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Reflections

Finding God in the Wilderness #5

This is the last in a series of five pieces by author and speaker Susan Alexander Yates, who has discovered a deep passion for hiking in the wilderness with good friends. Over the last several years, she’s gone on five different long hikes, and each time, God has met her needs in powerful ways. Susan shares her experiences meeting God on the trail in this blog series, “Finding God in the Wilderness.”

Susan’s work can be found on Amazon, or on Facebook and Instagram. Blog posts reprinted with permission.

Our Never-Again Hike! (Or, How God Provided in the Wilderness)

Torture.

This is the word which describes my 5th Big Hike with my friend Melody.

We were in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington State. 

two women with backpacks at the Chatter Creek Trail signpost

Because of rain on one side of these mountains and smoke from recent fires on the other we had to alter our original plans at the last minute. 

In preparation for the hike, we memorized Psalm 8. Reciting it throughout the days made us appreciate David and his ability to praise God in fresh ways. (My grandson Cashel memorized this at age 8 so we thought we could! Not so easy as you get older. 😊 )

Our plan this time was to hike up the trail about 6 miles from Chatter Creek to Lake Edna. We began at approximately 2000 feet and were headed to 7000+ feet. It sounded exciting, challenging, and wonderful, weaving in and out amongst fir trees heavy with the smell that candles try to copy and can’t quite capture.  

Little did we know that this trail was poorly marked, straight up — 5,000 feet — mainly over rocks, with few switchbacks. And I mean straight up. After climbing nearly 5 hours with a 30-pound backpack my thighs began to cramp. I was soaked with sweat, exhausted and could barely take another step. I had reached my end in every way. 

view of Alpine Lakes Wilderness -- mountains covered with dark clouds, trees in the foreground

The most crucial thing in hiking is a water supply. We are always on the lookout for a creek because we must filter our water and make sure we never get close to running out.  

As I gasped for breath, trying to take one more step I felt like I was either going to pass out or throw up. All I could utter was, 

“Help, Lord.” 

We were in the middle of a rocky path with no evident place to pull over.

But God knew.

Suddenly, there was one small pull-out to our right just off the trail. Just big enough for our 2-person tent and relatively flat. And to the left of the trail down a slope was a creek. 

“Saved, I’m not going to die!”

As we were setting up camp, 2 hikers came down the trail. Seeing my extreme exhaustion, one gave me his last packet of Gatorade and told me to pour it into my water bottle and drink the whole thing. “You need salt and electrolytes now.”

Ah, the timing and generosity of like travelers. 

two women camping with green tent

Although we were done in, I could not sleep. We later learned this is a symptom of altitude sickness. We had not experienced this on any of our previous 4 hikes. 

We awoke to rain and fog. And spent part of the morning in sweet fellowship curled up inside our tiny tent. Finally, during a lull in the weather, we packed up, reluctantly heaved our heavy backpacks onto worn out shoulders, and determined to conquer the next rise. 

“Surely the next turn will level out.”

Nope. 

The next rise was straight up a cascading hill of huge boulders, with remnants of glaciers marked by swirls of red algae decorating the snow. 

“Where is the path? How do we get across these giant rocks?”

Unlike the Appalachian Trail of the East Coast, West Coast trails are poorly marked. It is a real wilderness. Usually Cairns (piles of rocks one on top of another) are left to mark a trail. However, they often topple over and can be difficult to find. 

We felt perplexed and stuck.

Susan Yates, with backpack, hiking up toward Lake Edna

But God knew. 

And He provided.

A twenty-something gal on a day hike came by and said,

“Would you like to hike together?”

“Yes!”

More experienced with rock trails and, yes, much younger, she was able to figure out how to get through the difficult boulders.  

Four hours later and thoroughly exhausted by steady climbing, we felt the raindrops begin and the fog start to set in. Once again God provided a place to camp near a stream.

Later that evening we had an unexpected view of a dark sky, unhampered by human lights, burst forth in an explosion of stars that took our breaths away. 

God was putting on a show. 

“The heavens were declaring the glory of God.” (Psalm 19)

We awoke to fog and a forecast of heavy rain to come that night. Although we wanted to continue up to Lake Edna, we didn’t relish rain and a hike down at least 6 hours the next day over wet rocks. So, we decided to cut our hike short and head on down after 2 nights and 3 days instead of three nights. A tough decision. Both of us are “driven”– ok-stubborn — and it was a hard choice but a wise one. Going straight down is not easy at all. 

snow or glacial remains on the rocks in a mountain valley

In reading this, it sounds like an awful experience. It was torture, but amid all the hard things there were so many blessings.

  • The northwest wilderness is just that — raw and rugged. Its beauty is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It brings new meaning to Moses in the wilderness, Jesus in the wilderness. Nature has a way of lifting the scriptures from black and white into technicolor!
  • Being completely “off the grid” in His natural beauty helps us to lay aside everything and everyone and simply focus on Him. 
  • Even at the hardest times He provided glimpses of His glory: marmots playing in the snow, clouds interwoven with light hovering over great valleys, a tiny plant growing through a crack in a rock.  
  • We experienced the encouragement and community of other hikers. We love this community; folks look out for one another. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or what you do. We are on equal ground. We need one another. 
  • Nature reflects God’s creative traits of power, beauty, detail, and diversity.These remind me of how small and limited I am and of how big He is. His wilderness gives us a healthy perspective.  

On this hike, Melody and I experienced God as provider.

Over and over and over He provided for our needs — even when it felt like it was just in the nick of time. God is not in a hurry. He is patient. He knows us and understands our needs. (Psalm 139, Philippians 4:19). He will never forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5). We can count on Him.

We’ve dubbed this our “never-again hike.” We won’t do this one again — nor recommend it!

However, the wilderness is still calling us, and we are already looking forward to and planning our next big hike!