On the peak of La Plata

Thin Air, Thin Places

Eric Brandell, Westview’s Manager of Central Oklahoma Programs,  writes this report about a recent trip with some of our young men.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Peter. They all had special encounters with God on a mountain. A Team Ascend staffer called mountains like LaPlata Peak “thin places” where people continue to experience the presence of God in special ways. The close encounter is facilitated by a number of factors: the beauty of creation, low noise/light pollution, the simplicity of sleeping in tents and cooking over a flame, and relative solitude.

I had the pleasure of accompanying three of our young men, Ezra, Zeke, and Colton, along with my daughter, Lexi, on a six-day Colorado mountain excursion hosted by Team Ascend. We were joined by a youth group from Duncan, making our party a total of sixteen including three volunteer guides.

The ground under my half-inch sleeping pad was cold and hard, which meant it was the worst week of sleep I’d had in a long time, but I enjoyed every minute of it. There was frost on the ground some mornings, and we all looked forward to the warmth of a mesmerizing campfire each evening. Our week started with an outdoor church service surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, followed by a 200’ rappel to warm up our trust and bravery—a leap of faith. We then transferred to the trailhead and made the 20-minute hike to low camp. Our group consisted of two crews, divided mainly at mealtime, with Ezra serving well as my crew’s leader. We ate traditional backpacking food including granola bars, oatmeal, fruit snacks, pudding, ramen, tinned meat, and strawberry cheesecake (hey, we had to celebrate making the summit!).

Day 2 consisted of a two-hour hike to high camp where we would stay for the next three nights. We crossed streams, tripped over rocks, and sweated, all while marveling at God’s majestic creation. High camp was in the evergreen trees near a picturesque meadow, just below an expansive boulder deposit and beside a creek flowing with snowmelt. The guys and I braved a bath in those chilly waters on one occasion, and there were a lot of whoops and hollers (#Refreshing). A highlight of Day 3 was “solo time” wherein each camper spent three hours in solitude singing, praying, and reading Scripture. For many, this experience was the high point of the entire trip.

We were awakened at 3:30 am on Day 4, in order to make an attempt to summit LaPlata Peak. It took our group seven hours to traverse the snow-capped mountain, with low temps, high winds, and thin air serving as adversaries. There was blood, sweat, and tears, but we made it to the top of the 14,336’ peak and basked in the glory of viewing the world from that high vantage point. It took another three hours to get back to high camp, making for a ten-hour roundtrip. Most people collapsed into a nap, but I opted to soak my slightly swollen ankles and hands in the cold stream, and save my tiredness in hopes of a good night’s sleep (it worked). Zeke noted that evening that it was the hardest work he had ever done. We were all reminded that we can do hard things.

We hiked out the next morning, filled with gratitude and awe. A shower and pizza never felt so good, and then we spent a few hours walking around Buena Vista. That evening, Team Ascend hosted a banquet, awards ceremony, and a final devotional. Ezra was also given the Barnabas Award for being a consummate encourager during the week, and Lexi won the TEAM (Trust, Encouragement, Attitude, Motivation) Award for the week.

It was a long drive back home to Oklahoma, but our hearts were full and our relationships stronger from the experience. We learned that climbing a mountain is a microcosm of life – a beautiful trek wherein we need to encourage one another and share one another’s burdens. I reiterate what an honor it was to spend this special week with these young people. They represented Westview very well.