Camping with my two sons

HIking at Hawn State Park

I had a great time this past weekend camping with my two sons at Hawn State Park.  Well, in execution, I ended up camping with my younger son while my older son was a mile or so away at a different site.  The young men wanted to do a lightweight hiking campout, but I didn’t think Garrett was up to a multi-mile hike, so I had the bright idea that while the rest of the boys hiked the red trail counter clock-wise, I was going to hike the shortcut to campsite 3 (and no, I didn’t get lost).

Whispering Pines LegendWhispering Pines Trail

It all worked brilliantly, except it took us longer to get there than I expected.  Garrett wanted to look at every leaf, kick every rock, and scooch around every branch across the trail.  We must have averaged something under 1 mph.  Lest it sound like complaining, I’ve learned over the years that Garrett sees things the rest of us miss.  He’ll notice the chirp of a bird or shape of a cloud when everyone else is worried about what they’re doing.

I kept asking Garrett if he wanted to take a break, and he insisted we keep walking. At 9:00 pm, I finally told him we needed to take a break, and so I took my first drink of water in nearly two hours.  He wouldn’t sit down or even take off his back pack.  We shared a pop tart, got out the flashlights (which were really just my phone and a ball cap with little LED’s on the bill).  We had a ways to go before we got to the camp, and I figured we were going to need a light.  Around this time, I started to get a little worried about the darkness–I figured Garrett was going to start complaining about the darkness.  He gets upset when someone so much as turns out a light in a room.

I was so pleased when he simply took my hand and followed behind me as the woods grew pitch-black.  Here we were, a father and his special needs son walking through the woods along a trail neither had ever been on, looking for a camp we’d never seen.  There were parts of the trail that was covered by waist high grass…my waist, the grass was nearly up to Garrett’s head. I was so proud of my son for hiking so well in the dark. As we walked, I decided to sing hymns.  At first, I was self conscious that someone would hear me, then reason took hold and I realized no one could hear me sing (which also meant no one could hear us if we had trouble either). And so I started belting out some of my favorite hymns.  The woods had fantastic acoustics!

At 9:45 pm, I finally told Garrett we had to stop. We found a wide spot on the trail and pitched our tent.  Previously I gave the other leader a 2-way radio, but he had not answered any of my calls.  After I set up camp, I thought about using my cell phone and see if he would answer.  I should have tried that earlier, because he picked up right away.  They were about 30 minutes behind us.  He called me back later and we discovered that he turned one intersection too early and ended up campsite 3 instead of campsite 2.  It would take them an to get to Garrett and I…and so they told me we were on our own for the night.

As we sat in our tent, I heard a pack of coyotes.  Then I began to imagine the mountain lions lurking around our tent as well.  I have a distinct memory of walking through Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and having the mountain lions stalk Garrett as we walked past their enclosure. (just FYI, there have been 14 confirmed Mountain Lion reports in Missouri in the past 2 years)

I ended up calling the other leader back up and asked him to hold a council of leaders (there were three men at the other camp) and see if they agreed that it was the best decision to leave Garrett and I alone for the night.  He texted me back and said one of the leaders and his son would be joining us soon.  It took them about 45 minutes to get to our camp. I was so grateful that he made the sacrifice to walk another mile in the pitch black to spend the night with a worry wart.

iPhone 6s2458.JPGOn top of this, I discovered our legs and arms were covered with scores of tiny reddish-black bugs.  A little research once I got home confirmed my thoughts: baby ticks (also called Seed Ticks). They were everywhere! I may have asked Heavenly Father for a miracle.  There was nothing I could do to rid us of all of the ticks, they were too numerous, but He could cause them to not bother us.  After this rather honest plea to be delivered of this pest combined with a blessing from the other leader when he showed up, we were able to go to sleep without being bothered by the ticks.  Granted, many of them were still on us, but they didn’t itch.  Moreover, when we got home, I was able to get most of them off in the shower.  (the rest came off today).

I’ll be honest, I felt much relieved when the other leader and his son showed up. I was actually able to sleep pretty good that night.  I put Garrett on the far side of the tent (away from the door) and set up my cot across the tent. I’ve got to give a plug to TNH Outdoors–their sleeping pad and camp pillow combined with a lightweight cot had me sleeping like a baby…even with an SI joint that is out of place.

