Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mt. Rushmore Needles Climbing Trip

"An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from our enemy." Proverbs 27:5-6
"Is any pleasure on Earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?" C.S. Lewis
"We love because He loved us first." 1 John 4:19
I have been planning a climbing trip to scale the Rushmore Needles for nearly a year now. I have invited everyone I know that loves to climb on this trip...but specifically, I first invited my brother in law Brad and one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jeremy. Jeremy and I have been specifically training in gitty anticipation for months...meeting at least on a weekly basis to climb. As the months and days grew closer, our excitement to finally climb in South Dakota was becoming a reality.
However, in an instant...everything changed. The day before the trip...our plans turned. Jeremy had informed us that he was no longer joining us. And though he explained his reasons, it was a blow to my plans for us. I couldn't believe it. Selfishly, I didn't want to hear his reasons...All I cared about was him not being there. I thought about all the work, all the desire, and all the heart we invested in the trip. And in an instant, the entire year vanished before my eyes. I was going to South Dakota without my climbing partner.
As I told my wife Sarah, "I feel like I got dumped." That sick feeling in your stomach...pit of your stomach feeling that won't go away...I felt this the entire drive up to South Dakota. It was a very sad and stressful drive...
I purposely am not sharing why Jeremy could not make the trip (It's his story to share). He has his convictions and felt led to call the trip off for himself and family. There existed personal spiritual ramifications/consequences that will always be more important than climbing. And though it took me a couple of days to accept this truth, I know it was the right decision for him. So I thank God for Jeremy, and his obedience to the Lord.
What I will attempt to focus on is the heart of the matter. More specifically the heart of the dialogue between all involved...and more specifically my heart through the process.
When Jeremy told me he wasn't going...I coudn't believe it. When he told me why, I understood his position, but did not want to accept it. In my heart, I was not receptive to my friend's heart. He was sharing with me his hurt, his thinking, and his trust in the Lord...yet, I didn't want to recieve what the Spirit was laying on his heart. Furthermore, he continued to praise the Lord in this time of confusion...often going back to the scriptures to find truth. I listened...but was not receptive. I felt too hurt. I couldn't understand how the Spirit is leading him to think one way and how I thought another. How is it possible that two men who love the Lord have different opinions about the same thing. This is confusing. This is frustrating. This makes me question him...makes me question myself...this introduces doubt where doubt did not exist before. This is when sickness enters my body.
I continued to struggle with our friendship. How are we so off? We're not aligned with each other...and this makes me physically ill. As believers, aren't we called to the same mindset?
I continued to play our conversations over and over again...I had several hours on the road to rethink the matter. This led me to nothing...still sick and more confused than ever.
A few days of clean air, great climbing, good converations with Sarah (My Wife), Brad, Jess, Rod (Jess' Husband), and more importantly prayer...I realized that I failed. I failed my friend. He had been sharing with me his heart. He had been sharing with me what the Spirit had in mind for his family. He was telling me things that had more of a Kingdom impact. He was looking ahead...laying himself down for others...and more importantly, submitting his selfish pursuits for the glorification of Jesus. For Jeremy, not going on this trip was more about Jesus. That's it. Period. He didn't get caught up in the emotions of the loss like the rest of us...instead, he let the Lord capture him in Truth and Comfort. Hence, Jeremy's peace through all this mess.
For me, I wasn't listening.  Didn't want to. But nonetheless, I wasn't listening to the spiritual truths in our conversations. I was listening through a disappointed and saddened heart. I could not get past myself to hear Jesus speaking truth to me. I was so caught up in my sadness, I no longer heard my friend speaking to me. I regret the deaf ears Jeremy spoke to in those couple of days.
In addition, I realized this was the first time in my spiritual walk of 14 years that I did not completely agree with another believers heart on a spiritual matter. How does that happen? What rock have I been living under? I'm not talking about theology ( i.e. Calvinism vs. Armenianism) or denominational doctrine, etc, etc...a Christian can go on for eternity debating these subjects. I'm talking about personal spiritual conviction. For whatever reason...I have never been in conflict with any other believer about anything that really matters to me... which is their heart and the heart of Christ. Who am I???? These past few weeks have been a spiritual challenge for me...and I think, no,...I know that I needed it. I need this. This is growth. This, as our wise friend Rod Gilbert has said...is where we reflect as believers. It's not until we are personally challenged and forced to reflect on ourselves that we begin to experience growth (BTW, Rod is a smart dude...he sometimes makes my head hurt...I may start using his qoutes above :).
So before the trip even started, The Lord was at work in several different people's lives. The word He had for us all started before we got on the road. And after it was all over, this is what I know:
I love my friends. All of them. Old ones and New ones. They are all dear to me. I can love them, only because Jesus loved me first. I only know how to love them, because Jesus shows how he loves me. I'm a screw up...and I often live selfishly and in direct opposition of what God wants for me. Yet, He still continues to love me. This is unconditional...this is what real love looks like. Regardless of what I say or do...He continues to love. Jesus doesn't change who he is...or how he loves.
Also, the bible speaks of Jesus, the friend. Jesus was many things...but one thing that stands out to me is his desire to remain in relationships with us. He is always the same. He never changed. He never stop being himself to everyone that came in contact with him...and as a follower of Him, I cannot turn off showing Christ love without feeling the Spirit's sting in my life. At this point in time, I don't know how to be in a relationship with anyone without wanting them to know Jesus...I want everyone to know Jesus. And the best way I know to show them Jesus...is to love them like Jesus. To hear that I can't always be Jesus is like saying that I can't be light. Though I often fail...I refuse to purposely not be light. It's impossible for me. I don't know how to be in a relationship without Christ love...again, it's because he loved me first that I can even begin to love. So my heart tells me that every relationship I have starts with Him!!!!!
With friendships, even the best ones, there will be times of conflict. But that doesn't matter. It's how we recieve each other. It's how we love each other. It's how we speak and address one another. And at times, what we say to one another, though we may not fully agree...should always come from love. And since it comes from love, I should be receptive to it all...advice, praise, and even rebuke.
The climbing trip turned out to be a bigger blessing than imagined...frienships forged are now friendships refined. So needless to say, climbing wasn't the most fruitful endeavor of the week...it was building better, stronger relationships for Christ. Now that's something I can sit around a good fire for!
What: Climbing Mt. Rushmore Needles
When: 09/21-09/24/13
Who: Jess Gilbert, Brad Hardin, and Ugly
Goal: Climb. Hang out. Have fun. Climb some more!
(Pelican's Dyke Nation 5.10+)
There won't be much of a trip report...this will be more of a picture collage with fun facts of our climbs and beta for any climbers that are looking to know more about this area. Hope you enjoy...
(Brad on Just Jugs 5.8)
We primarily climbed in three areas of Rushmore...The Chopping Block, South Seas, and Magna Carta (formerly known as Marker and Monster). Within each area, there are several named rock formations with routes on each rock. Some formations have several routes on them...majority of them have anywhere from 1-4 routes. You will find all types of climbing...Sport, Trad, and mix. You will also find single pitch routes from 40' to 150'+ and multi-pitch routes as well. I don't believe there is anything more than 4-5 pitch routes in Rushmore Memorial area. Unlike nearby Cathedral Spires in Custer Park...most rock in Rushmore has bolts. Where there are splitters, offwidths, and the like...you will find no bolts. They keep these routes true...For the most part, you will only find bolted routes on face climbing. Mix routes come into play if a route transitions from face to crack climbing.
(Jess on Valdez Overhang 5.9)

