Tempest Mountain

The next time I plan to hike over 20 miles on less than three hours of sleep…someone please pinch me.  A van full of us left at 3:30 a.m. to conquer Tempest Mountain on Saturday, June 20, 2009 but Tempest set it’s will against ours.  This trip was to be a training expedition for the one-day trip to Granite Peak that we’re attempting later this summer.  The early morning light misled us into believing it was going to be a beautiful day.

The elevation at the Mystic Lake trailhead is 5800 feet above sea level.  More than a few well-intentioned people thought the best route to the Plateau would be from East Rosebud on the Phantom Lake Trail.  The rationale behind taking this route is more sunlight bearing down on the south side of the range where there would be less snow to contend with.  However, getting to East Rosebud requires driving on more gravel road than West Rosebud.  I had some friends who camped at Mystic Lake last week tell me there wasn’t much snow in the area although they didn’t attempt the switchbacks.  I don’t know if it was stupidity, stubbornness or both but we opted for the path from the West.

We made the three-mile hike to Mystic in record time.  The water level at the lake was surprisingly low and Jazzy wasted no time getting into the water for an early morning swim.  We passed a few comatose camps littered with beer cans as we hung a left onto the Phantom Creek Trail #17.  From Mystic Lake there are twenty-six switchbacks to get to the Plateau.  After switchback number two we encountered small amounts of snow.  Every switchback from there was more unforgiving than the last.  By switchback number seven the trail was impassable because of snow pack.  We had to pause.  After a short conversation, consensus guided us straight up the mountain as we intersected the man-made aisle through the trees a half dozen times.  There’s a section of the trail that heads east for some distance and leads you through a bowl with a small creek spilling over the trail and down the ravine.  Above the trail is nothing but a scree field.  It’s as if two mountains collided and the explosion scattered chunks of granite over a couple square miles of steep hillside.  The trail is buried by snow and the broken trees below it is evidence that more than one avalanche slid through the area during the last few months.  There was really only two ways to go – back or continue up.

Choosing up, I should have remembered that freezing and thawing ice leaves scree unstable.  A couple hundred yards into the charge, the large piece of granite I was hiking over gave way and sent me toppling end over end down the hill.  After two rotations I landed on my back and slide another few feet down the mountain.  I stood up and instantly felt the pain in my right leg.  Looking down revealed blood soaking through my torn pants.  My right elbow and left hand were also dripping.  The education I received during the last 30 seconds caused me to reevaluate my heading.  Down and over a quarter mile I could see the trail was mostly open with only a few patches of snow obstructing it.

Remember that I have my dog with me?  I just figured out that dogs could go up and over a scree field way better than they can go down.  Three of us basically had to carry Jazzy down the hill trying to balance our own weight and hers until we found more stable ground.  In the process Jazzy tore her leg on a sharp piece of granite.  Even now she’s licks it as I type.

There’s a large cairn on the trail as you approach the Plateau.  We stopped to feed a chipmunk some nuts from our trail mix as it scurried around base of the cairn.  After a couple hundred more yards we decide to eat lunch too.  The scene and elevation of the Plateau is simply breathtaking.  The air is clean, thin and cool.  After lunch we head southwest toward Tempest Mountain.  The Plateau shows evidence of winter’s brutality and is mostly covered with snow pack.  The trouble we experienced with the drift on the switchbacks helps us decide that Tempest would have to wait for another day.  But, we can see a clear path to a peak sitting to the east.  We head there instead.

One piece of equipment you should always take to the Plateau is a GPS.  I had one but forgot to click a waypoint.  Dumb.  It’s more than a little jaunt from the cairn to our new destination.  About half way there we experience our first low hanging clouds.  At first, they’re beautiful and provide a scent that is incredible.  We drink them in as we continue hiking.  Standing on the summit at 10.4k, we’re completely engulfed in brume.  Even though our cameras can’t prove we were there – our sore limbs and butts remind us.

