Just wanted to give a quick or possibly and more likely long update on our camp and climb we did with the students not too long ago up Silver Mountain. I'll actually include some pictures with this one as well...since our past posts have been lacking a bit in the picture department.
Anyway, the trip was pretty amazing. We had a great group of American and international students. It was a little stressful in the planning stages of things but in the end, it all worked out.
We started out the trip pre-planning. We had a ton of people signed up and not nearly enough transportation for everyone. Throughout the pre-planning period, we had people add and subtract multiple times. It makes it very difficult when trying to plan for transportation and food. I think we learned some good lessons for future trips though. As time got closer for the trip, we had to be extremely flexible and change some of our plans. Thankfully, our students were very flexible to accommodate the changes we needed to make.
We picked the students up at 3 p.m. Saturday from the bus stop on campus. We loaded up the cars and headed west into the high country. Within thirty minutes, we were on the dirt roads of La Plata Canyon. It was a beauty many of the students had never seen. Tall mountains all around, driving through amazing fall foliage, bright yellows, reds, and greens in every direction. I've seen it many times and am always taken back by it.
After a lot of picture taking, we were soon at our parking spot. This is where our hikers got out and got ready for a long 3.1 mile hike to base camp. That doesn't seem too long until you realize that they would be gaining about 3,000 feet in elevation as well.
The plan was for Rachel to lead the students in the hike to base camp while Josh Story and I drove SUVs loaded with gear, food and water up to our camping spot on the side of the mountain. Since we didn't have enough vehicles to drive everyone up to base camp, I decided to use the vehicles that we did have to transport everything up, set up tents and such, basically getting base camp set up before everyone else arrived by hiking. I figured hiking tents, sleeping bags/pads, and all of our food up would have just been too much on the hikers. Josh was going to take Vernon, one of our students, up with him to help us out set things up. The other students would show up after hiking for two or three hours, and we'd have dinner waiting for them with camp already set up.
Within ten minutes, the problem was taken care of and we were on our way again. The road was narrow and steep, riddled with extremely tight switchbacks and deep ruts. My vehicle handled them fine until we came up to the biggest rut on the trail. It was about two feet deep and a foot and a half wide. The rut stretched across our path on a very steep switchback. I decided to go right and cross the rut higher up. It was a sound idea in theory. It would assure me a safer way so that I wouldn't flip my Xterra. The left side looked like a side that had a higher probability of flipping.
Well, in the end, my side wasn't any safer. As I crossed the rut, it turned out to be a little too deep. My vehicle was literally on two wheels. My SUV was balancing on my driver's side front wheel and passenger's side back wheel. Unfortunately, the tires I could get power from were off the ground. As my Xterra teetered, I hopped out to try and get a better view to make a game plan with. I was going to have to back it up a bit, fix my angle, and try not to flip it in the process. Thankfully, I had Josh and Vernon scouting for me...and thankfully, on my second try, I made it safely.
Now, it was Josh's turn. He decided to go left not wanting to negotiate the rut. As he started up it, his Pathfinder stalled. The trail was too steep, the air too thin. His vehicle lacked the power to make it up the hill. He backed it up three or four times trying to get enough momentum to make the steep hill. Finally, Vernon and I jumped in to help push it up the last bit of the hill. Thankfully, that would be the last major problem we would have with the trail.
Meanwhile, our hikers pushed upward...and upward. It was certainly not an easy hike. Unfortunately, they found no downhills on their ascent to base camp.
Soon, the vehicles arrived at base camp, between 11,000-11,500 feet on the literal side of a mountain. We were probably an hour or so in front of the hikers. We used the time to get base camp set up. After we set up five or six tents, Vernon graciously volunteered to find firewood. He quickly gathered a huge pile for us. By the time the hikers made their way into base camp, tents were up, a fire was going, and hot dogs were ready to be roasted over the campfire. The students were ecstatic to be in camp. After a lot of picture taking of the coming sunset and amazing views, students sat down for hot dogs, brats, baked beans and hot chocolate.
It was shaping up to be a great night. After dinner, we roasted marshmallows, had s'mores, and worshiped around the campfire. I played my guitar while Ryan, one of our students, played his djimbe. We played until my fingers became numb in the cold air and I couldn't hold my guitar pick anymore.
Soon after, people started making their way towards their tent for sleep. Still, we had about five students who had a plan to make it to midnight. As it turned out, it was one of our international student's birthday when midnight hit. They all wanted to sing happy birthday to Rino when the clock struck 12 a.m. Until then, they would kill time singing karaoke and Christmas carols around the campfire. I know, Christmas carols in September are a bit early but I guess they're big in Japan all times of the year.
One of the coolest moments of the night was as there was a break in the kareoke, I was able to get into a deep spiritual conversation with Vernon where I got to share my testimony and share a lot about how God was working in my life. It was awesome! All that time, one of our international students, Tomoki, was sitting right next to me staring into the fire seemingly listening in. Before we knew it, midnight was upon us. We sang happy birthday to Rino and everyone quickly headed the way of bed.
The next morning, I awoke to the smell of campfire. Rachel and some other students had already woken up and got the fire going. We actually had two students, Kimberly and Alyssa get up early for the sunrise and then both fell back asleep as the sat in our camping chairs. Rachel had a good laugh when she woke up to both of them sleeping in their sleeping bags sitting up in our camping chairs. Soon, the rest of the group started getting up and we started getting breakfast going.
