Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Being a Body Part

Life within the body of Christ.  It seems to mean so many different things to people.  For many, the church is simply a social gathering of like minded folks and they participate in it so long as there is nothing better to do.  For others, church is a place/activity that they attend, hoping to be uplifted and better prepared for the week ahead, and if it does not accomplish that, they will move on to another place in hope that it will meet their needs.  And for still others, the church is an opportunity to get to know God better and to serve and worship him alongside other believers.

For the most part I see myself falling into the third group, and yet I believe that even that falls short of what we should be.  There are several passages in Paul's writings that discuss spiritual gifts, one of them being in the 12th chapter of Romans.  And in this passage is tucked away a little expression that has recently jumped out at me and is making me take stock again of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. - Romans 12:4-5 NIV
I generally think that I belong to Christ, serve him, and am answerable to him.  If I fall short, if I fail to serve effectively, if for a while I just sit on the sidelines, it is just a matter between God and myself; it is me that ultimately suffers. But is that really the case.  Romans 12:5 says that as a member of the body, I belong to all of the other members.  I do not belong just to Christ, the head of the body; I belong to every other member as well.

Think about that for a moment.  If I belong to you, fellow body part, then I have an obligation to you; to serve you.  I have been placed in the body, not where I want to serve, but where God wants me to be, to perform a particular function within the body.  If I, along with all the other body parts, perform our functions well, then the body is healthy.  If I do not, then I am hurting the body, I am hurting you.

I know that oftentimes I do not take my responsibility to my fellow body parts seriously enough, being more concerned about myself than I am you; caring more about how I am feeling or how people are responding to me.  But when I feel like I am not being fed, appreciated, nurtured, growing or fulfilled, is it possible that I am the problem rather than the preacher, the S.S. teacher, the worship leader or the leader of the men's ministry?  If I was to turn my focus from how you are not meeting my needs, to how I can meet yours, then just maybe I would find joy and fulfillment, serving as that body part that God has made me to be.

Please forgive me for those times I have failed you by not doing my best for you.  Please help me to know how to more effectively serve you within the body.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Washington PCT from Trout Lake to Cascade Locks

In addition to doing a larger chunk of the PCT in Oregon or California each year, I have been doing a smaller section of my home state each year with a friend.  This year the plan had been to do Chinook Pass south to Trout Lake, but shortly before we left there was a trail closure west of Mt. Adams, so we shifted to the piece south of there.  We spent Friday night at Cascade Locks and early Saturday morning our wives drove us to the trailhead, a dozen or so miles from Trout Lake on FS 23.

This 82 mile stretch of the trail is mostly heavily forested and seldom rises above the tree line.  The forest was beautiful, green and lush, but I missed having the scenic vistas that are so common throughout the rest of Washington.  The trail is generally pretty easy, the climbs, at least southbound, were no more than a couple thousand feet, the tread was good, and only in a few places did the brush encroach on the trail.  There were a few places with 10-12 miles between water sources, but there was really little issue with water.  The only time I carried more than 2 quarts was our one night of dry camping; most of the time I only used a single water bottle.  The temperature started pretty warm but cooled significantly by the end.

I was surprised Saturday by the number of other people on the trail.  We probably encountered nearly one a mile for the first 10-12 miles of the day, mostly thru's, including a southbound pair.  But when we got to FS24 and the berry fields in the area, we started running into people in clumps, encountering another 3 to 4 dozen in the last 12 miles; and it seemed like most of the groups had one or more dogs with them.  Most of these folks were day hiking, either from a road and connecting trail, or camped near one of the area lakes.  I cannot remember ever seeing so many people out in the backcountry.  We also encountered a SAR group searching for an elderly woman who had disappeared while out berry picking. I read later that she was found the next day in good condition.