To climb at Rushmore sucessfully...we only needed:
1) 12-15 draws (Though we had way more just in case)
2) Set of standard nuts #3-12...though a few #2-4 cams would have been nice to unlock a couple sweet routes for us)
3) 2 60m ropes for two rope raps (we also had 1 70m rope to make some raps easier)
4) Several shoulder length slings
5) Good attitude
6) 2/3rds (aka Brad) to become a full sending ninja!
7) and forgiving skin to allow our tender, succulent Texas fingers to heal from the conglomerate (granite/pegmatite/schist/quartzite) skin thrashing rock that's eaten many of climbers in the Black Hills.
(Me on Pointy Little Devil 5.8)
We camped at Wrinkle Rock Campground. A free climber's campground with limited sites. The campground is right off the road, smack in the middle of this rock paradise! From camp, South Seas and Chopping Block is a 3 minute approach. Magna Carta is maybe 10-15 minutes (maybe even less) down the road. Everything is unbelievably close. Even the campground hosted climbable rock...Just beautiful for a climber. However, we chose not to accept the lengthy and exhaustive approaches...Instead, we submitted to our dear friend's Jess aversion towards hiking and instead drove the 15 seconds to the other side of the road. And no, I am not being sarcastic. I am being as literal as possible!
 (Brad and Jess working the 1st of 2 pitches of Classic Waves 5.8)
There is truly a lifetime of rock here...Besides the Rushmore area...which you can spend years here. There is Spearfish Canyon to the North (for those seeking limestone) and Custer State Park (Cathedral Spires, Sylvan Lake, etc) to the south. And within 2 hours West, the infamous Devil's Tower in Wyoming. It's rockphoria man!!
(Jess onsighting 5.10, super proud of her sending cleanly with scary runouts)
(Jess and I sending Chopping Block's ultra classic line Baba Cool 5.9+)
(Brad and I working Shark's Breath 5.7, this is one of my favorite pics of the week. If you plan on doing this climb...learn from this picture above. The bolt nearest the arete above Brad...put a runner there to minimize drag. Word!)
(Jess and Brad)
Rushmore climbing is about having fun...Yes, there are several difficult routes...some even topping out on the uppers 13s and low 14s in the Chopping Block area. So if you are looking to crush superstar style...this place may not be for you. This area has a high concentration of moderate climbs...the most enjoyable ones (in my opinion) falling in the 5.8 to 5.10 range. For us...we had a preconcieved notion of what are goals were for the week. We made our tick list and started on our way...but I believe I can speak for Jess and Brad when I say, the most fun we had is when we all summited a rock together. Regardless of the grade...working together to get to the top...and enjoy the views together. This is what was most memorable about our time climbing together. Rock on!
(Brad and Jess on the classic Gossamer 5.7...best 5.7 I have ever been on)
More shots of our week...

