One of the reasons I love hiking in the west are the trails. They’re often maintained for horses, so even if you’re climbing a couple thousand feet into the mountains, they offer switchbacks and your feet remain relatively level. My old basketball knees appreciate this. I love cruising along on these trails ascending high into the mountains.
My husband, on the other hand, needs adventure and solitude when we go to the mountains of the west—which usually means leaving the trail and bushwacking to high lakes and towering peaks. Sometimes this kind of travel can mean strolling though high meadows, and sometimes it means traversing large talus fields. And, in my experience, offers indescribable landscapes and awe-inspiring beauty. Although my old knees prefer the winding switchbacks of the maintained trails, I have to admit, these off-trail adventures are experiences I wouldn’t trade.
On our family trip last month, we decided to navigate our way from one 10,000+ foot lake to another a several miles away. We were up high enough that there were very few trees, so we could see all the peaks shaped out on our map by elevation contours.
We picked a peak to aim towards and knew we had to skirt around the south side of another to reach our destination. At one point in our first day of off-trail travel, our course took us down a bit lower by a stream with tall bushes and a few trees at its edges. It wasn’t 100% clear where we were going but we kept our general course as best we could with our view obstructed. When we stopped for lunch, we decided to ascend to the top of the nearest knob, from this height, we had a clear vision of what lay ahead of us. We could see the exact heading we needed to take.
I was thinking that this high-place view is exactly what these annual trips to the mountains are for me. I’m reminded how important it is to retreat—to go to high ground. I get busy crossing the streams and wading through the tight bushes of life, and it’s easy to get a little off course. Those of you who have traveled off trail with map and compass know that being off by a few degrees can make a big difference over miles.
These times of backpacking in wild places offer me time away—away from busyness, away from distractions, away from striving, away from the messages of the world on what should be my priorities and direction. I slow down. I spend time chatting with God in awe of the perfection of his creation. I have space and time to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I’m going—and how that lines up with my first love. Often in these (literal and figurative) mountain top moments, God reveals places in my life that need more realignment. I can re-shoot my bearings for my travel ahead.
For those whose intention it is to follow Christ with our whole lives, these mountain moments are so important. It doesn’t have to be a literal mountain (although I encourage it, and Christ sets this example), but set aside time for retreat—time to step away from the day to day—time to spend with our Lord—time to re-order priorities, affections, and direction.