Learning to Look Up!
Note: In December 1992 I took a winter hike — a hike that had considerable impact on my spiritual journey and influenced my future interactions with people and my surroundings. In all honesty I WAS probably your Type A personality attending to details, task oriented, and focused on “getting the job done.” The winter hike was an experience that I will never forget as I realized the importance and value of looking up and around, taking time to be aware, and experiencing the fullness of the moment whether that moment be filled with breathtaking joy or gut wrenching agony. After the hike I learned that we were in Queen’s Canyon and the falls is called Dorothy Falls. I picked up the photos from <wwwlamsonadventures.com/queenscanyon/ You will discover why as you read the story. They are a fairly good representation of what the hike was like with the exception that there was more snow on the ground during the hike than in the photos.
“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you. –Leo Tolstoy
A Winter Mountain Hike
Last December I had the opportunity to be at the Glen Eyrie Conference Center just outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. This was my first time to be in mountains of this type, and I was quite awed by the whole spectrum of mountain majesty.
The week was filled with conference activities; however, one afternoon was left open for us to have a bit of free time. There were several options as to how to spend that afternoon. We could go into town to do some sightseeing and/or shopping. We could take a narrated tour of the conference facility. We could take a hike, or we could take a nap. My friend and companion for the conference, Judy, and I decided to take a hike. We were eager to be outside and wanted the physical activity after several days of sitting. Also, the hike to the end of a small adjacent canyon was highly recommended. The waterfall at the end was said to be a splendid sight.
Judy and I stuck with our original plan to hike even though the weather during the day continued to worsen. It had snowed intermittently throughout the week and with the continuous below freezing temperature there was a mounting accumulation of snow and ice everywhere. Walking about was becoming a bit more treacherous. As we began our hike toward the end of the canyon the sun was shining. It was cold, and there was a slight but harsh wind. We had prepared with hiking boots, double socks, long thermal underwear, heavy coats, earmuffs, scarves, mufflers, and gloves. Off we went! It was mid-afternoon, the sun was shining, and we had a mere one and one-half mile round trip hike before us.
We were told that there was a well-marked path to follow, and if the marked path was not obvious simply follow the small stream that flowed down the canyon. The path was easy to find and follow. There were sections along the first portion of the trail that were actually catwalks built to make traversing some small ravines easier. This was not too hazardous; however, there were a couple of times that I was thankful for the handrails as I slipped on patches of snow and ice. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, chatting about the sights and sounds of the running water, and occasionally reminding one another of the need to be careful. Judy was in the lead, and I was following.
As we concluded what I would consider the bottom quarter of our journey, I noticed that the catwalks and handrails ended, the path became less obvious, the incline became more obvious, and I became much more aware of the effort and exertion required. It was necessary that we keep our eyes on the path and watch our footing. The path was rocky, and although the snow enhanced the beauty of the terrain and the crunch under foot was a delight to our ears, it made the path slightly deceptive. I found myself testing every step unless I was able to place my feet exactly in Judy’s steps. This did not happen too often as she is built a bit different than I, and I often find myself taking two steps to her one.
The stream that the path “followed” was in essence a part of the path itself as we crossed it numerous times weaving from one side of it to the other. The hike would have been much shorter had we been able to simply travel in a straight line. Crossing the stream was perhaps the greatest challenge. Keeping my balance, trying to keep my feet dry, and testing the rock or log I chose to step on for firmness might be considered an athletic feat as well as a work of art. The stream crossings were most assuredly those times I tried to follow right in Judy’ steps. We both had our share of slips, stumbles, and near falls, some of which went unnoticed by the other and those noticed always followed by a concerned, “Are you okay?” and the gentle reminder to be careful. I remember at one of the crossings the rock I stepped on turned, and the slip gave me such a fright that I actually released a stunted scream.
At some point during the first half of our excursion. I became more acutely aware of my growing exertion and decided that I had to stop for a few moments. When I did, I straightened my body, raised my head, and looked up. What I saw was a sight like I had never seen before. My response was “Oh, Wow! Judy, look up.” The towering red rock walls on the east side of the canyon glistened in the afternoon sun in stark contrast to the cold we felt in the shadow of the western wall. It felt as if the canyon walls went straight up and touched the flawless blue sky. Almost immediately after catching the beauty of the sight, I was disappointed that I did not have my camera. I had dropped and broken it just prior to our leaving on our hike. The disappointment was abated by the assurance that I would always have the memory of this experience and its exquisite images in my heart and mind.
We continued our trek; however, I was much more conscious of my surroundings. While negotiating the path, my attention and focus had to remain on my feet, the rocks, snow and ice, and the increasing number of small trees and limbs along the way. However, I chose to stop, look up, and marvel at the majesty around me much more frequently. “This is awesome. This is gorgeous. Look at this! I can’t believe this. I’ve never seen anything like this. Oh, wow!” These are just a sampling of the exclamations that poured forth with each look up and around. Judy was not quite as verbal, and I reminded myself that she had been here before. At one point I thought to myself, “Brenda, how many times are you going to say, ‘Oh, wow!’” My response was “As many times as I feel like it.” I was seeing and experiencing something I had never seen or experienced before, and given the limited travel I had done to this point in my life, I might not ever see or experience again. My childlike wonder and awe were acceptable both to me and to my friend.
As we continued to the end of the canyon, we met a couple of folks on their way back. One had turned back before reaching the end. The other encouraged us with “It is well worth the effort.” We might have been beginning to wonder about that, or perhaps we were just beginning to feel the effects of the cold and the climb more as we responded by asking, “How much farther is it?” We were assured that it was only a few more minutes. We continued.
The climb seemed to be getting steeper and the path a bit harder to negotiate. It was definitely colder. The stream, which had once been just that, a running stream of water, was now frozen over. The only hint of a stream was the sound of gurgling, running water beneath the layer of ice. We continued, and the anticipation of reaching our goal heightened as we could hear the rush of the waterfall. Suddenly, there it was – the boxed end of the canyon and the waterfall. However, what we saw was not the waterfall we had anticipated, but something much more beautiful and spectacular. We saw a frozen stream of water and billows of frozen mist and water spray. I described it as a cascade of angel hair. It was a snowy white set against the darkened red rock. There were a couple of smaller falls lower and to the side that seemed meek compared to the large central fall. It was a paradox of stillness and motion, for beneath the still of the icy fall and pool was the rush of the water. It was as if the sound of the water betrayed the face of the ice. We rested there sitting on a large fallen tree trunk for a few minutes. I wanted to absorb it all – the icy fall, the running water, the billows of angle’s hair, the stalwart canyon walls, and the sunlit blue sky. I lay down on the tree trunk even though it was very uncomfortable. I wanted to just look up. I wanted to see the big picture of God that He so graciously gave to me that day. I saw beauty, softness, and warmth. I saw firmness and paradox. I saw strength and steadfastness. I saw protection. I saw majesty, love, and a loving God that day because I chose to look up.
We were quiet as we rested and only spoke occasionally to point out something we saw or to affirm God’s goodness and presence. It was getting later. The whole canyon including the eastern wall was now in shadows. It was colder, and we both commented that our feet were beginning to be a little uncomfortable with the cold. The wind was picking up also. So we rebundled ourselves, particularly our faces, to protect against the wind, and headed back down the path. The hike down was much like the hike up and perhaps slightly more perilous as the descent seemed to cause a little more slipping. At one point we had to backtrack just a bit as we had taken what we thought to be the path but it went nowhere. We traversed the stream numerous times again without mishap, noted some foliage that would be pretty in a dried arrangement, and, of course, continued to look up, however, not so frequently.