(Jess and I working a 2 pitch 5.10 climb...We butchered this climb. But we had fun doing it)

(I think they were making fun of me)
Want to say, I am really proud of Brad. Brad was really proud of Brad. No really, he seriously is too proud of himself. I have never seen anyone love his arms and abs as much as this guy does. In all seriousness...Brad put in some work for this trip. It resulted in him sending nearly every route...and transforming his feeble middle aged body to a slightly younger middle age man's body. I believe he now sports a 3 or 4 pack...which is 1 to 2 more than I have. Congrats!
Pretty rainbow.
Yours truly enjoying the views while belaying...I should probably be paying attention to my climber.
(Jess and I crushin the 5.6+ Second Hand Rose Arete...a super classic! And yes...+ can be added to a 5.6. I just did. And I feel better about myself for onsighting this bad boy! Yes, I am claiming an onsight on a 5.6...because it's not embarassing.)

 Cruising a 5.10+ near Hornet's Nest. It didn't take long for the crew to get spoiled by the lengthy sport routes of the area. The climb above is a short 40' route...and it was fun. But apparently, no longer good enough for the gang...They gave me the stink eye for jumping on this route.
Jess rapping down the face of Shark's fin...Many of the routes here are 100+. So it's a good idea to come with a 70m rope or learn to tie two ropes into one so you can reach the ground safely.
Sweet black and white...
For you peak baggers out there...Yes, we summited another high peak. Harney Peak is South Dakota's highest point. It sits at 7,242' above sea level. We decided to hike up to this point on our rest day (i.e. rainy day). It takes the average hiker 5-6 hours to complete this 7 mile, 1000' hike. We hiked up and ran down in almost half the time...There were no views for us up there, we essentially hiked up into the clouds and were in a white out. Oh well...maybe next time.
On our off day, we also hiked around Sylvan Lake...a pretty lake in Custer State Park...
Also visited Crazy Horse...where I think all three of us took a nap in the theatre room while watching a documentary of this monument. Cool fact...all 4 of Rushmore's faces can fit in the rock left of Crazy Horse's ugly mug above. Crazy Horse dwarfs Rushmore. Also, another crazy fact...I think Brad hates the White People for essentially taking a crap on Native Americans throughout history. He refused to look at our presidents...he was ashamed.
We couldn't stop!! On same Off Day...we continued to climb. We went back and finished the day doing what we came to do...climb!
This is what packing looks like on a climber's vacation...
Brad leading Bolt's for Bob 5.8
Me leading Pelican's Dike Nation 5.10+
Jess and I finishing Weird Water 5.7...one of the best climbs and summits of the week.
This was truly one of the best trips I had been on. We made for an excellent team...Never a dull moment with these two guys. We were always optimistic, had great attitudes, and continued to make each other laugh throughout the whole trip. I appreciate my team and look forward to many more awesome opportunities climb together. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

4 Pass Loop: Maroon/Snowmass Wilderness

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

I typically start my trip reports with a message the Spirit reveals to me while on any given trip. I do my best to connect my outdoor pursuits with a more important Spirit filled message to glorify Jesus and His love for us. On many of these trips, the message comes to me in different forms...through fellowship, scenic views, or the Lord speaking to me through thought and prayer. Once I receive this thought or message, I hold on to it...make notes...and pray that this is in fact a word inspired from the Spirit and not some Idiot (Me) spewing off some religious mumbo jumbo to you all.