Towards the end of the day we started passing by a number of lakes, stopping at one for water and then going on to Blue Lake.  This is a beautiful clear lake that was very popular.  Signs were posted instructing us only to camp in designated spots, and they were all full.  So we plopped down in a day use area, went swimming, ate dinner, loaded up with water, fought off the dogs camped in the area, who without exception went into a frenzy when they saw me, and then headed on south another half mile or so.  We were both using hammocks so it was easy to find a spot to hang for the night, although our first attempt was apparently on a yellowjacket nest.  Fortunately we managed to escape with only a single sting.  The second attempt was better and we had a peaceful night after a 24 mile day.  The day was good in spite of the crowds, the dogs, the sting and only a single sighting of Mt Adams.

Sunday morning we were up and on the trail before 6, looking to get an early start to beat the heat.  There was a long dry stretch at the end of the day, and we were looking to get past it and to Panther Creek for the night, 22 miles away.  The day was mostly a long descent, broken up by a thousand foot climb in the middle.  We did manage to see Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood during occasional moments above the tree line, but the vast majority of the days was again spent cruising through the deep forest.  We encountered what appeared to be a Boy Scout troup preparing to cut a branch that was leaning over the trail, and then another dozen or so hikers.  While still more than I had expected, it was much better than the previous day.  Surprisingly, we did encounter a couple of light sprinkles, and it did seem a bit cooler than the previous day.  We had expected mid 90's for the whole trip so the cooler temp was a welcome relief.

There were a pair of drying ponds along the route, but neither of them looked appealing.  South of them was what was identified in the halfmile notes as a piped spring along the trail, but when we arrived it was just a 10 ft long 1" PVC pipe that was laying on the ground.  Tigger pushed it back against the seep that was coming from the bank and a bit of water started to flow; enough to fill our bottles.  This spring had more yellowjackets buzzing around than I had ever seen in one place before.  But their only concern seemed to be getting a drink.  A mile or so further south was another spring, and this one, just off the trail, had a convenient pool to scoop from and was nice and cool.

There is a front country campground at Panther Creek and we stayed there for the night.  Our spot was not far from the creek, making it easy to clean up and wash clothes.  Most spots in the camp were taken, but it was still fairly quiet with few people actually moving around. Turned in around 8 and slept like a baby, rocking in the tree tops.

Monday was going to be a shorter day, so we slept in and didn't get on the trail until close to 7.  Because of another longish dry stretch we decided to stop at Rock Creek, 16 miles down the trail. The route proceeded through some pretty dense forest, across a farm and a couple of substantial creeks/rivers for several miles before beginning the climb for the day.  This 2000 ft climb was pretty steady and at times fairly steep.  And, while it was still cooler, it was pretty humid, and long before we had hit the top my shirt was completely soaked and the sweat was running halfway down to my knees; worst sweat-out I can remember.

We reached Rock Creek around 2 and found two sites on the creek, one recently occupied, and the other unsuitable for hanging.  But there was another one at the top of a short ridge that the creek looped around, and this one was quite adequate to hang in.  Setup camp, ate lunch, bathed in the creek and then relaxed for a few hours before turning in for the night.  I believe that ridge above Rock Creek was my favorite camp of the trip.

Tuesday morning was also going to be a short 16 mile trip to Gillette Lake, which was only 4 miles from Cascade Locks.  My wife was going to pick us up Wednesday morning, so the plan was to mosey down to the lake spend the afternoon and evening, and then make it to Cascade Locks by 10 the next morning.  The day started off with a 2000 foot climb and I found myself drenched again, I assume because of the humidity.  It was the coolest day yet, and even had a few rain drops; but I was soaked long before hitting the top.  But we finally did get some nice vistas, having periodic sightings of the three previous volcanoes as well as Mt Rainier and the Columbia River.  We stopped on a big rock before beginning the long descent to the Columbia and had second breakfast, looking down at the Columbia and across to Mt Adams; probably the most scenic spot on this section of trail.

Next began a 3000 foot descent, and near the bottom we started to encounter poison oak.  It was pretty thick in places, and once we got to Gillette Lake, we found that most of the sites there had PO in or around them.  We sat there and ate lunch and debated about whether or not to stay, ultimately deciding that a burger would taste very good for dinner and pushed on to Cascade Locks.  A mile from the lake we rounded a corner in the trail and nearly ran into a bicycle heading our way.  After more than 2000 miles on the PCT, this was my first bike encounter.  I informed him that he was not supposed to be on the PCT. He seemed surprised at that, turned around and took off.  A mile later we found were he had probably hit the trail, and sure enough, there was nothing to indicate any restrictions on bicycles.  I am generally pretty non confrontational, so was surprised, and pleased, that I was able to confront this biker, although I am sure that it helped that he did seem surprised and contrite.

