In Hindsight | 2019

2019. What a year. For those of you new to this blog, I love to do a post sometime around the New Year (give or take a couple of months) as a recap of and reflection on the blessings of the previous year. And it’s fun to look back through pictures and remember why I took them, and the circumstances around them. As I scroll through picture after picture, I feel so blessed with the memories I have of this past year, and God’s gracious generosity in giving me so many wonderful times with family and friends.

This past year was not a year of ease – There were trials, temptations, struggles, grief, uncertainty, pain, fear, death, goodbyes…But through all of it, God is so faithful, providing work to do, friends to encourage, family to love and to be loved by, and so much else.
Sunday GulchThe highlight of last winter (and really, the whole year) was the sheer amount of time spent hiking. As I look back through pictures, I see hike after hike after hike, from Sunday Gulch to Harney Peak to the Hidden Waterfall hike to Hell Canyon. Temps ranged from balmy winter weather to frigid, blue skies to snow. I discovered a few simple gear items that wonderfully changed my enjoyment of winter hiking! In past winters, I’ve struggled with a sort of seasonal depression, but not this past winter. There was too much beauty, too much muscle soreness, too much glorious exhaustion, too much freezing hands and feet and nose, to be bothered by depression.
IMG_20190430_183859_422Another noteworthy memory was my first experience with search and rescue, when the fire department was called out to help with ground searches in the winter and spring. As sad as the circumstances were, I loved the teamwork and camaraderie of the few days I spent on line searches, and the physical challenge of the terrain we were in.
IMG_20190327_095508495_HDRI also had my first ever structure fire, another vivid and exciting memory from the fire world. The call came in around 11pm, and we finally got back to the station around 4am or even later. I think I got about one or two hours of sleep that night!
In March, I was thrilled to be able to spend nine days in Spearfish for the NOLS Wilderness First Responder course, thanks in large part to the generosity of friends from church who opened their home to me for those nine days. WFR was a great experience, and it peaked my interest in wilderness medicine, as well as boosting my confidence in my ability to survive in the event of an accident, or to offer help to someone else.
April came, bittersweet, as we said goodbye to Grandma for the last time. It is hard to lose a loved one, but it was also a time of rejoicing, knowing that my faithful Grandma had been ushered into the presence of her LORD. She had patiently endured so much pain over the last few years, and all that was now gone. I also got to feel the joy of our church family coming around us and supporting us, loving us. If you belong to the household of God, there truly is sweetness in sorrow.

A visit from a college friend in May was a great beginning to the summer, and we spent a fun several days exploring the Hills and hiking!IMG_20190603_215510_448My Uncle Scott was here on and off for a lot of the year, since he recently retired from his job and is in a time of transition in life. He is a great uncle and a dear friend, and his company is always a highlight. And yes, we hiked. And hiked. And talked. And hiked.
IMG_20190829_094654058Once again I spent the summer working at the greenhouse with my sister, Sarah, and hiking whenever I could. My poor brain needs a break from teaching in the summer, and the outside beckons, beckons, beckons. We had some great hiking adventures, including our fondly-remembered Fourth of July hike up Harney Peak, into the middle of a thunderstorm.
IMG_20190806_114512_899IMG_20190727_002357_929Another trip to Bozeman for the Biblical Counseling Conference was a great almost-end to the summer, with camping and hiking bookending the trip. My friend Katie and I drove up ahead of time, camped and hiked for two nights and two days, went to the conference, and then camped and hiked again, with the addition of a few more friends. We were able to explore Hyalite Canyon with three solid days of hiking. So much beauty. The bigness of God’s creation is astounding.
received_934942393564610Katie also talked me in to going climbing with her, and after the first day, I was hooked. I was able to go a few times this last summer, and I’m already looking forward to getting back out there when the weather warms up.
IMG_20190913_221138_179IMG_20190921_215009_814Towards the end of the summer, Sarah and I began training for our Rim-to-Rim, and I loved the time spent hiking long miles with Sarah and how our relationship grew. We hiked Harney Peak a grand total of something like 20 times this year, most of those hikes in preparation for our Rim-to-Rim. It was great prep, as all our training occurred between 6000-7200 feet, getting our bodies accustomed to less oxygen and having to work harder at higher elevations. It was excellent. I would have thought that hiking Harney that many times would get boring. It didn’t. We saw so many different faces of our little mountain, from the early morning light streaming through the dew-wet trees, to the afterglow of the sunset, to thunderstorms and hailstorms, got soaking wet in a downpour, tromped through puddles, sweated through afternoon heat, and in short never got tired of hiking our mountain.