But this trip is different than any other trip I've been on...I didn't have an AWE HA! moment with Jesus. Nope, I didn't. In fact, I had something better. At the end of this trip, I had a full day's hike out of the wilderness with Jesus. I didn't know it at first, but I soon came to see my Savior provide for me and my friends...over and over again on this very cold and uncertain day.

The day started off with doubt and indecision and it ended in complete trust in Jesus...to the point where I just chuckled in confidence when another obstacle presented itself...

So instead of starting off the trip report with a message...I hope to let the trip report speak of Jesus' goodness (The message comes on day 2 of this trip)...
(Jeremy, Me, Brad)
What: 4 Pass Loop, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
Goal: 26 miles, backpack over 4 passes at 12,500'
When: September 09/26-09/28/13
Who: Jeremy Hendrix, Brad Hardin, Ugly Pasquel
09/26/13-Day 1
Brad, Jeremy, and I started on the Loop up to West Maroon Pass at 7:30 a.m. The day started out windy, but absolutely clear with blue bird skies. The 4 pass loop is a 26 mile circuit that climbs up over 4 passes that clear 12,500' each. The 4 passes consist of West Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider, and Buckskin Pass. It is one of Colorado's classic hikes and I was certain that Brad and I would find redemption this time around...You see, I attempted this hike a couple of years back, but did not complete the loop due to one of our team members feeling ill (Read here: http://seekingtheburningbush.blogspot.com/2011/09/4-pass-loop.html ).

As we arrived to Aspen, we went over to the gear shop and then to the Ranger station to ask about weather conditions. We had been looking at the weather all week, and it appeared we were going to have good weather outside of a quick cold front that was going to move in on day 2. We had our concerns, but we felt good moving forward with all the information we had. The news, the locals, hell...even the Rangers basically told us that day 2 would be wet, with a few inches dropping at higher elevation...so with this, we felt confident about completing the loop.

So after a day of acclimation in Aspen (meaning a few beers at Aspen Brewing Company), we started at Maroon Lake TH at 7:30 a.m. Our goal for day 1 was to hike 12-13 miles over West Maroon and Frigid Air Pass and set up camp in Fravert Basin.
The first mile of the trail, from Maroon lake to Crater Lake is absolutely wonderful this time of year. Matter of fact, we planned this trip exactly this time of year in hopes of catching the Aspens at their peak...and I believe I finally caught the Aspens after all these years! I wish I can tell you how I felt walking in the woods that morning...it was beautiful.
...Let me tell you, being out there, in His art work...
...reminded me of His love of color...
...knowing His great work as an Artist...
...is masterful...
...Painter, Sculptor, Creator...
...Once again, I am reminded of His goodness.
The first mile and a half, you hike West towards the Bells. It shouldn't take you long...but it was taking us a while to get through this first mile. Partly because I was taking several pictures and enjoying the scenery...Frankly, I don't see how anyone can fly through this section. Though the trail is really easy with minimal elevation gain, the crux is the beauty of the place...it will just stop you in your tracks. Side note...there have been several moose sightings in the area the past few weeks. Didn't see any on this trip...
After an hour of hiking, we arrived at Crater Lake...which sits right under the Maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak...3 14,000' peaks within close proximity of each other. In the picture above, Pyramid's shadow rises below the Bells. This is one of my favorite pics of the week. Our trail continued Southwest for 5 miles in the direction of the valley you see above...5 miles and a steady 2,500' hike up to West Maroon Pass. This is goal #1.
This is Crater Lake from further up the valley...you get a nice panorama of the Aspens below.
As you continue up the valley, you'll cross West Maroon Creek twice. Or I should say, there are two real water crossings...but all along the trail, you will cross several water runoffs. It's important to have waterproof shoes on this trip...you're shoes will get wet.
At noon, we ate lunch 500' below the pass...at this point, there was about a couple inches of snow on the ground.
This is a view down of West Maroon Valley...the Peak in the center is Pyramid.
This is the last 100' hike up to the first pass on our trip...West Maroon Pass.
Picture of us on top of West Maroon Pass. The view behind us is the basin on the West side of the pass. From here, we drop down about 500' and head NW across the basin towards Frigid Air Pass.
Once you drop down 500'...the trail stays pretty steady until you reach the base of the red peak you see in the upper right...
These are your views as you traversing across the basin...
You are definitely above treeline in this section of the hike...so if you are doing this trail in the Summer...just know you will be exposed for a couple of miles from West Maroon Pass to Frigid Air. Then you have to drop down from either pass back down to Fravert Basin or West Maroon Valley. It's a long exposed section of hiking...

