Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Photologue of My Experience Backpacking The Sierras In October 2009

It was early October and I was over one month late for my John Muir Trail hike. I missed the big hike with Tom Willard due to job requirements. It was the wrong time of year to go in to the Sierras for backpacking, but I was determined to get my Sierra fix this year. I drove all night to get to Bishop California and headed right for the Ranger Station to pick up my permit. By the time I got to the Bishop Trail Head at the foot of the Sierras it was about 12noon. The weather was perfect at near 70 degrees for a high that day. The nights were slated to be very cold and when I met hikers descending the trail they reported 20 degree temps overnight. I knew it would be cold at night, so I was prepared.

The trail up to Bishop Pass was populated with many day hikers. I was planning on hiking about 5 miles to one of the lakes below the pass and then the next day continue my 6o mile loop hike back to the trail head. As you can see, the scenery along the pass trail is excellent.

I set up my tent in a well protected site near Bishop Lake, about one mile below the pass. The weather forecast called for a 20% chance of light snow.

When I woke up in the morning my tent was covered in snow and there was about 3" of snow at that time. I waited for the weather to break, but by 9AM I lost faith that they snow would let up. I pack up quickly and intended to get back down to the trail head before the trail was covered in snow. In my rush to get packed and down the mountain I dropped my GPS in the snow, but didn't know it until I got to my car. I would have to come back when the snow melted to try and find it.

The trail was still discernable on my way back down, but in some locations it was not so clear where the trail had gone. The portion of trail you see behind me was a good section of trail. By the end of the day they had 4 to 5 inches of snow at the pass. I'm glad I went down. So much for the forecasted 20% chance!

On my way down from the pass I met two hikers that were bailing out of the Sierras at the same time I was. I gave them a ride to town and then on to their car, about 40 miles away at Mammoth Lakes, where they started. The weather was going to be bad for a couple of days, so we all decided to head for Death Valley to dry out before going back to the Sierras. These ladies were doing the entire John Muir Trail and are very experienced through hikers, having hiked over 7000 miles! On the left is Teresa, aka "Wandering Hippie" and to the right is Kellie, aka "Hippie Longstockings".

The scenery in Death Valley was grand indeed! Deep canyons, flat salt lakes, and sand dunes. Everything you would want in a desert experience. Plus, warmth!

At the lowest point in Death Valley and the United States.

After an overnight stay in Death Valley we headed back to the Sierras with a plan to hike from Kersarge to Taboose. A 45 plus mile hike which takes in one of the most spectacular portions of the John Muir Trail. With the "Hippies" and I teaming up we could put a car at the beginning and the end, so we didn't have to worry about hitch hiking back to the car. Getting up to Kersarge Pass was a steep climb, but a well maintained trail.

Coming down from Kersarge Pass we had a fantastic view into the heart of the Sierras. Bull Frog lake sits in the background.

The hike up Glen Pass from Bull Frog Lake was long and brutal. Over the course of several miles it was switch backs and high stair treads made of rock. Manyof the stair treads (rock steps) were 2' high! And, there were hundreds of them. If you are looking to get buns of steel, this is the way to do it!

Coming down from Glenn Pass in to the Rae Lakes area was a spectacular sight. Here, the Painted Lady looms on the horizon. We sat near these lakes during our lunch break and enjoyed the best lunch time scenery a person could hope for.

On the way down from Glenn Pass and the Rae Lakes we had a glorious view of one of the many Sierra divides.

On our way up to Pinchot Pass it was toward the end of the day and getting very cold! We finally stopped when it got dark, put up our tents, and went straigt away to bed - after some hot soup! It was a rugged 20 mile day, having tackled two passes and 5000 ft. of elevation gain. We estimated that the temperature went in to the teens that night.

The next morning we got to the top of Pinchot Pass early in the morning. Marie Lake sits just below the pass.

By mid day we were at Taboose Pass, which was a long slopping moonscape.

Going down from Taboose Pass was beautiful and very scenic, but very rocky and gravely. I would hate to ascend that trail! I felt grateful to only have to go down.

We descended in to the desert of the Owens Valley tired, but mostly satisfied. We were ready for a good meal and a cold beer, so we headed for the nearest restaurant in Independence! The Hippies gave me friendship, lots of new understanding about long distance hiking, and a new name. That's right, a new name! Teresa and Kellie had a trail name, so why couldn't I? Before I left them I asked the Hippies if they could give me a trail name, because as they pointed out, it is not good protocol to give yourself a trail name. By the end of our time together Hippie Longstockings dubbed me, "Llama Walker".

The next day, after coming down Taboose Pass, we went our separate ways, the Hippies went south to get back on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Whitney and I went north, back to Bishop Lake to see if I could find my GPS. This picture shows the GPS right where I dropped it in to the snow. Several days later, undisturbed!

After I found my GPS I continued on to Bishop Pass to complete some of what I had come there to do in the first place. The weather was clear but very cold that day.

Looking back from Bishop Pass to Bishop Lake and the rest of the lakes along the pass trail. It's hard to believe that just a few days previous to this day the landscape here was covered with 5" of snow.

