Tag Archives: cardigan mountain

featured image - the true beginning

The True Beginning

Storytelling is our way of bringing meaning to what might otherwise appear to be random events in everyday existence. Stories answer questions. John Eldredge, who I referenced in the Contours of Story, says the great philosophical question is really quite simple: “How did all of this get here?” or to put it in the words of Tolkien’s heroic hobbit: “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?”

Signposts on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

Signposts on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

Have you ever wondered what kind of tale you’ve fallen into? Many of us do not think of ourselves as being on a quest to save the world from the dark and evil forces concentrated in the shadow of Mordor. But could we be wrong? It could be that we are more like the characters in Lord of the Rings than we might image. And it could be that our world resembles Middle Earth more than we might think.

And if we are living within the framework of the battle between forces of good and evil, does that change the way we look at the purpose and meaning of our own lives?

When my son Arthur and I departed the Lodge at Cardigan, we thought we were embarking on an easy journey that would take us to an open mountaintop with inspiring views and then, after that, on to a nearby hikers’ cabin to spend a safe and warm winter night.

The Cardigan summit, though, turned into a battleground. We had walked into a turbulent and unpredictable world putting our safety on the line. We had to draw on instinct and experience to find our way down to the cabin. Without saying a word, we both understood the dangers of the world we crossed through and were grateful to arrive at the place that would provide warmth and rest.

I have thought about this experience long and hard since it happened. I could have dismissed it as just another winter mountain walk, but the contrast of the dangers of the storm and the safety of the cabin were so stark they demanded further reflection.

hiking dangers

Many years ago, in another time of great personal challenge, I discovered the Bible. Even though I was in my middle years, my understanding of the world was not built on a strong biblical foundation. I had been brought up in a Christian culture, but that world was not a culture of the cross; instead, the church had been transmuted into a diluted remnant of an earlier, more vibrant expression of the faith. The institution of the church was accepted as long as it did not impose itself too severely on the wishes of the people and their communities. This was the world I knew as a boy and young man; you might call it the world of “Cabin Christians” where the safe and pleasant environment of the cabin is substituted for the difficulties of being a Christian in a more turbulent and unpredictable world.

This is what Jesus prayed for those who will follow him after his crucifixion and resurrection: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”(John 17:14-18)

And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”(Matthew 5:11-12)

Shelter on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

Shelter on Mt Cardigan, NH 2017

On the summit I longed for the safety of the cabin, but I also knew that we would need to depart the cabin soon enough to go back to the world Jesus describes. Jesus was warning his disciples that they would encounter resistance in this world, but he also promised that he would be with them “always to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:20)

The truth is this: If we accept the great commission of Jesus Christ to go out into the world to make disciples of all nations, we will experience dangers and discomfort. It may even seem like a hopeless battle at times, but do we have a choice? If we accept the call, then we must accept the conditions that might come with the call. Sam and Frodo did not choose the journey to Mordor for themselves; they knew their whole world was at risk. The seemingly safe Shire was not really safe at all. They did not know it, but these two improbable heroes were part of a much bigger story that transformed a mere journey into an epic mission. The odds at times may seem insurmountable, but the mission commissioned by Jesus Christ is all about overcoming the impossible.

The Contours of Story header-revised

The Contours of Story

 “I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into.”

—Sam as he approaches Mordor with Frodo in Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring


Since writing my last blog about the unanticipated dangers my son and I encountered on the summit of Cardigan Mountain, I have thought often since then about what happened and why I recall it so vividly.

When we passed the opened shelter at the base of Firescrew Mountain, we made our decision to forge on. We had no idea what that meant. We did know that daylight would soon fade to darkness and we knew we might be exposed to the full brunt of the winter wind as it gusted over the summits of the two mountains.

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Arthur Kampmann, Cardigan Mountain 2017

The snow, the dark and the wind together conspired to confuse us with false signals as to the way forward, making us turn back time and again until we could hunt down a better way. But with all the forces of nature seemingly against us, we pushed on determined to find the cabin somewhere below the summit. It helped having one another as we made our way.

When Arthur finally called out that he had found the fire tower, there was no elation because the summit offered only danger. We could hardly hear one another over the roar of the wind, but we did not pause. We began a search for the trail that would take us to safety.