The final step was crossing the Bridge of the Gods at 5:30 P.M.  There was a steady stream of cars coming across, but without exception they moved over for us and we crossed without any undue excitement.  Found a hotel room, a burger, a bed and a ride the next day and the trip was over.  This was easily the least scenic stretch of the PCT I have been on in Washington (and I have done all of it but the Goat Rocks), and it had the most people on it.  But I did enjoy the trip; the walking was generally easy, the forests were lush, the occasional views were nice and the company was good.

Tigger and Eeyore ready to hit the trail.

One of a few sightings of Mt. St. Helens

Several lakes toward the end of the first day were visible through the trees, although the trail only directly passes by Blue Lake.

Mt Hood in the distance.

Tigger taking a picture of Adams with Hood in the background.

Mt. St. Helens

Mt Adams

Sheep Lake was one of two small drying ponds along the way.  We did not need water near badly enough to venture through the muck to them.

Very little of the forest had a bare floor.  Most of it had a thick green carpet.

Tigger demonstrating the proper technique for using a hammock.

A nice swimming hole on Rock Creek.

The bridge over Rock Creek was typical of stream crossings in the area.  Most of them had pretty substantial bridges.
Looking down from our camp at Rock Creek, you could see the creek on three sides.

There was a short section of the trail that afforded views of Mt Rainier in the distance.

First view of the Columbia River

Gillette Lake was pretty, but infested with poison oak, so we opted not to stay.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Gladys Divide to Black and White Lakes

I took off into the Olympics again last week, hoping to do some cross country travel. I have done very little of this in the past, but am wanting to get into some more remote areas of the park. I found a brief description of an off trail route between Gladys Divide and Lake of the Angles and then over to First Divide and it seemed to be something that would be within my comfort zone.  So Monday morning I launched out from Staircase and headed up to Flapjack Lakes to spend the night.  About a mile and a half in I realized my camera was missing so had to turn around and head back to the truck, where I found it sitting on the bumper.  The rest of the day was uneventful and I setup at the lakes and went for a swim; the water in the lakes was nice and warm. The flies were merciless though and put a bit of a damper on the enjoyment.

Tuesday morning I packed up and headed to Gladys Divide.  There is a small lake down on the Hamma Hamma side and that was the first destination.  I slowly picked my way down the steep slope to the shelf the lake sits on, and found that it was mostly a large dried mud flat.  The lake only had a trickle going into it, with no discernable outlet, and was in the final stages of evaporating away; and its smell was not too pleasant. The route description called on dropping down the Hamma Hamma valley for a while and then climbing up and over a notch in a southern ridge from Mt Skokomish.  I headed down the valley, but the slide alder and other brush was so thick that I was making little headway and eventually gave up and headed back, disappointed and unsure of my next move.

I headed back to Gladys Divide and then Flapjack where I re-setup camp, cooled down in the lake, and made plans to day hike up to the divide the next day and then strike out for Black and White Lakes from there, a trip I knew others had made.

From Gladys Divide I spotted a trail that took off on the Hamma Hamma side of the divide heading roughly NW around Mt Gladys.  I followed this intermittent trail as it climbed the ridge toward the summit. Near the summit I crossed over a notch and ended up following a ridge that headed to the SW rather than the westward ridge I should have followed. After  discovering my error, and backtracking half a mile or so back to the summit, I descended along the west ridge to a low spot and then climbed a bit to the east.  Murdock Lakes appeared down below me, and I think another trip along the ridge is in order to spend some time there.

From this point I lost all semblance of a trail and ended up traversing across the south face of this steep ridge, slowing heading down and to the west, eventually coming out onto an area that appears to have been burned long ago and is now covered in huckleberries.  From atop a small ridge I spotted the Black and White Lakes and made my way down to them and then found the trail that took me back to Flapjacks and another swim, a third night and the quick trip out Thursday.

