Category Archives: The Great Outdoors

To Build a Fire, Part 2

This is the continuation of this.

I made the fire on the third and final night.  I had made one the night before, but it was nothing compared to this one, so I’m leaving it out.  I pulled out my hatchet and began splitting the wood–first into large pieces and then some smaller ones for kindling.  I then began striking with smooth, glancing blows causing fine, curled wood shavings to separate from the log, cleaved free effortlessly by the sharp blade.

I walked around the camp site gathering dry grass which I fashioned into a bird’s nest looking thing.  I carefully laid the nest in the center of the fire pit and filled it with the shavings.  I then build a small fortress around it, starting with the big logs and gradually getting smaller.

When I was done, I stepped back and admired my creation for a few moments before lighting a single match and tossing it right into the heart of the fortress.  A little flame rose cautiously, shy at first, but rapidly growing until the entire structure was ablaze creating heat so intense I had to move my chair back.

I sat gazing into the flames sipping my beer and feeling totally one with my primordial instincts.  Had someone addressed me during that moment, I may have responded:  “Me Andrew! Me make fire!”

To Build a Fire, Part 1

The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.

Jack London, To Build a Fire


This quote has nothing to do with this post.  It’s just one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite stories.  However, as we have spent the better part of January with temperatures never getting above freezing, it has felt a little bit like the Yukon.  Since we’re all longing for warmer weather, I decided to do a post that I should have written last summer but never got around to it.  It got pretty long, so I’ve decided to break it into two parts.  Robert, I hope it’s manly enough for you.

Last June, when Tara was gone for the week on business, I headed up into the mountains not far from my office for a few days of solo camping.  Granted, it was car camping, and that hardly counts when it comes to going solo, but I’d never done it before, and this was a good first step.  The plan was to spend the nights up at camp and come down each day to go to work.

When I arrived at Hope Campground up on Squaw Peak Wednesday evening after work, the campground hosts, a cute elderly couple from Florida, informed me every single spot was available.

“Anybody with you?” the man asked, looking curiously past me at my car, full of stuff, but void of another human being.

“Just me,” I replied.  Husband and wife gazed at me for a few seconds, their eyes slightly narrowed.

“Anybody meeting you?” He eventually asked, breaking the silence, and again I said no, feeling as though they suspected me of planning some sort of booty call up there.

The man abruptly stopped questioning me, put the friendly smile back on his face, and took my money and asked me if I needed firewood.  When I hesitated, because I did not have enough cash on me, he quickly told me it was free, and I accepted.  He retrieved a bundle of wood, tied with twine, which I took, thanked him and prepared to leave.

“Oh, you probably need some tinder!” He exclaimed suddenly and began rooting through the back of his pickup for bits of paper and other refuse that could be used as tinder.  I began to suspect that they felt bad for me coming up all alone.  The man, unable to find much in the way of paper grabbed a roll of paper towels.  I tried to gently decline his generosity, and he looked up confused, his hands poised to tear a few sheets from the roll.

“I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to fires,” I tried to explain, unsure of how to get the good-natured Florida couple to understand that I have a weird obsession with starting fires using only natural fuel.

“Well, this will burn pretty clean,” he tried to assure me, assuming me to be some sort of eco-freak.  I surrendered and took the paper towels, figuring I could always just use them for cleaning.

I did not have a fire that night.  Instead, I set up camp, grilled a steak which I washed down with a micro-brew, and headed for bead early.  I would be meeting up with the guys early the next morning for a mountain bike ride before work.  The trail was only a stone’s throw from my camp.

I awoke with a start quickly realizing I’d missed my alarm.  It had gotten down to around 40 during the night and my cell phone battery was completely exhausted.  It was 6:45 and I was supposed to meet the others at 6:30.  They may have already ridden by on the gravel road above the campground.  I jumped out of my sleeping bag, threw on clothes, downed half a can of Starbucks Double Shot, jumped on my bike and pedaled hard up out of the campground.  I had guessed right and managed to catch up with the others within a few minutes, my body still trying to figure out what the hell I was doing to it.