With only 25 feet of visibility a GPS with that waypoint I mentioned earlier would have been helpful.  We struggled to get back to the cairn but eventually found it after hiking in the rain and clouds for over an hour.  I heard the first peal of thunder at 2:04 p.m. just as we were about to leave the Plateau.  Just in time because you don’t really want to be on the Plateau during a lightning storm.  The only thing taller than you are a handful of furry, white Mountain Goats.  After the goats are glacial wild flowers and alpine grasses which are both twelve and six inches tall respectively.  It’s just not a good place to be under these conditions.  We quicken our pace down to Mystic Lake.

During the three hour descend we were pounded by rain and fatigue.  I was only nervous once during the plunge when we had to march through fifty feet of snow steeped at a forty-five degree angle that cleverly hid the trail.  Slipping there would have been a quarter mile ride to the bottom of the ravine and a few broken bones or worse.  We all safely navigated that segment of the trail.

Surprisingly we passed a few people, driven by aspiration, hiking up as we hiked down.  I hope they made it.  I’m glad that we weren’t the only idiots headed to the Plateau that day because misery loves company.

Sunglasses

I think I’ve owned 100 pair of sunglasses throughout my lifetime.  I never seem to be able to keep a pair very long.  I’ve broken them, misplaced them, had them stolen.  They’ve been victim of accidents, boots, canine cuspids and general carelessness.  Really cheap ones nearly liquefy after a few hours of dash time in the August sun.  I don’t know the actual lifespan of a pair of sunglasses.  I imagine a Pizza Planet scene from Toy Story every time I get another $5 pair from Wal-Mart.  Except Woody isn’t trying to protect three-eyed space aliens from Sid Philipps but trying to protect the sunglasses from me.

Many summers ago I was at the lake with some friends playing chicken with canoes and having a blast.  It wasn’t the first time these canoes had been immersed in chaos.  We’d reenacted the battle of the Monitor and Merrimac many times with the aid of bottle rockets, firecrackers and ski goggles.  This particular episode didn’t involve any munitions just the velocity that three oars could provoke out of a fourteen-foot Coleman.  Our aquatic battering rams were scarcely off their mark every time we attempted a strike.  Amid the misses and howling nobody realized that Emery couldn’t swim.  He was in the center of my vessel.  We were trying to make a turn but we were not fast enough.  As our opponents charged full-steam-ahead our canoe had taken on the characteristics of a slow swinging barge.

A couple weeks before the lake fun, I was at the gas station with my friend Rod.  He was driving his parents’ 1980 Chevy Citation.  It had a four speed manual transmission and Rod knew how the coax the last bit of muscle from its four-cylinder engine.  He was a master at using the clutch and shifting at just the right time.  Riding with Rod was always fun.  While at the fueling station I saw a pair of sunglasses on top of the adjacent gas pump.  With my curiosity peaked, I exited the vehicle to explore.  They were black Vuarnets.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Finding Vuarnet sunglasses added more excitement to the moment than finding $100 on the ground.

During the school year my class transacted a fundraiser and we sold Cat Eye sunglasses.  I was one of the few from the entire student body who couldn’t afford to purchase the Chinese merchandise equipped with faux leather goggle sides installed to provide added protection against high mountain glacial sunlight.  Since there wasn’t any high mountain glacial sunlight conditions for hundreds of miles and since I didn’t have 15 bucks, I never got a pair.

The providential pair of Vuarnets were superior in every way to the Cat Eyes.  I wondered who left them there.  I carried my prize into the store to see if anyone had inquired about loosing some black sunglasses.  The clerk said “no”, so out of obligation I left my name and home phone number and asked if anyone came looking for them to have them call me.  I left the store with a smile and the black Vuarnets on my face.

