On my last trip as a summer guide for Peak 7’s 2015 season, I had the privilege of leading a three-day backpacking trip in Olympic National Park with Re:New, a housing program for teens in need of a healthy environment in which to live and complete their education. As the group arrived to gear up at the warehouse the first morning, my co-guide Bobby and I knew that this trip was going to one for the books. The guys were excited, rambunctious, and ready to go.
Once we hit the trail, our destination was Royal Lake, about seven miles up one of the most beautiful canyons I have ever seen. The first few miles took us along the crystal clear cascades of Royal Creek. Blankets of bright green moss lined the path on either side and giant trees towered above us. Each of us were amazed at the beauty, one of the youth mentioning he felt like he was in a scene from the Lord of the Rings.
As we continued to climb, we were met by open meadows granting us 360-degree views of the jagged peaks which surrounded us on all sides. One of the guys, Chris, was hiking right behind me and we shared multiple jaw-dropping moments as we would round a corner and be greeted by yet another stunning vista. We eventually made it into the campsite at Royal Lake – a sweet spot tucked away on the edge of a meadow, next to a creek, and with unobstructed views of the Olympic range.
That night, amidst God’s amazing creation, we talked about forgiveness, and the stories began to flow. It was during this time that my eyes were opened to the incredibly difficult struggles through which many of these young men have endured. Several shared of how from early middle school, they were heavily involved in various forms of substance abuse. Thankfully, they are all on the road to recovery, and are involved in healthy community at the Re:New home. More on that later.
The next day, our plan was to go for a day hike up to the top of Martin Peak. We left camp early that morning and soon found ourselves shrinking smaller and smaller as we climbed closer to the foot of these mountains. Our plan was to do a 3rd class scramble route to the summit. According to the route description, it was one that was supposedly fairly safe from exposure and loose rocks. Not long after we had started did we realize that this was not the case. We had scrambled our way up a few hundred feet when we found ourselves getting onto sketchy terrain. Most of the guys were feeling alright, but a few of them were getting anxious, so Bobby and I discussed our options. We scouted ahead to see what the rest of the route would look like. Our initial plan was to ascend that route and then descend on the other side of the mountain on terrain that was supposed to be similar to what we were on. From our vantage point, it seemed to us that it might be a little easier from then on, but we couldn’t know what the descent would be like until we made the summit. We didn’t like that. We were also concerned about how safely the group could descend the gully we had just climbed up. Neither option seemed incredibly safe. After discussing the options, we decided to descend. In this moment, with the concern of having to descend the steep, loose gully, we stopped and prayed. It went a little something like this, “God, thank for your incredible creation; in this moment, we are humbled by your creative power displayed through this mountain. Thank you for keeping us safe so far, and we ask for wisdom in getting back safely.”
Bobby and I headed back down towards the group, and just before we reached them, I noticed another gully a little to the left of the one we had ascended. After studying it for a minute, I began to see that this one was in fact less steep, more stable, and well positioned to for the group to keep safe. Not five minutes after our prayer, God answered it in an amazing way. Before we knew it, we were back down in the Royal Lake basin, surrounded by incredible turquoise alpine lakes.
That evening we were honored to hear the life story of a young man named Tyler. Tyler grew up without a father who had left when he was very young. By the time he was in 5th grade, Tyler had already been introduced to drugs and alcohol, and by the time he was in middle school, he was using heavily. He was expelled from a few different schools, and was kicked out of the house by his mother. Eventually he was sent to treatment where he received therapy and began taking his first small steps towards getting clean. During this process, he got connected with the Re: New house and is enrolled in their recovery school. Through the loving community and continued treatment he has experienced at Re: New, Tyler has been clean for several months now and is on track to graduate within the next couple years – both of which seemed impossible for Tyler in the recent past. And that’s not even the best part of his story! Tyler also shared that he has never believed in God, but that over the past few days, he had been thinking about something he read that said the complexities of creation point to a creator. He shared that spending time out in the wilderness, admiring the varieties of plants and the spectacular vistas, were convincing him of this.
In a huge and courageous step that night, Tyler volunteered himself to pray for the group. With all the clumsy sincerity of a new believer, Tyler prayed, “God, thanks for bringing us up this bad-ass mountain, and for all the bonding and stuff we’ve been able to do together. Thanks for keeping us safe and for nobody falling and dying today… that was cool. Thanks for food tonight. Amen.”
What a trip. God is good.