After a beautiful ride on Squaw Peak, I returned to camp for breakfast and a shower before heading down for work.  I had a solar shower that had been quite hot the evening before, but now was ice cold.  I had rigged up a crude structure with tarps to spare the host couple a view of my naked ass should they have happened by.

As I stood naked in my makeshift shower, shivering uncontrollably from the cold water, I was less than satisfied with its construction.  The ground was just dirt, so it immediately turned to mud.  It was also sloped, which proved to be nearly disastrous as I attempted to wash my hair and my feet slipped out from under me.  Blind from the soap in my eyes, I grabbed for anything that would save me from going ass-first into the mud.  I found the shower head, a small plastic sprayer attached to a tube that goes to the big black reservoir.  This provided just enough resistance to arrest my fall before it popped free from the reservoir.  I stood for a few moments afraid to move, the disembodied shower head in my hand, using my full lexicon of curse words two and a half times through while water from the bag sprayed everywhere.  I resolved to use the shower at work for the remainder of my camping.

The Legend of Pony Creek

I have been busy for the past month or so on what you might call a “Side Project”.  This is really just my way of saying that I’m working on something that I’m not ready to announce to the world.  No, it is not a baby.  My father wrote this post for me about one of our most treasured family traditions.  As always, I captioned the photos.

According to Legend our annual trips to Pony Creek Campground in Iowa began as a quest to gather leaves in the fall to cover our strawberry plants for the winter.  With all the ash, maple, cottonwood and other leaves that pile up in our backyard each fall, it’s hard to remember a time when we only had one small maple and a few small fruit trees in our yard.  But such was the case 18 years ago, and with most of the leaves blowing away from our fenceless yard there were few left to cover our plants.   So, after raiding the neighbors’ yards (with their enthusiastic permission)  our first year, it occurred to us that we could enjoy a nice little hike in the woods and also fill a few bags with leaves from a quaint little campground in Iowa on the same afternoon.  And so a family tradition was born.


The infamous bouncy merry go round

Merry-Go-Round Catch, I believe


Each year in October we would drive across the Missouri river to Pony Creek in our quest for leaves.  Our first stop was the north playground where we filled several orange “pumpkin” bags before swinging and playing on the merry-go-round.   From the playground we hiked up the north trail that led to an orchard in the northwest corner of the park.  On one of our early trips someone suggested we play hide-n-seek in the orchard and this became a part our tradition.  A large oak tree near the corner of the orchard always served as the base.


Many a time did we have distance competitions on these


From the orchard we sometimes hiked around on the south trail or tried to catch frogs and pollywogs in the pond at the center of the park.   We usually ended up at the south playground and its big tilted merry-go-round before heading back to the car.  For several years we stopped at Godfathers Pizza on the way home.

As the years went by the strawberry patch gave way to a raspberry patch but the need for a covering of leaves remained the same.  However, the trees we planted in the backyard grew tall and heavy laden with leaves.  Also, the neighbors to the east put up a fence and eventually the need for leaves from outside our yard ended.   Nevertheless, we continued our annual trek to Pony Creek sans the orange bags.

Benjamin has always hated canoes

Ben was always afraid the canoe would tip


One year we canoed on the lake across the road from the park.  Another  year we picked up Andrew after a band competition and spent the night in the campground.  When Kathy’s parent moved to Nebraska we started bringing them along.  Although they hiked the trails with us, they would sit under the oak tree while we  played hide-n-seek.


In 2007, for the first and only time, a non-family member joined us on our annual excursion.   Andrew had been dating Tara Somer for a few months and brought her up from UNL for the weekend to see Ben.  Ben was home on leave after 12 weeks of boot camp with the Marines.  The time was right for a trip to Pony Creek and somehow it seemed okay to bring Tara along on what had always been a family outing.  A year later, Andrew proposed to Tara and she officially became a member of our family in 2009.

Flip Flops...

