If you’ve ever been out to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado you’ll likely have strong memories of the shifting sand dunes which make up the park’s namesake.  But will you also remember the crowning peaks that sit at the north end of the park?  The tallest of them is a beautiful giant of a peak with amazing red conglomerate sandstone named Crestone Peak.  It is made of such a sturdy rock one could wonder if such a mountain would stand forever.

In 2008 I was on a climbing adventure with my father and brother and we were seeking to climb Crestone Peak.  Its summit stands at 14,294 feet above sea level.  Its no easy climb.  To gain the summit of this peak you have to climb up a steep, narrow red gully of rock which is over a 1000 feet tall.  If you have fears of heights this definitely wouldn’t be a place for you.  Compounding the challenge for us in 2008, about halfway up the gully a snowfield still remained from heavy winter snows.  While climbing on steep snow is very do-able if you have the right equipment and skill, it is also an unforgiving activity.  A fall on such snow could easily send you flying down the mountain into a bed of rock.

Silver Creek to Point 12505

Silver Creek TH, Colorado Trail to Pass then unmarked trail to Point 12505
Trailhead Elevation: 9,446 ft.
High Elevation: 12,505 ft.
Distance: 8.85 mi. (my Forerunner 235)
Elevation Gain: 4,088 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Start Time: 8:44am
End Time: 12:13pm

Trip Report:
This hike came about on a whim. Our initial intentions for this morning were to hit a 14er summit but the weather reports were pretty poor for above treeline. Couple this with a bit of a later start and a big summit was sailing out the door. Nonetheless we didn't want to lose a good day out in Colorado. We left the house, my brother and I, with the intentions of heading up the North Cottonwood trail to Kroenke Lake. As we headed up the road my brother mentioned trying a different trail today as we had ended up yesterday's hike on Mt. Harvard in the same spot here. So I mentioned the Silver Creek trailhead and the nice hike it offered. We opted for this and changed course.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Mt. Harvard Traverse

Frenchman Creek Trail to Harvard Summit and descent on Mt. Harvard trail through Horn Fork Basin to N. Cottonwood Creek trail.
Start Elevation: 9,414 ft.
Summit Elevation: 14,420 ft.
Finish Elevation: 9,892 ft.
Distance: 14.30 mi. (my Forerunner 235)
Elevation Gain: 5300 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Start Time: 5:37am
End Time: 1:46pm

Trip Report:
I've had my eye on a return trip to Harvard in recent years. I first climbed it in 2010 with my friend Matt when we did the Harvard-Columbia traverse from our campsite in Horn Fork Basin. I instantly fell in love with the area. I wanted to change the route up slightly this time. I had read good things about the Frenchman Creek approach and decided to make a scenic up-and-over route on Harvard to keep things fresh. With all of this being relatively close to my folks place in the BV area we had an easy way to get vehicles in place for the two trailheads we'd be using.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Harvard Lakes Backpacking - And a Missing Hiker

Three Elk trail to Colorado Trail
Lower Trailhead Elevation: 8,831 ft.
Upper Trailhead Elevation: 9,302 ft.
Harvard Lakes Elevation: 10,246 ft.

Hike In
Start Time: 4:57pm
End Time: 6:07pm (6:59pm)
Distance: 1.91mi. (4.18 w/ search)
Elevation Gain: 1082 ft. (1309 w/ search)

Hike Out
Start Time: 8:40am
End Time: 9:55am
Distance: 2.77mi. (to lower TH)
Elevation Gain: 116 ft.

Trip Report:
This summer was the first time my whole family and my brother's whole family would be together in Colorado and staying at my parent's house. This meant wonderful amounts of family time and opportunities to give the kids new experiences in the backcountry. I knew immediately I wanted to find a way to take out all the young cousins backpacking. My boys have had a few short experiences already and the chance to get my brother's kids out to enjoy the same was enticing. We weighed through a number of options and places of how to accomplish this. One of the times I've taken my boys out was merely hiking a half mile up the North Cottonwood Creek trail and picking a spot. A short excursion like that is necessary with new young backpackers as they likely won't be carrying much of their gear. The adults in the gear get overloaded packs with extra sleeping bags and tents.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Munising Falls and North Country Trail Run

Munising Falls Trail and an out-and-back trail run on the North Country Trail from Munising Falls TH.
Trailhead Elevation: 662 ft.