I was at the end of my time among the cathedrals of the Sierras and as I sat looking toward the Black Divide from Bishop Pass I contemplated my return next year. Yes, next year it will be the John Muir Trail in its entirety. At least, that will be the plan!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Backpacking Zion National Park in October 2009

Sunset from my camp atop The East Rim Plateau

Zion Canyon's from my West Rim Camp Site

The West Rim Trail ascending up to Angel's Landing

Me at my West Rim camp Site

The view up-canyon from Angel's Landing

On the way up the West Rim Trail

When I decided to backpack for two weeks in the Sierras during the month of October, I knew I was taking a weather risk. Any storm that comes through those mountains in October would be snow storms that would make hiking difficult to prohibitive. So, I had a plan “B” in place before I left for the Sierras, which was to head for the trails of Zion National Park. I had read that Zion was a fabulous place to backpack in October. After spending a serendipitous week in the Sierras my greatest fears materialized and the weather took a turn for the worse. It was time to pack up and head for Zion.

The drive from the Sierras to Zion was long - an overnight jaunt across the Nevada Desert - but I arrived with an eager heart to hit the trail again and continue my 2009 backpacking adventure. But, the thrill of my Sierra adventure was gone. Zion was my backup plan and not to be confused with the best of the best - the beloved Sierras! After all, this was plan “B”. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the wonders Zion had to offer the wilderness wanderer. Armed with a good map and several days to explore Zion, I quickly made a plan to see and experience the best that the Park had to offer. The plan was to hike out of the Zion Canyon up to the west rim of the canyon, then back down to the canyon floor, and then up to the east rim of the canyon to experience the other side of the Park. I set out for the West Rim Trail Head at around 11AM, after getting my permit at the visitor center. I took a shuttle bus to the trail head, which is the only transportation allowable in the Park. As I started out on the trail, it wasn’t but a few hundred yards before a steep zig-zagging ascent took me up and over the walls of the canyon. The trails that are accessible to day hiking are paved, since the crowds hiking them are large. The trails ascending up out of the canyon are spectacularly built and don’t give the appearance of over use. These trails had to be carefully blasted out of the sand stone cliffs in order to build them. I marveled at both the engineering of the trail and the geography of this place. Along the West Rim Trail the day hiker’s destination is Angel’s Landing; a pinnacle outcropping from the cliffs of the canyon just a couple of miles from the trail head. To get to Angel’s Landing the would be tourist leaves the West Rim Trail and climbs a knife’s edge access trail to Angel's Landing. A little scary, but plenty of safety precautions were in place, such as hand railing and steps cut in to the rock. It’s one of those experiences you don’t want to miss when coming to Zion. It's the best way to view the glories of the remarkable Zion Canyon. But, my destination was the canyon rim and once I passed Angel's Landing the throngs of people were left behind. In my estimation the scenery just kept getting better and better. The entire climb to the west rim was an arduous ascent of over 4000 feet in 6 miles. Once I got to the rim, I found my designated camp site and set up my tent with a glorious view of the canyon below. I then explored the entire west rim for the rest of the day. The rim trail skirts the edge of a massive and delosolate plateau, affording the hiker a constant view of Zion Canyon and it's appendage canyons. It was a spectacular sight. I kept thinking how different this place was in comparison with the Sierras, yet how equally wondrous. One of the stark differences between the two landscapes is water! In the Sierras there is a stream, river, or lake at nearly every bend in the trail. But Zion is a desert. There was only one water source on this entire trail and it was a little trickling rivulet of water serving the entire plateau, shared by hikers and animals alike. My camp site happened to be very close to the spring, so at dusk I sat quietly and watched the deer come down a ridge high on the plateau to access the spring that we all had to share. If I were a hunter it would been a shooting gallery, but I was pleased to observe the joy of wild animals anticipating their one chance at water that day.

The next day I descended back to Zion Canyon and got on the shuttle bus once again to head up the canyon one mile to access the next trail head – the East Rim Trail. The first couple of miles were just like the West Rim Trail, crowded with people ascending to a view point high above the canyon. Once I passed the view point the trail was completely empty. I didn’t see a person again until I came back to this point on the trail the next day. This was a more difficult trail than the West Rim Trail, but, the views were stunning and the experience felt a bit more, “wild” on this side of the canyon. The climb was similar, with another 4000 plus foot elevation gain over 6 miles, but it was again worth it to get up on top of the world. Once on the plateau of the East Rim I headed for the one and only spring to fill my water container. Just like the west plateau, there was only one water source for miles and miles around. When I was filling my container from the trickling spring, I had to do it while looking at a sign that said, “Beware of Mountain Lions”! Again, I was sharing a water source with all the wildlife in that area! I could only imagine a mountain lion or two watching me from the surrounding forest as I filled my container. On the east rim, the National Park allows backpackers to camp anywhere they desire. So, I spent some time finding the high point of the plateau to camp, which would provide me with the best opportunity for a great sunset and sunrise view. I have to admit, the whole experience was a bit eerie. I had not seen anyone since passing the view point many miles back. At times I felt so alone and vulnerable. But, the wildness and expansive terrain of this place kept me in such awe that I had little time to contemplate my aloneness. The next morning I headed back to the canyon floor and then on to Portland, having had my wilderness fix satisfied – but only for a little while!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meet Our New Male Cria!