During breakfast, we held a short church service. For many of our students, it was their first church service ever. I spoke on the verses of Jesus and Peter walking on water and the great things you can do when Christ is your guide. I related it to a television show about adventure racing. One of the teams in the race had a team member who was and is still blind. Without his guide, he couldn't do a whole lot in the race. With his guide though, he was able to do some pretty amazing things from mountain climbing to kayaking to jumping off of 30-40 foot cliffs into the water below. He put full trust in his guide and his guide pretty much never left his side. Sure, there were times where the blind guy stumbled just as Peter did walking on water, but his guide was always there to catch him and pick him back up. It was a cool modern day parable about our relationship with Christ.
After the church service, we packed up camp and loaded up my vehicle. (At that point, we only had one vehicle as Josh had to head back down to lower elevations with his heart condition the night before. It was not that he had any complications. He just can't be at high elevations for long durations. We had planned that he would come up and help set up, then head down with Bob, one of our other volunteer leaders, who had to dog sit at the last minute.) As I looked to the sky, I noticed cumulus clouds starting to form. I then gathered everyone together and prayed for safety and good weather. Rain and snow was in the forecast which was not something we wanted to see until we were down safely.
With that, I had Rachel start leading the group up the mountain. I had a few more things to take care of at base camp but wanted to get the group moving as we were already running a bit late. I had planned to quickly catch up with the group. I sent Rachel with a walkietalkie so that if she had any problems or emergencies, she could relay them to me. I could also give updates as to where I was in the process of catching up with them.
After taking care of some final things at camp, I was ready to go...at least I was ready until I realized my camera was missing. I had left it with my backpack but my backpack had been moved and it was no longer with my backpack. My biggest fear was that it had been packed away deep under everything in my Xterra. So much for taking pictures of students as we went. As I did a last check around camp for it, I found it on the ground. I was relieved. That relief was short-lived as I soon realized that in the process of moving my vehicle getting it ready to head down after the hike, I had run my camera over. This was a direct hit. My heart sank. Thankfully, I bought the camera because it had been touted as an almost indestructible camera. Well, it lived up to its billing. It somehow still worked. Sure, there were some dents and it may not be waterproof anymore but it at least could still take pictures.
After finding the camera, I began my ascent to rejoin the group. It wasn't long before I had caught back up. The group was spread out. Rachel was near the front so I decided to hang out with the pack in back and encourage them. Our first mountain to climb on the ridge was Deadwood. We grabbed pictures and a rest and then continued on. We had a taller mountain in our sites. Our next long rest and stop would be the top of Silver Mountain, 12,338 feet in elevation, where we would have a late lunch. We just had a long ridge and a steep final climb to go on our ascent.
Before we knew it, we were on the summit. The views were incredible. We could see Shiprock to the south all the way up to Engineer Mountain to the north. We could also see the campus of Fort Lewis to our east. Fall colors were below us in all directions at lower elevations. The picture taking seemed to never cease even as we pulled out food for lunch. The students all had big smiles on their faces as they enjoyed God's beautiful creation.
Towards the end of our time on the summit, Rachel had planned a surprise for our birthday girl. She had baked a delicious birthday dessert for Rino. We even tried to light some candles for her to blow out but unfortunately, the gusty wind took care of that for her. We all gathered around and sang happy birthday to her and then distributed the tasty treat. It was a great time and I think it meant a lot to our birthday girl. What better place to celebrate your birthday then the top of a mountain?
Soon, it was time to get going again. We broke into two groups. We had some of our faster moving students who wanted to try and make it back for an evening church service. We had our second group take it a bit slower. In hanging out with our second group, it was awesome to watch the guys help the girls on the steeper parts, being right next to them giving them a hand whenever they needed it. It made me think back to the sermon earlier in the morning. It was nice seeing that chivalry is not dead with our students.
In no time it seemed, we had crossed the ridge and were already back on top of Deadwood Mountain with Silver in our rearview. It was all downhill from there. It wasn't long before we were back at base camp. At that point, my hiking for the day was done but Rachel and the students still had 3.1 miles to go.
After making sure everyone had refilled on water, I prayed for a safe journey down and set out before our group with my Xterra literally packed to the roof with gear. I just hoped that it wouldn't shift on top of me during the steep, bumpy descent. Navigating the tricky trail down, some good worship music on the iPod kept my nerves at peace until I was at the valley bottom.
God, as always, came through big time. Sure, there were some sketchy moments slipping and sliding coming down...especially at the big rut where I was in a full-on continuous slide throughout the whole section. I just prayed the whole time that God would keep me out of the rut which would have flipped me.
In the end, I arrived safely down on the valley floor to Josh and my mother waiting for us. The first group had passed through twenty minutes earlier. I had lined it up for my mom to show up just in case we had any car problems. There's no cell reception at the bottom of the valley so we had to line it up the day before. Josh had the same idea in mind and decided to show up as well to our surprise. Rachel and the rest of the students showed up about an hour later exhausted but stoked over the great adventure everyone had.
And truly, it was an amazing trip. God answered our prayers granting us safety and great weather. Though we could see rain and snow all around us, it held off on us until later that night when we were all safely home. It was a testament to the power of God and prayer. The trip was a great time of fellowship and relationship building. Friendships were forged and deepened. Creation was enjoyed. God was glorified and the Gospel was shared. According to our students, it was a trip they will never forget.
Thank you so much for all of you who pray for us, for our students, and for the adventures we take our students on!