Mid-August, I began my EMT class through the Custer Ambulance, which was a fantastic class! I had a blast. Testing all went well, and I can’t describe the excitement of having Ruth shake my hand after the psychomotor examination. “Congratulations,” she said. “You’re an EMT.” Definitely not where I thought I’d be 5 years ago. I’ve since started with the Keystone Ambulance Service, and am looking forward to getting some experience, particularly over the summer.
IMG_20191007_155429565_HDRThe fall was mostly a chaos of teaching and EMT, except for a crazy trip with Sarah and our cousin down to Bryce Canyon, Grand Escalante, and Grand Canyon for our Rim-to-Rim in October. What an amazing trip. I haven’t done a lot of traveling, and definitely not road tripping, so this was a wonderful adventure and challenge.
IMG_20191105_132953452_HDRI also had the opportunity to join Custer County Search and Rescue, and getting plugged in there has been a really neat experience, opening doors to a very different branch of emergency services, but one that more specifically taps into my interests and abilities.

And my list could go on. Beautiful summer days, fall snowstorms, wildflower hunts, snowmobile training for SAR, delighting in a power outage with Vienna sausages and a fire in the fireplace, picking apples with Mom, fire department trainings and events, and so many other delightful memories. And the year was topped off with a beautiful family Christmas, bittersweet without Grandma, but festive and joyful.IMG_20191225_114750320So if I were to summarize the joys of this past year, it would be the new avenues of learning and work, the physical challenge of so much hiking, and most importantly, the growing friendships and relationships God is blessing me with, not least of which being those relationships with my family. I also cannot stress how important it is for single women to have other single women friends, or at least other women friends. But there is something extra special about those friendships (one in particular) where there is common faith, similar struggles, and so much empathy and love.

As I look back over this year, I see God’s hand of graciousness, His providence, and how He sustains through trials and struggles, and how He uses (ordains) those difficulties to increase our dependence on Him, and highlight our own sinful attitudes and idols, to make us more like Christ. I’ve seen how He takes away one good to provide in another good way, and I’ve seen how He uses struggles to loosen our hold on things we feel dependent on here. My own failings have highlighted my need for Christ, and increased my confidence in God’s gracious provision.

2019 was another year of change, change, and more change. I’m excited to see the story God has written for 2020!

Greeting 2020

We (Mom, Sarah, and I) welcomed the new year and the new decade from Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies! It was a beautiful, crisp morning, the stars were glorious at 6am, the snow crunched pleasantly underfoot, and the wind was gentle enough for us to actually de-layer shortly into the hike.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

There wasn’t even a hint of dawn when we started up, and we trudged along in the dark, our headlamps casting pleasant shadows in the snowy woods. There were a few other cars at the trailhead, and evidence along the way of other first-day hikers, including this snowy tribute to the new year:

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

And then the first day of the year dawned: gloriously, slowly, from diamond-studded black, to silver and blue skies, then lavender, then pink and orange and scarlet, with the tips of granite spires just kissed with the first light. We reached the tower in the glow of the first sunrise, and watched the light spread over the Hills.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

The wind was fierce at the Tower (it always is), and with a bitter edge, so we took shelter in the basement, warming ourselves with hot, black coffee and a snack before heading back into the wind.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

The hike down was even more beautiful than the hike up, now that we could see the sculpted snowdrifts, the sun sparkling through the trees, and the sky and its blueness overhead.Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

What a wonderful way to bring in this new year and new decade, with two of my favorite people, doing one of my favorite things, on one of my favorite trails, in my (current) favorite place in the world, on the tip top of our highest peak, reveling in and wandering around and gazing at God’s beautiful handiwork.