This is our new llama cria that was born a few weeks ago. We just took these pictures today, but you can see birthing pictures in the slide show in the right hand column. Artemis is our first male cria since Columbus, who we lost over a year ago to a tragic accident. We've had several females born since Columbus and we like the females because they become breeders. However, the males are just as important, because they become the gelded packers that we are trying to breed. The strategy is that you keep the ladies bare foot and pregnant and the males on the trail doing all the packing. It turns out that Artemis is the name of a female godess; the daughter of Zeus. Looks like we might have to change his name. Or, perhaps Artie will do? This little guy was actually an unexpected and pleasant surprise. We did not purposely breed his mother, Rainy. And, the very day he was born the vet did a herd check on my llamas and he didn't even notice she was pregnant! Within just a few hours after he left she delivered. It turns out that Pam was heading out to round up some loose llamas when Rainy was lying down giving birth. The little guy didn't want to come out, so Pam gave him a little help by pulling on his legs! (see the pics in the slide show) So far, little Artie is looking like a great prospect for a packer. We won't really know for a year or so, but we like what we see, so far!

The Origin of "Llama Walker"

In October I had the good fortune to meet up with two experienced long distance hikers, Hippie Long Stockings and Wandering Hippie. No, those are not their real names, but names given to them during the course of their 7000 miles of hiking. Their real names are Kellie and Teresa, respectively. Although, my experience with them tells me that they identify with their trail names more than their birth names. Both have done the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, so you can imagine how they feel about trail life and hiking; they live for it! I went to the Sierras in October to hike sections of the John Muir Trail as a consolation for not being able to hike the entire trail as I had planned to do with Tom Willard. My first night out, I camped just below Bishop Pass, where it snowed 4". It was still snowing in the morning and I had no recourse but to pack up and get down from the high country till the weather broke. As I was going down I noticed from the tracks in the snow that there were two other crazy people out in that weather. And, when I got down to the trail head I met them, two wild and free spirited women! They didn't have a vehicle because they were hiking the whole John Muir Trail, so there car was at the end of the trail, one hundred miles away. I wound up driving them all the way to Mammoth Lakes where their car was parked to start the hike. We wound up spending nearly a week together. First, we went to Death Valley just to get out of the weather. We then came back to the Sierras and hiked 45 miles in the Sierras together before going our separate ways. I asked the Hippies if they could give me a trail name by the end of our time together. They said that it had to come naturally, so if something came to mind, they would tell me. Well, after a few days of hiking together they named me "Llama Walker". Of course, it had everything to do with my conversation with them about my ownership and experience with llamas. At first, I didn't take to the name, but soon it stuck in my mind and now I can't see any other possible name! When I first got in to llamas, I never thought of myself as being so identified with them, but almost everyone who knows me wants to talk about my llamas when they learn that I own them and use them for packing. So, if you see me on the trail some day, just call me, "Llama Walker". Thank you, Hippie Longstockings and Wandering Hippie!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Glacier & Aspen Go On Their First Hike!

We took our new baby llamas out for their first hike, today. Glacier and Aspen just turned 6 months and are now weaned. It's time to get them out on the trail to show them what llama life is all about. We decided to take them on a 5 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail where it intersects with Cascade Locks in the Columbia Gorge. It was a drizzly day, but comfortable and pleasant for a hike. Aside from a little nervousness around the running creek, they performed wonderfully. You don't want to load up a pack on a six month old llama, but you also want them to get the feel of a pack when they're beginning their training. So, we put a light weight kids saddle on their back and it worked just fine. At just six months Glacier and Aspen are tall, energetic, athletic, and eager to get in line with the other llamas. They are little balls of nerves right now, but as they get used to the trail, creek crossings, and the wild forest, they will be incredible packers and breeders.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Video Journal of Oregon's Eagle Creek Trail

(Click the Title to see the Video)


The Eagle Creek Trail is certainly one of the most popular trails in Oregon. It begins at the junction of Eagle Creek Canyon and the Columbia Gorge. Not far from the quaint town of Cascade Locks.

For an Oregonian the trail begins with ordinary features. A thousand Oregon trails begin just like this one. A tumbling trail side creek. A Densely forested terrain. Bridges traversing the canyon’s many tributaries. Thick thatched Paths. Grand Douglas Fir, Western Cedar and Broadleaf Maple compliment the trail. High tree covered canyon walls tower above. Even the usual Oregon trail companion, a Leopard Slug can be found here.

But, not long in to the hike the Eagle Creek Trail begins to show off it’s unique and spectacular features. The trail was built in 1910 by Italian Engineers to compliment the new Columbia Gorge Highway. Portions of the trail had to literally be blasted out of the steep volcanic cliffs of the canyon. At times, one has to hold on to the cables provided for stability while walking the precipice of the trail. Just one of the variety of opportunities to experience the exhilaration of Eagle Creek’s wonders.

Yet, as much as the amazing trail construction impresses one’s mind and senses, it is the creek itself that is the main attraction, drawing sauntering souls to its cascading call. Alfred Billings Street once said, “Nature is man's teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eye, illumines his mind, and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence.”

As the Eagle Creek hiker encounters one cascading waterfall after another along the creek’s path, all the cares and worries of the world seem to melt away in her waters.

There is a dramatic theme to this trail, as if intentionally plotted out with the wilderness lover in mind. At four and a half miles in to the hike the trail rounds a bend in the canyon to reveal an unnamed deep narrow gorge. From the appropriately name, High Bridge, that spans the gorge, one can stop and look 100 feet below to inspect the geological features of the gorge. It is simply a massive volcanic crack at the bottom of the canyon, creating shear rock walls to funnel the passage of the creek.

In just 2 more miles the drama of the Eagle Creek Trail is realized as the hiker is rewarded with one of the greatest waterfall scenes ever to be experienced. Tunnel Falls. While the construction of this trail and tunnel are extraordinary, it is the natural wonder of the falls that draws one’s attention. As I reflect upon the entire length of the trail to this point, it is clear to me that Man’s best efforts can only compliment what God has already done in nature and the builders of this trail were wise enough to understand this.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama-nation or Obama-exaggeration?

