Archive for the hiking Category

Orienteering Advent

Posted in hiking, Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2018 by timtrue

John Muir Wilderness

Luke 3:1-6


Dad volunteered to lead a 50-miler.

The “50-miler” was a special accomplishment in Boy Scouts: a multi-day backpacking trip of at least fifty miles.

My older brother, Andy, was a Boy Scout; I was still in Cub Scouts, Webelos to be precise, still a year too young, technically, to be a Boy Scout.

No matter: I would go on the backpacking trip too—and so would my mom.

It turned out to be six of us total: the four members of my family, another adult leader, and a fourteen year-old scout named Chris.

Andy and Chris earned their 50-miler patch when it was all said and done. For the rest of us, it was merely an adventurous vacation.

Anyway, my dad had never led a backpacking trip this long before. So, ahead of time, he did what any good doctor of civil engineering would do: he overplanned.

From the menu to the location to equipment and supplies to first aid and rescue, everything had a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan C. So extensive was his planning, in fact, that by the time we set out on our actual 50-miler, he had several alternative 50-milers lined up—that he may or may not ever get to in future years.

Now, as the eager little brother, excited as I was to be included, I got in my dad’s way a lot as he spent those evening hours in his overly abundant preparations. So, smart man that he is, he gave me something to do.

“Tim,” he said, “you see this map?”

Spread across the dining room table was the strangest piece of paper I’d ever seen—a map, apparently. There were no place names on it—unless terms like “Road’s End” and “Pinchot Pass” count; and there were no highways or state lines or color-coded regions. Rather, the whole thing consisted of dizzying lines seeming to run this way and that in random directions, but always one next to another, never crossing one another. If I looked at them long enough, they played tricks on my eyes.

“It’s topographic,” my dad explained, “elevation lines. And, look, here I’ve penciled in the trail we’re going to follow.”

And now I could see it: a faint dashed line—a trail—that had been traced over with a pencil.

Dad went on: “Every so often, you’ll see a number next to the trail, like this one—10.8. These numbers are mile indicators. Your job is to add up all the mile indicators on the trail.”

So I set to work, helping my dad plan our epic adventure. Awesome!

Maybe half an hour later I said, “Um, Dad, aren’t we planning a ‘50-miler’? Yeah, so, those numbers you asked me to add up come out to about 121.”

“No kidding!” Dad said.

He then double-checked my work and confirmed: yes, this plan was well over the distance needed, not to mention the week allotted. It wasn’t going to work, Dad concluded dejectedly. We’d have to figure out something else.

“But I really had my heart set on that part of the Sierras,” he muttered.

The next night, after dinner, Dad announced to me, “Tim, I’ve figured something out. Let me show you.”

He led me to the same map, still spread out on the dining room table, and pointed to a body of water called Marion Lake.

“Look at what I’ve done.” he said.

And now I saw a fresh pencil line running perpendicular, at first, to the designated trail; then around the shore of Marion Lake and twisting up and over and through the John Muir Wilderness and finally to a body of water labeled Horseshoe Lake.

“We’ll improvise,” he announced; “we’ll hike overland for a day, making up our own trail as we go! I think it’s only about 7 miles over Red Pass and White Pass to Horseshoe Lake. Once there, we can follow the Upper Meadow Trail back to Road’s End. Should cut off about fifty miles.”

I don’t know, I wanted to say, sounds risky. Who knows what we might run into by not following the designated trail? Lions? Tigers? Bears? Minion monkeys? Worse still, what if we get lost?

My gut told me I didn’t want to trust my dad’s leadership here. But, on the other hand, he was a doctor of civil engineering. He’d gone to school for this kind of stuff! Lots of school! Not to mention, he was my father!

I decided to hold my tongue. For the time being anyway!

Now fast forward a couple of months. The day finally arrived. We’d driven the family van to Road’s End—the end of California State Highway 180—parked, secured our wilderness permits, and were on our way, our 50-miler; or, rather, our 70-miler.

The first few days were relatively routine. We followed the Woods Creek Trail until we joined the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest, then up and over Pinchot Pass, breathtaking and still snowy at nearly 13,000’.

On Day 4 we left the John Muir Trail and headed up and over Cartridge Pass to Marion Lake.

So far so good!

But I was worried about tomorrow.

Back in the spring, when we were planning this adventure, I’d decided to hold my tongue. But there, on that fifth morning, as my dad shuffled his topographic map and a compass, I couldn’t hold back anymore. The risk just felt too great to me.

