It was winter time in Yosemite National Park. Our Christmas vacation that year was to head south. A winter storm hit and dropped several inches of snow in the valley. The trail was covered in ice and snow so in order to not trip each other we split up. Nathan and his dad were ahead of his brother and I. Nathan looked at his dad and said, “I want to climb mount Rainer Dad.” Shocked, his dad figured it was much like that time he wanted to ride a rocket into space. He listened with amusement however later in our trip, on a curvy road in central California his dad and I were talking stories of his times of climbing Mount Rainer and how he wanted to climb the mountain again in 2017. Our son, who is 7 brought the climb back up in conversation.
He was admit, I WANT TO GO TO THE TOP DAD!
Mount Rainer is not just any mountain; it’s 14,411 feet high! It’s one people train on to climb Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. The conditions can change so fast that it can be sunny and beautiful one hour and socked in cloudy with massive winds in the next. There are towers of ice hundred’s of feet tall. That is a huge tower of ice! There are often ladders that you must walk to cross crevasses that you can't see the bottom of. As his father he knew that he just didn’t have the reasoning to navigate that kind of terrain at 7 years old. So he compromised, because isn’t that what parenting is all about, finding ways to say yes?
He agreed to take him half way to the top.
Camp Muir is an 9 Mile round trip, 4640 of elevation gain and most of it is on snow. It sits at the 10,188-foot mark on the side of this massive volcano. Its one of the base camps to summit the mountain. But it’s a solid benchmark, its half way to the top. We all agreed that this would be a man quest. He requested his two uncles be apart of his journey. His little brother and I were allowed to join him on some of his training missions but not on actual summit day.
His dad and I talked, schemed, investigated to be sure this was something he really wanted to do and decided this was more then just a hike. It represented something more then that. It was a boys coming of age journey. It was a measure of a man. It was a trek on a path of hard work, tenacity and grit. To find out if he had what it takes. And it would take all of us to support him in finding out.
As any climber, backpacker, hiker knows it takes a massive amount of experience and preparation for quests of this magnitude. Not because Camp Muir is so hard, or because its so dangerous but because to a boy, half way to the top is something worth investing the time in to! In order to know the significance of this quest, its important to start at the beginning of the story.
This is the story that started years before our son was born. Before his dad and I even knew each other’s name. It began on a summer day at Glacier Basin in Mount Rainer National park.
It was an average season. A young man hit the trail that day, steps to begin his own coming of age journey. On a trail, not knowing where it went, how long it was or if he could even do it, he began to walk. He stopped a man a mile in or so and asked the question most newbies to hiking ask “where does this go and how far is it?” as if he put on his “I have no idea what I’m doing” sign the man replied kindly, “well you can take this trail all the way to the top”. He pushed on with far to heavy of pack, perhaps we would have chuckled at his ill preparedness if we had seen him on the trail today. This young man had been looking for something in side to settle his soul and not even knowing what he was looking for.
He emerged from the trees both figuratively and actually to see what was the most beautiful, mind blowing expanse of ice and rock ever! He saw the mountain. From this vantage you can see the way to the top. With his blood pumping and his heart racing and all the excitement a young man can muster he saw what that man told him about. The stranger on the trail could have ignored him, blown him off or even mislead him to believing the trail wasn’t worth walking. Yet he didn’t, he planted a seed that day that would begin to sprout in the high alpine meadow, where the mountain reached the sky. Where the ice crumbles and roars down the glaciers. Where the pikas run and scurry and the marmots whistle.
A place where as John Muir said
“in every walk with nature
one receives far more then he seeks”
He went home that day and bought a map. He studied. Explored. Threw caned food in a old backpack with no hip belt, no weight adjustments, just two strips of nylon and a zipper compartment and he began to fill the life experience he would need to walk along side his son one day.
The words, “all the way to the top” had taken that young man to some pretty high parts of the Pacific North west. That young man joined mountain climbing clubs, tracked countless miles of trail. He acquired all the gear he needed to climb what ever suited him. Even to the side of Denali, the highest mountain in North America, a staggering 20,310 feet high. Only to be turned around by illness and bad weather. Those words took him to the tops of peaks for years and years and years. They carried him through injury, heartbreak, life and death, pain and triumph. “All the way to top” was only a few short words that meant much more.
The words again from John Muir never rang so true for this young man from that day until this,
“I go to woods
to loose my mind,
and find my soul”
That young man, Nathans father Abram had no idea that his path through the forest was going to some day be a set of foot steps his own son would want to follow. No idea that the tracks he would leave behind would set inspiration in the mind of a son he had no idea was awaiting him at the trail head of fatherhood. All he knew was it was a path worth following, destination unknown, for the journey was the entire destination needed for him. Abrams paths lead him right up to the moment sitting in a car driving in central California breathing life in to a dream that will perhaps bring another man to the tops of mountains, where those summits touch the sky.
At the time he had no idea that he would be in the same shoes as that man, only to speak similar words to his own son,
“I will take you all the way to the top some day son, but for now, we go half way, for after all you have training to do and experiences to be had first.”
Nathan's final training hike, observation rock.