I usually try to stay out of commenting on politics and focus my attention on the spiritual/religious side of things. But, this is one of those few occasions when I just can’t stay out of the game. Barak Obama has been getting hammered by a lot folks these days for some of his recent activities and speeches. My examination of the facts tells me that these folks are doing some spin doctoring to support their own agenda. Let me address a few unfair criticisms of President Obama:

First, Obama has been chastised for “bowing down” before the king of Saudi Arabia. Give me break! I saw the video of the "bow". It was not a formal bow, but appeared to me be an extended reach to shake his hand and then a follow through bow as a gesture of respect. He probably should not have done it in the G20 Summit in London, but would have been more appropriate in the Saudi King's own country. The White House denies that it was a bow. But, you might recall that Bush held hands with the King while he entertained him on his ranch in Texas. Was that inappropriate? That was probably unstatesman like, too. So what! But, the point is, people are acting like Obama, by this single action, has invited the nations of the world to slap us around like the proverbial step child. This criticism is so ridiculous I have to believe it is motivated by some ulterior motive. And, I think I know what it is. It is the unfounded belief of many that Obama is really a Muslim and once he has tenderized the American conscience he is going to turn us in to a Muslim nation! Look, let’s get over it. Obama is a confessional Christian, Period! Yes, he respects Islam, but so what! Islam is part of his hertitage, after all! Which to me makes his Christianity all the more real. He had to choose between faith systems, unlike most Christians in America who are simply raised to believe and cannot remember a time of individual choice between Christianity and other belief systems. Besides, why shouldn’t a person show some respect for the belief system of others? As Christians we want people of other faith systems to respect our beliefs. And, our beliefs are very exclusive? Just like Islam is. Not that we should respect murders and terrorists and those that support them. Islam has various expressions, just like Christianity. Militants have used both faith systems to do great harm. Don’t forget the murderous activities of Christians against Muslims during the Crusades! Besides, you don’t have to agree with them to respect them. This is a fear of Obama that goes back to the moment he entered the race for the presidency. It is simply an unfounded fear. Additionally, what I find amazing about this criticism is that it is predominantly coming from conservative Christians. Of all people they should know their Scripture, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Luke 6:31.

Second, Obama has been criticized for telling a Muslim country that the United States is not a Christian nation. This is an extrapolation from one of Obama’s statements. It is not at all what he said. This exaggeration is based on what Obama said while in Turkey, which is as follows: "one of the great strengths of the United States is -- although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." has confirmed that Obama never said that America is a non-Christian nation or a Muslim nation. as some are claiming. Furthermore, the truth is, we are not a Christian nation, if you define "Christian" as Biblical Christian. And, it is Bible believing Christians that amazingly are the people making the claim that our Nation is a Christian Nation. The founding Fathers of the country were highly influenced by the predominatly Deistic Enlightment of the 16th Century. Jefferson, Washington, Paine, Franklin were not even Christians. They were Deists. The documents of this country are not Christian documents at all. They are a product of the Philosophy of Rationalism and Deism. We need a big time history lesson in this country, because people just aren’t getting it. Rather, they are getting some very idealistic information about the origins of our country. The original Pilgrims and Puritans were decidedly Biblical Christians, but they were a hundred plus years before this country became the United States and by that time the colonies, while predominantly Christian, were very pluralistically Christian. Including a lot of Deistic thinkers who rejected large portions of the Bible. And these were the guys who led the way! Look at our country today? We are and always have been a nation of immigrants with differing views and philosophies of life, just like the 13 colonies were at the time of the inception of our Constitution. Furthermore, our constitution is set up to favor the rule of law and a democratic populace, not “Christians” per se. And I say that as one who is a Christian.

Third, Obama is being accused of going around the world apologizing for America and trying to appease the nations, as though he is purposefully lowering our position among the world’s nations. Well, what I see him doing is going around the world extending the right hand of fellowship with an olive branch of proverbial peace. And why not, after 8 years of divisive rhetoric that has made us the big bully of the world. Obama is simply trying to follow in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “speak softly, but carry a big stick?” Oops, this is also an ancient African proverb! Maybe Obama’s trying to make us Africans! Silly conclusion, right? But these are the kind of conclusions I see people drawing from Obama’s speeches and actions. Wild Extrapolations. I have never heard or read anything from him that would indicate an apology for the United States. Maybe for some of our hurtful and disturbing actions, but not for the Nation. It seems to me that there is a Christian principle behind this. It's called, reconciliation!? The fact is, a lot of bad things have been done by people and leaders in this Nation which were sanctioned by our federal government. We ought to be ashamed of them and confess them! Isn't that that the "Christian" thing to do? He is trying to establish good will, period. To me it is a breath of fresh air after 8 years of inflammatory rhetoric coming from our administration. Furthermore, gone are the days that a nation can see itself as the center of the universe. Historically nationalism has led to a lot of arrogance and a lot of conflict. I am not suggesting in the slightest that we sacrifice the greatness of our nation. But why can’t we hold it up before others as a humble example of what works. We are a great nation. Not because of Obama, Bush, the Pilgrims, and Christians, but because of our governing system, based on the enlightened principles of freedom and democracy. Let it speak for itself. And it does. And that is all I see Obama doing.