Although I was unable to complete the route I had planned, I did manage to put in a few miles off trail and enjoyed it.  The weather was great, in the 80's every day and mostly clear.  There was some haze on Wednesday, with smoke from the Queets fire visible over Black and White Lakes.  The biting flies were fericious and drove me into the hammock for much of the time I was in camp.  But all in all the trip was great and beat having to work for a living.

Basecamp setup on Flapjack Lake.

Sitting on my rock overlooking the lower lake, looking up toward Gladys Divide, which is hidden behind the hill to the left.

Looking down from Gladys Divide into the Hamma Hamma basin.  Mt Skokomish is at the end of this valley, and the traverse goes up and over a notch on the southern ridge coming from Mt Skokomish.

This was a very popular flower with a caterpillar, a butterfly and several other large bugs all feeding on it.

Murdock Lakes are midway through the traverse, on the Hamma Hamma side.  I want to go back here and explore someday.

The Sawtooth Ridge looms over Flapjack Lakes and the climb to Gladys Divide.

One of several meadows on the upper half of the climb to Gladys Divide.

I am guessing that there was some form of mining at some point near the lake below Gladys Divide.  This old rusty shovel and a rusting can give evidence of a different kind of activity in the area.

Black and White Lakes as seen from the ridge to the east of the lakes.  Don't know which one is Black Lake and which is White; or if the name is a general one that applies to both.  Or how they got their name.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God, at least how it relates to human free will, is a challenging topic with a variety of ways that people understand it. Rather than rehashing what others say about this, I would like to briefly express what I have come to believe about the subject.

I believe that God is sovereign, he is a ruler with absolute power and knowledge. As sovereign, he is answerable to no one, especially to his human creations. He made us, and he does not owe us an explanation for how or why he did so, as much as we might like one. The ninth chapter of Romans is especially clear on God's sovereignty, in particular as it concerns what he is doing with us. There are some that God has destined for glory, and others that he destined for destruction. And that destiny is not based on what we may, or may not, have done.  It is solely based on his sovereignty. He chooses and rejects whom he wants to.

Is that fair? From a human perspective, maybe not. We would like to think that God would reward or punish us based on our actions. And typically our views of heaven and hell reflect that.  Be good, and paradise awaits you. Be bad, and face eternal punishment. But God is not like us, and we err when we try and see him as such. God is much more than I can conceive of, and judging him according to human standards is ludicrous.

I do not profess to understand God's purpose in creation, but I am reasonably certain that it was not so that he could have a heaven full of people to reward and hang out with for eternity. There certainly seems to be an easier way to accomplish that. Scripture tells us that, as believers, we are his children, and that seems to be not just for this life, but also in the future that awaits us; like some form of reproduction. And if that is so, then God most likely chooses those who have the characteristics he wants, based on this life, with the others being destroyed when physical life comes to an end.

While God is sovereign and can arbitrarily choose whoever he wants, the Bible is clear that faith plays a role in the selection. While some see faith as something we do and lump it with 'works', the Bible pretty clearly distinguishes between the two (i.e. Romans 3:28). It seems that faith is what God wants, and all who will live a life of faith in him will be chosen.

Some will argue that God gives faith to those he wants, but that would seem to be at odds with the repeated calls for us to have faith; calls that seem to indicate some personal responsibility. It seems more in line with scripture to see faith as something that is natively within me. Besides, if God wants all of us to be saved, and he is responsible for supplying the faith, why doesn't everyone have faith?

My faith however, does not obligate God in any fashion. He is sovereign, and if in his sovereignty he decides to select the faithful and reject everyone else, that is his right. In no way does my faith impinge on God's sovereign choice, or force him to act on my behalf.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Appleton Pass

One of the joys of being retired is being able to spend more time in the Olympics.  I took advantage of that last week and headed for Appleton Pass.  It had been a few years since I had been up there and I wanted to do some exploration of the meadows between there and Spread Eagle Pass.  I left the Boulder Creek trailhead late Monday morning and headed for the pass.  This was my first trip up since the old road to the hot springs had been replaced.  This first 2.5 miles of trail is now broad and gentle with several new bridges.  After the Boulder Creek campground the trail becomes much narrower and very brushy in places, although it is a pleasant trail; especially since there were no people on the trail above the hot springs, except for one couple day hiking up close to the pass.

