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Posts Tagged ‘natural beauty’

I expected colder temps as I set out for the mountains at 4 am.  What I failed to expect was that the calm where I lived would be replaced by 15 – 20 mph winds.  Fortunately I dressed warm and for the most part I was comfortable.  The hike from 5500 feet to 6000 feet also kept the blood pumping which meant for the first hour I was relatively comfortable.

Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest was created as one of the original federal Wilderness Areas when that designation was established in 1964.  The high mountain range consists of a concentrated number of mountain peaks in western North Carolina with several over 5000 feet and three, including Black Balsam Knob, over 6000 feet in elevation.  Surrounded by thickly forested mountains slopes the closest town, Brevard, NC is some 20+ miles south.

As I emerged from my car near the trailhead I was stunned by the vast number of stars visible this far from manmade lights other than those I had just turned off.  Since the moon had set, the stars had the stage all to themselves, and what a performance they gave.  For the second time in two weeks I caught the glimpse of a shooting star as it’s long and invisible existence came to a brief, yet fiery end colliding with the earth’s atmosphere.  The wind was howling as I entered the 200 meters of trail running through the strip of fir trees just off the service road.  I prayed a prayer of thanks for the folks who had laid white rock on the trail through the trees.  It would have been very easy to lose the trail without it.

Breaking through the trees, the expansive view opened to the first hints of light on the horizon.  An hour before the official sunrise, I had time to soak in the immensity and grandeur of the night.  Even without the moon, the stars were bright enough to give a sense of shape and flow to the land.  The dark shape of the mountain rising to my left and the swaying form of the trees I had emerged from falling off to my right were silhouetted against millions of stars.  Toward the eastern horizon the hint of color slowly grew with one bright star shining above the brightest point.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

Psalm 19:1-4a

Creation speaks if we listen.  It is not loud or demanding, but more of a gentle whisper… most of the time.  The message is one of beauty, power, and majesty.  From the top of a cold, windy mountain bald far from civilization I knew the creator’s presence not as in an artist’s work created and left behind, but in a world that He Himself fills and sustains.  God – the Almighty, was there on the mountain and my spirit soared to embrace His loving presence.

Another thought came.  When I look at creation, I realize the utter emptiness of an atheistic point of view.  The belief that all of this – the sun, the moon, the stars, earth and the exact combination of so many variables necessary to sustain life, just happened in a cosmic accident, is far too hard to believe.  That all of this came from nothing is the definition of foolishness.  I don’t make light of the fact that there is much we do not know about life and the universe.  There are mysteries that we mere mortals do not and may not ever know.  But evidence and logic make an indisputable case of an intelligent designer and creator.

As the sun rose I realized that winter had come to the high places.  The trees were all bare and the grass-covered bald was colored in various browns and greys.  As a lover of light and color, the view through the photographer’s lens was much closer to bleak winter than the festive fall I had hoped to capture.

I hiked to the top of Black Balsam Knob.  By this time I had been out in the wind for a couple hours.  Being stationary while trying to snap long exposure shots, the chill had seeped through my gloves.  The fleece-lined jeans were doing their job and my son’s borrowed yarmulke had my head toasty, but I realized my fingers were numbingly cold.  The intensity of the wind made it a challenge to get my fingers warm.  Frost-bite was suddenly a concern.  I looked for shelter, but the trees were about a mile back down the trail over the open mountain ridge.  I had selected the rock out-cropping I was standing by to serve as a foreground element in a few shots.  I suddenly remembered David and Elijah taking refuge in the cleft of a rock.  Sliding down the lee side of the rock from the wind I found immediate relief.  As an added bonus the morning sun was now hitting me without the wind stealing it’s warmth.

Sitting beside the rock I was aware of warmth emanating from within as well as from outside.  The physical rock behind which I sheltered brought to mind the Rock Who is my forever shelter – Jesus Christ.  I had felt His presence the entire time on the mountain, but as the winds swept over and around the rock, I thought of the challenging times of my life when He walked me through.  Sometimes He had to carry me.  Always, His strength was able to supply what I lacked.  With a smile on my face I rested in the relative warmth of the sun and the eternal warmth of the Son.