“Are you sure we’ll make it?” I asked. “I mean, we could always turn around, go back the way we came.”

“Tim,” he reassured, “trust me. We’ll be fine.”

“But, Dad, what if we get lost?”

And I continued with my anxious protests throughout the day:

  • “This looks precarious, Dad. Are you sure it’s the right way?”
  • “Dad, what if we’re misreading the map?”
  • “This looks like Granite Pass to me, Dad, not Red Pass.”
  • “Dad, is that a flying monkey?”

But my dad is a patient man—thank goodness!

And—just like he’d said—we found Horseshoe Lake, cut off fifty miles, and made it home in one piece, safe and sound, with many an adventurous story to tell.


Advent is a time of preparation.

We look in hope at what we know, our topographic map: Jesus came to be with us, the Incarnation, God as a baby; and he dwelled among us, teaching, healing, and loving.

That’s part of Advent: what we know already (our topographic map).

But we also look in hope at what is to come, our epic adventure together in the great Sierras in the Sky, with Jesus as our guide.

Except here’s the thing: that epic adventure is not somewhere far off, in another time and place. That epic adventure is now! This life! The kingdom of God breaking in upon us, wave after wave, day after day!

And this part of our epic adventure is largely unknown. We don’t know how, exactly, wave after wave, day after day, life will play out. There is no designated trail.

So we look to our church leaders, our guides to help us along the way. These are people who know what they’re doing; or at least they know what they’re doing more than the rest of us do. They’ve been to school for this, after all. Lots of school!

But—oh!—it’s so hard to trust them! What if we encounter lions, tigers, bears, or mutant minion monkeys along the way? Worse still, what if we end up altogether lost?

And so we try to hold our tongues. But sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.

The good news today is that we have something else: we have our topographic map, and we have our spiritual guides; but also, as today’s Gospel reminds us, we have a compass, John the Baptist.

And the direction to which this compass needle continually points is repentance.


So then, Advent is about preparation; and John the Baptist points us to repentance. What, then, does repentance have to do with preparation?

A popular teaching likens repentance to a U-turn. Have you heard this? A person who has repented from sin is said to have turned away from sin completely: she was headed in one direction but then made a complete U-turn and now is heading in an entirely different direction.

But don’t you think this picture of a U-turn is a bit simplistic? I mean, what if we’re already headed in the mostly right direction? A complete U-turn would then send us in a mostly wrong direction.

So, I’m thinking repentance is less like a U-turn than it is like that overland day between Marion and Horseshoe Lakes.

We have our topographic map: the Bible; the Incarnation; the first advent of Christ.

And we have our guides to help us along our way, orienteering our way through life, trying to follow the map but confronted moment by moment by a reality that only vaguely resembles the map.

These things send us in the mostly right direction.

But even the mostly right direction can still get us lost; something more is needed.

So here’s what my dad did on that day—despite all my mumbling, complaining, and criticizing, here’s what he did: he aligned everything up with the compass.

At the start of the day, at the shore of Marion Lake, he got out the compass; and, in conjunction with the topographic map, he gained his bearings: he found Marion Peak, Red Peak, and Red Pass in between; and picked out our path.

Half a mile or so later, he did it again—oriented himself and sighted out our path; and again at another half a mile; and so on, and so on, until, at last, we stood safe and sound on the shore of Horseshoe Lake, our planned and prepared for destination.

That’s repentance!

Using our spiritual topographic map and with the help of a spiritual guide, we see where Jesus wants us to go. But daily life disorients us. There are a lot of distractions along the way, after all! Even though we might be headed in a mostly right direction, we still can get lost; and so we complain and criticize and grumble.

But when we stop, look at the map, gain our bearings, and align it all again with our compass, we’re able to continue along our way; and, in the end, we find ourselves safe and sound to the shore of our planned and prepared for destination.

Our compass is repentance; rather than a U-turn, it aligns us again and again with the true path.

Repent, John tells us on this Second Sunday of Advent.

Today is a good day to stop, gain our bearings, and re-orient ourselves.

Meet Genevieve

Posted in hiking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2017 by timtrue

This is Genevieve.


She is a 24 year-old Geo Tracker, from coastal Oregon, with two doors, a hardtop (relatively rare, mind you–called “tin top” by those who care, to distinguish it from an aftermarket fiberglass hardtop), and air-conditioning–a must for Yuma.  She is mostly stock–no suspension or body lifts–but check out those sweet rims!  A bargain for $2500.