Now, having said all this, I do not find myself in agreement with all that Obama believes or wants to do with our country. And, in that regard, we can thank the founders of our country who set in place a constitution that limits the powers of the executive office, by establishing a system of checks and balances through the Judiciary and the Congress.



Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong"

On my way home from work every day I pass a road sign that says, “Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong”. It catches my attention every time and it makes me think deeply about its meaning. At first I thought that this was someone’s attempt to justify an “anything goes” philosophy of life. But, now I think the person who posted the sign is on to something. In my life the dominant thinking regarding “feelings” can be summed up in an opposite kind of slogan, “Don’t trust your feelings”. The idea being that we must follow a set of principles or code of ethics and then live by them whether it feels good, bad, or indifferent. It sounds good, sensible, and right. And, it usually is! If we just go by your feelings it is likely that we will become an ambivalent mess, right? But, the slogan, “Never Rationalize Anything That Feels Wrong” calls upon us to be in touch with our feelings as a barometer of what is right and wrong for us. And that’s good! If we “don’t” use our feelings to help guide us then we can succumb to personal misery and even open ourselves to becoming badly harmed physically and emotionally.

Science of the brain has shown us that emotions and deep seated feelings operate just like the physical sensation of touch. When you touch a hot iron you are going to get burned and it is going to hurt you. We teach our children to trust the sensation of touch because it exists to keep us from harm. The sensation of touch can also make us feel very good, as when we touch the soft and fluffy fur of our pet animal. The fact is, when we feel hurt emotionally it comes from the same place in the brain as the pain we feel from touching a hot iron. This is also true of our good feelings. Therefore, feelings “can” tell us whether something is good or bad for us.

I am sure that many a Catholic boy, had he trusted his feelings, might have been kept from succumbing to the seduction of a priest bent on sexual exploitation. As a Catholic child I was taught that the priest is the chief authority figure in our lives and that the priest is Christ’s representative to us on earth. So, naturally an obedient Catholic boy might not be inclined to follow his feelings of reticence and discomfort at the sexual advance of his priest. He thinks he is doing the right thing by putting his trust in the priest instead of following his feelings. This is precisely how so many children have been sexually abused in the Church, bringing upon them tremendous guilt, crippling them later in life. If it feels wrong it might really be wrong! God gave us feelings for a good reason and science has shown us a thing or two to confirm that feelings can be trusted.

I think about this slogan also with respect to everyday decision making and life choices. There are plenty of people around us who would be happy to tell us what we “ought” to do and how we “should” do things. In fact, what these well meaning people might be doing is simply imposing upon us what makes them feel good and right. We are all alike as humans, but we are all a bit different, too. What makes me feel good may not make you feel good. Don’t forget the well phrased maxim, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” So I say, Don’t dismiss your feelings when making decisions.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hiking With Angels

Click on the Title of this post to see the video I made of the Angel's Rest Trail hike I did this past Saturday, June 6th (stand away from your computer screen when you view it or you’ll get a head ache from the bouncing camcorder!).

This is a loop trail in the Columbia Gorge that takes in the scenic Angels Rest, The eerie Devil's Rest and the beautifully forested Wakeena Trail. It’s an 11 mile hike with an overall elevation gain of 3400’. This kind of elevation gain makes it’s a good training hike for the brutal ascents on the John Muir Trail that I am going to do with Tom Willard at the end of Summer. I didn’t film any of the grinding ascents during this hike. I was in too much pain to think about filming.

As you can see, the weather was typical of the Pacific Northwest; damp and cool. It was just a light mist today, but enough of a mist to wet my clothing and gear. I had to fight to keep my camera lens from fogging.

There are a number of Columbia Gorge trails that make great training hikes in preparation for the John Muir Trail. The ascents and elevation gains are similar. All these Gorge trails rise precipitously from the Columbia River, climbing the steep basalt walls of the gorge. I wasn’t able to film any of the ascents on this hike. I was in too much pain to think about recording the grind, although I now regret it. The only disadvantage I’ll have using these trails in the Gorge is that the altitude is much lower than the John Muir Trail, which is high up on the crest of the Sierra.

These Gorge trails have always held a sacred attraction for me. The glorious water falls, the old growth Douglas Fir and Red Cedar, the grand views of the gorge itself, and perhaps most impressive of all, the atmosphere of peace and serenity. I remember coming up here to a trail much like this one on a day off from work 5 or 6 years ago. I was feeling particularly stressed out from my job and I needed a respite. As I drove out to the trail I recall telling myself how foolish I was to move here from the Midwest. We were right in the middle of the rainy season at that time and I suppose a lot of people say that during a 30 day stretch of wet dreary weather in the Pacific Northwest. But as I walked the path in the cool mist of the Gorge, all the anxiety of life melted away as I listening to the water falls hiss and the birds call out to me under the canopy of the giant Douglas Firs. I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s presence up here. I wasn’t long on the trail before I was telling myself that I must never leave the Pacific Northwest, for God was meeting me here in this forest.

It was John Muir who said, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Each section of the trail had its own character, which made the entire hike enjoyable. The Wakeena Trail portion of the loop hike entertained me with its array of wildflowers gracing the trail. There are over 800 varieties of wild flowers in the Gorge. On this trail I had a never ending show of Blue Lupine, White Cucumber and Red Columbine.

On the Wakeena Trail, from time to time, I was able to see and hear the highway far below me. It was a lesson to me that as humans we really do live in two worlds. I suppose we need both, but on this day I was glad to be in this one.