I made it up to the pass by mid-afternoon and set up my hammock near Oyster Lake, collected some water from the spring below the lake, and then circled around to the peak on the far side of the lake.  The skys were clear and the views spectacular; Olympus was majestic.  Tuesday was spent exploring the meadows and hanging around the lake, soaking in the views and doing a little reading.  And Wednesday morning I packed up and headed out, stopping at the hot springs for a quick soak.  It was a great trip and, once past the hot springs, very isolated.

This is one of the new bridges just below the hot springs.  When you are on the bridge you can look down and still see the old footlog that you used to have to cross.

The upper falls on the south fork of the Boulder creek.  It is just below the log across the creek.

The meadow below Appleton Pass is brushy, but is very colorful.  The trail is easy to follow, but there are times you have to push your way through some dense shrubbery.

Mt Olympus from atop the outlook near the pass.  The outlook is easy to get to and it offers outstanding views.

I am not positive, but I believe the meadow is Soleduck Park, home.  This is also visible from the lookout point as well as the way trail to Spread Eagle Pass.

Mt Appleton as seen from the lookout.

Down the Boulder Creek drainage.

Oyster Lake.  This shot is taken from the ridge that winds up to the lookout point.  My campsite is just into the trees behind the bare spot above the lake.  The trail running down to the bottom of the picture leads to a small spring that provides fresh water.

Sunset over the lake.

The meadows were full of bear grass in bloom.  I watched a deer take the top off one of them in one bite.

Oyster Lake again, this time from the trail and campsite.  You circle around the ridge to the right to the viewpoint behind the lake; about a 15 minute trip.  

This lake is to the east of the way trail to Spread Eagle Pass, over the ridge that is to the left of the trail.  I didn't make it all the way to the lake, but someday will go back and camp there.  

You can just barely see the trail climbing through the meadow on the left toward Spread Eagle Pass.  Once over the pass you would traverse for a bit before coming to Cat Lake.

It was hard to get a good picture, but there were hundreds of butterflies along the shore of Oyster Lake Tuesday evening, seemingly drinking and making baby butterflies.

Oyster Lake has a decent population of tadpoles.  These were clustered in the shallow area near where the outlet would be if the water was high enough.

The lake also had at least 10-12 frogs that seemed to spend their time hanging out on the beach or at the edge of the lake.  Also saw a couple of salamanders.  

I saw this guy, along with his twin and mom walking down the trail from the pass on Tuesday morning.  When I went down the trail Wednesday morning, he was laying motionless in a switchback, not even blinking.  Was he dead, or just hiding in plain sight?  I hope the later, but I got as close as 5 foot away and saw nothing to indicate any life.

As I rounded the switch, there was mom and twin heading down the trail away from me, periodically looking back, maybe to see it they were successfully leading me away from the other fawn.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Retreat at Cedar Lake

Earlier this week I took off for 3 days and went to one of my favorite places in the Olympics, Cedar Lake.  I started from Deer Park and made the long descent to Three Forks and then back up the Gray Wolf to where the shelter used to be; it is just a burned pile of timbers now.  From there a way trail heads off up the Cedar Creek drainage a couple of miles to the lake, which sits in a moderate sized basin.  The lake is about a third of a mile long and surrounded on three side by steep walls.  It has a couple of small campsites when you first come to the lake, and I grabbed the first one because it has the best hanging place for my hammock.

I spent two nights at the lake, with a full day in between and thoroughly enjoyed it, except for the persistent mosquitoes; I have seen much worse, but there were enough to be an irritant.  While there I enjoyed a trip around the lake, a little exploring, a swim, and some reading and meditating.  It's really great to get away to a place like that and just reflect on God, life, and whatever else comes to mind.

