Part 4: Mission Accomplished

Through much of this journey there is a behind the scenes aspect that I have had yet to mention. Nathan has an invisible gift. Nathan has Sensory Processing Disorder. I share this not as a hinderance but as an offer of hope to families who have kids with high needs, any thing is possible. Nathan has demonstrated again and again the tenacity and grit it takes to push through the odds.


S.P.D. is a part of the brain that processes sensory input ie: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. For sensory kids the signs show up in a variety of ways, for Nathan his shows up today mostly in the auditory processing part of his brain and he can become easily overwhelmed, big crowds are very hard for him to stay in his body and bright flashing lights are really challenging for him to stay focused. Among other things. Think a Jack-In-The box character, only the Jack-In-The box character has confetti that pops out, with silly string, strobe lights and its head expands to twice the size of the box that becomes almost impossible to put back in once its pops. That is Nathans brain when he has a sensory melt down.


Often a dark quiet room for “alone time” or some play time out side where Nathan has complete control over his environment is what helps him be able to bring his brain back to center or is able to “put Jack back in the box”. Depending on the day the triggers vary from just about anything one day to the next. The book “The Out of Sync Child” by Carol Stock Kranowitz is a really informative book on sensory and how it works.


Over the years with the help of occupational therapy and a stout commitment to accept that there are things that work for our family and things that don’t, through much trial and error on our part I might add, we have found our way.  It’s not all melt downs and life changes however it also means a lot of really amazing things like his attention to detail, given the proper amount of time he can build some elaborate legos or block buildings. He has a passion for reading. He also has a very strong ability to feel deeply for something or someone. He is absolutely a loyal and faithful friend.

We travel, we go to places, we go to movies, we go to the mountains. We challenge him on many levels because that’s life after all and S.P.D. isn’t going to stop us from living an adventure filled life. Everyone finds what works for them and that’s the most important part. For us we have found joy in the mountains and on adventures.


However there is one aspect to S.P.D. that can make life very challenging when failure is a part of the story its what they call “hyper-focused” and its quite hard to over come. It can be a task uncompleted, it could be the tick of road noise in the car is to loud or an idea he didn’t feel he could fully express. It becomes challenging to help him process through and move on because that specific experience can end up as a broken record in his brain. Sometimes it has resulted in me or Abram carrying him out of places and a two hour melt down about the blanket that he decided was a must have.

Then there is times where he will have his time to process his feelings and its done, never to mention it again. It’s certainly not all or nothing or a one size fits all. We just never know which time is going to be, let go and move on or will it be held on to like a set of cat claws.


So for us when it came to training for his dream and not making it to the top of Observation Rock, there was a lot of anxiety about which direction he would go when we tried for Muir. He was quiet upset about not making it. There was much conversation about just because one experience had one out come, doesn’t mean the next one will be the same.

So we acted as if. Abram and I also have to work on ourselves. To remind our selves that no matter the out come we show up any way and see what happens.


So the packs are packed, the food is ready and the alarm beeps at 3 AM. We roll out of bed and off we go. Nathan is giddy which is helpful because Abram and I slept about 3 to 4 hours the night before summit day and Nathans energy is contagious. So far the only “hyper-focused” is his push for the top.


We hit the trail with the clap of thunder off in the distance. We knew the chance of thunder showers loomed in the morning so with a watchful eye on the sky we pushed on. We were just short Pebble Creek and a huge clap of thunder roared over head and then echoed off the mountain, it was hands down the coolest sound I have ever heard. One of natures surprises though, she wasn’t going to make the push for the top an easy one for us. Lighting struck a couple ridges over so we dropped our trekking polls about 15 feet away, found a place to spread out to wait for the thunder storm to pass.

Nathan was worried and stuck on the fact that we could die. He was right. Lighting in the mountains is something to be respected for sure. Thankfully this was not our first time being in the mountains in the weather and I reminded him that he survived a thunder storm in Glacier National Park a few years back which had done the trick to calm him down. Drawing on past experiences of success helps us all doesn’t it? Getting up and down the mountain safely is our primary job. No matter how bad we want to victory, safety is the first rule.