The next day, we left camp around 8:30 and headed back to the truck.  We made the trip back in just over an hour (the previous night it took us 2.5 hours). The other boys caught up with us as we crossed the bridge back to the parking lot. I was disappointed I didn’t get to spend more time with my older son, but he seemed to still enjoy the campout.

There were a few things that impressed me on this hike:

  • There is safety in the buddy system.  I never should have started the hike with my son alone–I should have taken another leader and boy with me.
  • Sometimes it’s ok to stop and look at the flowers, kick the rocks, and listen to the birds.
  • Heavenly Father hears the prayers of his children…especially those prayers said by fathers on behalf of their children.
  • Sometimes all a person needs to keep going is to be distracted from the difficulty of the task at hand.
  • The right gear can make the difference between waking up stiff and sore or refreshed and ready to go.



What’s in Your Survival Kit?

This month at Scouts, we’re talking about Wilderness Survival.  Now, I’m not a prepper by any means, but I do believe it is important to know how to take care of yourself just in case you find yourself facing an emergency.  It is important to remember that there isn’t a single-fit survival kit.  My survival kit changes based on where I’m going and what I’m doing.  A day hike to the top of a 14er in Colorado requires a different survival kit than a week-long trip in the Smoky Mountains.  Both of these are much different than a car trip to see family. In general though, here’s what I try to keep in my survival kit

  • Flint and steel: everyone should know how to start a fire with flint and steel.  It is difficult at first, but with a little practice (and the right materials), you can get a fire started with one strike of the flint.
  • Water purifyer: a person can go 3 weeks without food, but only 3 days without water.  My absolute favorite water puryfier is a Sawyer Mini filter. It was amazing to drink cool mountain water right from the stream while watching everyone else drink iodine-flavored warm water 30 minutes later!
  • Shelter: by this I mean something that will protect you against the weather.  I try to carry a simple poncho and a bit of rope.
  • Communication: In the event you get lost or need to attract attention, you need some way to attract attention.  This might be a cell phone if you’re somewhere with service, ot it might be a whistle if you’re in a more remote environment.  It may even be a signal mirror.  In any case, make sure you know how to use whatever it is you have.
  • Scriptures: Sometimes getting your mind off of the immediate situation gives you a chance to refocus.  The Word of God is the perfect option for this.
  • Knife: You don’t need a huge machete, just a simple 4″ blade that is nice and sharp.
  • Multi-tool: I try to carry both a knife and a multi-tool because the blades on most multi-tools aren’t nearly as good as a real knife…but I really enjoy having the pliers, can openers, screwdrivers, etc.
  • First Aid Kit: This is highly dependent upon where you are and what you’re doing.  At a minimum, it’s a baggy with some bandaids, Tylenol, Motrin, and Benedryl. When certain family members join me, it’s bottled Oxygen, a stethoscope, and the pulse oximeter. For a hike, it usually includes an anti-chafing product.
  • Dry clothes: even on short day hikes, I like to pack a pair of dry socks.  The longer or more remote the trip, the more clothes go in my survival kit.My go-to material is Merino wool–nothing beats a nice pair of SmartWool socks or a light-weight Merino wool sweater.
  • Hat: It may have been proven that we don’t lose most of our body heat through our head, but I feel so much better if I can keep my noggin warm.
  • Personal protection: It’s always a good idea to have some way to protect yourself.  On hikes, this is often a walking stick (yes, I have thought about how I can beat an attacker with my walking stick).  Other times this is a knife, pepper spray, or a gun–it all depends on where I’m going and what I’m doing.
  • Food: Nothing lifts the spirits quite like being able to nibble on someting tasty when you’re tired.
  • Duct Tape: there’s a reason it’s called “500 mile an hour tape.”  Duct tape can prevent blisters, close cuts, fix fips…the uses are nearly endless!

Along with the need to have a physical survival kit, it is even more important to have a spiritual survival kit.  Most of these items aren’t things you can buy in the store.