I love experiencing the firsts of the new year.

The first morning.
The first drive.
The first hike.
The first time up Harney Peak.
The first picture taken.
The first cup of coffee.
The first sweet family time.
The first prayer.

The new year comes, fresh, unstained, and (from our perspective) unwritten. We do a pretty good job of staining it as soon as we open our eyes or our mouth on New Year’s morning, but the freshness and excitement and sense of newness remain, the gladness of a fresh start. There are things I’m anticipating, things I’m excited about, things I’m not looking forward to. But I’m glad to know I serve a sovereign LORD who isn’t just writing my story, as if He is still in the process of figuring it out. He has written it, already.

Harney Peak on New Year's Day

I wonder what He will choose to bring to this new year? I wonder what growing, what joy, what delight, what blessings and struggles and trials and pain? What adventures? What changes are coming that I haven’t even thought of yet? What triumphs? What failures? What of Christ will I see or learn that I haven’t yet known? How will He refine me?

2020 is open like a brand new book. I’m excited to read the story.

Happy New Year!

Hiking | Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim, Part 2

Fourteen miles down. Ten to go. And there was Phantom Ranch! IMG_20191007_100550957_HDRWe arrived gratefully at Phantom Ranch around 10am (we made really good time!), and took a lovely lunch break. We took time to change socks, rehydrate, and mail postcards from the canteen, which were stamped with the words “Delivered by Mule.” We visited with other hikers and runners, and finally got back on the trail, right into the heat.

The sun was high by now. And we three poor northern girls were definitely missing the cool of the morning. But we slathered on sunscreen, sported our brimmed hats and chugged plenty of water and electrolytes. We were good to go. The distance between Phantom Ranch and River Resthouse passed quickly, and we enjoyed the long views up and down the Colorado as we crossed the long span of the Silver Bridge, and a bighorn sheep posing beautifully for us next to the trail.IMG_20191007_112008605IMG_20191007_112233274_HDR
IMG_20191007_112244913_HDRIt was after the River Resthouse that the hiking started to get harder. We felt the miles behind us, and still had nine to go. And now the elevation gain started. When you’ve already hiked 14 miles, and now the elevation starts, oh, you feel it. You feel it.
IMG_20191007_123425736_HDRFirst comes The Corkscrew:
IMG_20191007_124254856_HDRThe Corkscrew is an intimidating series of bigger and bigger switchbacks, bringing you out of a small canyon up into a larger one. The switchbacks seemed endless, and now we were hiking in the sun and the heat. It took forever to reach Indian Garden Resthouse, and then we had four and a half miles to go, with 3-Mile Resthouse and 1 1/2 Mile Resthouse splitting up the rest of the distance.
IMG_20191007_125245552_BURST000_COVER_TOPIndian Garden was memorable. They were doing construction of some sort and had a crazy helicopter thing bringing in equipment and taking stuff out. When we finished and were looking down into the canyon, we could still see it, 3000 feet below. Amazing.
IMG_20191007_155319016_HDRThe last three miles were the toughest of all, and possibly the most beautiful. The sun was dipping lower and a shadow was spreading over the trail, so the heat was no longer as much of an issue. But by now, we had already hiked 21 miles. With the whole canyon spread out behind us, and with us slowly creeping our way up the precarious side of the canyon, the bigness of the canyon was overwhelming and awesome.
IMG_20191007_155319016_HDRWe could catch glimpses of the next resthouses, or glimpses of the Rim, and we could see trail and switchbacks that we were aiming towards way in the distance or way overhead, hundreds or thousands of feet up. If we looked hard, we could barely make out other hikers, looking as small as fleas. I’ve never felt so small in my life. At Indian Garden, there still is 3000 feet of vertical gain left. At 3-Mile, there is 2100 feet left. And at 1 1/2 Mile, there is 1100 feet left. We knew we were getting closer, but until you’re done, the hiking is just plain hard.
IMG_20191007_160238051_HDRFrom here on out, certain groups looked tireder and tireder, while others looked fresher and fresher (and less equipped, fit, or able. Flip-flops, for instance, 1500 feet below the rim). It was easy to pick out the day hikers from the Rim-to-Rim hikers. But Sarah and Jenny both commented on (and we all laughed at) the pitying, “judge-y” looks we received from clean, fresh-looking hikers who clearly were wondering how we could be so tired and worn-out looking so close to the South Rim.