Our first adventure together was getting her home from Oregon.  Picked her up last Thursday in Eugene after finding a $39 one-way flight to Portland and shuttling to Eugene to meet her in person at last.  Once I determined she was the one, we raced a winter weather advisory into California.  Got a little hairy around Mount Shasta with strong wind gusts and driving rain threatening to freeze.  But we both lived to adventure on.

So, this post is about our second adventure together, which happened yesterday.  And it happened like this.

About a year ago I attempted to hike to a peak not far from Yuma called Stud Mountain. For a refresher, see

Well, since I didn’t summit it that time, and since the road there was a little too rough for that other, two-wheel drive car I own, our adventure was clear before us.

Taking you through it in pictures, then:


We find the real trailhead this time!  Also, this time I pack enough water.

But right here I realize I didn’t pack everything I should have.  For, just as I reach to shut off the ignition, Genevieve, my new SUV with miniature attitude, stalls.  Radio’s silent.  No buzzers.  No lights.  Dead.

I check my cell phone.  No reception.

And I think, “What kind of idiot takes a 24 year-old car he’s not too familiar with out into the middle of nowhere desert without at least a simple set of tools?”

And I begin to look for a low hill to climb to seek cell reception.  Even so, who would I call?  My wife?  To drive the aforementioned 2wd car out onto a 4wd road she wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to find in the first place?

And then a local search-and-rescue helicopter flies overhead, from the local Marine base, probably training.

And I think about waving it down.

But, instead–heaven stays my hands I suppose–I unlatch the hood and immediately see that the positive cable has slipped off the battery terminal.

Looking closer, the clamp’s broken, snapped at the bend.  But the nut and bolt are still on and maybe I can just twist it all just so and hand-tighten it this way and pound it onto the post with my fist like that and . . .

It’s back on now.

And Genevieve starts right up.

And I say a prayer that it stays on until I get home.


Anyway, it’s as good a place to park as any.


So I grab my water bottle (three of them, actually) and am on my way.


This is my trail ahead.  In other words, I’ll be trailblazing.  By the way, recent rains have left the desert quite green.  Do you see it?


Ascending now.


And a look back.  Genevieve is the dark dot in the middle of the photo.


As I turn back around, “Hey, is that a path on the next ridge over?”  Mental note to self: go down that way.  (Paths are almost always easier than trailblazing.  And at 48, easier factors in prominently.)

By the way, it’s even warmer today than it was a year ago.  Which reminds me: I forgot something else: Advil.  My head tends to produce debilitating migraines when heat and fatigue work in tandem.  But at least this year I’ve got enough water.



A vulture is watching me!  Really?

If I were into omens, I might find this disconcerting.  But, hey, this is the third millennium; augury is out.


Oh well, might as well take another photo of Genevieve.  She’s there in the background, just to the right of the rocky precipice in the foreground.

Speaking of rocky precipices, I have found that when trailblazing it is often easier to walk on the tops of ridges than to traverse slopes or ascend steep washes, at least in this region.  Slopes are much more shaley and slippery, even though more attractive; ridges much more stable, though scarier.  And there’s this: debris falls onto slopes and into washes; yet away from ridges.  Still, if you’re afraid of heights or suffer from vertigo or have had one too many, well, you’re probably wise to stay away from ridges.  But if you can stomach harrowing appearances, trust your footing, and have decent balance, they often make your life easier.

Like some people I know.

Just then, wouldn’t you know it?


Litter!  Right here in the middle of nowhere, Desert, California!  So,


always the good hippie, or, eh hem, the faithful steward, I pack out what litter the wind blew in.  But,


“What,” I call out, “now there are two of you?  Don’t you know I’m trying to clean things up for you?  Quit following me, would you?  Besides, augury is dead!”


Probably also a result of the recent rains, and maybe suddenly a little more wary of my surroundings, I suddenly spy more fauna.  There are at least three bighorn sheep in this photo.  One can be seen in the middle, a little more than a third of the way up.  Zoom in and see if you can spot the other two.


And for something really spectacular, nearing the summit, traversing the top of a knife-blade ridge, I come across these white rocks.  And I realize here are eagle eyries.  So I look around and see several large birds of prey circling in the air currents below–not just eagles but red-tail hawks and peregrine falcons, soaring, swooping, even fighting in mid-air.  Sadly, my camera isn’t fast enough to capture any of it.

At last, I reach the summit.


And I gain my bearings:


To the north and a little east, Picacho (in CA).


To the east and a little north, Castle Dome (in AZ).


To the east and a little south, Telegraph, Planewreck, Flag, and the Goldwaters (in AZ).