I was wearing the sunglasses as I struggled with the canoe turned barge.  We were seconds from taking a beating and our opposers were bearing down on the center of our hull.  The collision sent Emery in to the lagoon and the impact carried us several feet away.  At first all we saw were arms, then bobbing arms.  He was disappearing and reappearing from the black.  Without thought I jumped into the water.  We all jumped.  Our bloodthirsty quest for destruction had become a struggle for salvation.  In all the commotion Emery pawed my face banishing the Vuarnet sunglasses to a state of sunken treasure.  They were gone.  Emery was saved.  It was time to go home.

Last summer I spent $20 on four pair of sunglasses – no idea where any of those are.  A few weeks ago I picked up another pair.  They’re already scratched.

The Things You Remember

Two of my favorite scents in life are freshly mowed grass and the natural fragrance that rain brings.  I inhaled both this week.  Mowed grass accentuated by rain makes me think about baseball.  I like baseball.  I like to play it, coach it, watch it and in that order.  (For you baseball enthusiasts, I know that the coach is actually the manager.)  I couldn’t help reminiscing about my baseball career…

Suddenly, I was back in high school.  It was the spring of 1982.  I was a freshman and it was time for baseball season.  In Washington, baseball is a school sport that runs parallel with softball.  Being a freshman provides it’s own circumscriptions but weighing about 120 pounds adds insult to injury.  I was a barely pubescent kid who was teamed with juniors and seniors who knew how to use a razor. The manager of the team was Pete Penrose; a burly man equipped with a burly voice whose first love was football.

The third contest of the season was a home game against our nearest rival, Almira – a school about 20 miles away.  By the eighth inning the scoreboard was not favorably disposed to our team and all indications pointed to another loss.  Penrose barked into our dugout, “Burgin!”  My heart sank.

I can remember standing in left field praying that the ball wouldn’t be hit anywhere within 200 feet of me.  After some well produced pitches, the first batter struck out.  The second batter hit a line drive right into my airspace and called me to attention.  All I could hope for now was to make the play and not screw anything up.  Amazingly, I fielded the ball cleanly and tossed it to second base stopping the runner as he rounded first.  My confidence soared as Penrose clapped his hands and pumped his usual right fist signifying delight for a well-executed defensive play.  The third batter fouled twice and fanned the umpire on a dropping left curve.  It closed the top of the inning.  The bottom of the eight and top of the ninth passed without incident.

As we started our hitting rotation during the ninth inning, I was to be the third batter.  After the first two struck out, I wasn’t looking forward to bringing the game to a close as the last batter and handing Penrose our third loss.  It was only about 40 feet from the dugout to the batters box but it had all the qualities of a 40-mile hot dusty road to certain failure.

The first pitch was released – foul tip.  The second and third pitches, both balls – high and away.  I was ahead in the count and I was praying for two more balls.  As the forth pitch came down the line I knew it was a strike.  You can see the way a ball rotates in the air as you watch the stitches and within a split second you have to make a decision.  Do I swing or let it pass?  For weeks Penrose had been demanding that we swing the bat at anything close.  So, almost as if in autopilot, I gritted my teeth and…

Some of my best moments in life have come with my eyes closed.  The first time I kissed Selena – eyes closed.  My first hunting trip – eyes closed while I shot and harvested a mule deer buck.  First brussels sprouts – eyes closed.  Nose plugged too for that one.  My first hit on the high school baseball team – eyes closed and teeth gritted.

You can always tell when it’s a good hit.  There’s a smooth, almost euphoric contact as the bat meets the ball and all you hear is a hollow sounding “pop”.    I opened my eyes just in time to see the ball soar over the center fielder’s head.  As I was rounding first base I could see the defense chasing my convincingly hit ball to the fence.

That’s when it happened.  Feet grow first.  I guess every boy becoming a man needs a firm foundation for everything else to rest on in the same sense that a building needs a firm foundation.  As I was rounding first, I was watching the fielder and was not paying attention to my feet which I’m certain doubled in size during that winter.  I tripped.   But it was a slow painful trip accompanied with 20 feet of stumbling and flailing arms.  I came to a halt about midway through the 90-foot baseline.