No sooner did the storm pass did the snow field start. The long, slow, push for Camp Muir began. There was a cluster of folks we walked with, most of which would pass on one liners of encouragement to Nathan that he seemed to gobble up. Abram continued giving him encouragement and reminding him that he’s strong enough, that he has what it takes. Hearing a father’s voice that reinforces the truth has such power for a kid. I could see the change in Nathans face every time he would hear Abram say in about 100 different ways “you have what it takes”.


Nathan learned that there was a shelter at the top. He wanted to see it. He marched up, faster then us at times. The sky opened up and he could see the crevasses and glaciers on the mountain. It blew his mind how big they were and how blue they were. He kept pushing to see more and more of the mountain. He just couldn’t believe that such large quantities of ice could exist! After a few breaks, one step at a time.

We arrived at Camp Muir.


I imagine it’s the same feeling a parent feels when there child wins a football championship or a baseball championship or seeing your child graduate from school. Reflecting on all the steps it took to get to that moment in time. Something only experience can help someone to know the amount of emotion that washes over you.


Nothing prepared me for that moment. I sat and looked at my boy. All the life experiences that led to this moment and it was his moment, not mine or Abrams. He made it. He sat and ate cookies. He was so proud. 7 years old, S.P.D. in his back packet and he made it. He pushed through fear of not having what it takes. He pushed through his fear of the thunder. He was half way up the mountain on his own two feet. He was so tired and overwhelmed he almost threw up right there on the platform where every one sits.


Abram and I sat together and took in the moment. A sense of relief and joy came over both of us. A sounds of silence loomed in the air. We both know what it took for us to get here. We both also knew that this wasn’t our moment. This moment was Nathans!


With the sound of rock and ice falling off the Nisqually head wall we started our long walk down. The only thing pushing Nathan to do the last half of the trip is glissading. Its one of the nice things about a huge snowfield, you can slide down on your bottom!


A quick lesson on how to go down safely and a few boundaries gone over, he learned how to glissade.  Shoot after shoot. He made his way down. Sometimes facing frontwards, sometimes facing backwards, sometimes sideways.  Sometimes he needed to skip one to be reminded that safety was the way to ensure the fun continues. But one thing was present at all times a laser focus and smile from ear to ear. The people walking by had smiles too. We had the biggest ones of course. Abram and I watched our boy grow a little more into to a man that day.


A younger gentlemen was coming down behind us and was beyond impressed by seeing a 7 year old at Camp Muir to which his reply was “after seeing him up there it made me really question some decisions I have been making in my life”. Nathan offered inspiration to others by simply doing what he loves.


No one will ever know for sure the amount of grit and perseverance it took for him to get him self “Half Way To The Top” but him and him alone. As we made the long, tireless trek down to our car. Feet hurting. Legs worn out and ready fall off Nathan was passing on encouraging one liners to tiered hikers along the trail, you have to give it away to keep it after all.


A sense of amazement hung in the air during the car ride home. He made it. HE DID IT! MISSION COMPLETE! Per usual, there was nothing to worry about. He found his way. Against the odds, he made it Half way up Mount Rainer!

With a smile on his face and a look of accomplishment beyond recall, he says from the backseat

“I did it”

A few days had passed. Nathan was ready to blow up his volcano. Nathan sprayed lava every where out the top complete with sound effects and cheers.

Abram sat down with Nathan to talk about his dream. He reminded him that this is not the end of the path. That you making the summit isn’t the end of dreaming. I listened to him share with Nathan the wisdom of not settling and continuing to strive for dreams no matter how big or small.

Life is about the journey not a destination. So Abram left Nathan with one question

What’s next?