I did manage to find some color at the lower elevations.  The following shots are some of my favorites of the day.

At mid-afternoon I found myself standing on Caesar’s Head overlooking the Blue Ridge escarpment falling off into the South Carolina piedmont.  A couple hawks and then buzzards flew by, but I did not see any of the Peregrine Falcons I had hoped for.  It was fine though because the view, like so many this day, inspired yet another thought, this time from Isaiah.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31

It’s fitting that the last act of this trip was to make two new friends with whom I shared not only the view off the mountain, but a faith in the Lord.  As we stood there and chatted, we realized that we had been inspired by the view in a very similar manner – with wonder and praise for the Creator of such beauty.  We were standing on a different rock outcropping than my Black Balsam Knob, but since rock was a common thread running through this day, I enjoyed the thought that my two new friends and I were knit together as family because of our common faith in the Rock.  And that Rock’s name is Jesus.

I hope you enjoy the pics.  But even more I hope you are encouraged by the truths the Lord has given to us… to you every bit as much as to me.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:8

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:37-39

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

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My plan to catch the sunrise from Pretty Place (Symmes Chapel, Camp Greenville, SC) went awry when I found the gate locked.  With the colors already rising in the eastern sky and a suitable viewing point many miles away, I knew pics at the break of dawn were not going happen… at least not for me.  I got a wild hair and decided to head up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to see if I could capture some scenic shots higher up.  Looking Glass Falls warranted the first stop and then pics at the first overlook on the Parkway came up next.  A group from the Galloway School asked for me to take their pictures with their cell phones.  I obliged, but I also took a few with my camera.  (Hopefully they are checking these out!)

The next stop was the Graveyard Fields.  Still recovering from my shoulder surgery, I didn’t exactly intend to hike very far, but…  The weather and scenery drew me in and I couldn’t help but hike and shoot.  I met a family visiting from Florida at the Upper Falls on the Yellowstone Prong.  After about 5 miles of hiking, I made the turnoff into the Shining Rock Wilderness Area my final stop.  It was a great day in the outdoors and the pics are pretty good too.

I forgot until I was editing the pics, but Looking Glass Mountain is where our son-in-law Michael proposed to our daughter, Christin.  Somehow hiking to the top of a mountain to propose is an awesome metaphor for marriage.  There is a lot of work on the hike up.  You can’t see very far ahead most of the time.  But you keep working because you believe in the goal.  And the reward is very good… very good indeed!

Enjo

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Good Morning or Guten Morgen as we are docked in Kel, Germany this morning as we awake. I have had a challenging time keeping up with my pictures and posting to you due to the fullness of our schedule. (Also, the number of pics I am taking.) Hopefully now that we are onboard the Longboat Eir on the Rhine River, the pace will slow enough to edit and post a few pics. This morning being Sunday I’d like to post a few pics of our Mt Pilatus excursion and tell a story of affirmation that the Father gave me up on the mountain.

Several weeks ago, my friend Greg shared with me how God powerfully spoke to him one day when in a time of prayer and meditation he asked, “Lord, what would you have me know today?” I was thinking about that a few days later during my prayer time and so I asked the same thing. Upon asking that question I opened my bible and these verses literally jumped out at me.

Proverbs 3:5&6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight. (or direct your steps as I’ve memorized it).

Proverbs 4:4 “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.”

Proverbs 2:7&8 He (the LORD) holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, He guards the course of the just and protects the of His faithful ones.

That has turned into a recurring theme for me in my prayer time since. And our Mt Pilatus adventure was one of three or four times on this trip where the Lord has again affirmed my role of trusting in Him fully and His faithfulness in guiding and leading.
MT PILATUS

The day broke cloudier than forecasted, but as morning warmed, the low clouds dispersed some and sunshine and beautiful blue sky became predominant. Our drive from Zurich to Lucerne revealed the charming Swiss countryside – crisp, clean, and green. While navigating into Lucerne I could see the much higher mountains across the lake were visible on the lower reaches, but shrouded in clouds at the top.