With only two miles to go I took my own rest at the rock outcropping appropriately known as Angels Rest. As I sat on the edge I thought that perhaps angels were at my side, taking their rest with me and enjoying this serene view of the Gorge.

If I were an angel, I know where I would take my rest.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Wilderness Connection

I read an article in The Oregonian this past week entitled, “Nature in Our Nature.” (The Oregonian, 5/27/09, pg. B1) Researchers have discovered that we humans have a connection to nature that is vital to our existence. Evidently, people heal faster from surgery when exposed to the natural world than if not. Also, heart rate, mental well being, and anxiety all are affected by our exposure to nature. And, it’s not just the visual that is important, it is the experience of nature that makes all the difference. When patients were put in a room with a video presentation of a wilderness scence they did not respond as well as when they opened a window where they could see, hear and smell the outdoor environment.

What does this mean? We are interconnected with the natural world. Many tribal and indigenous cultures live very close to nature. They take names for themselves from the geography and animal world around them. Their religion celebrates and includes the natural world. They wear ceremonial dress that mimics the animals of the wilderness. In short, they see themselves as “part” of nature, not distinct from it. Genesis 1:28 tells us, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’...” People have often misused this mandate from God to abusively “lord over” creation. This passage does teach us that we are supreme in creation. We are the capstone of creation, but we are still part of it. We are told that God created us from the “ground” (Gen. 2:7), which is a fact in and of itself declaring our interconnection to nature. God put Adam and Eve in to the world to “tend” the garden, not rape it (Gensis 2:15). I applaud those who have sought to protect and preserve the garden from exploitation. Men like John Muir, David Brower, Edward Abbey and David Suzuki. These are the people that have understood the need for blank spots on the map and that, even if no man goes there, we need undeveloped wilderness. Why? God made us interconnected with the natural world. We are part of the ecosystem. It is not optional, but essential for us to experience wilderness and live as part of it. This is not my idea. I am not making it up because it sounds cool, or it’s politically correct, or it fits in to my personal desires. I am just a messenger reporting on what God has already said and what my fellow humans have found to be essential for healthy and wholesome living.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Noah Put Camelids on the Ark

When Noah gathered up the animals to put on the ark he evidently included camelids. There are Camelids all over the world today, from North Africa to South America. We all have seen the Middle Eastern Camel, but Mongolians have their own funky looking version of camel. Then there are the South American Llamas and Alpacas that originated from the Vicuna, which is in the Camelid family. It is likely that Noah put a Camelid on the ark, from which all these various Camelids find their origin. I wonder what that original pair of Camelids looked like?

I have included photos of the two new Cria (baby llamas) born to Kissy and Fancy Pants. Fancy Pants, in the first photo at the top, gave birth to Aspen. Kissy, the next photo below, is the mother of Glacier. Right now the only way I can tell the difference between the Cria is by their noses. Glacier has a slightly longer and ridged nose, whereas Aspen's nose is shorter and straight.

I intend to use them as breeders, so they will spend a lot of their years breeding, carrying, and giving birth to their own Cria. Their Sire is Quartz, who is a fine pack stud owned by Joyce O'Halloran. My own stud, Apollo, is still learning how to be a stud, but I am hoping that this year he will be able to breed with the females. Last year I had Fancy Pants and Kissy analyzed by breeding experts who graded them as Cara Llamas. Cara Llamas are bred to be workers/packers, which is the kind of llama I want to use for my own purposes. These llamas look athletic, have longer legs, and possess a "double coat" of hair. The double coat is a layer of fine insulating wool close to the skin with a layer of long guard hair on top. This characteristic double coat keeps them warm at night in the cold mountain air, but cool during the day when they are working.

Be sure to check out the video by clicking on the title of this post. They are delightful creatures.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jesse Won The 2009 NAIA National Javelin Championship Today!

I want to congratulate my son Jesse on his fine performance today at the NAIA National Track and Field Championships. Jesse rose from a 5th place season ranking to win the competition with a throw of 223'3" as a Freshman. He is now the National Champion with a 15' improvement over his personal best! A week ago Jesse got off a season best of 205'7" for a third place finish behind his team mates, Paul Roshau and Eric Whalen, at the Cascade Conference Championships. Paul was 3rd today with a throw of 220' and Eric was 5th at 210'6". Paul is a Junior and Eric is Jesse's roomate and fellow Freshman thrower. The fact is, any one of these three were capable of winning today, it was just Jesse's time. I think this means that the Javelin is alive and well at Concordia for next year! Up until today the season has been a little lack luster for Jesse, given that he threw 208' last year as a senior in high school. Many of us knew it would probably be a tough year for Jesse, since he was revamping and recrafting his technique. It's been a lot of hard training and a good bit of patience for Jesse to get to this point today. We all kept wondering when he would finally "get it". Well, today he "got it". Throughout most of the season he has had to sacrifice distance to keep working the proper technique, trusting that it would eventually get him that long throw. During several conversations with Mac Wilkins this year he would say to me, "Joe, Jesse is a 220' javelin thrower. It's just a matter of time before it all clicks." I have to hand it to his coaches, Scott Halley and Mac Wilkins, for their faith in Jesse and their willingness to do the hard work of shaping him, instead of trying to pressure him to force out a long throw before he was technically ready. Last, and most importantly, I have to hand it to Jesse for the "never give up" attitude he displayed all year. I remember many an evening where he vented his frustration to me about his training. But, he just kept pounding away at the drills day after day. He is now an example to me of the power of perseverance and belief in what is possible. Cheers to Mac, Scott and Jesse! Now it's off to Norway for more training.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jesse Is Going To Norway!