For in the words of John Muir

“Between every two pines

Is a doorway in to another world”

This is just the beginning of many many adventures to come…


Part Three: Where failure is part of success

While walking the trails in life often brings many lessons to the surface. For Nathan it was finding the drive to go forward even though he wouldn’t make it. Try again! Always do your best! Leave nothing off the table! He spent weeks talking and processing loss of the summit. It was hard to not make it better for him. It would be a struggle to not find a way to give him a "participation trophy". Watching my son struggle was hard! I could have sat in the cheap seats throwing feel good one liners at him but instead I sat next him and said “me to." I talked about all the times I failed and his dad did the same thing and so did his uncle Jonah, we all sat next to him as in the speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave in 1910. In it, Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

This was the trip he failed. Where he walked out the very things Teddy spoke about over 100 years ago that is apart of the human spirit that is the same over the span of time no matter what because humans are a part of the story and we really haven’t changed much, thank God.

Observation Rock was the final training mission. It was a 13 mile and 3500 of elevation gain. Intended to be harder then Camp Muir. It would be the hardest thing Nathan has ever done. However he was strong enough, it was safe enough and he was mentally ready to take on the challenge.

Abram and Nathan started up early in the morning. He and Abram had done everything right however sometimes things still go wrong.

At home, having no idea what was happening on the trail it turned out that almost half way into the hike the UV was high and Nathan had been drinking his water at least it looked like he had. Nathan was having a ball. He had his Dad all to him self. They were trekking a crossed all kinds of mountain man terrain. However one thing with kids is they often don’t pay as close attention to their body’s as adults do until it’s to late.

After an hour or two Nathan was starting to struggle more then normal. Abram opened Nathan’s pack to take some of his weight to find out Nathan hadn’t drank very much of his water at all, Abrams heart sank and he realized that if Nathan didn’t drink quickly this was going to become dangerous. In fact Nathan was already severely dehydrated and Abram had no idea. When you’re up in the mountains in the wind and with the UV high it literally sucks the moisture right out of your skin. So drinking lots of fluids is the best way to avoid heat exhaustion. The males in Abrams family are extremely susceptible to the heat and dehydrate quickly.


At one point a short text came through saying something like, “it’s hard but we are ok”. What I didn’t know was Nathan had gotten sick at 8000 feet. They were 300 feet from the top and turned around. Resting every 50 feet it took them 2 ½ hours to travel down. Abram had enough training to know the number one rule in an emergency situation in the mountains was to not make it worse. So he sat down to eat his lunch and Nathan collapsed next to a rock. It was then that out of no where his phone got coverage and his last text of “Nathan is not good, he’s in trouble” had come through on my phone even though he had tried to send it many times from hours earlier. It was as if God him self took Abrams shoulders and sat him down on that very rock on the side of the trail. When he stood up his coverage went away when he sat down he had full service. If he had kept walking the chance of not having help at all would have been very high. God’s kind reminder’s that surrender and be still is often when help arrives.


Once the text came through I tried to call and miraculously the call connected. I spoke with Abram for some time and I realized that he needed help him self. I have never in my life heard my husband say, “I don’t know what to do”. He is the mountain man, the trail guide; he knows what to do at all times. Except this time it was HIS son, he was a Dad first and a mountain man second. So we ran though a few scenarios. All of which included me calling people and sending help, through many transfers I got a hold of a lovely lady named Tabby in the Mount Rainer rangers office. She gave me a list of questions, almost all of which I was able to answer. And a rescue was set in motion.


I called Abrams brother Jonah. We spoke at length about what was happening all the while he is packing his pack and walking out the door. Abram and Jonah had been hiking partners for YEARS! And Jonah was the best person to go! He knows Abram with out either of them even really needing to speak. They can be in the woods and know what needs to happen next intuitively. With Jonah's wife in the drivers seat so he can hydrate and fuel up with food she drove him at high speeds up to the trail head they made it in record time and Jonah hit the trail. While he is on his way the ranger calls me back, she discovered that two rangers who just happened to be on the very same trail that day, after Tabby spoke with them it was then that Jim and Peggy turned around and headed back up the trail to see how they could help Abram and Nathan.