We met our guide, Annette, and boarded the bus to the cable car for the ascent up the mountain. Up to the first and second cable car connections we remained under the clouds and the view became increasingly expansive and majestic. We switched cable cars at around 4000 feet elevation where we were still under the cloud cover, but in deep shade because of them.

The final cable car was a 30- passenger car that swiftly whisked us up from 4000’ to the visitor center near the summit at 6700’. I fly frequently so the sensation of entering the clouds and “white out” is common. However, it was a little disheartening when you are anxiously anticipating the amazing 360-degree view which includes close-ups of the Alps and you exit the cable car to white-out outside and gift shops inside.

The girls headed to the gift shops and Jeff and I wandered outside into the fog. We walked around a bit managing to find a trail to a mini-summit with a cross on it. The picture in the fog was a little hard to see, but we snapped it to show we had “climbed higher”. To add insult onto injury, there were posted placards that showed the amazing view we could be seeing if we weren’t wrapped in the deep fog. I have to admit, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.

I know what some of you may be thinking… “Dan, you are on this amazing trip… you had all the beautiful views on the way up… you are with your wonderful wife on an adventure of a lifetime and you are feeling sorry for yourself? What ingratitude!” Well, you happen to be right.

Fortunately, it was only a little later I realized that for myself. As Jeff and I worked our way down this little path I noticed another path diverting along the mountain top. I took that path off into the fog as Jeff headed to check on the girls.

I’ve learned that for me, as for many people I imagine, it is hard to really focus upon God, to seek His wisdom and guidance, and to clearly hear Him speak to my heart when: 1) I am ungrateful, 2) I am focused upon my own schedule / plan / or goals, or 3) when I am surrounded by to many distractions, like hundreds of other tourists. When I started down that foggy mountain trail, I had given up my goal of seeing the view from the mountain top because there was no view to view. I headed down a trail that the crowds either didn’t know of or care about.

As I trudged with my camera in hand I felt my heart softening as I realized what I have mentioned above. I was not where I wanted to be in my heart. The reality that the God of the Universe loves me and has provided bountifully for me began to fill my awareness. I repented of my self-centeredness. I moved into thanking the Father for the many wonderful blessings He has provided to me and the ones I love. Then I began praying for family, friends, my Radmen friends, and others whom I knew God was going to send across my path.

As I am sure many of you have experienced, I felt a weight lift. My soul was lifted as I turned my heart toward our good, good Father. And I hiked through the fog with an uplifted spirit. After a little while I noticed a couple young Swiss ladies hiking up from down below. I asked how far down until I could be below the clouds. Through their minimal English (and my non-existant German) I understood it was several hundred meters. I prayed asking the Lord to guide me whether to hike down or not. I sensed to stay the course, so instead of hiking down I exchanged pictures with them and continued along the path in the fog.

The next 10 – 15 minutes of hiking the rugged mountain trail in the fog was delightful. I had given myself over to accepting whatever opportunity I was provided to meet people and love them with Jesus’ love. I remember whispering one little prayer, “Lord, I’d love to see some of the view from up here.” But that prayer was uttered from a place of complete surrender. Whether the fog lifted or not, I was satisfied the Lord would do what was best.

I stepped into the gift shop to find girls and then a water closet and when I stepped out I was shocked – I could see all the way across the patio… and even the near-by summit that had been completely shrouded in fog the entire day. I quickly hustled out with camera in hand and snapped a few pictures. I saw the trail to the highest peak beside me and I quickly headed up the final 300 feet toward the now- visible summit. I had not gone far before the clouds began to close in again. I realized I had gotten exactly what I had asked for although now having a taste, desire for more sprang up tempting me back into the self-centered funk I had been in earlier.