Have you ever seen a movie that depicted a plane crash and upon impact all kinds of debris come flying over and through the cockpit?  For me, the one taking a nosedive into the dirt, that’s what it seemed like; all in super slow motion.  In a state of disorientation, I literally crawled to second base – and made it!  I was safe.  I had hit a double.  A more skilled runner might have been able to eek out an infield home run.

My hit, my double hit, sparked a rally in the last inning with two outs and one man on second base.  I felt like a hero who had helped his team win that day.  I don’t remember how many games we won or lost that season.  But, we won that game.

Road Trip

I find it amazing that the finest leather seats in the General Motors macrocosm can begin to feel like vinyl after a 5-hour road trip.  Eleven of us, weekend worn, poured into a couple of vehicles looking for the nearest Starbucks to infuse some vivacity into our enervated carcasses.  Coffee is like liquid toothpicks for your tired eyelids.

There’s a sense of reserved anticipation about the next three days.  We work, care and serve together but have little time to know each other.  I mean really know each other.  We are by no means strangers but when you go to work at 8 in the morning and leave at 5 in the evening you only show the part of your life you want to be seen.  I was gifted these flannel lounge pants for Christmas last year that have 3 cent postal duck stamps spotted throughout the print; nobody has seen them.  The point is each us is shrouded by a different office and our tasks keep us insulated from each other.  We’re on a road trip…this venture calls us for a single purpose that might just help us know each other better.

When you travel in more than one vehicle, there’s always a subordinate; someone leads and someone follows.  I think there’s an innate disdain that surfaces if all we see is the bumper of the car in front of us.  It’s why State Troopers write speeding violations.  And, stepping back, it’s why Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree.  Not tasting of its fruit meant following God.  Something they, and we are unwilling to do most of the time.  You can see that disdain on the face of a child the moment you tell them “no”.  Everything in them screams back, “yes!”.  We don’t really want to follow – we’d rather lead.  Even if it is just a side trip to Starbucks, part of a 5-hour road trip.

This road trip had stages.  During the first 60 minutes the conversation is lively, energetic and shallow.  You’re to that place 75 miles away without notice because you’re too engrossed in the conversation to look out the windows.  Hours 2 and 3 are accompanied by 60 to 90 second lulls about every 12 minutes and conversations get more localized.  Our coach had three rows with two bodies each.  Unless there’s a question or comment relative to the group (potty stop, fast food, gasoline, the Harley Davidson dealer) each row stays to themselves and respects air space.  As you head into hour four the lulls expand until it’s all about the iPod.  The lesser fortunate pull out a book or a magazine.  If you’re in the least fortunate designation all you get is a window and two eyes watching everyone else enjoy their private universe.  Then, just when your knees hurt the most, your bladder is weakest and your back the hottest, you enter the last stretch.  The last stretch seems be the tortoise that offers the most reward.  Universes merge until at last you have a perfect reverse bell curve of conversation.  Everyone’s engaged as if we we’re pulling out of the parking lot for the first time.

I actually like the ides of a road trip most.  It’s when I think the most and have the most clarity.  Any conversations happening then act like pings on a roof during a rainstorm.  We had a rainstorm yesterday morning.  I wasn’t the only one who slept in.  There’s just something relaxing about the sound of rain that opens our minds and takes us to levels of thinking that are all too rare.

Here’s a quick thought and then I’m done…How do they get the deer to cross at the “deer crossing” road sign?

What Would You Take To Heaven?

If you could take one thing with you to heaven, what would it be?  That was the culminating question during the message at my church this weekend.  It was asked a few times.   Once during the intro, in the middle and finally at the end.  So, I had most of the 35-minute sermon to carefully consider my response.  What would I take?  The initial rendering sent my mind searching for the best item I could think of.  I had gotten distracted from my quest a couple of times but each time the question was re-posed it jump started my delving again.