Munising Falls Hike
Distance: 0.45 mi. (likely longer, started a little late)
Elevation Gain: 179 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Time: 4:48pm - 5:03pm

NCT Trail Run
Distance: 4.01 mi. (my Forerunner 235)
Elevation Gain: 322 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Time: 6:30am - 7:24am

Trip Report:
If you make it to Munising in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan then it is well worth making the short journey to see Munising Falls. In fact there are at least a dozen different waterfalls to see up in this area and this might be one of the best of them. The trail starts at a visitors center for Pictured Rocks just east of the town of Munising.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Au Sable Lightstation (Pictured Rocks NL)

North Country Trail from Hurricane River to the Lightstation
Trailhead Elevation: 626 ft.
Distance: 3.43 mi. (my Forerunner 235)
Elevation Gain: 51 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Start Time: 12:47pm
End Time: 2:24pm

Trip Report:
When it comes to the nuts and bolts of this hike there isn't a lot to say. It is a straightforward easy hike to follow and to complete. It leaves either from the day-use area at Hurricane River or from the west end of the lower campground. It follows a double-track gravel road out to the edge of the Lightstation complex. Once at the Lightstation there are several buildings to walk around and beautiful fields of wildflowers. Since our hike was during the coronavirus pandemic the buildings were all closed and the usual tour not offered. At the west end of the Lightstation complex the North Country Trail continues eastward toward Grand Marais.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Miner's Beach (Pictured Rocks NL)

Miner's Castle
Trailhead Elevation: 771 ft.
Beach Elevation: 606 ft.
Distance: 3.06 mi. (my Forerunner 235)
Elevation Gain: 433 ft. (my Forerunner 235)
Start Time: 12:56pm
End Time: 2:35pm

Trip Report:
The Miner's Castle area is a great place to take in some of the best that Pictured Rocks has to offer when you're stuck on land. For most, taking the Pictured Rocks boat cruises to see the amazing cliffs up close from the water will really be the most jaw-dropping way to go. Our family did this cruise back in 2016 on a trip to Michigan's UP and loved it. This year on a return trip we decided to try something different and check things out from the land. It didn't disappoint.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Talking about Race

[Originally published in the Monroe News on June 19, 2020]

When our kids ask us about what is going on in the world today, what are we going to say to them? How will we explain it from the perspective of our Christian faith? A couple weeks ago you probably would have thought I'm talking about a viral pandemic. But not today. I'm talking about racism, protests, violence, hatred. I can't bear to scroll another second through a social media feed to take in the images and the twisted stories and takes of what is taking place around us.  I’m tired of police officers like the one in Minnesota who give other faithful-serving public servants a bad name.  I’m tired of individuals who don’t see the harm in destroying other community members' property as the participants of the riots have done.  I’m tired of inequality and hate continuing to exist in our nation and in our society.  Maybe I’m just tired of being tired.

So what can we say?  What should I say to my kids or to my friends or to my congregation about how to react to all of this?  What is the good word?

Friday, May 15, 2020

Keep Steady My Steps

[Originally published in the Monroe News on May 15, 2020]

One teensy tiny little good thing that has come of our weeks in quarantine is that my 1-year old has learned to walk. Not long after she hit her first birthday she really began to grow interest in standing upright and testing her feet and balance out in taking a step. No doubt most of you have witnessed this process yourselves in your own families. I have recollections of it when my older boys were learning to walk some years back and even now I am still blown away at the wonder of it. I could watch my little girl for hours as she tries to do the simplest of things. I take thousands of steps every day and yet it's mesmerizing to watch her take just a short few. You wish you could see into their minds as they are trying to sort things out. Their little hands hang onto a couch for balance and they weigh what would happen if they let go. They see you several steps away sitting in the middle of a room, will they be able to make that long distance? It is a wonder to behold.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Nothing is meant to last forever, except...

