"God will take care of us." - Keith, with perfect calm, to his son Zach as we watched the dark afternoon clouds threaten us at our mountain "summit"
We all slept much better our 2nd night on the mountain. For me, I think it was a combination of the flatter ground we were laying on and my altitude headache being gone.
We got up the next cold morning, had our precious cup of hot chocolate, some breakfast, then packed our day packs for our "summit" climb.
I put "summit" in quotation marks because we did not have our sites set on actually climbing Windom, Sunlight, or Eulos...the three 14ers surrounding the basin we were staying in. They are some challenging climbs, with some parts being borderline technical...so we weren't going to take our kids up there at this young age. Our primary search was for the "cave" - an old gold mine that I had found an antique chisel in over a decade ago (I found it twice, actually, and you can read that story in my piece entitled "The Mountain" in my blog archives at http://brianmashburn.blogspot.com/2008_05_01_archive.html). And our secondary goal was the Twin Lakes, well up over the treeline (12,000+), and the staging point for anyone going to any of the three 14,000 foot summits.
Keith had no real personal attachment to finding the old gold mine aside from wanting me to find it, so inwardly I was hoping my memory was serving me correctly that we found that thing on or near the route that leads to the Twin Lakes. All I could remember is that it was just to the left of a waterfall, and that the first 20 feet or so were full of 1 to 2 feet of ice cold water. And I was not looking forward to wading through it, drenching my socks and shoes. But I was willing to, and already preparing myself to ferry Shade, Zach and Keith through it on my back, just so that their socks and shoes stayed dry.
A couple of our hours into our hike, after we started gaining some serious elevation, a man who was on a seriously fast pace hiked by. We visited with him for a minute. He had come from the other side of a mountain ridge over the Columbine Pass. You could see the path across the basin, which was a mountain climb in and of itself, and looked miles away (cuz it was!). He had gotten up VERY early this morning, leaving his wife and son camping on the other side, to try to get one of the 14ers on our side of the basin. It humbled me to compare his day's hike to mine, and it also explained his fast pace. We all started walking, and Shade with his energetic 5 million questions decided to hike with our new friend.
Shade flew ahead of us with him, talking to him the whole time with all kinds of conversation: "How far is the Twin Lakes? That's where we're going. Do you know there's a mine where my dad found a spike? We're lookin' for it. He has the spike in his prayer room. It's heavy! Rusty, too. We're gonna go in it and look around. It's real dark in there. Have you been in any mines this trip? How old is your son? Why didn't he come with you today? I came with my dad. Where are you from? We're from Amarillo. I hike in the Canyon like this all the time. Have you been to the Canyon? The Palo Duro Canyon? You want to sometime? Your son and you can stay in our basement if you want and we'll take you. That's my friend Zach, and his dad...they stayed in our basement before. Does your son like Pokémon cards? Which cards does he have? Does he have any Charizards? Those are my favorites. Zach has a Charizard EX!"
The man was very kind.
Eventually, we got to a very tall and powerful waterfall that looked very familiar to me. I wasn't sure, but this might be it. From our vantage point, however, we couldn't see whether there was a mine to it's left. We had to make a choice. Either go ahead and cross the waterfall here, making our way up the mountain on the other side of the falls, where we would eventually get up high enough to see whether there was a mine or not, risking that if it is, we would either have to come all the way back down here to get up to it, or try to cross back over the falls up there (which is more dangerous), OR we could go ahead and start climbing up the left side of this fall here, risking that it's not there at all, and either having to come all the way back down, or try to cross the falls up higher (which would be much more difficult).
The air was feeling thinner and thinner all of the sudden.
As I looked back and forth at our choices, I saw that Shade's friend was way up the path on the other side of the river. The falls were loud by him, but I yelled as loud as I could anyway. Somehow he heard me, stopped and looked down at us. I pointed up and yelled, "Is there a mine right there?" I don't know if he could really hear me, or if he just knew what we were looking for thanks to Shade, but he looked where I was pointing, pointed and nodded real big. YES! We headed up...
It was a respectable tough climb, and a very satisfying feeling came over me as we navigated the rubble and descended into that old familiar cave. While there was still water in the mouth of the cave, it was low enough and short enough that we could sort of scale the left side and all jump across without getting our shoes drenched. We busted out our flashlights and disappeared into the moist and pitch black cave, going all the way to the end (maybe 200 feet?).
At this point, I wish there was some climactic event that happened to tell you: A burning bush would've been nice, or archangel Michael with a message from God for Shade sitting in the back, or some old Hebrew script etched out on the cave walls by the finger of God. Shoot, I'd be good with finding another old chisel for Shade to have! But there was nothing like that. We did the echo thing, and the turn-off-the-flashlight-to-experience-the-pitch-black thing, but it's kinda creepy in there and it didn't take long for our boys to do the "I'm-ready-to-go" thing. I was too.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't disappointed. The rewards for me are legion: the journey here (my 3rd time), being with my son in a challenging environment, the forging of brotherhood between the four of us here, the memories it brought back from fellowships past, the beauty to behold, the cost to behold it, the anticipation of success, the satisfaction of success, the thoughts of home...just to name a few.
When we were done, we decided to stay at our current elevation and attempt to cross the waterfall...which at this height was actually FOUR separate waterfalls, all wider, and more difficult than what we had to do below, and with no trail. It was challenging, and we made it with celebration. Shade, of course, always wanted to go first and blaze the way, and oftentimes (here and elsewhere) would be-bop back and forth over the streams, hopping from rock to rock, all in the name of showing us how to do it, but mostly because he just loves it (such unnecessary and risky fun would have been quite nerve-racking for his mom).
Many hours, mountain-goats, marmots, and rest-stops later (and after I dropped my water bottle down a cliff of the mountain (amazingly, we found it on the way down)), we made it to the beautiful Twin Lakes. One of the lakes was almost totally covered in snow, but the other one was mirror-still and vast. We stayed here for quite a while, ate lunch, skipped rocks, Shade danced with a playful marmot, explored, took pictures, visited with the occasional hiker on their way back from the peaks. It was beautiful in every way for our group: between us, around us, within us, below us, above us.
Boy the clouds were threatening. We'd been rained/hailed on every day and it was getting about that time in the afternoon. Zach voiced what I was thinking to his dad by saying, "We better get going, we don't want to have to go down in that rain. Let's get back to camp."
That's when Keith responded with the calm and confident quote from above. I relaxed with his words, knowing them to be true. We enjoyed our time without any rain. When we were ready, we packed up and made the long (but not near as long) trek down to our camp. And to put an exclamation point on Keith's prophetic and confident words, we got back late afternoon, right in time to get all of us in the tent, totally dry, with a deck of cards just as the rain came down. We had some sweet fellowship in there.
"Life is about fully experiencing "right now" to the fullest, bringing all of who you are to the moment right before you and to the other people who you truly care about, knowing that there are no guarantees of next week or next year or when they get their act together, and it is all good for you in the end, surrendering all resistance to that fact in the fire of your own redemption. What fire, you might ask: "Life is not the wick, or the candle, but the burning."" - Jim Spivey, my friend, mentor, and fellow "burner"