I neglected to tell Tara to bring proper footwear that day…


Eighteen years ago we pulled up many of our roots in California and settled in Nebraska.  Andrew was seven, Benny four and Garin only ten months old at the time.  In the early years of living here we began several family traditions.  The weekend of Thanksgiving became the time we went to Desoto Wildlife preserve to see several hundred thousand snow geese migrating south from Canada.  Labor day weekend we hiked or road bikes on the Wabash Nature Trail in Iowa (one year we did the entire 48 mile trail).  Early spring we went backpacking at Indians Caves State Park.


A few years ago a late arriving winter caused the snow geese to change their migration route and Desota has become a thing of the past.  Our Labor day bike ride also somehow fell by the wayside.  And, although we made it to Indian Caves this past spring, it was a spur of the moment decision and almost didn’t happen.   As we ventured over to Pony Creek this fall I couldn’t help but wonder if this, too, was about to pass into history.  Some things hopefully will still remain, like our family vacation in the summer with one or more of the boys, but the those weekend things we did when the kids young will seem destined to become fading memories.

Backpacking Granddaddy Basin

For Labor Day weekend, Tara and I went on a backpacking trip in the High Uintas in Granddaddy Basin.  We managed to cover 25 miles in 3 days—our longest trip yet.  This is what happens when you live close to tons of backpacking.  You inadvertently become a weekend warrior and never take a trip longer than a few days.  It is a blessing and a curse.

The day temperatures were perfect for our trip and dipped down enough at night that we could actually make use of our new sleeping bags.  To follow is an oddly specific guide to hiking Granddaddy Basin.

Day 1: 8 Miles

Hike from the trailhead (TH) up over the pass into Granddaddy Basin.  Laugh at girl in pink jogging outfit that exclaims to her husband: “SHIT!! This just keeps going up!”.  Reconsider plan to make Governor Dern Lake that day when another hiker, who happens to be very vocal about using his yellow lab to haul his alcohol, scoffs at the idea saying that it is one hell of a push.  Then get reassured by a friendly ranger that the lake is easily achievable.  Make the lake by 6:30 to find not a single other soul there on “busy” Labor Day weekend.  Set up camp out of sight on the far side of the lake amongst a grove of pines.


Looking down into Granddaddy Basin from the pass



Governor Dern Lake


Day 2: 9 Miles

Pack daypacks with lunch and snacks and make for Four Lakes Basin, 4 miles and 700’ vertical above camp.  Take your pick of the four lakes to dip your feet in before eating lunch and taking a short siesta on the soft, grassy bank.  Reluctantly hit the trail again and make for the Highline Trail which gains a little more altitude and offers stunning views of the entire basin and beyond.  The remaining mileage to Lake Pinto is a bit of a slog, but still plenty pretty.  Enjoy Clif Bars at this lake before completing the last mile back to camp.  Dinner from atop a large boulder in the lake might as well be a high-end restaurant.



Lunch at 4 Lakes Basin



View from the Highline Trail


Day 3: 8 Miles

Break camp and start the journey back across the basin, this time taking the Eastern leg of the loop.  Pass several more postcard lakes before arriving at Granddaddy Lake in time for lunch.  Make for a long peninsula that is so narrow that it might as well be an island.  After lunch, own the pass and the 2.5 miles down the other side, mouths watering with anticipation of the margaritas you’ll enjoy with dinner that evening.



The namesake of the area: Granddaddy Lake

Camp Shower

The following is an excerpt from our road trip to Tara’s hometown earlier this summer.  We went through Jackson WY, Yellowstone, Bighorn NF, The Black Hills, and The Badlands on our way to Yankton.  This is from our 3rd night on the road in Bighorn National Forest.


It’s 10:30 in the evening and Tara and I are sitting in the tent as rain patters on the canvas roof.  We are camped in North-Central Wyoming next to a roaring stream with rocky canyon walls rising up on either side of us.  Shortly after dinner, the clouds came in fast and we raced to set up the tent and take showers with our new solar shower.  We stood naked in the dark woods, under the eerie light from_DSC3950 a small lantern, shivering from the cold water issued from the 6 gallon black bag that I had hung from a tree (1 hour to heat up, my ass).  Meanwhile, the rain held off for us.