The cabin itself was dark and cold inside, but it was a refuge in the night and as soon as Arthur built a fire, the room began to warm. Now that we were secure, it was sobering to recall the conditions on the exposed summit of Cardigan. While we were searching for a way down, we had no time for reflection, only action. But now in the warmth of the cabin, I realized Arthur and I had just lived through the drama of a survival story.

blog quote-contour

John Eldridge wrote a short book on the centrality of story to the process of understanding the meaning of the life we live. Madeleine L’Engle has written, “All of life is a story.” Eldridge elaborates: “It goes far deeper than entertainment. Stories nourish us. They provide a kind of food that the soul craves. ‘Stories are equipment for living,’ says Hollywood screenwriting teacher Robert McKee. He believes that we go to the movies because we hope to find in someone else’s story something that will help us understand our own. We go (to movies) ‘to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality.’ Stories shed light on our lives.”

Eric Kampmann hiking 2017

Myself, Cardigan Mountain 2017

Philip Yancey tells us that behind the human condition is an epic story that has fragmented into countless mysteries. He describes what he means by giving us GK Chesterton’s picture of the human story as “a sort of cosmic shipwreck.” Chesterton believes “a person’s search for meaning resembles a sailor who awakens from a deep sleep and discovers treasure strewn about, relics from a civilization he can barely remember. One by one he picks up the relics-gold coins, a compass, fine clothing-and tries to discern their meaning. Fallen humanity is in such a state. Good things on earth-the natural world, beauty, love joy-still bear traces of their original purposes, but lost of memory mars the image of God in us.”

To Chesterton and to me the ultimate version of this story is contained in the pages of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. The question for each one of us is to try to discern where we believe we fit into that larger biblical narrative as we discover patterns and context to the life we live here and now.

Shelter From The Storm (1)

Shelter From The Storm

As we traveled south toward home from a hike, my son Arthur decided to listen to Bob Dylan and eventually “Shelter from the Storm” played. The song’s title instantly took me back to the night before.

Arthur and I had decided to use the long route to the summit of Cardigan Mountain in New Hampshire by following a trail called the Back 80. We headed out about 12:30pm thinking that we would have more than enough time to reach the summit and the “High Cabin” one half mile below.

At first the going was great; snow covered the ground and it presented no early impediment. We pushed forward on level ground for a mile or so, but then the terrain began to change. We now were breaking trail with snowshoes that did not function perfectly, slowing our pace down significantly. Finally, we reached the Elwell Trail intersection that would take us up the steep eastern side to the ridge leading to Firescrew Mountain, and finally, Cardigan summit.

cardigan mountain-arthur 01.2017

Arthur Kampmann, Cardigan Mt. 2017

Even before we attained the ridge, we realized we had a serious problem with the clock. It was now 4pm and we had to cover two miles to Cardigan over rough terrain and drifting snow. I was losing energy and both of us were losing the light of day. The wind gusts told us that the summit would be inhospitable at best and dangerous at worst, but we kept pushing ahead. Arthur even took my backpack as its weight was definitely slowing me down. As the time approached 5pm, we came across a shelter that offered some cold comfort, but we decided that we could make it to the summit and High Cabin and so we kept going.

From Firesrew Mountain to Cardigan the trail is completely exposed. The path moves over granite slabs and is marked by cairns. Often we would lose the way as dark had descended and the windblasts had increased in frequency. Finally, after much effort, Arthur and I reached the fire tower at the summit of Cardigan We had arrived but we were not done. The wind, snow and dark made it very difficult to find the way off the forbidding summit to the cabin. We hunted around looking for cairns or a sign, but had no luck until I spotted an ice encrusted signpost fifty yards behind the fire tower.

We did not hesitate. We followed the direction given on the sign and soon found a series of cairns that led to a trail and eventually to the High Cabin, the happiest site in the entire world. We were safe and incredibly grateful that our winter adventure had not turned into something very different.

cardigan mountain-high cabin-eric 01.2017

Exhausted and thrilled to be in that cabin. Cardigan Mountain, 2017

Our dilemma had begun back at the base of the mountain in the warmth of Cardigan Lodge. We had studied the trails and decided the direct route to the cabin would be too short. We had too much time for a short ascent and so chose the Back 80 Trail that looked doable from the warmth and comfort of the lodge.

But maps do not show snow depth, winds or fatigue. We were using summer thinking to analyze winter conditions and so we miscalculated. leading to a potentially bad situation for us as we entered a very dangerous and forbidding world at the icy summit of Cardigan Mountain. In the end, though, we found shelter from the storm and the “mighty tempest.”