And then we could see the end of the trail, and those last few hundred yards felt everlasting. We emerged at Bright Angel Trailhead shortly after 5pm, for a Rim-to-Rim time of just under 13 hours.
IMG_20191007_170535966_HDRIt was awesome. And terrifying. And exhilarating. And beautiful in ways I never expected.
Resized_2019-10-07_05.04.36_1IMG_20191007_172626628_HDRAnd I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Hiking | Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim, Part 1

Finally!! This post series has been much anticipated and at last is ready to publish! Easily the highlight adventure of this whole year was training for and hiking a one-day Rim-to-Rim at the Grand Canyon in early October, with roughly 2 months of training hikes leading up to our trek. As a hike that makes it into the Backpacker Magazine list of top ten most dangerous hikes due to the heat in the summer, this is one I highly anticipated, and is the first hike of this caliber I’d ever done. What an adventure!

The Rim-to-Rim is a 24 mile hike boasting roughly 5000 feet of elevation gain (as well as 6000 feet of descent), exposed trail, amazing views, and the exuberance at the end of finishing such a monumental hike. The recommended time to take for this hike is 2-3 days according to the official literature, and the beginning of the Bright Angel Trail (the end of the trail for us) sports this lovely, inviting sign of a poor sunburned guy vomiting:IMG_20191007_170339998_HDR

There were lots of reasons for us choosing to do it in one day, but probably the biggest reason was the challenge. Just the challenge. It didn’t disappoint.

We got started in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, October 7. We had slept (sort of) for three hours or so in our car on the North Rim at the North Kaibab trailhead. We were all so excited, I’m not sure how much we actually slept. Then in the cold and dark, we got ready, bundling up against the winterish 27 degrees, excitedly greeted another group of early morning hikers in hushed tones, and with the adrenaline waking us up fast, set the first foot on the North Kaibab trailhead.

It was pitch dark at 4:20am, and the beams from our headlamps illuminated a sandy trail and heavy brush and trees on either side. The walking quickly became rather hypnotic. Walking in the dark is a strange feeling, without the changing scenery of the daytime, either for interest or perspective. We couldn’t see depth or distance, or the steepness of the terrain, or the switchbacks below us. We didn’t get far in before we realized we were not alone on the trail, and could see headlamps bobbing behind us and before us. What a strange sight, stories and stories below, headlamps bobbing along in the dark.

The trail wound along the canyon walls in series of switchbacks, until we could look back up and see again a trail of headlamps. How pleasant, and how strange. For an hour and more, that was all the perspective we got of the bigness of the canyon, the distance and closeness, both, of the headlamps in the dark.

Then the light. Our eyes were dazzled in the pale, dim light by the heights, and dropoffs, the winding trail clinging precariously to the sheer canyon sides, the color, and the signs of beautiful desert life. Prickly pear, huge and with large purple fruits, other strange cactus plants with towering spires 15 feet tall, plants that looked like yucca or mangave relatives. All beautiful and strange.



One of the best parts of this hike was the trail camaraderie, which began early on. One hiker in particular is a special memory, as we leapfrogged with him and his hiking partner for the first 14 miles. Mark encouraged and cheered us on, as a veteran Grand Canyon hiker, which was a huge boost to the morale of our little group.


Water stops were anticipated and appreciated, and hikers congregated in them for breaks and hydration and to use the pit toilets. There really is no place to go privately unless you use the pit toilets. The first stop was Manzanita Rest Area. Five miles was done. Nineteen miles left.