Later, as I sat in the pit toilet, I perceived a quick flash that I took to be lightening.  A second later, thunder ripped across the sky so violently that the walls of the john seemed to shake.  This fury lasted for a full 30 seconds as I quickly finished up and left the latrine just in time to see Tara, clad in poncho and headlamp sprinting up the road in my direction.  The rain was just starting the fall as she reached me and exclaimed: “I’m scared and I have to pee!!”  Feeling obligated to stay with her, I accompanied her back up to the _DSC3952latrine and waited outside the door under the awning as she went in.  My efforts only worsened things, however, as she did not realize I was doing so and got the shit scared out of her when she came out and saw only my headlamp inches from her in the dark.

So now, after much excitement, we’re relaxing in the tent before bed.  I believe the rain has stopped, but it’s hard to tell with the roar of the stream.  Should sleep well tonight.

Outdoor Post #5: I Defend Myself

It only seems fair that I should get to give my side of the story as a follow-up to Tara’s debut post on our first backpacking trip.


Andrew introduced me to backpacking when we had been dating for about 9 months.

That’s right.  Before we had even been on a “real” car-camping trip, let alone a day hike longer than a mile.  No matter.

Little did I know this was one of the many tests he had to see if I was adventurous enough to consider spending the rest of his life with. Luckily, I think I passed.

We joke that it was a test, but the truth is, when you’re in love with someone, you find you really want to share with them all the things that are really important to you.  I felt like I knew her well enough at the time to be pretty sure that she’d really enjoy backpacking. In hindsight, this was probably just dumb luck that she did.  Thank goodness!

Andrew had been backpacking many times throughout his childhood, and had organized one trip with his brother (but they ended up hiking out early).

The forest was burned in that area, and we had wound up camping in a cow pasture.  Besides, we wanted to go see Mt. Rushmore.

I don’t remember weighing the packs but they were definitely not light-weight.

Most over-packed I’ve ever been for a trip, that’s for sure.

We had to stop in Fayetteville on the way down to pick up a map and an extra flashlight.

This is because I failed to procure, or even locate a trail map beforehand.  Mostly due to the fact that I didn’t start looking until like a week before when it was already too late to have one shipped.

After hiking an unknown trail in the dark like that, I really appreciate my head lamp that I have now.

She left out the part about how we lost the trail momentarily—most likely out of respect for me, or in an effort to not make her mother think I’m completely nuts.

When we reached the area where we had originally had planned on stopping, we decided neither of us really wanted to camp in the rain.

Sometimes I regret bailing like that.  We have yet to truly camp in the rain on a backpacking trip.  Then I think about the delicious dinner we had in Eureka Springs during which I tested Tara’s materialism by first getting BBQ sauce all over my face and hands and then spilling an entire glass of red wine on myself.  When she still loved me after that and the backpacking, I knew I’d better not lose this one.


Other notes:

Hopefully my outdoor photography has improved since then.

My parents gave Tara a Proper Poncho shortly after the trip.

If you ever go on a backpacking trip that goes completely according to plan, you did something wrong.  Backpacking is about spontaneous deviations from the plan.  Whether it’s the decision to do a through-hike instead of an out-and-back and then hitchhike back to the car or to call off a summit push due to pending weather, the unknown is one of the most rewarding aspects of the activity.

Safe to say we’ve gotten far better at backpacking since that first trip…

Outdoor Post #4: Ozark Highland Trail

It’s been some time since the last installment of my guest outdoor series.  This is because it took me a fair amount of coaxing to get the author to actually contribute to this blog.  This post is written by non other than my lovely wife, Tara, as she recounts our very first backpacking trip together.


I took the liberty of adding the photos and captions.


After nearly 2 years of being married to Andrew, I am finally making my debut in his blog.  I never thought I would become a blogger, but this will just be something else I have to add to my list of things Andrew has convinced me to do.  If he ever gets me designing circuits, someone please help me!