No sooner did Abram and Nathan set foot on the main trail did they walk right in to Peggy and Jim. A layer of relief had washed over Abram even though he had been doing what every parent does when there kid starts projectile vomit except this time he was 5 miles in on the side of a mountain! Turns out the solutions are the same, rest, small amounts of fluids and bland bready food. He was relived that he didn’t have to do this alone. Truth be told so was I.


A short time after Jonah showed up, a whopping 45 minutes from trail head to his brother yet again another layer of stress and worry fell off Abrams shoulders. Nathan also relaxed and was so happy to be walking with his uncle and his Dad. The rangers followed along as well after a very long walk everyone made it out safely.


After 14 hours on the trail Abram and Nathan were D O N E! Heat exhaustion subsided with tired and sore bodies one thing hung in the clouds above Nathan’s head, He didn’t make it! He was 300 feet short. It was his last training mission and he didn’t make it. He had finished on every other mission he set out to do. We have a saying in our house; Failure is a part of success based mainly off the quote at the beginning. When the kids trip on the trail or make a mistake or we as parents blow it big time we often talk about failing. Abram and I have taught our boys about failure and it is an important part of the journey through hiking and through life. Arguably one of the best baseball players of all time, Babe Ruth struck out twice as many times as he hit home runs. Surly if he had given up we would be deprived of watching an amazing player pave a path in history.


If we had insulated Nathan from the feeling of loosing he may not have wanted to try for the next goal. He may have given up. Because lets face it, when loosing happens it sucks! It hurts, it’s humbling and it can linger. Living where participation trophies are apart of our world we don’t talk about failure enough I think. As parents we isolate our selves in our homes not talking about the mistakes that happen when we screw it up with our kids or our spouses. Or the promotion someone deserves is over looked. Or the scale once again is back where we started and to talk about it hurts or we face the critical voices of our peers.


Learning how to fail is the key. Walking with people who are fighting in the same arenas are the only voices that count but instead the voice of the critic; the person with no kids, the CEO who has no more ladder to climb or the skinny supermodel on yet another magazine voices ring out loud and shaming.


For Nathan, the gift of failing was a good one. Supported by people in the same fight as him, we gave him the support to walk through the struggle, not get lost in the despair of failing. He learned the true meaning of something I heard a guy say once,

“Life is not always about getting to the top, it’s about being happy on the side of the mountain where you are.”

Not to say that striving for the top isn’t important because it is, but to know that sometimes we don’t always make it and that has to be ok. The time after we fail is where it counts the most.

What happened next was worth every recount of failure I have ever walked through. It was something that no parenting class or Internet article can ever describe. Watching Nathan put his boots back on and walk in the face of the very real chance he would fail again and yet he did it any way was something I was not prepared for. He knew he wasn't alone. He knew that fail or succeed he was a winner no matter what. Because winning some times is in the showing up as I heard in a parenting CD by Brene Brown.

Stay tuned for the Fourth and final chapter of the journey.


Part Two: The Climbers Code

Part Two: The Code


In spending time talking about Nathans dream to go “half way to the top” on our 14 hour drive home from So. Cal. We came up with what was to be called “Nathan’s training missions”. It was a series of 7 trips each one progressively harder then the next. Picked with a specific skill or experience in mind he would need to be able to accomplish his dream. Some designed for just sheer accomplishment others for learning to travel on rock or walking on snow and others still for distance or elevation gain.


I drew out a chart on a big poster board with a thermostat gauge in the middle he was able to fill in with red marker he later determined was the lava rising to burst from the top when he made it “half way up”. It hung in our kitchen as a constant reminder of what he was working towards.

The first was where things were set in motion. A local peak named Mt peak was the first attainable easy mission. It’s a simple 3 mile 1000ft of gain local hill people hike all the time. It was certainly not Nathans first time up it, in fact his first trip up it was in a baby pack at 6 weeks old on Abrams chest. This time though they came home with more then just something to mark off the chart. They came home with a code. “The code” It was the code they were going to operate by.