The Loop has signs at certain junctions...here, you could continue West over another pass into Fravert basin, but to remain on the 4 pass loop, you want to head up and over towards Frigid Air Pass.
However, we decided to take a much needed break before heading up over Frigid Air...we had traveled over 8 miles, gained a total elevation +/- of 3000' and we knew we still had to go over another pass, plus travel another 4 miles down into camp. We had also been told by a passing hiker that Frigid Air Pass had a lot of snow and the descent would be sketchy...So we took our sweet time and rested in the Sun before heading up.
(From Frigid Air Pass, you get views of the Bells backside...)
After hiking up 400' from our pit stop, we gained Frigid Air Pass. On the North Facing Slopes of Frigid Air Pass...there was a lot of snow. We could not find the trail so we just headed straight down the steep slopes...Needless to say, it was sketchy.
Also from Frigid Air Pass, you get your first views of Snowmass Peak off to the NW. Brad and I summited this peak a couple years back.
This is a view of the Upper Fravert Basin from Frigid Air Pass...
This is what our decent down from the pass looked like...We eventually found the trail, but it was after we dropped halfway down the slope. There were several inches od snow on the ground and it made for a slippery descent.
We continued 4 more miles down Fravert Basin, dropping down 2000' to our campsite below Fravert Basin Waterfall.
On day 1, we hiked a little over 12 miles...gained a total elevation +/- of 6000'. The temps were in the low to mid 40's most of the day...but in the Sun, so it was perfect. Pictures above is from our nearby campsite...where we had great views, great water source (North Fork Creek of Fravert Basin), and pristine wilderness to ourselves. We ended day 1 tired, but on a good note...What we didn't know, is that our real adventure would actually start the next morning...
09/27/13- Day 2
Yes...that is the same waterfall from the picture above. As mentioned before, we knew a cold front was moving in...we even knew of the possibility of minimal snowfall. But we never thought our day would start off like this. Matter of fact, I had woken up to use the restroom at 5 a.m. and there was no snow on the ground...two hours later, we woke up to our tent caving in on itself in the middle of winter wonderland.
So here's a picture of our campsite in the early morning...I shook off the snow on the tent so it would show up better in the picture. We laid in bed for an hour figuring out what to do. We had essentially 4 options at this point:
A) Stay put for the day
B) Hike over Trail Rider Pass
C) Hike back over Frigid Air and W. Maroon Pass back to TH
D) Hike over to Geneva Lake and hope a road would lead us back out somewhere.
Each option had an "unkown" factor to it. I was leaning towards Geneva Lake, but we didn't know where it would lead. We only had a map of the Maroon/Snowmass Wilderness 4 Pass loop...so we weren't certain where roads lead. We did however know that the town of Crested Butte was somewhere Southwest of us...unfortunately, our maps cut off everything in that direction. Brad was holding on hope to hiking over Trail Rider Pass...but he knew that was probably the most dangerous move. Jeremy decided to look at all options from a process of elimation standpoint...so this was our thinking:
A) Not good idea...we would remain snowed in, and snow was building up around us.
B) Most dangerous option...did not like this at all.
C) We knew the route...we just came up from above the day before. There would be more snow to deal with but at least we had an idea...
D) A complete unkown...were not prepared for this trail, did not have a good map of the area and did not know where it exactly lead.
So Brad and Jeremy decided plan C was best and I agreed to go with the majority. Though this was our best plan, there was a sense of hesitancy with it all. But we felt we needed to make a decision...so we did. We quickly jumped out of our sleeping bags, broke camp, and ate breakfast. As soon as we put on our packs to head back up the way we came, we saw a familiar group from the day before...and this became blessing #1.
This group of girls are students at Colorado College (CC) in Colorado Springs. On Day 1, we kept passing each other...With each passing, we would pleasantly say our hellos and make quick conversation about the day. Strangely enough, each time I saw them...they brought a certain sense of comfort to me on the trail. They all were so positive, had wonderful smiles, and I fed off their energy at each crossing. In some ways, I could see my own daughters, Hannah and Pia,...just trekking along, enjoying the mountain with friends. I felt like I could briefly see into the future...and this made me happy on the trail.