  • Faith: This is the first principle of the gospel for a good reason–in the battle against Satan, success begins with faith in God. Never underestimate the power of faith.  Moses parted the Red Sea by faith. By faith the walls of Jericho fell.
  • Testimony: Everyone has a testimony.  The difference is the strength of the testimony and the content of the testimony.  I believe our goal is to base our testimony on Jesus Christ and work every day to build that testimony stronger.Helaman taught his sons Nephi and Lehi “…that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).
  • Word of God: ok, this is something you can buy in the store…at the same time, you have to do more than possess the word of God.  You must read it, ponder, it, internalize it, and live it.
  • Charity: Also known as the Pure Love of Christ. Paul taught, “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
  • Ordinances: While it is vital to have faith, it is also important to receive the ordinances of salvation for those who are accountable before God for their actions.
  • Friends: Gordan B. Hinckley once taught that every new member of the church needs 3 things: 1) a friend 2) a responsibility 3) nurishing by the good word of God.  I truly believe that if we have any hope of surviving this world, it will be with a friend.  My first and best friend is my wife.
  • Prayer: Just as your physical surival kit includes a communication method, so should your spiritual survival kit.  Prayer is our lifeline to Heavenly Father.  He is there and he does hear our prayers. It is up to us to take that first step in establishing communication with God through prayer.

See also:



Order in the Chaos

“Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:23)

“Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:119)

While we lived in Colorado, I had the opportunity to hike Pikes Peak a number of times.  As you near the summit from the west (coming through the Devil’s Playground), you come to a large talus slope.  On one of my hikes, as I looked at that talus slope, all I could see were rocks. There was no path, there was no trail. There was nothing but rock, after rock, after rock. There was nothing but chaos.

That is, until I saw what I was looking for. I had to look for small piles of rocks called cairns. They were placed beside the trail and marked the way. There were times when I got to a cairn, I had to stop and look all around to find the next cairn. Only when I saw the next cairn could I see the path I needed to take.

Cairns on Pikes Peak

As we look around us, we often see and hear nothing but chaos. The world would have us do one thing today, then an opposite thing tomorrow. You even have a vocal minority trying to redefine “right.”  Isaiah spoke of this: “woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

The good news is that we haven’t been left alone to wander in the chaos! Our Savior, Jesus Christ has given us the Holy Ghost to be a companion and guide for us.  The Holy Spirit has been given the mission to show us the way through the chaos…to show us the order among the chaos.

One thing to keep in mind…the Spirit requires some effort on your part.  Consider the story of Lehi and his family traveling in the wilderness…the Lord provided a way for them to know where they should travel. He provided for them a compass called “Liahona” (Alma 37:38).  While we don’t know exactly what it looked like, we do know that it functioned “according to the faith and diligence and heed which [they] did give” (1 Nephi 16:28).  The Liahona led them on the correct path as long as they demonstrated their faith through diligent work.

The Holy Ghost then becomes the rock cairns–it is our Liahona. It will show us the way through the chaos of life. It will show us the way back to our Heavenly Home. Just like how the rock cairns were sometimes hard to spot, the voice of the Spirit will often be a quiet prompting–the Spirit requires us to listen with our hearts and with our spirit. As we listen with our hearts and spirit, and as we give diligence to faith, the pathway through the chaos of life will be clear. We will know what is right.  We will know what we should do.

The Power of One Spark

I took my family on a hike through Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs, Colorado around the spring of 2010. It was a great day to go hiking–even though the scrub oak had no leaves, there was a beauty of the canyon that I really enjoyed. We stopped and had lunch overlooking Colorado Springs.  It was on this hike that my youngest son (who has difficulty walking) was able to walk 3 miles on his own before asking to ride in his buggy.

Waldo Canyon & Pikes Peak.JPG
View of Pikes Peak from Waldo Canyon

About a year later, I took my oldest son’s scout troop on a 10-mile hike through Williams Canyon…one of my favorite canyons in all of Colorado Springs. It was a tough hike for an 11-yr-old, but he made it without complaining.  I loved hiking with my son through an absolutely gorgeous canyon.

Williams Canyon
In Williams Canyon

Just a few years later, in June 2012, one spark started a small fire in Waldo Canyon. Within days that small fire had become a raging wildfire. By the time that one spark was extinguished, 346 homes were burnt, 2 lives were lost, and 18,247 acres of forest were gone.  Gone was the beauty of Waldo Canyon. Gone was the beauty of Williams Canyon. Gone was the beauty of Queens Canyon. Gone were entire neighborhoods. One spark had awesome power. The power of destruction embodied in one spark is almost unfathomable.

The Fire.JPG
Waldo Canyon fire as it burns down the Front Range into Colorado Springs

We likewise have a spark inside of us…the spark of the Spirit…the spark of Jesus Christ. As we nurture that spark inside of us, we will witness an amazing result. That spark can grow to become a burning testimony of Jesus Christ. It can grow to be an unquenchable fire of faith and testimony. Brigham Young referred to this as the “Fire of the Covenant” (Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 28 Sept. 1846, 5).