To the south, Pilot Knob (in CA); and, on the horizon, the Sea of Cortez (in MEX).


And to the west (all CA).  On the horizon lie the mountains between me and San Diego.  Glamis (Google it) is in the sandy looking swath in the middle, sandy because, well, they’re sand dunes.

And now, to descend.


It’s a little blurry, I know.  But Genevieve is there, down in the bottom of that valley, just in front of a little hill jutting up in the middle of the photo.  Do you see her?

Onto my third water bottle by now, head throbbing, and coming to grips with how far I’ve got to descend, I wish I’d brought my base jumping suit with me.  But, alas, that’s something I gave to my wife on our wedding day, a sort of pre-nup, and haven’t seen since.  I bet she doesn’t even know where it is.

A couple good tips, though, for any base jumpers out there: eagle eyries generally make good bases from which to jump; and you Yosemitites won’t find any antagonistic National Park Rangers in these parts, not even in the middle of the winter when it’s 75 degrees here and the Valley is socked in.  Just saying.

So, next best thing, I turn my attention from fauna to flora.




Cool flora, eh?

And I’m back with Genevieve.

She starts right up, no hint of broken circuitry.  The windows are rolled down and, hey, well, I really haven’t tested out the 4wd in earnest yet.  So instead of making a right towards home on the BLM road home we turn left.  “I looked at a map last night,” I assure Genevieve.  “This road will curve around and put us out on Picacho Road.”


But it never curves right–north then east.  Instead, it goes to the left, north then west.  Which leads to some excellent vantages of Stud Mountain:

And to this road:


But truth is truth.  Genevieve and I are lost in the middle of the nowhere, Desert, California.


We have no tools, no Advil, and the water is gone.

No matter.  Genevieve is a 24 year-old Geo Tracker.  And I have enough boy-scout sense to know west from east.

And, if I remember correctly, there’s a road not too far to the west, Ogilby Road I think, so let’s just keep going that way.

Which we do.

And it pans out.

And soon we are on I8 heading east into Yuma.

And our second adventure is over.

Genevieve, you proved yourself mightily, hardly flinching in 4wd low, navigating one of the toughest local Jeep roads (I discovered later) with dignity and aplomb.

So, anyway, there’s got to be some great take-home lesson in here about risk-taking and how it’s worth it even if you have to navigate eagle eyries and fend off territorial bighorn sheep and defy vultures and suffer bad migraines and fix broken cars in the middle of the desert with no tools or means of communication and who needs a $30K Jeep anyway?  But I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

Genevieve, here’s to many more adventures to come!

(But first I’m gonna fix the broken battery cable clamp.)

(And don’t be offended if I pack some tools next time.)

Picnic at Plateau Point

Posted in Family, hiking with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2016 by timtrue

It began with a question.  “Hey, Tori,” I asked my daughter on the phone, “how’d you like to hike the Grand Canyon while on spring break?”

That was about a month ago.

Now here we stood, at the South Rim.


That’s not just Tori in the picture, by the way.  Emily came along too.

She’d caught wind of my plan and said, “Um, Dad, you know, I’m doing well in school, and, uh, well, I could plan ahead and get my assignments for any days I’d miss.”

And so the plan became more complex.

And my wife posted on Facebook something like this: “A good dad gets his kids to school on time; a great dad pulls his daughter out of school to hike the Grand Canyon.”

And so Emily came to the Grand Canyon too.


What became more complicated still is that I have more than two kids; and at least one other would have liked to go.  But, you see, only Tori had no spring break plans.  And the others had school obligations.

So, anyway, here the three of us stood (two in the photo and one taking it), at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about to descend the Bright Angel Trail.


Our plan: to reach the overlook at Plateau Point and make it back to the car before 5pm, 12 miles round trip; and onto home by midnight so that Emily would miss only one day of school.

This was Monday morning, by the way.  We’d driven to Mather Campground on Sunday after church, arriving at our reserved campsite at 8pm.  Having to set up a tent, etc., meant that we were climbing in our sleeping bags by 9pm.

I would have taken a shot or two of the campsite, but the camera lens was frozen.  Yeah, it was that cold!  And, so you know, our sleeping bags weren’t really cold-weather bags, not to mention mine was too short.

We were smiling nevertheless at the trailhead on Monday morning–despite our numb toes!


You can see our trail, by the way.  Plateau Point is in the middle of the canyon.  You can’t tell from here, but it’s 3000′ below us and still 1000′ above the Colorado River.