But back to Day #2...We saw the girls coming up to our camp, and we met them on the trail. We both shared our plans with each other for the day. The girls had camped nearly 500' above us the night before and had indicated to us there was considerably more snow where they camped. With this little bit of information, we immediately knew that going back up was no longer a safe option. The girls informed us they were heading towards Geneva Lake since they knew that either pass was no longer an option for them. I knew at that moment, this meeting at the trail was no coincidence...This group of girls kept us from making a mistake. Instead of leaning on our own understanding, we were receptive to the new plan for us...
...One of the cons of heading towards Geneva, was knowing there was a mid calf water crossing. There was no way around this. We all took off our shoes and waded across the freezing water to plant our feet on the other snowy side. We all got across...with pretty good attitudes I should add. These girls are tough!
In a way I can't explain...I was really enjoying the day. Yes it was cold...it was windy...it was snowy...my feet were wet...and I really had no clue how this day was going to end. But I kept looking around, enjoying the snow fall onto the earth. And It all seemed so peaceful. I felt like this was blessing #2. Everything about this situation should have added up to confusion, discomfort, and possibly panic. But I didn't feel this way at all...Maybe it was finding comfort in a large group...maybe it was only focusing on my surrounding, which I was enjoying...or maybe it was Something more. Either way, I felt good. I felt protected. I felt like I was being watched over in this moment. Knowing this gave me a sense of security that did not exist earlier in the day.
We continued another mile down the basin until we reached another junction. At this point, the trail goes up to Trail Rider pass or continues straight towards Geneva Lake. You ccan choose to take the trail up towards Trail Rider and you will find another junction that leads to Geneva. However, we chose to travel straight through...and continued hiking another 1.5 miles before reaching another water crossing right below a waterfall which serves as drainage for Geneva Lake. We never saw the lake, turns out it was some 1000' above us...but this was a good sign. We were dropping elevation.
We traveled South down the basin for another .5 mile before we hit the Geneva Lake TH and a road. I believe it's CO 3 we hiked down on...we were all happy to be on a road. We could see where we were on the map...the snow line was above us...and we were dropping elevation along with the South Fork Creek. Everything indicated we were still ok! There was a road...there was a river running downstream...we all had food and water...I was ticking all the checkpoints in my head.
So after another 1.5 miles down...we arrived at another junction. CO 3 and CO 317. There was a sign that indicated CO 3 lead to the town of Marble...6 miles away...and the road appeared to drop down even more. The other sign pointed towards Crested Butte...with no mileage marker. This is where I believe we recieved blessing #3. Before arriving at the junction, there were several in the group who were ahead of me, apparently waiting for everyone to catch up and discuss what route to take. Some discussed the idea of hiking to Marble...knowing it was 6 miles away. However, I knew that...or I should say, I was being led away from this decision and felt an overwhelming need to continue towards Crested Butte. Though we didn't know how far away it was...or what lay ahead...I knew it was the right decision. It was the only...I mean the only time on the trail I was 100% certain that we needed to head up CO 317. It was more than a decision...it was a conviction of rightness. I knew for a fact this is what we needed to do...And this overwhelming assuredness did not come from me!
So everyone agreed...and we headed up East on CO 317, on a gnarly 4X4 road through the Crystal River Valley. We still had no clue how far we were from Crested Butte...but we all continued to make our way. Though this was the right decision...it was definitely not the easiest hike. We quickly found out the road started gaining elevation, for over 3 miles (some areas steeper than others)...the road was wet and loose...and we started hiking back up to the snow. The weather got worse as we continued to climb up...and to our dismay, we had two more watercrossings deeper and longer than the one earlier in the day since the road flooded. And since the road flooded...we now found ourselves bushwacking over willows for short sections that just zapped our confidence, energy, and joy. I think we were all getting to a point where we felt defeated...but we just continued moving along.
Our goal that day was to get to the bottom of the map...that's all the information we had. We figured we would make an educated guess from that point on and hope we found Crested Butte at the end of the road. The end of our map was Schofield Pass...and after hiking over 9 miles, in deteriorating weather, over three barefoot watercrossings, bushwacking, and no end in sight...we finally arrived to the end of our map...Schofield.