“NO! God, you have been good to me. Lord, I thank you for the glimpse that you have given me. It was beautiful. And I loved the fact that across on the summit opposite me there was a cross.”

I remembered at that moment that our guide explained how the mountain got it’s name. Surprisingly it is named after Pontius Pilate. It seems that when he died, no one was willing to take his remains. So, they brought them to this mountain and threw them in a lake. The irony that on the mountain where Pontius Pilate’s remains may lie, there is a beautiful cross just resonated God’s greatness.

At that moment, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes, Lord, I trust you”

At that moment, for about 3 seconds, a single ray of light broke through the cloud and illuminated me and the trail where I was standing. While that thrilled me, I sensed I was to hike on to the top. The clouds quickly swirled back around me, but I pressed on. In less than 5 minutes I was at the top. As I arrived the clouds opened again for about 3 minutes. I did something a little uncharacteristic for me. Instead of whipping up my camera and snapping dozens of shots, I moved from side to side soaking it in and praising God. I did get a few shots before the clouds completely settled back in, but I mainly just worshipped.

There was one other thought that I believe was a gift from the Lord. One of the shots that you will see is of the cross on the other summit. It was clearly seen when I first got to the top, but I didn’t take the picture until it was almost obscured again. I was a little sad when the fog closed back in and I couldn’t see the cross. That was when the Holy Spirit spoke to me again. “Do not worry. Like that cross which is still there even though you don’t see it, I am always with you.”

 

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The start of the first chair lift in Kriens.

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Two happy tourists – our daughter Rhiannon and my photography padewan, Jeff.  He’s also our son-in-law.

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Just getting started.  About 1500 – 2000 feet up I believe.

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Just about to enter the first cable house.  Still 15 minutes to go in this car.

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The distance from cable house one to cable house two where we exited to the final cable car.

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View back to cable car house one.  You can see the Swiss central highlands spread out past Lake Lucerne.

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Cable Car house two and our first exit.  Elevation about 4000 feet and just under the clouds.

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This high valley had a ropes course, a toboggan ride, and other extreme sports activities.  We had to wait about 10 minutes for the 30 person cable car to the top.

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Sign showing our trip.

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In the 30 passenger cable car heading out from the station.

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Last view before going into the clouds.

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This was one of the clearer shots when we first arrived.  These horns were so mournful when we hiked around and could hear the sound in the deep fog.  One other remembrance – when the fog lifted, the guy was playing Amazing Grace.  I don’t know if he started before or after the fog lifted, but it was so cool.

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Jeff as we head up to the mini-summit.

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Jeff at the foot of the cross.

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Me at the cross.  See how deep the fog is.  This was true for almost the entire first hour we were up here.

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Look how steep the “not steep” side of the trail was.  We were a good ways into the alpine region above the tree-line.

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I am on the steep side of the mountain.  The Swiss girls took my picture for me.

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This was what I saw when I came out of the water closet.  That is the mini-summit where Jeff and I had hiked about an hour earlier.

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Another shot during the first brief opening in the clouds.

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View over the gift shop during the first opening, but as the clouds were sweeping back in.

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View at the highest point I hiked to on Mt Pilatus – summit Esel at 2118 meters or 4000 feet.

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The entire moutaintop at the clouds begin to settle back in.

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Summit Tomlishorn, a little higher at 2138 meters.  This is where the cross I mention in the story is.  This is my wide angle lens so it is so far away it is hard to see.

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The cross on the summit of Tomlishorn, the highest peak of Mt Pilatus. 

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Heading back down the trail, confident that God is always with me.  Just like that cross that I could no longer see because of the fog, yet I know is still there, God is with me and with you even when the fog of trials, challenges, and difficulties arise.

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The cog-railway we rode down.  It has the steepest incline of any railway in the world with one section at a 48 degree descent.

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Final view of the mountain top from the cog railway on the ride down.

Friends, it was thrilling. In fact, I guess it qualifies as a mountain top experience – twice over!