Andrew introduced me to backpacking when we had been dating for about 9 months.  He decided we needed to go on a backpacking trip over fall break.  Little did I know this was one of the many tests he had to see if I was adventurous enough to consider spending the rest of his life with.  Luckily, I think I passed.

So knowing absolutely nothing about backpacking, and very little about surviving in the wilderness (I guess camping at the state park 10 minutes from home doesn’t really count), I agreed to the trip.  Sometimes I still think back and wonder what in the world I was thinking.  Andrew had been backpacking many times throughout his childhood, and had organized one trip with his brother (but they ended up hiking out early).  I figured he knew enough about what he was doing to keep me alive, plus I wanted to impress him.

We decided on the Ozark Highland Trail in Arkansas.  I made do with the clothes and shoes I had (I didn’t have real hiking boots or a proper poncho).  I don’t remember weighing the packs but they were definitely not light-weight.

We had to stop in Fayetteville on the way down to pick up a map and an extra flashlight.  We found an oddly specific guidebook which ended up being very useful.  When we finally made it to the trailhead, it was dark.  Not dusk or sunset, but pitch black.  I was a little freaked out.  We got our packs on and headed down the trail with the newly purchased flashlight and an LED lantern.  After hiking an unknown trail in the dark like that, I really appreciate my head lamp that I have now.  We hiked maybe 1/2-3/4 mile and found a spot to set up camp.  We put up the tent and had a quick dinner of soup and hot dogs (I think I probably only at the soup). 

Soon it was time for bed.  We brushed teeth and I was about to get into the tent when Andrew said you’d better go to the bathroom first.  I knew this was part of backpacking, but it was so dark.  I walked away from the tent, but made sure I could still see it so I could get back.  Evidently I didn’t pick a secluded enough spot.  Andrew still laughs at me for this.

The next day we woke up and actually got to take a look around the area.  We made breakfast: oatmeal and chai tea, and got ready for the day.  There was a creek a short distance away from our camp, so Andrew showed me how to pump water through the filter.  We loaded up our packs and hit the trail.  It was a beautiful hike through the Ozark forest. 



Tara purifies drinking water

We decided it would be neat to make it to White Rock Mountain that day.  The trail was relatively flat and not too difficult.  We kept up a pretty good pace for most of the day and the 6 miles to the base of the mountain seemed to go by quickly.  The last mile of the day was grueling.  My shoulders were killing me and now instead of walking on a relatively flat trail, we were hiking up.  We made it right before sunset and hurriedly found a spot to camp on top and took our dinner out to some rocks near the edge to watch the sunset.  It was one of the prettiest sunsets I have ever seen.



Our dinner-time view from the top of White Rock Mountain

We were just sitting, enjoying the view and Andrew was playing his harmonica when this photographer came up to us.  He was from National Geographic and wanted to know if it was OK if we were included in some of his shots.  We didn’t make the magazine, but we were on the website


Hikers Andrew Newcomb 402-707-0783, and  Para Somer of Lincoln Nebraska prepare dinner and Andrew plays harmonica at dusk and under moonlight with a view of the Ozarks from White Rock Mountain, Ozark Highlands Trial, Arkansas. They are hiking part of the Ozark Highlads Trail.

Posted with permission—sort of.

That night after we went to bed, the wind really picked up.  When we woke up, it was howling and the sky was filled with rain clouds.  Instead of doing a quick day hike with our day packs to a pond, we decided we’d better just pack everything up and head out.  It rained for most of the day.  Not a hard rain, but persistent.  Andrew got to show off and rigged up a rain shelter for lunch.



Our lunch shelter

Our original plan was to camp about 3/4 of the way back to the car and hike out the next day.  When we reached the area where we had originally had planned on stopping, we decided neither of us really wanted to camp in the rain.  Also, some of my stuff, including my sleeping bag, was wet due to my sub-par poncho.  We powered on, hiking the full 8 miles and got to the car just before dark. Of course, to get to the car, we had to climb the only other steep part of the trail.  We reached the car wet, tired, and hungry.  We headed to Eureka Springs for the night.



