Tag Archives: dangerous hike

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.

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.”