The rugged Rocky Mountains fairly beckoned to us to come outside to celebrate each morning as we awakened and sipped coffee on our deck. We had recently moved into a home situated at 7500 feet in the hills of Monument, Colorado, and it also backed up to 25,000 acres of national forest. Pike's Peak was just down the ridge. We were only beginning to discover wonderful trails and vistas that were open to us literally out our back door.
One day, as we were out for a walk, a casual acquaintance, riding a mountain bike near our home, stopped to talk about his recent ride in the mountains.
"There is a spectacular vista in the mountain just above your house where you can see hundreds of miles in all directions. I think it's at 9000 feet—about a 1500-foot climb for you. It would probably only take you an hour or so to make the hike, and I think you and your kids would absolutely love the area."
He quickly told me how to get to the trailhead and wished me well before riding away.
I had been waiting for the right day, and today the calendar was free and the weather was inviting, with crisp, cool air and sunshine. I announced to my four children (Sarah, 15; Joel, 12; Nathan, 10; and Joy, 4) that we would be taking a hike and picnic up in the high mountain behind us. Packing a light lunch with egg salad finger sandwiches, bottles of water, grapes, and a couple of chocolate chip cookies for each of us finished my preparation. I didn't want our pack to be too heavy because I knew I would have to carry Joy on my back part of the way.
After smearing sunscreen on all of us and finding Nathan's tennis shoes and zipping up alight jacket on Joy, we opened the back door and began our adventure. Penny, our loyal golden retriever, trotted along behind us. I yelled goodbye to Clay, my husband, who was working on a deadline for our ministry. "We might be up there for several hours because I hear it is a great place to play," I said to him as I closed the back door.
I have to admit, I was feeling a little proud of being such a great mom—making an unforgettable memory, providing an adventure for my children, and supplying all we would need for our trip.
We found the trailhead within ten minutes and began the steep climb to the lookout. Sarah yelled a challenge to the boys, "Hey, let's run up the mountain and see who can beat to the top!" The three older kids energetically left at a run while I held Joy's hand and started a slower ascent. After about 20 minutes, we caught up with the more energetic group, who were all sitting on the side of the pathway out of breath and panting from the thin mountain air
"How much further to the top?" questioned one of my boys. "I'm already tired and hungry!"
"Don't worry! My friend said we could probably make the whole hike in one hour, so in another 15 minutes we should reach the top of the hill where there is a vista, and we will picnic there," I confidently assured him.
About 20 minutes later, panting and sweating, we all pulled up to a lovely vista that we supposed was the top of the mountain. I was so relieved because carrying Joy the last 15 minutes had been quite taxing. Surely I had just finished the most arduous climb.
We discovered a lovely meadow a little bit beyond the cliff where we had been looking out over the valley and city below. Running through the grassy field, we discovered a tiny, weather-worn cabin, half blown down. Sitting on the old logs and pulling out our lunch pleased us all. Amid the giggles and chattering, we decided to pretend that we were pioneers on the Oregon Trail. The kids ran around whooping and amusing themselves while I enjoyed the beauty and rested under the shade of an old pine. One of my children even found a small cross in the middle of a circle of stones that looked like an old tombstone. What an adventure as we imagined the story of the lives of people who had built a home so high in the mountains, who must have known deep joys and sorrows.
Feeling well pleased with myself at the sweet memories we were making, we gathered around and thanked the Lord for our adventure and for giving us such a beautiful day. After packing up the litter from our picnic, we decided we were rested enough to complete the rest of the hike to the end of the trail. Off we went on our journey with a renewed sense of adventure. Within ten minutes, our path led to gigantic boulders and a small stream that led southward along the back of the mountain we had just climbed. The older three fearlessly began to climb the rocks that were 12 to 20 feet in height.
"Be careful! If you fall, I would have a hard time helping you because Joy and I can't climb up there."
A tiny sense of irritation began to bubble up in my heart, which often surprises me in taxing moments of caring for my children's needs. I recognized my emotions beginning to go a bit sour from being fatigued.
Making progress on the trail among the rocks was a bit slow. After about an hour, the kids rejoined Joy and me and asked for a drink. Each water bottle had just an inch of water left, but since we were certainly close to the end of the trail, I let everyone drink their last sip.
Why have we been hiking well over two hours and have not come to the end of the trail? It must be because of the slower pace we are walking and from having young children with me. After all, my friend had been on a mountain bike. I can't imagine how he could have ridden his bike on these rough trails. Some people are just tougher than others.
The beauty and views of seemingly untouched wilderness awed and amazed us as we quietly walked forward on a now scarcely visible path. We wondered if it was a pathway made by deer leading to the stream. Picnicking and hiking need to become a regular activity, we unanimously agreed. "Aren't we happy we all moved to Colorado?" Sarah asked.
Gingerly we continued to walk forward along the faint trail, which by now had left the stream and led into the dark shadows of an overgrown pine forest. The path moved into the shadows along a very narrow trail on the side of the mountain. I began to perceive that everyone was becoming exhausted. The food was gone and it was time for Joy's nap. What had been a playful, rousing adventure at the start, when everyone was excited and filled with wonder, was slowly dissipating into a silent march, as each of us focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
After a quiet 15 minutes, Joel verbalized what we had all secretly been thinking. "Are we on the right trail? I thought we were supposed to be home by now. What if we are lost? Maybe we should go back. We might be in danger if we don't start back home soon."
Reflecting on the difficult time I had already had bringing Joy through the rough wall of rocks, I couldn't even imagine taking her back the same way without even greater effort. At least this trail was straight and not on a steep ascent, as the previous trail had been. Though I didn't know where it led, I was unwilling to go back on the more difficult part. We seemed to be heading toward the other end of our mountain. Surely we would come to the turning point soon.
"I think we will be okay, Joel, if we just keep going. It would take us almost two and a half hours to backtrack, and I am sure we will find the end of this trail soon. It probably leads around to the other part of the road, which leads right to our house. I think you kids have done amazingly well. What troopers you are and such amazing hikers! Daddy will be so proud of you when he finds out how well you have done."
I hoped my enthusiastic voice would not betray my hidden feelings of fear, exhaustion, and irritation at myself for not getting a map of the mountain. I had never really been on a primitive trail like this and was only beginning to realize how unprepared I had been for such a trek. I had heard of the "wildness" of the wilderness. It seemed that we were indeed in wilderness, as we had not passed another human being in our path for the last three hours...
For the rest of the story, you'll have to come back Friday!
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