It was made up of 5 points to guide them through this journey together to train not just the body but also the mind. Half the battle of climbing sometimes is the mental fortitude it takes to will your self to the destination. Each climbing code was born from trail and route experience when things went very wrong and also went very right. It’s also a code that applies to more then hiking. It applies to all areas really. Which is why it’s stuck around this whole time. What ever your path, there is always mountains to climb.

The Climbers Code


1. Get up and Down the Mountain Safe


2. Protect and Respect Nature


3   Always be Prepared


4   Find God


5   Have Fun

1 Get up and Down the Mountain Safe

Even when you do everything right things still go wrong because its nature and there is always something out of your control. If you were to know Abram at all you would know that he is someone who likes to take on a challenge, the harder the better. So it would come at no surprise that he was on a route, in February to climb Mt Rainer. Abram and his climbing partner at the time David were on the Kautz Glacier route. They had done everything right, checked avalanche reports, planed the route they would take and brought all the necessary things to Get up and Down safely.

After digging “pits” to check the snow quality along the route everything looked ok. But just because one spot was ok is not always a guarantee the next spot isn’t and that also means of course there are places you just can’t dig,  a steep, narrow gully on a mountainside that can be full of snow or full of loose rock is one of those places and they are typically crossed as fast and safely as possible.

It was here that Abram and David were caught in the avalanche.  Abram attempted to ice ax arrest and was knocked on to his back. Head over heals he tumbled for what could have been 3 seconds or 15 seconds either way his ice ax ripped his shoulder apart inside and all he could do was swim and hope to reach the surface before the snow stopped moving. When an avalanche slides it not only slides at a high rate of speed it also turns to an almost liquid and then compress into something similar to cement where it is incredibly hard to move. The decision to swim was probably the thing that saved his life.

When the slide stopped he was up right. Abram was buried to his waste, glacier glasses no longer on his head and he had a helmet full of snow. His climbing partner was down slop a bit but also up right and had a badly injured ankle. They walked off the mountain from a starting point of 12,500 feet. Eventually making it to safety. They had used things from there packs they carried every time they went out  in the mountains and never needed until that moment. Applying the skills they had learned for years and never needed is what got them down with some badly injured limbs and one hell of a story to tell.

Sometimes from start to finish we don’t always have the best in-betweens but if properly prepared, we finish Getting up and down the Mountain safely.

2. Protect and Respect Nature

There is a hike out of sunrise in Mount Rainer called Fremont fire look out. As a family, all four of us trudged up this trail with about 500 or more of our closest friends. Nathan was 5 at the time and very clear about where the trail is and what to do and what not to do. After spending about an hour on the top we headed down.

We ran in to a ranger who spoke with Nathan at great length about trail etiquette. Not because he was doing any thing wrong but because he knew so much about the subject. He gave Nathan a badge that said something about protecting nature. It was his “trail badge” to set right any one whom he saw was making a wrong choice. Sure enough about 5 mins later there was someone walking off trail and he set them straight. He informed them that they needed to protect nature and that it was important so that other little kids after him could have a chance to see the flowers and forest.

Guilt trip over and we went about our day. From that day on he has been the nature protector, badge and all. He has learned about tacked and what true leadership is as a result of taking ownership of his badge to Protect and respect nature.

In order to be sure that mountains stay alive and well his purpose is to be sure he leaves things better then when he found them and that means “Protect and respect nature”

IMG_2845(Burrows Loop, Mount Rainer National Park)

3. Always be Prepared

The 10 essentials list. It’s a list of 10 things to ALWAYS bring when you head in to the outdoors. Countless times we have watched people put them selves in harms way because they neglect to bring the essentials.