Furthermore, the fire from that spark can be seen by those around us. If we allow that spark to become what it can become, we will be walking examples of the Savior. Our actions and words will shine as an example to all we come into contact with. Just as a single spark in Waldo Canyon caused such great destruction, a single spark inside of us can lead to great blessings, even life eternal with our Father in Heaven.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that a set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

See Also

Like a Flame Unquenchable, M. Russell Ballard

Following His Footsteps

In December 2014, I went hiking in the mountains of Colorado. It was a beautiful day to be out in nature (but then I think any day is a beautiful day to be out in nature). There were several inches of new fallen snow on the ground and it was still snowing. The temperature was a brisk -2º F with a slight breeze. As I started the hike, I was quite warm…so much that I was tempted to remove layers, but that changed after an hour or so when I left the shelter of the trees and was exposed to full force of the blowing wind.

The first part of the hike was along the road (which was closed for the season). The next part stretched across a large meadow covered with small willow trees. I had read about the willows—“stay on the trail or you will end up in snow up to your chest.” Herein laid the problem…I couldn’t see the trail. I had never been up this mountain before and I was completely unfamiliar with the trail. Fortunately for me, I met a man at the trailhead, Ryan, who had hiked this trail 7 times previous. He left before me and I was able to follow his trail.

I could clearly see Ryan’s footprints and therefore could tell when the snow was soft. There were places Ryan broke through the crust and sank into nearly 3 feet of snow. I still had to go through the same deep snow, but I was warned. 

After an hour of following Ryan’s footsteps, I began to get very tired. The fresh snow up here was at least 6 inches thick…every step required lifting my feet 6-10 inches depending on how far I sunk. Many steps required lifting my feet 2-3 feet. I began to be very thankful to have a trail to follow. I was thankful to have footsteps to follow. By having a trail to follow, I was able to expend less energy. If I had been forced to blaze my own trail, it would have been a much more difficult hike.

Sometimes I would try stepping just to the left or right of where Ryan fell through to see if I could avoid the depth…it generally didn’t work. Most of the time, I sank deeper in–once or twice I ended up on snow up to my chest.  It took great effort to crawl out of the deep snow and get back on the trail. One time I could see that Ryan made a wide turn.  It was only about 20 feet across to the other side of the turn and I figured I would leave his trail and cut across.  Again I ended up in snow up to my chest.  I wasted valuable energy trying to get back to the trail.

That’s when it hit me.

The scriptures are replete with the phrase “Follow me.” I’ve read the story of Peter being called and always admired his faith to put down his nets and follow the Savior. I have read the poem “Footprints” and thought “how nice.” What I never realized is that the Savior really has blazed the trail for us. He has walked through the willows—broken through the drifts—identified the safest path through this adventure called life. He hasn’t always blazed a trail that was smooth and easy—sometimes the safest trail is through deep snow. He has, however, always been the Trailblazer.

If we have Exaltation as a goal, then we need to be on the trail to Exaltation. There is only one path leading to Eternal Life. Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

We must follow him.

What I like about this is that the Savior doesn’t require we follow him. We aren’t forced to take a certain path through this life. We are, however, presented images of two destinations: eternal life or eternal damnation.

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27, emphasis added)

That’s it, there’s only these two choices. It is then up to us to decide which path we take. One of the challenges in this life is that there are many paths leading to eternal damnation. So many that it is hard sometimes to stay on the right path. Fortunately for us, our Father placed an Iron Rod beside the path leading to the Tree of Life. Lehi tells us that the Iron Rod passes through a mist of darkness. It is when we are passing through the mist of darkness that the real value of the Iron Rod is clear. Our eyes won’t work in this mist of darkness, but our hands can hold fast to the rod.

One time in particular on my hike, as I was cresting a small rise, I paused and looked at the trail ahead. I saw clearly a set of footprints in the snow and knew that was the safe path for me to take. It gave me hope. It nudged me further. It enabled me to continue my hike. If we are to return to our Father in Heaven, then we are “to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6). His path is clear. His way is sure. His trail is “the strait and narrow path” that leads to life eternal (1 Nephi 8:20, Matthew 7:14).

In His Footsteps.jpg
photo by Cort Hacker – Mt Bierstadt Trail, Colorado, 29 Dec 2014