 

 

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Panorama view of Mount Rainier taken from the top of Plummer Peak.

Panorama view of Mount Rainier taken from the top of Plummer Peak.

I had a spectacular time hiking Mount Rainier this past weekend.  I drove up Friday evening and scouted out Paradise in preparation for an early morning rendezvous with the mountain.  I was at Reflection Lake about 5 am on Saturday striving for the perfect shot as the sun first struck the mountain.  I got some okay shots, but compared to the others I have selected, they don’t quite make the cut.

A little before 6 I hit the Pinnacle Peak Trail which begins across the road from Reflection Lake.  About 15 minutes up the trail I heard coyotes begin howling.  It’s a little unsettling to be alone on the trail and have four coyotes howling just a hundred yards or so ahead of you.  Thoughts of being alone, remote, and surrounded by animals that eat meat… and realizing that to them I am meat, gave me reason to pause.  I considered whether it would be prudent to turn around, but a brief prayer later I felt like the Lord was calling me higher.  And I knew He was more than able to handle the coyotes.

A little further up the trail I was struck by what a wonderful gift the Lord had given me.  My new job was enabling me to hike in the Mount Rainier NP, take lots of photos, and worship Him all in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I realized that for most of my life I have been a Martha-like person, always busy DOING.  See Luke 10:38-42.  If I had not had the job change that I have, I would still be slaving away working crazy hours to put away “enough” money to retire in a few years.  The Lord gently reminded me that He is able to supply all our needs.  We don’t know how much is enough, but He does.  The measure that really matters is not how much money we make or have, but how much of US we have surrendered to Jesus.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and He commended her for it.  This day as my heart was bursting with gratitude, I realized I was sitting beside Mary… and it was a wonderful place to be.

Pinnacle Peak across the valley from Paradise.  Note the Pinnacle Peak trail up the side of the mountain which is how I got to Plummer Peak.

Pinnacle Peak across the valley from Paradise. Note the Pinnacle Peak trail up the side of the mountain which is how I got to Plummer Peak.

As I continued up the mountain I emerged from the forest out into my first scree field.  You can see the trail I hiked in this picture.  Pinnacle Mountain towered on my left and the jumble of rocks flowed steeply down the mountainside on my right.  The views just kept getting better and better.

This was my original destination until I felt the tug to "come up higher".

This was my original destination until I felt the tug to “come up higher”.

Plummer Mountain was my perch for an early morning devotional.

Plummer Mountain was my perch for an early morning devotional.

The maintained trail ended at the pass between Pinnacle Peak and Plummer Peak.  As I snapped pictures I noticed what looked like a trail heading over the Plummer Peak.  About 20 minutes later I found myself on the very top of the highest rocks you can see on the mountain above.  Whenever I describe a “mountain-top experience” in the future I will think of my time on Plummer Peak.

My mountain top bench where I worshipped the Lord in the beauty of His splendor.

My mountain top bench where I worshipped the Lord in the beauty of His splendor.

One more “coincidence” that comes to mind.  My goal when I set out was to get to the end of the maintained trail, snap some pictures, and come back down to head to Paradise.  However as I neared the top of the maintained trail I met two photographers coming down.  They had been up there to catch the sunrise from the top.  One of them mentioned that he was on the top and got some good panoramas.  Initially I assumed he meant the place I was headed.  As I took pictures I realized he must have meant something higher.  As great as the view was in the saddle, I become convinced by the experience this stranger on the trail shared that there was an even better place to aspire to, a higher place to attain.  So I continued upward.  I searched for the path heading higher.

Our faith journey is like that.  Our experiences of God’s grace shared with others is like the comments I heard from my fellow sojourner who had been somewhere I now desired to go.  Because he shared a good word of what was attainable, I was encouraged to seek and find the path myself… a path blazed by others… a path that I would have struggled mightily to find if it wasn’t for those who had gone before me making a way.

A view from the trail heading up the mountain to Plummer Peak.