We were still on CO 317, and it intersected the East Fork TH that heads up towards West Maroon Pass. It was at this point we all felt somewhat defeated. Here we were, had been traveling for 8 hours, and still felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We still had no clue how far Crested Butte was...we now had no map for the area we were heading to...we were all cold, wet, and exhausted. We all knew we had to reassess our day...We were losing daylight, it was getting colder, and we needed to decide if we were going to camp or continue on for a few more miles. It was at this point, I could sense many in the group wanting to give up on the day...including myself. It looked like we were going to have to spend the night in what felt like the middle of nowhere...
And then blessing #4. As soon as we started to discuss the idea of hunkering down...one of the girls shouts, "I see lights...I see a truck!!!!!" And just like that, we all start yelling and waving our hands. What a moment! I couldn't believe it. It felt like pure Godsend. Immediately, our morale changed. 
 Turns out, a shuttle truck driver was scheduled to pick up a few hikers at this TH. We spoke to the driver and he was at first hesitant to drive us down, since it would exceed the state law's passenger maximum. But after pleading with him...he knew he couldn't leave us up there. He told us, "I won't leave you guys up here." What a blessing.
But personally, it is even more amazing to know that this truck shows up...within 5 minutes of our arrival at the end of our map! Perfect timing! Perfect gift. The whole day, we had each other and enough information to get us to this point...but at the end, we ran out of information, map, and will power to move forward. We were not meant to finish this trip on our own...nor did we want to.
(Side note: We waited for two hours for the group of hikers the shuttle was there to pick up. Two of the hikers arrived by 6:30 p.m., but one (Miriam) was missing. It was a frantic, sad, and scary situation. We left the TH without her and as soon as we arrived in town, we were dropped off and a Search and Rescue team was heading up for her. The good news, Miriam was found the next day...she took shelter under a tree. She was hospitalized in Aspen but sounds like she will be ok.)
When we arrived in the town of Crested Butte, the girls went on their way to find help for the night...and we had no place to stay. Our car was left at Maroon Creek TH some 110 miles around the mountain. But the Lord continued to provide for us. Blessing #5 came in the form of a place to stay in Crested Butte. Over the past year...Brad had been telling me about a guy who owns a condo in Crested Butte. Brad shares some of our stories with him and I believe he does the same with Brad. As we arrived at a bus station, Brad contacts Ron about a place to stay in CB. Ron tells Brad that he is back in Austin, TX and that we could stay in his condo for the night. Ron arranges a couple of friends to give us a key to his place and next thing you know...we have a nice- very nice, clean, warm place to stay for the night. It was the best night of sleep I had in weeks. Ron, if you ever read this post...THANK YOU SO MUCH! Humbled by your generosity...I will always remember this gift. Also, your place is great...I enjoyed the pictures, posters, and places you guys have been. You are a true adventurer.
The next day, we still had to figure a way back to our car...I didn't even fret. I kept looking back at the last 24 hours and was reminded over and over again of the Lord's provision on our adventure. He was there to calm, to protect, to guide, to gift, and to shelter us the entire time. I had no reason not to continue to trust him with all my heart. So I did.
We were looking at spending over $300 to get back around to aspen...Every shuttle service was quoting us the same. We didn't want to spend that kind of money...but knew we may have had no choice. Then we get a phone call from one of the shuttle services...they tell us they are picking up a group of girls and would only charge us $60 pp to bring us around. We knew who they were...We knew Who was in control! We just chuckled...
The thing is...I would like to use this trip as a day long metaphor as to what it's like to walk as a believer. Everyday is about trusting in Him in every moment, not relying on my own understanding to navigate through life. And sure...I see it as that. But really...I don't have to use it as a metaphor. In those 24 hours...I relied on God's provision for us with every step on that mountain. No matter what mountain top or valley low...I just kept trusting in Jesus.
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and your right hand delivers me."  Psalm 138:7
The enemy on this trip was myself..my doubts. But thank God I didn't rely on myself...I trusted the Lord with all my heart, submited my ways to him, and He  laid the path ahead of me. So I took the path ahead of me...and found myself hiking out with Jesus. Now that is some goodness!.