The sub-par poncho next to a proper poncho





Much more comfortable than a wet sleeping bag


I was pretty impressed with my first backpacking trip: 16 miles in basically 2 days.  If I had known exactly what I was getting myself into, I may have picked a slightly shorter trip.  Luckily for Andrew, I really enjoyed the trip and we have had many more backcountry adventures since.

“Was that girl topless?”

This past weekend, Tara and I tried out a new style of camping: Yurt camping.  A yurt is a Mongolian style dwelling.  Chances are, you’ve seen one before, you just didn’t realize that it was called a yurt.

Cheating, for sure.

There is a fair number of these dwellings throughout Utah backcountry.  We chose the ones at East Canyon State Park (no, not the place that the Donner Party spent the winter—I made that mistake myself).  These are by no means rustic or in the backcountry, but it was a fun, unique way to ease into the camping season.  The yurt had a thermostat-controlled propane stove for heat.  As much as we liked this feature, we were slightly disappointed because it meant we didn’t get to try out our new 15 degree sleeping bags.

Could have been made by Amish people


Must have one of these in my backyard some day!

We set out Saturday afternoon after we got there in search of hiking.  We were headed up a highway that we knew was closed, but were hoping that we’d find a trailhead before the closure.  Just beyond a sign that said “Road closed ahead”, we rounded a bend and stumbled upon what was apparently a nude photo shoot.  A topless girl took off running, covering herself, to a vehicle parked just off the road.  The photographer stayed by his equipment—in the middle of the road, laughing as we drove by.  We were utterly confounded by it all.  The guy looked pretty legit—he had quite the setup, but they couldn’t have picked a less scenic spot.  And did they really think nobody would drive up there just because the road was closed ahead?  We never did find the trail.  We ended up walking up the closed road for a ways.  We did not encounter any more nudity.

After dinner that night, I gathered up my own photography gear, and we headed down to the lake for our own “shoot”.  And by “shoot”, I mean the sunset, of course.  I found a good spot long before sunset, so we passed the time with Tara throwing rocks in the water and me shooting the splashes.

I think that one nailed a fish.


Thank goodness she puts up with my "artistic" attemtps


Then we played Hide & Seek.  Sort of…

Used manual focus on this one.  Is that like the photography equivalent to tuning by ear?


I love sage


Then Tara said I should photograph my tripod down on beach.  It ended up being a pretty good suggestion. 😉

Stay away, duck  


Then at last the sun was low enough.




The next morning it rained heavily, so we curled up with our Nooks in the warmth of the Yurt enjoying the patter of rain drops on the canvas roof.


Then when we got back down to the valley that afternoon, it was sunny and warm, so I had to mow the lawn…

Outdoor Post #3: Mt. Newcomb

This third post comes to us from my little brother, Garin.  This is actually a scholarship essay that he shared with me.  I was so moved by his depiction of possibly one of our biggest family traditions that I immediately asked him if I could post it.  A high school senior with hopes of attending Stanford, his response was: “Lol, OK”.  What do you think?  Should he get the scholarship? 

(I took the liberty of adding the pictures/captions)


I grew up in Nebraska but I am far more a Californian.  Certainly I am content here—it is not the situation but what you make of it—but mountains call to me always with whispers and screams that reminisce fond memories.   These magnificent beasts, tame to no one yet always welcoming, have become in me a place of solace and comfort.  Where leaves fall and time drifts slowly away, the mountains never shift.  They hold me in their powerful grasp, waiting as long as necessary until the world is right again.  They are all unique and beautiful in my sight, but I hold one above all the others: my mountain.  Or rather, my family’s mountain.  It was named by its discoverer for a great uncle of mine, Simon Newcomb, and we have since made tradition of climbing it.  Its significance lies in its beauty, as well as its sanctity, family connections, and symbolic nature.  