[Originally published in the Monroe News on April 9, 2020]

Nothing is meant to last forever.  I know we’d like to think otherwise.  We definitely attempt to make things last forever.  I’m the first to admit I have delusions of grandeur when it comes to making things last.  I have this silly mindset that sets in when I purchase something new that I fall in love with.  This happens a lot when I purchase new gear for backpacking or camping with the family. I look at how fun or useful this new item of gear is and my thought immediately becomes: “Oh, I hope this lasts forever.”  I’ve seen how things wear out over time, and I don’t like it.

Over Black Friday 2019 I was able to purchase a large new family tent to meet the needs of our growing family.  With aspirations of using it a lot this coming summer my boys and I have tried it out in our backyard during this time of social quarantine.  Its great. We love it. The tent has room for everybody, has places to put your gear, it even allows the rainfly to peel back letting the campers sleep under the stars.  I truly would like for this tent to last forever. Will it? Well I think you know.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

God's Words of Comfort During a Pandemic

Sermon preached at my congregation on March 15, 2020 for the Third Sunday in Lent. It was preached on Exodus 17:1-7 with John 4:5-26 also heavily used. This Sunday was arguably the first Americans had for worship during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you, Amen.

God’s Word is always full of perfect timing. Our lives this past week have been changed and altered in profound ways. You have the feeling we have been quickly thrust into uncharted waters and we don’t yet know where this wayward ship is headed. Its frustrating when you don’t really know exactly what to think, or what sources to trust. We’re not sure if the world is going to end in the next 7 days or if we’re going to find out everything is a-okay, nothing further to worry about. Tomorrow remains a big unknown.

Yet not entirely. God’s Word speaks about Christian living in difficult times. In days of uncertainty and days in which we feel like we are surrounded by unknowns and uncharted waters God’s Word speaks of hope. God is the most perfect of certainties in our lives. He is known. He is in charge. He makes tomorrow a matter of hope and promise because it is in His hands.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Trees and Life

[Originally published in the Monroe News on March 6, 2020]

I was out walking in the woods and snow near my house the other day.  Its something I very much like to do.  I’m an avid hiker and backpacker and would hit the trails and be amongst the trees often if I had the time.  There is something about being out in nature and being amongst all of these growing things that breathes life into one’s soul.  

Trees can play a big part in life’s story.  How many of us can remember that one tree in our yard with which we spent so much time growing up?  Perhaps it was the shade tree under which we would sit and read a book.  Maybe it was the climbing tree or the tree from which hung a swing for us to play.  I had a red maple tree in my backyard growing up.  It was the tree that looked like it was lit on fire every autumn with beautiful red leaves which filled the yard up with beauty for a few weeks.  Trees are right in the midst of our memories and they help us see the passage of time and this life.  You might just say trees are a symbol and sign of life.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hartenstein Lake Snowshoeing

Can you spot the lake?
Brown's Pass Trail to Hartenstein Lake Trail
Trailhead Elevation: 9,925 ft.
Distance: 6.18 mi. (my Forerunner 230)
Elevation Gain: 1724 ft. (my Forerunner 230)
Start Time: 1:29pm
End Time: 6:01pm

Trip Report:
We were looking for good snowshoe routes to attempt near Buena Vista and Hartenstein Lake worked its way to the top of the list. It pretty much avoids avalanche danger throughout the route. The first 2/3 of the route are likely to have a well-packed trench from other users. Its worth noting the first mile and a quarter of this route is also a part of the Mt. Yale route which sees good traffic year round.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Paths to a Stronger Family

[Originally published in the Monroe News on January 31, 2020]

Everyone desires a stronger family.  But getting there isn’t so easy, this we know.  If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.  In this matter, we all struggle.  How do we improve life with those whom we call family?  In a world that really never slows down to let us catch up, how do we keep going and not feel as though we are always behind?  How do we just find rest and peace?

Now please understand, when I talk about family I’m not just talking about those who happen to live in a traditional family of mother, father and 2 ½ kids, or something like that.  We understand in today’s world that families do come in all shapes and sizes.  Many homes only have one parent, some are raised without any parents.  Some homes have no children at all, or some homes now miss the children that have grown up and moved out.  Family is what you make of it.  We might just say family is those people whom you love.

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