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 one: Preparing the way, a young mans journey of awakening in the wild…. awakens another.



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.


A desire, A pledge, A dream come true


The setting could not be more perfect… The sun on my face, Pacific Ocean in front of me, the smell of a distant camp fire and my husband an two boys are searching for sea creatures in tide pools screaming with delight that they found yet another crab. The sound of joy never gets old. As I sit here, 15 years sober, I am reminded that I never wanted a life like this. Honestly, the only reason I didn’t is because I never believed it would come true. Dream safely is what I always thought, don’t get your hopes up because you could be let down, dream small, dream manageable, dream attainable and if it doesn’t come true, no one will notice the failure because they were not big enough to matter.

The moment came when the whispering started. It was 6 and a half years ago in the middle of the night, Nathan was born and so was a dream. A dream that felt so out of range that I couldn’t even talk about it. But I sat there in the quiet looking at this tiny human and a dream of walking the trails with my family, getting lost in the back country for days at a time…surviving with only what we can carry on our backs…witnessing the beauty of Gods creation…a dream was born in the dark of night. As with most dreams they need confirmation. Mine came in Glacier National Park, Nathan was only about two years old or so when I sat on the side of the trail, while feeding him, a family walked by. Backpacks for all of them and smiles, cheerfully remembering when they used to be us and it was confirmed, I wanted to be them.

As with most dreams I had preparation to do. The husband and I had to convert all our back country gear to ultra light weight gear. My husband and I had some immanence lessons in patience and tolerance to learn through many…and I mean MANY opportunities of correcting our poor behavior. Which is a whole other blog post. And I would probably argue that the most important preparation would be to listen to still quiet whispers from the dream creator Him self.


Listening to the whisper of God is challenging for me because often the voice of the critic is louder. It takes practice and I am not even close to perfect at it, however I must of done something correct because I’m sitting here 3 miles away from civilization with nothing but the stuff my husband and I carried on our backs. I sit here and think about the intimate process with God and I have walked through to get here. Waves of pain and set back rise away like the tide of the Pacific and suddenly I become a little more free along the way. I have a little bit more willingness to go further. I become a little more vulnerable. And suddenly my dream gets a little bigger. And now it has a title. To backpack with my family in the woods for days. To raise men on rugged trails. To live a life out loud that demonstrates the power and healing of God. And the dream gets fanned and fed. And the rush of accomplishment floods in.

As a Christ centered wife and mother the image of my self used to look very small and insignificant. Today my call looks bigger. It looks riskier. A bit more daring and scandalous. Going out and having an adventure to live. One with real risk like being mauled by a bear (a scenario I play through all the time) or getting lost in the woods. When we are out in the back country we rely on each other to survive. To give shelter and food. To give first aid if something is broken. I have a part deep inside my heart that craves connection and there is no deeper connection then knowing if we don’t work together we don’t eat or stay warm at night or stay safe from giant MOM eating bears.

My call today is saying to my boys


“You have an adventure to live and by my example of living mine you will know how to live yours. By my choice to silence the critics you will learn how to silence yours. I will show you how to push through fear. I will show you what not giving up looks like. I will live out a life that listens to a call and the dreams given by God. I will show you what pushing through set back looks like. I will show up after I fail over and over because you can’t know how to succeed unless you fail, you can’t have one with out the other. We as a family, a true connected family, knit together by the Creator, we will show others how to do the same. We will pass people on the trail, in the woods and in life, and inspire them to believe that the impossible is possible. That if we can do it, so can they. By our living as a godly family will teach you that surrendering to the call of God, that following the lead of God will take us through the valleys and over the mountains. We are playing the background and the dream of God flows through our family like a river through the forest”

In each of us is a spirit that connects us to the Higher power. In our hearts, I believe that we have a place deep inside that God speaks.  A place that is filled with the pleasure of God and the dreams He gives us. When I am on the trail with my family, I feel the pleasure of God. This is what I believe God wants for me. I feel the ever connection of a true sense of Joy, of Happiness and of Freedom. Trusting the process. Knowing that every painful experience is for my ultimate good.

I’m answering my call and adventure awaits…

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