I own more things than I need and have a lot of really great stuff to choose from making this a hard question to answer.  Of course I thought of my immediate family but knowing their spiritual condition took them off of the option list pretty quickly.  I have a great dog too, Jazzy.  But because I know that there will be animals in heaven maybe she’ll be there anyway.  I guess I’ll keep her on the list – for now, just in case.

Because I love music, I also thought of an acoustic guitar.  I even rationalized that an acoustic would be better than any electric guitar because to get the most out of an electric guitar you need an amplifier.  And, I was being asked to consider bringing only one item.  I have a great Seagull guitar that I wouldn’t mind taking but there’s probably better guitars in heaven anyway.  I hear there’s a lot of music up there and maybe even a Super Guitar that plays itself.

I thought of my iPod.  Not for the more obvious reason of music but because it stores pictures.  I could literally load it up with hundreds, even thousands, of pictures of my family and have them for eternity.  But an iPod is dependent on electricity to charge its battery.  Would I be able to charge it in heaven?  Man, this was getting tough.  Are we going to need anything in heaven anyway?

Near the end of the service I watched a three-minute video of a ten-year-old boy being interviewed about his thoughts regarding heaven.  I laughed and was impressed with the young lads wit and candor.  I actually know him quite well so I wasn’t surprised at his well expressed views about heaven until he was asked the same question I was asked.  ‘If you could take one thing with you to heaven, what would it be?’

If the audience had a collective jaw, it slammed to the floor.  And, stayed there for a long time.  I suddenly felt small.  His answer was a solar system away from my selfish considerations.  I had spent the last 35 minutes thinking about everything except the most important thing.  Caleb, the 10-year-old boy, possessed more maturity and view of heaven that I’m embarrassed to say hadn’t even crossed my mind.  His answer was given without even a moment of deliberation, “I would bring the person I love most that hasn’t given their heart to Jesus.”  Profound and appropriate.  What a great lesson…

Ok, It’s Not Opera

“Dad, you should listen to track #10.”  I agreed and even turned up the volume.  First a piano (nice so far), then crescendoing drums (I can handle that), followed by driving guitars perfectly accentuating the intro to the track only known as track #10.  The vocals were clean and pleasant and almost had an angelic resonance.  I actually liked track #10.  A challenge was issued from the back of the van to guess who the band was.  I already knew or surmised that it was the band that I heard the boys talking about a couple days ago who just released a new project (the band will remain nameless).  After correctly identifying the band we explored more tracks.  Did I mention that I liked track #10?

As it turns out, that was the only track I could stomach.  Imagine someone trying to sing (or scream in this case) after gargling glass or razor blades.  Why stop there?  Throw in a meat cleaver, some drill bits and a hand full of sheetrock screws and you’re just getting close to what the vocals sounded like on the other tracks during my choral expedition.  These forty-two year old ears could only think one thing:  Hideous.  Before you cringe under the weight of such a word consider it’s meaning.  Hideous:  horrible or frightful to the senses.  Does it fit now?  For you, maybe not.  You were not there.  As for me, it was an all out assault on my senses that only pause, stop or a hard left on the dial would terminate.  Eject was another option worth consideration when I was asked why I didn’t like the music.

This was not a new question.  We have had many family discussions regarding music and I’d made myself previously clear; I simply don’t like the “sound” of “that” music.  My youngest pressed me further, “why don’t you like the sound?”  “Well”, I said, “I can’t understand what they’re singing.”  “But, you like opera?”, he quipped.  “Yes, I love it”!  “So, I guess you know Italian?”  He had me.  Not only did I not know Italian, I had fallen into his carefully contrived trap.

My friend and Pastor, Vern Streeter, draws a pretty hard line between preferences and choices made from moral convictions.  Simply, my preference does not allow me to like what my children affectionately call, Screamo.  I have no moral convictions to speak of preventing me from listening to the music.  I just don’t like it.