A view from the trail heading up the mountain to Plummer Peak.

The shot above is toward the end of the maintained trail.  For some folks this might look a little scary, but believe me, this is a super highway of a trail compared to what was ahead.  As I entered the UNmaintainted trail area, there was enough of a path that I could find my way most of the time.  I only lost the trail once in the high meadow about 100 yards below the summit.

That final trail is a story in itself.  Just below the high meadow the trail became very narrow and steep as it crossed a large scree field.  One mis-step here and you would find yourself (or someone would find your body) hundreds of feet below.  The trail had it’s dangers.

A shot of the scree field as I am about to cross it.

A shot of the scree field as I am about to cross it.

Above this scree field I entered a meadow that you could not see from below.  It was a beautiful place with a great view aimed at Mount Rainier and covered with plenty of bench-high rocks perfect for sitting and meditating.  I got to a high place in the meadow and it appeared that the trail ended so I sat and talked to the Lord for a while.  He spoke through the beauty and wonder of His creation all around me.  It’s amazing how the fatigue and windedness almost immediately evaporated as I took in the stunning beauty.

View from my seat in the high meadow on Plummer Peak.  I thought I was at the end of the trail, but...

View from my seat in the high meadow on Plummer Peak. I thought I was at the end of the trail, but…

As I slipped on my pack and got ready to head down I glanced around and noticed what appeared to be a faint path leading higher.  A hundred or so feet further on it became a distinct trail leading to the top.  Refreshed from my rest and now excited to be heading higher again I pushed on toward the top.

The final trail up to the peak.  That is about a 300 foot drop off the left side of the trail.  The right side was quite steep too, but not like the left.

The final trail up to the peak. That is about a 300 foot drop off the left side of the trail. The right side was quite steep too, but not like the left.

The final leg was very steep and not without a heightened awareness of the danger that lay close at hand.  In fact that is one of the things that I noted several times over the weekend – a very real awareness of the danger, but without fear.  Caution in the approach – yes, but fear was swallowed up in a faith that the Lord was with me leading and guiding every step.

I carefully made my way toward the top on the path above.  When I was within just a few yards of the finish the path was guarded / blocked by several dead trees.  These snags show up all over.  Because of the cool climate, the deterioration rate is rather slow so they may remain for dozens of years.  These snags immediately brought to mind Dol Guldur, the evil lord’s castle in the Hobbit.  But upon further consideration I decided they were simply guardians of a very special place.  To slip through the closely spaced trunks I had to slip off my pack and lay down my trekking poles.  Jesus said something very telling about slipping through a tight space in Matthew 19:24.  “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  I had to leave my possessions outside to get through.

Guardians at the top of Plummer Peak.

Guardians at the top of Plummer Peak.

A view through the Guardians.

A view through the Guardians.

Once through it was only a dozen or so steps to the top.  I was mesmerized by the stunning view.  A 360 degree spin revealed jagged peaks, deep forested valleys, and the mighty mountain.  The following are a few of those scenes.

A view over the guardians.

A view over the guardians.

Pockets of snow still lingered.  My friends here tell me this mountain usually still has snow at this time of the year.

Pockets of snow still lingered. My friends here tell me the mountain I climbed usually still has snow at this time of the year.

Mount Adams

Mount Adams

Mount St Helens which erupted in 1980.

Mount St Helens which erupted in 1980.

A view back down to where my hike started at Reflection Lake.  A little over 1.5 miles by trail and a little less than 2000 feet below.

A view back down to where my hike started at Reflection Lake. A little over 1.5 miles by trail and a little less than 2000 feet below.

I’ll leave you today with this final shot of the mountain from the top of Plummer Peak.  The time was around 7:30 – 8 am.  The day was just starting and yet I was filled to overflowing with wonder.  What a mighty and creative God we serve!

Mighty Mount Rainier

Mighty Mount Rainier

If you like these pics stay tuned.  I have several other really good shots from the remaining time in Mount Rainier National Park to come.

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