Classic Ten Essentials

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Fire starter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

People always think its not going to happen to them, until it does. Thankfully we haven’t had more then bumps and scraps with the kids, however for Abram and I we have need items from the list more then a few times to make it back safely. One story comes to mind before we had kids. Abram and I had been out on a 4 day backpacking trip east of Seattle. We had taken a short day hike out of camp and on the way down Abram slipped on some rocks and dislocated his shoulder. We were at least 12 miles and 6500 feet of elevation away from our car and it was 2 in the afternoon.

Abram go out his first aid kit and pulled out his sling bandage. He had carried that sling for at least 12 years every hiking trip he had ever been on and never needed it until that moment but it was the only thing that enabled him to walk out. These items are not for the 100 times you don’t need them they are for the one time you do. And it may not even be for your self. Many times Abram or I have had to use everything in our packs to be able to get out of the trail safely either for our selves or something we walk up on the trail.

In the wilderness or in life we never receive warning that these things we are prepared for are going to happen, they just do. Unless of course it comes in the form of a 600LB grizzly bear, then at least you have a 30 second heads up that things are about to get really different and to just brace for impact. None the less, Always be Prepared because one day you may not know you need what you have, until its right in front of you.

4. Find God

This one is kind of self-explanatory. It’s hard to deny the presence of a higher power when you stand on top of the places we have stood and the silence is deafening. Spiritual experiences are things that are common for me in the woods.

Reminds me of a quote by John Muir:

“Id rather be in the Mountains thinking of God

then in church thinking of Mountains.”

Walking among the trees through deep valleys or high peaks has been places that produce healing and perspective. Many times I have left feeling better then when I came, not because I made my destination or because I saw something out of the ordinary but simply because I cleared the cob webs out of my brain and the wild caged animal inside was quiet once again.

Take for instance the time Abram hiked up to a place called “Hidden Lake” in Glacier National Park. He didn’t go there on crutches because he wanted to see the destination. He went up that 3 miles boardwalk on crutches because he was crazy inside and a piece of him was dying and the wilderness called his name. For me I have vertigo and big open slopes are something that my brain hates very much and I almost pass out often but I figured out ways to go, not because I like dry-heaving on the side of mountains or because I enjoy feeling dizzy, but because that is where I find God. The Doctors say “people who have what you have don’t do what you do” to which I reply “well Doc I guess I will be sick a little bit because this is what I love” most of them are hikers so they get it. I usually am given some kind of reminder talk about don’t put your team in jeopardy and I usually agree.

What ever the destination a high peak, lake shore or just a walk under the canopy of the trees Finding God is about finding something bigger then one self to know we are not alone out here in what ever wilderness we choose.

5. Have Fun!

When hiking with kids its really easy to get disturbed by the whining, crying, sniveling and declarations of defeat and that’s just the first mile! So as parents we had to get creative on how to get them to move without fully realizing what was happening.

GAMES! Peanut M&Ms are dino eggs on the trail, hide and seek if we aren’t in grizzly country, guessing who lives where we are going, the bump game where the kids try to bump us off the trail and so many more. Its been an ebb and flow of learning how to not get so focused on getting somewhere at a certain rate that the destination comes at the cost of fun.

Finding ways to have fun has been born from many mistakes we have made. Realizing that hiking isn’t always about destination, it’s the journey along the way that makes the destination worth it. Having fun is what fuels a 4 and a 7 year old to walk 10 miles and not realize it. There is nothing more motivating then hearing the giggles and laughter that happens when the boy’s will hide and try to jump out a scare us, they are getting better at it so sometimes the fright is genuine which makes them want to do it more, however what they don’t know is they are running for a ¼ mile at a time to hide in front of us which means they have no idea that they are covering ground faster then some adults. It’s a win-win, which again is always the goal for us.

So of course Have Fun is apart of the Code, after all if it wasn’t fun then what’s the dang point any way?


(Lamar River Canyon, Yellowstone National Park)

The Code, its vital for this family to operate by in life and on the trail. Its built from life’s journeys of successes and failure, hardship and abundance. It was built when we weren’t even looking. But what happens when failure is the end result? Where despite everything, you still don’t make it?

Watch out for part 3 where success is all about failure.