My son taught me something that day.  I’m judgmental of the things I don’t prefer and in this case had written off some very musically talented guys singing in a style that they prefer.  I guess the world would be a pretty dull place for everyone else if only my preferences were enacted.  Honestly, I have no intentions of adding this “hideous” music to my iTunes library.  But, I sure like track #10.

If You Want Help Dad…

I recently spent a couple days trying to get the best deal on a cell phone package for my family.  It was an exhausting three days searching the internet and driving from cell store to cell store talking to sales people.  Having an acquaintance who owns a cell store proved fruitful in us getting a pretty good deal that perfectly matched our needs and the wants of my children.

After the transaction, it was time to mow the lawn.  Unfortunately, I had fertilized the week before.  That accompanied with a barrage of rain had produced a virtual jungle that resembled the deep rough at Yellowstone Country Club.  There was no putting off the task any more.   I didn’t really need help but thought new cell phones might just be the catalyst to soften some hardened hearts bent against coming within 20 feet of anything resembling lawn equipment.  So, I shot the question into the open air, “you guys want to help?”  I wasn’t asking for a limb or even an appendage.  I was asking for 45 minutes on a cool spring day behind the roar of a Toro or the whirl of a Snapper.  The look on their faces told me everything.  Actually, I knew the answer to the question before even posing it.  Their reluctant answer was, “if you want help, dad”.

Not exactly the answer I had hoped for.  After all they were holding infant cell phones less than an hour old and I fantasized that mowing the lawn, just once without disagreement, would be better than any “thank you” I had received.  “If you want help, dad”?  What I wanted was for them to “want to” help.  It’s the hope of any parent, I think.

Moments later, as I was mowing the lawn, the thought struck me that we treat our Heavenly Father the same way.  Matthew 7 reminds us that God desires to give good gifts to His children.  We receive these gifts daily; expectantly and taken for granted.  It’s a shame.  God, the Giver of gifts, doesn’t expect anything in return.  He just enjoys giving.  But shouldn’t our response be to give back?  If for nothing else out of gratitude just because “we” want to?

Matthew 25 tells us how to give back – by serving the ‘least of these’ we are actually serving Him.  Read the text for yourself:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Next time you feel prompted to do something for God, do it – because you want to!

Where we headed here?

Maybe it’s just that I never really noticed before.  Last week I was conversing with friends about how the church has historically responded to cultural shifts and enjoying a cold beverage, like the one pictured in this article when I suddenly realized the label.  Obviously, it’s retro.  Actually, I never gave it a second thought until I was perusing an aisle at the local Wal-Mart.  I noticed racks of Ocean Pacific clothes – just like the ones that I wore in high school.  Purple Cord-a-Roy shorts?  The stuff of kings or at least wannabe kings.

It got me thinking about how much we, as a culture have one hand straining for the future while the other is lagging behind hoping to snag anything in it’s grasp.  My sixteen-year-old son was wearing a Mario t-shirt on Sunday that displays the logo from the original Nintendo Entertainment System.  As we were leaving a local city park having finished our Frisbee Golf game, a guy entering the park, probably in his late teens, said ‘cool shirt man’.  And it is cool.  With an affirming nod my son received his compliment.

A dichotomy really…retro furniture, retro party favors, collectible metal lunch boxes, food and beverage labels, TV merchandise from the 70’s and 80’s and retro style vehicles from Chevy and Dodge.

While there’s definitely an attempt to reclaim what is perceived as beautiful from the 70’s and 80’s while leaving the problems behind, there’s seems to be no desire to relive the past.  There are many things about that past not worth reliving.  Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, fear of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and the Iran-Contra affair are just a few things in my recent memory not worth going back to.

Do I fully understand where we’re headed?  Honestly, no.  But, I’m still intrigued.