On Wednesday I was up fairly early and was on the way by 6:30.  On my first trip into the lake, about 7 years ago, a friend and I had traversed across from a tarn a bit below the Gray Wolf Pass, and I had decided to reverse that trip on the way out.  There is no easy path around the lake.  On one side it is all scree and rock, and sometime so steep that it is challenging, and I opted not to try that with a pack.  The other side is covered in steep meadows and some trees, but is very wet.  Much of it is just oozing water and is pretty slick.  I opted for that side, and of course fell down on one especially slick slope; glad to have gotten that out of my system early.  Once at the other end of the lake I climbed half a mile or so up a relatively easy grade before getting into a steeper section for the upper half of the climb.  I had remembered a bit of a trail coming down from the pass, but found no trace of one this time until I was nearly out.  But the climb was uneventful and offered good views of the lake and basin below.

From the pass there is an occasional track through the heather that leads toward the Gray Wolf pass, past three tarns, and ending behind a fourth tarn that is visible from the Gray Wolf trail a half mile below the pass.  Even without the trail, if you knew the basic direction to head it would be hard to get too lost.  It was probably not much over a mile, and was bounded by a steep ridge on one side and a sharp drop off on the other.  The traverse, while short, was scenic and enjoyable.

Once back to the Gray Wolf, I just followed the trail back to Three Forks and then trudged back up to Deer Park, about 3000 feet of up in 4.5 miles.  All in all, a very good trip.  And the only people I saw the whole time were between Deer Park and Three Forks; right at 48 hours with no people.

This view is taken from near the Deer Park trailhead, as you make the short initial ridge walk. In real life you can easily discern the valleys that the Grand, Cameron and Gray Wolf flow through and see Three Forks, where they all come together.

The inside of this rotted tree trunk on the Gray Wolf looks like a medieval torture chamber.

One of my favorite stretches of trail on the Gray Wolf.  It is only a few hundred yards long, but everything is covered with thick moss.  It just looks so inviting and soft.

The upper trail along the Cedar creek, and around the lower end of the lake basin, was covered in Avalanche lilies.  The wildflowers were beautiful and abundant throughout most of the trip.

Closeup of an Avalanche lily.

Lots of Asters of different sizes and colors.

The Columbine were out in full force as well.  They are hard to get a good picture of  because the flower usually is facing the ground.  

There is a tarn up above the lake that had a pretty healthy population of tadpoles, and one frog.  When I went by they seemed all to be sunning themselves in the shallow fringes of the tarn, hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of them.

Looking back at the lake from up above the south end of the lake, and the tadpole tarn.  Camp was setup near the middle of the clump of trees at the far end of the lake, right next to the exit stream.

At one point, while walking around the lake, I felt something on the back of my leg, and found this little guy taking a break.  First time I can recall having a pet butterfly, even if only for a few minutes.

At the end of this trail you can just see my hammock nestled in the trees.  The lake in ahead and visible to the right.  The creek is behind the trees to the right. While it would have been hard to put much of a tent in here, it is perfect for a hammock.  In fact, that is the spot I saw my first backpacking hammock and was convinced to give them a try.

The big rock in the foreground made a good platform to swim from.  The low point in the far ridge wall was my exit point the next day.

I am not a fisherman, but if I was I would have been eating good.  There were lots of trout in the lake, looking to be around 8-10 inches.

A look back at the lake from the pass out of the basin.

Looking the other way from the same pass, toward the Gray Wolf pass.  The trail heads down the valley in the lower center and then veers to the right.  You can just see on of the tree tarns that you skirt on the way out.

Looking back at one of the little tarns on the way down.

Looking down the Gray Wolf valley, midway through the traverse.

I think I counted 7 foot logs across the Graywolf as well as one across the Cameron and another across the Grand.  This spot actually had two of them, with the one in the background broken at the end and apparently replaced by the other one.

All that's left of the Gray Wolf shelter.  I don't know when it burned, but the first time I came up this valley, probably 17-18 years ago, it was intact.

The footlog across the Cameron has broken in the middle, and both halves have rolled 90 degrees.  A little more challenging to cross, but still easily doable.

Quite a few Candy Sticks were sprouting on the Tree Forks trail.