To hike to the river and back in one day is not recommended by the NPS.  In fact, anyone doing this is required to obtain a special permit.  That’s about 20 miles round trip.  I figured our planned 12 would be enough.

Here’s one more shot of our trail from the top, with Plateau Point almost exactly in the center:


I thought about photographing a sign at the top of the trail that said, “Trail is icy.  Crampons recommended.”  But I didn’t.  I don’t know: maybe I still struggle with feeling invincible.  But it struck me as humorous at the time.  I remember thinking, “Wow, these Park people are really going overboard.”

Then, not more than a few hundred yards into our day, we encountered ice.


Yeah!  That’s ice in the foreground.  And to the right is steepness, or plain old abyss, depending on whether you look a few inches or a few feet to the right.  So, okay, maybe the crampon recommendation wasn’t so overboard after all.

Well, we made it through the first ice patch without event.  And so Emily took a picture of me safe in a tunnel.


That sign behind me says, “Dangerous overlook. Do not climb.”  So, okay, after this first ice patch without crampons we’ll not laugh this one off.

And here’s their token tunnel shot:


Then–wouldn’t you know it?–a few hundred yards later we encounter another ice patch.  This one transgresses the entire width of the trail.  There’s no way around it.  We’ve got to go right over it.

So, feeling my twenty year-old invincibility boiling to the surface, “I’ll lead the way,” I volunteer.  So what does Emily do but take another picture.


But she takes it two seconds too early.  For, literally, within two seconds of this shot my feet slip completely out from under me and I go down hard on my left cheek.  And when I say hard I mean it.  Like landing on concrete!

How I wish I’d had crampons!

Now here’s the rub.  When I was 35 (12.5 years ago) I broke my back resulting in an emergency discectomy.  Yeah.  I have no L5 disc.  So a feet-out-from-under-me-left-cheek-concrete smack is disconcerting (disc-disconcerting!), to say the least.

So I’m lying on my back and running through a mental checklist.  Did anything slip?  No.  Did anything jolt?  No.  Do I have feeling from my waist down?  Yes.  Did I fall into the abyss?  No.  Etc.  Etc.

And, slowly, I rise to my feet, and–no twenty-something sense of invincibility now–I say, “Girls, I hate to say this, but I reserve the right to turn around.  We may have to try this hike another time–”

. . . looks of sadness and anger and betrayal and loss and grief and frustration and . . .

“–but, for now, let’s keep going.”

And so we press on, uncertain.



And somehow we make it to the 1.5-mile waystation:


And, “I’m good,” I say; “might as well continue.”

And we did.



And we came to the three-mile waystation . . .


. . . where a sign read, “Down is optional; up is mandatory.”


So, do you see all those switchbacks?

Anyway, by now my back felt surprisingly fine.  So, relatively drama free, we continued our descent.

The scenery was spectacular at every turn in the trail.


From icy pines at the rim to blooming trees and flowing creek below . . .




. . . to desert-like plateau (and 70 degrees).


And now we’d made it to Plateau Point and lunch, smack dab in the middle of the Grand Canyon.






And here’s one for perspective: three college students on spring break just enjoying a lunch–on a cliff edge a thousand feet above the Colorado River!


From our vantage we could see the trail that continues down to the River . . .



. . . as well as a reminder of our “mandatory” journey up.


So, after beef jerky and oranges and gouda and smokehouse almonds and cranberries and ample water, we were on our way again.



The trek up the canyon was quite difficult.  My back’s pain increased throughout the climb and, to aggravate matters, my head began throbbing and continued to do so throughout the duration and–doggone it!–I’d left the Advil in the car.  Ugh!

Turns out uncomplaining Tori was in a bit of pain too.  With numb toes in the morning she’d not tied her boots tight enough, not knowing for the first half or so of the descent that she was jamming her toes repeatedly against the fronts of her boots, resulting in several blisters each now screaming for her attention like so many needy orphaned ducklings.

But–we took the tortoise approach; who cares about the hares?–we plodded steadily and reached the rim by 4pm, an hour ahead of the plan.


Then, three Advils each for me and Tori, a change of clothes, and an hour’s drive to Flagstaff and a stop for coffee and a light dinner, and we felt energized enough to make the drive home to Yuma, bonding over Civil Wars and other soulful tunes.

And, yes, good dad that I am, I did get Emily to school on time on Tuesday.

Today, Wednesday, by the way, my left cheek, tailbone, and lower right back are sorer than my muscles and blisters.  I’m not nearly as invincible as I once was.

But it was so worth it.