About 6 miles in, we had our first view of the South Rim, hazy and indistinct in the distance:IMG_20191007_074752664_HDR

It was exhilarating and rather terrifying and beautiful and awe-inspiring. It was so far away, so small in the distance, and so high up. That was where we were going. And at this point in the trail, we felt great. The trail was easy, temps were cool, we weren’t yet sore or tired, other than some knee pain I had anticipated and was managing with soft braces and Ace wraps on both knees (this was preventative, since I’d been having knee pain leading up to the hike), and a sturdy hinged knee brace for my right knee for the descent. I looked gimpy, but who cares?

I was surprised at how green and lush the canyon was. The trail follows a creek nearly the whole way, and the moist smell of water loving plants was unexpected. It was deliciously cool and fresh.

It was all a countdown to Phantom Ranch, which, though not the true halfway point, feels like a halfway point. But first, the Box.




We got to the infamous Box before the sun had even touched it, one of the most dangerous parts of the hike if you don’t get through it before the sun hits it. The narrow, steep sides of this four-mile stretch of canyon are dark stone which soaks up the heat, causing dangerous temperatures reaching well into the triple digits.


At last the Box was behind us and Phantom Ranch wasn’t far beyond. And it was starting to get warm!

Hiking | Buckhorn Mountain

Another gorgeous weekend and exhilarating hike in the books. I’ve really never found something I enjoy as much or as thoroughly as I enjoy hiking. We were going to hike Mount Baldy, but on the way home from church made a quick switch decision to hike something new instead. This may have been even better than Baldy…
IMG_20190407_164559265_HDRBuckhorn Mountain is a recognizable granite peak and ridge formation just north of Custer along Hwy. 16/385. What is generally photographed is not actually the highest point, however, so don’t let that throw you. Look at in on a topographical map and it makes sense, but I was confused for awhile when it seemed like we weren’t actually hiking Buckhorn.

There is no trail, so the best access is to hike up the Michelson Trail from town, and after about a mile head off trail east toward the peak. Keep it in view and you can’t get lost. As long as you can still climb higher, you’re not there yet. Round trip, it is a little under 4 miles. We picked what seemed like the most direct route(and the route that would include some boulder scrambling), up the west slope of the mountain, and boy, were we in for a treat! Plenty of scrambling to satisfy that craving, and gorgeous glimpses of views along the way up. We discovered a much easier route on the way down, however, on the south slope.

This peak clearly gets very little attention, and for good reason. There are a lot of snags and deadfall, steep slopes covered with duff, and lots of boulders. But if you feel like braving it, the view from the top is magnificent. The whole way up, we were watching a particular peak, only to get up to a saddle between it and the real peak and realize it was a false summit. This is a beautiful view of the false summit, from an open meadow on the way back down: IMG_20190407_164542021_HDRFrom the top, Crazy Horse, the Harney range, Custer, and everything in between is laid out like a map, clear and pristine and beautiful. I always enjoy getting up high enough that birds are soaring at eye level or lower.IMG_20190407_171725324

IMG_20190407_171209222_HDROn the way down, we found an easier route, which meandered through beautiful, open woods and boulder-strewn hillsides, emerald-green, kinnikinnick-covered slopes, and mossy spring areas. I can’t pinpoint the feeling exactly, but certain areas of the hills, including this hike, kept reminding me of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. Rugged, wild, and hauntingly beautiful.  Axel also found an intact deer rack, which he didn’t want but I did, so it got a ride back on his pack. IMG_20190407_172351841IMG_20190407_172620580Definitely a hike I recommend, if you like some rock scrambling and off-trail hiking!


Winter Gear

Over the last few years, my winter wardrobe has grown substantially and I’m just tickled pink. I tend to get cold very easily, but I also warm up very quickly once I’m moving around. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, I warm up fast when I’m moving, and over the last few years have learned some tricks of layering that have greatly increased my enjoyment of winter recreation. I thought I’d do what I’ve never done before on this blog and share some non-expert enjoyment of some gear that I’ve found that I particularly enjoy!