As Jesse completes his first year throwing for Concordia University he will be transitioning to train and compete in Norway for the summer. Jesse's final competition for Concordia will be at the National Championships in St. Louis, May 20-23. On June 1 he will be off to Osolo Norway until he returns the first week of August. Jesse will be staying with his new friend and throwing companion, Magnus Berntsen, who lives in a small town outside of Osolo. Magnus is so tall he had to squat to get down to Jesse's 6'1" level for the picture! They drink a lot of milk over in Norge. He was one of the top junior discus throwers last year in Europe. Magnus stayed with us for a week and went to school at a JC near Concordia so that he could be coached by Mac Wilkins at Concordia. The picture in this post shows Jesse with Magnus at a recent throwers dinner in our barn. This is an opportunity for Jesse to train with some of the best javelin throwers and coaches in the country of Norway, which is a paradise for javelin throwers. Javelin throwing is as popular in Norway as basketball is to Americans! This is a trip of a life time, so we are hoping that Jesse will get all that he can from this experience and at the same time be a blessing to our Norge brothers and sisters.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Transcendence: A New Way to Think of Selflessness

Yesterday I was at a memorial service for a young man named Bo Jacobson who went to school with my oldest son, Joseph. He died a couple of weeks ago in a tragic accident while snorkeling in Fiji. I remember Bo as a very lively and extroverted fellow, who genuinely loved people. During the memorial service a number of individuals went up to the podium to eulogize Bo, but one person in particular described Bo in a way that I have never heard anyone described before. It was his former college football coach at Puget Sound University and he described Bo as a “transcendent” person. He defined this term as, someone who selflessly rises above himself and does what is best for others in the community. Bo looked out for the best interest of the football team and not just himself. The testimonies about Bo went on for almost three hours, but that uniquely worded description of Bo as “transcendent” stood out to me among all the complimentary eulogies given about him. I so much like the term that I plan on using it in the future as a new way to think about selflessness. It is the perfect word.

In my Christian tradition “Transcendence” is a word reserved for God. God's Transcendence refers to his “otherness”, his "holiness", his standing “above” and “outside” all that he has created. No mortal being can even approximate this kind of transcendence. However, I think it is the perfect word when referring to a person who rises above himself to become conscious of a greater purpose than himself. Jesus was certainly the epitome of this kind of transcendence. The Apostle Paul said that Jesus stepped outside of his divine privileges and status in order to identify with us and sacrifice himself for us. He considered the accomplishment of our redemption a goal more important than exulting in his own divine position.

One of the ways we playfully poke fun at babies is to say that the “world revolves around them.” We expect babies to behave as though everyone around them exists to serve their interests. It’s part of their survival mechanism to be needy. But, when adults act like this we react with either disgust or pity for them. We expect adults to grow out of that immaturity and become aware of the needs of others around them. “Transcendence” is a word referring to the epitome of maturity. The mature person sees that there is interconnectedness between them and those around them. They understand that they cannot be truly happy, or fulfilled, or do their best to accomplish their life calling unless they transcend themselves and work for the interests of others, a purpose greater than themselves, and the common good. Abraham Maslow observed that it is innately human to crave fulfillment. However, isn't it ironic that to be fulfilled we cannot focus on our desire to satisfy it, but instead we come by fulfillment as a byproduct of our transcendence. This is one of those spiritual laws that can be tried and proven through experience. Don't ask, but observe anyone who is truly happy and fulfilled in life. You will see that for them fulfillment does not come from their money, power, influence, health, or satisfaction of sensual pleasures, but through their devotion to the well being of others and ideals greater than their own private desires. For me, Bo Jacobson's legacy will live on in one word, "transcendence".

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is God Thinning the Herd?