The pose my father is executing will forever be the Newcomb gesture for: "I just conquered this beast"

My father and grandfather at the summit of Mt. Newcomb in ‘71

My father spent much of his childhood and adolescence in the Sierra Nevadas.  As it happens, his father took him on the first of our family’s Mt. Newcomb Expeditions.  When we moved to Nebraska before my first birthday, he knew it would be difficult to raise my brothers and me with the same appreciation for the mountains he had grown up with. Still, he made every effort possible, taking us almost annually to the Rockies and somewhat less frequently to the Sierras.  If there was ever a time I did not enjoy these trips, I cannot remember it.  The backpack I carried was not so much a burden as a tangible symbol of my growth, maturation, and ascent into adolescence and adulthood.  The exhaustion that came with it only made everything more vivid and complete.


Haha, '06 the days I actually would have worn a hemp necklace backpacking...

Mt. Newcomb training expedition, CO ‘06 

Over the years, the mountains began to represent the good that I knew of the world.  There was a peace to be found there that was complete and entirely untainted.  There was a natural beauty that drew you in, enticing all your senses: views that were unreal, the smell of pine needles, the feel of the thin, brisk air as it comes into your lungs, the sound of the wind as it rustled through meadows, and the ever-delicious taste of food, no matter how deplorably nasty its reality on any other occasion.  Mt. Newcomb, in particular, became in some respects a second home.  It required overwhelming efforts to conquer, but in conquering it I realized a long held dream of mine.  With that came the knowledge that so it would be with every other dream I ever had.  Though not physical climbs, every one of them could, in their turn, be realized through the application of the same force of will as in reaching the top of that mountain.  Clichéd as it may sound, my challenges yet loom before me, mountains.  Nonetheless, a single step yields another, and though my heart races, my breath slows as the peak breaks violently into view.  Truly climbing is what we humans were made to do—truly we yearn and fight for our dreams as surely as we do our mountains.   


That valley on the left is the one we stumbled down with the waning light after the climb.  

In social matters, mountains have always united my family to unbreakable strength.  When we climb, we climb together.  The struggle of reaching the top of a pass, or even taking another step, becomes a common struggle that bonds us and molds us into a single unit.  That it is our mountain we climb further relates to us the familial nature of this activity.  I and my brothers climb as our father did before us in his youth, and he as his father before him.  We are thus individual, yet tightly connected.  In one particularly strong example, we were hiking down from a pass with a rather steep cliff nearby.  In seating myself on a loose boulder a few feet up from the trail, I ignited its fury and it tumbled down to meet my waiting calf.  Leg pinned between boulder and ground, I stood helpless, my boot the only thing preventing the violent shattering of my ankle.  Though drastic, the situation was of no real consequence: my brother was present throughout, and though lacking the means, he lifted the boulder enough to allow my fervent escape.  This is a clear representation of my family’s relationship: bendable, but unbreakable.

The mountains have also developed another relationship of mine. It is the goodness I see represented by the mountains, along with their vividly real tangibility, that forever intertwines them with my own spirituality.  Indeed, to me, the good they represent is due to their pure reflective nature.  Like their creator, they stand unchanged and uncontrollable.  They hold beauty overwhelming and power over all men.  The peace they afford those who seek them replenishes and gives life.  Thus, I feel closer to God when I am there than at almost any other time.  I am but a human, standing before towering mountains as I stand before God.  Yet by His grace, here I am healed and rocked in His embrace. Mountains unite physical and spiritual, giving vast insight into the heart and nature of God.  In the presence of mountains, it is this insight I seek above all else.


I guess nobody did it quite right...

Summit of Mt. Newcomb ‘06 

It is a bittersweet moment climbing down from Mt. Newcomb.  It was a great victory won; a challenge conquered through drive and little else.  Though exhausted, I am peaceful and contemplative.  The inevitable pain is yet abated by rushing endorphins, and I carefully acknowledge my quiet bliss.  I thank God for the wonder of my surroundings, knowing that I am cared for in my second home.  I look around to see the faces of my family members and seem to know their thoughts as they know mine.  We are a family, forever united.  As I turn toward the vast valley beneath me and the sparkling lakes therein, my mind is now engulfed by a single flame: this mountain is conquered, but the next lies just across the horizon.  I take a step, then another.


My father won.

My father and Ben demonstrate how to protect oneself from a bear cat in the wild.