  1. Ice cleats. Last winter, I bought a pair of YakTrax walkers because I was cheap, and found out why they were cheap. Because they weren’t meant for the kind of hiking I like to do! By the end of the season, I had broken them, not beyond repair, but they were broken. So when this winter rolled around, I knew I wanted something sturdier and, as I thought about it, more aggressive. So I found a pair of ice cleats by Unigear. They aren’t as expensive as the Kahtoola brand ice cleats, and they might not be as durable, but they’ve stood up great to some of the ridiculous terrain I’ve hiked in over the last couple months, from ice covered AND bare boulders, rocks and rocky terrain, and normal winter conditions. The metal links aren’t welded, so I have had to to a minor fix job on them once, but that’s it. Their one limitation I’ve found so far is deep, sticky snow. They quickly form snowballs under the ball of the foot and the heel and make walking a little awkward, and they get heavy and fall off, in spite of a velcro tape holding them on. But I’ve used them on a number of hikes where they were indispensable, including a search and rescue effort where I was the only one on my team with cleats. Yes, people were jealous. I also have some hip issues which seem to crop up mostly in the winter, either in deep snow (because of having to step so high) or on slick surfaces (when the hips experience extra torque). Traction is very helpful in minimizing that torqueIMG_20190119_153606333
  2. Gaiters. In addition to ice cleats, another piece of gear I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year is a pair of gaiters, also indispensable for winter hiking. Not only do gaiters keep your lower legs and boots dry, and keep snow from getting into your boots, they’re an extra layer of insulation and wind protection. I love them. They’ve made my regular hiking boots be quite sufficient for winter hiking, including in frigid temps!
  3. Balaclava. This one I discovered on a hike where temperatures hovered around 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit all day. What a difference a balaclava makes. Not only does it keep all cold air from reaching your neck and ears, but the Carhartt one I have pulls all the way up to the eyes, keeping chin, cheeks, and nose warm, and allowing you to breathe warm air. I had no idea what a difference that could make, both in terms of comfort and in terms of (for a lack of a better word) survivability.
  4. Wool socks. Most hikers already know the joys of wool socks. I just want to briefly state that the hype isn’t just hype. Its true. Wool can absorb much more water than cotton and still feel dry and warm. A great option for winter hiking. However, I’d like to bust the myth that Smartwool is the only way to go. I bought a few pairs on discount last winter, and honestly didn’t think they were that great. I found my feet to get too sweaty in them, even in the winter. The wool socks I’ve fallen in love with are the Cabela’s brand wool blend crew socks. They’re excellent. Just the right amount of insulation, and my feet don’t over-sweat.
  5. Wool mittens. When it is really bitterly cold outside, wool mittens are the way to go. I have two pairs that I found at Menards and I love them. They’re inexpensive, which is a huge plus. They’re convertible, mittens and gloves, which I like because of my photography and needing to have my hands or at least fingers free. I’ve worn them comfortably down to 0 degrees, probably colder, definitely colder with windchill, and my hands were toasty warm. And they’re roomy enough that when my fingers did get cold, I could just pull my fingers all into the body of the glove and warm them up.
  6. Waterproof pants. This is a very new one for me, but they’re super effective. Often, the snow out here is dry, rendering waterproof pants completely unnecessary if you know how to layer. But on a recent 9-day Wilderness First Responder class, we did a lot of sitting in snow and being outside in frigid temps. They recommended bringing waterproof pants or snowpants, which I was very glad I did. It made sitting in the snow and being relatively inactive in cold temps much more manageable. Waterproof often means wind resistant, which is a huge plus in frigid temps. 2019-03-16_10-56-04
  7. Hiking pack. The only reason I include this one is because of the issue of size. I bought an Osprey Sirrus 24 pack a year ago, thinking it would be sufficient for day hiking. It is. But not during the winter. It is just enough too small that for a long hike or a cold enough hike, I’d either have to skimp on water or skimp on layers. I’d rather not skimp on either. So with some Christmas money, I bought the Osprey Mira 34, which is 10 L bigger than my Sirrus 24 (and was on clearance), and really is the perfect size, AND can be cinched way down if the extra space isn’t needed.

So there you go. A non-professional’s top seven items of winter gear, which I have found to be either indispensable for winter excursioning, OR to make winter excursioning much more enjoyable! Feel free to share your favorite winter hiking gear in the comments section. I’d love to hear what others do to enjoy the outdoors in the winter!