A couple of days ago I was listening to the Glen Beck show on the way home from work and he was talking about the coming Swine Flu pandemic. He was trying to make sense of why such diseases occur in our modern scientific world. At one point he sarcastically surmised that there is nothing we can do about these pandemics because they are, “God’s way of thinning the herd.” And, by “herd” he wasn’t referring to pigs! What he was trying to say was that pandemics are normal cycles of disease that sweep through mankind, wiping out large portions of the population. And there is nothing we can do to stop them. The Black Plague of the Middle Ages and the Small Pox epidemic that nearly exterminated the American Indian, were of such a nature. Is God going to thin the human herd with the Swine Flu? And then, after you ask that question you have to ask, why does a good and all powerful God allow such suffering? At one point during the 15th century in American history many of the Puritan colonies experienced a wave of suffering. Storms were sinking ships going back and forth from England . Indians were attacking the settlements. Disease and dissension were also taking a toll on the communities. It was appearing to the colonial ministers that the “Kingdom of God on Earth” was coming apart at the seams. It was so serious that the ministers held a meeting amongst themselves to draft up “Ministerial Jeremiads”. Like the Prophet Jeremiah, who cried out to God on behalf of the sinful people of Israel, the ministers of the Puritan colonies cried out for God’s mercy and drafted up a list of sins that the colonists were committing. They believed that the pattern of Sabbath breaking and a whole host of growing “sinful” practices among the Christians were causing God to bring his disciplining wrath upon them. A call for repentance went out to the communities. Can we know if God is thinning the herd? If he is, can we know the reason he is thinning the herd? There is an entire book in the Bible devoted to the subject of why we suffer. Not only is this the only book in the Bible entirely devoted to the subject, but it is the only place in the Bible that provides the only “sure” response to suffering. It is the book of Job. The book describes Job experiencing some of the most horrific suffering known to mankind. Any normal person would be broken under the circumstances that he endured. Loss of children, loss of all his wealth, and loss of physical health. In our current economic downturn we have seen that loss of wealth alone has brought many a CEO to the point of suicide. In his suffering Job’s wife, friends, and even a theologian, all assure him that they know the reason he is suffering; it is his fault. Job, wisely did not agree with any of them, but sought out an interview with God himself for an answer. Finally, toward the end of the book, God gives Job a hearing. If you, as the reader, didn’t already know how the story was going to end, you would be on the edge of your seat awaiting God’s answer to Job. Indeed, God’s answer is the answer we all want and we are just as eager as Job to know why we suffer! During Job’s hearing with God in the final five chapters of the book, God does one thing. He tells Job the story of creation. These chapters read as a meditation on the greatness of God’s creative work in light of the relative insignificance of mankind. In effect, God says to Job, “I am the Creator and you are the Creature. That is all you need to know, Job. So, trust me.” Job submits to this answer and through his obedience he finds restoration. So, the answer to the question of suffering is that we don’t know why. And, no one knows! One likely response to God’s answer in the book of Job is "anticlimax". The reader built up for this great answer to why we suffer and then he is left at the end in the same place he began. However, another response, which is what the writer wants, is for the reader to be OK with not knowing why. Sweet resignation! We don’t need to know after all, because God is in control and that is enough. Sure, suffering could be the result of personal sin, or a period of God’s just judgment of sinners, or God’s discipline of His children, or God’s desire to teach some lesson. There are lots of possible reasons, but no one really knows. And, if anyone says they do, they probably are trying to scam you.

I am currently working on a construction project at a Hospice. It is occupied with a number of dying people and the turn over rate is constant. One weekend seven people died all at once. When I came in on Monday the hospice staff euphemistically said to me, “The bus came over the weekend.” Glen Beck might have said, “The herd was thinned over the weekend.” I am living among the dying and will be for months while the project is in process. Death is in my face, but because of it, so is God. Because, you see, suffering brings me to the book of Job and the book of Job brings me to who God is, the Creator. "I am the Creator and you are the Creature, Joe." So my response is, my mouth is shut and my heart is at peace.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day: An Occasion to Worship the Creator

My pastor and good friend, Kenneth Garrett, has written a fine piece on his blog today regarding Earth Day. I appreciate Ken's timely response to many of the Earth Day advocates who would have us worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. I encourage you to read Ken's post, which you can access from my blog list. I was planning on writing a post some time in the future on my perspective of nature, but I am going to do it now, since I feel inspired by Ken's post.

Unless you are an Atheist I think everyone agrees that when we engage our 5 senses with the natural world around us we are experiencing God. However, a Christian would say that experiencing God through nature is like that of experiencing a painter through his painting. The painting tells us something about the character, philosophy, intelligence, creativity, and aptitude of the painter. So it is with nature. God is "not" nature anymore than a painting "is" the painter. Therefore, we can know God through what he has made, as Psalm 19:1-6 says,

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

And as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20,

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made...

The Bible teaches us that we can know God through nature, but it also teaches us that God stands apart from nature as its Creator. During the 18th century Enlightenment Deism became the popular definition of God. The scientific God. The God who started it all, but then removed himself from his creation and let nature take it's own course guided by "laws of nature". Deism is most well know by the famous analogy of a person winding up a clock and then letting it go. He is the "Clockwork God". The Bible teaches us that God is both transcendent (apart from his creation) and immanent (involved in his creation). God both creates and sustains nature and so every moment of every day God is at work moving the atoms and shaping the natural world in a fashion that suits his plan, as Colossians 1:15-17 says,

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.

Deism is not the prevailing idea of God today, as it was in the 18th century. Today, we are getting a very different picture of God than what the Deists taught and what the Bible teaches. Today's popular view of God is that He is Pantheistic. Pantheism teaches that "all is one". God, nature and mankind are all essentially the same and simply different manifestations of the same being. Eastern religions like Hinduism and tribal religions like the American Indian are Pantheistic, which is why they identify with animals and can worship nature as, "Mother Earth". The "New Age" movement today is really in to this. The Bible warns us not to worship the creation, but to worship the Creator. This is not just a divine threat, or just about giving credit where it is due, but it is also about the "proper" way to view the world. And, the proper way is the best way. And, the best way is the most beneficial way. When we view nature as a "creation", then we will stand in awe of a "Creator" who is greater than the creation. Certainly we can and should acknowledge that the creation is majestic. However, the majesty ascribed to the creation is taken to another level when we see that a majestic creation is the product of a Creator who must then be even more majestic. Remember the painting/painter analogy? What impresses you more, the painting, or the painter? Furthermore, the greater the painting, the greater the majesty ascribed to the painter. So I say, "glory to God!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pitching A Tarp Tent in the Wilderness

These are some examples of how I have pitched my nylon tarp tent on backpacking trips. Nylon tarps are light weight and versatile. This particular tarp will sleep two people. With a little creativity and practice you can pitch them just about anywhere using rocks, dead branches, trees, etc. All you need to carry is the 1lbs. nylon tarp and string - total weight! Although, you might want to bring light weight stakes if you don't want to be too radical. Be sure to practice pitching the tarp in bad weather conditions, especially wind. It will work well in such conditions, but you should practice "before" you take your friends and family on an outing!

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