Hiking ahead

Last weekend I went on a backcountry snowboarding trip to Fowler hut with a guy I’ve been mentoring and his younger brother.  Fowler hut sits at 11,500ft and is a five and a half mile hike from the trailhead.  That’s not typically a bad hike.  What I overlooked though was the more than 2500 vertical feet we would be climbing while carrying all our food and gear for three days.  It turned into a fairly grueling uphill slog.

After about three hours we trudged through the last pines onto a traverse just above tree line.  I was tired.  More than that, I was frustrated and annoyed.  I had struggled (and failed) the entire hike to reposition my pack so that it rode on my hips and not my shoulders.  My shoulders felt like someone had taken a cheese grater to them, then slowly smeared fresh lemon juice into the raw skin.  Needless to say, I was ready to get to the hut and take off my pack.

On the traverse we met up with members of the group we would be sharing the hut with.  They were feeling the effects of the steep climb and had pulled back to a slow plod.  Leaving one from our group with them, I turned to Jeff (the younger brother) and said, “I’m ready to be there.  Let’s get after it and knock this thing out.”  He agreed wholeheartedly and we took off.  Pain, frustration and weariness became the fuel for our final push to the hut.

Off the traverse we came down into a saddle around 11,000ft. and were presented with a choice.  Turn right, or turn left.  There were an equal number of tracks in either direction.  Jeff and I knew that the hut was just a few hundred feet down from this saddle.  But we didn’t know which direction.  The guys behind us were the only ones with a map.  Driven to get to the hut, and not wanting to wait for or hike back to the other folks, we made a choice to go left.  We pushed hard for another half mile along some of the sketchiest sections of trail.  Things were not feeling right.  We should have been there by now.  Jeff and I decided to stop and wait for the group to catch up.  No one came by.

After about twenty minutes it became clear that we had ventured off in the wrong direction.  I was angry.  I so badly wanted to be out of the cold blowing snow and in a warm hut without my pack knifing into my shoulders.  Unfortunately, I could only be angry with myself.  No one had forced me to blaze ahead.  I had willingly left those with clear directions behind me.  My impatience and lack of wisdom was biting me viciously in the backside.

Swallowing hard on my pride and irritation I said to Jeff, “We need to turn back around.”  He wasn’t any happier with this decision than I was, but understood the reality of the situation.  So once again, off we set ourselves back up to the saddle.

As we crested over the ridge into the saddle, his brother was standing waiting for us.  Great.  Turning and hiking to the right, the hut came into view shortly and within and few minutes we were all lying down on our beds stretching out our weary muscles.

In my haste and annoyance I had added an additional mile and around forty-five more minutes to the hike.  I had pushed into unknown territory without the benefit of a map.  I ran ahead of those with clear directions.

This is an issue God has been speaking into me for some time.  Last week I read in Numbers 14 the story of how the Israelites rebelled against God’s instruction to move into Canaan.  Moses explains to them that because of their unwillingness to obey, God will allow an entire generation to perish in the desert before they will enter the Promised Land.  The elders of Israel mourned this instruction but then decided to try crossing into the land anyway.

So they got up early the next morning and set out for the hill country of Canaan. “Let’s go,” they said. “We realize that we have sinned, but now we are ready to enter the land the LORD has promised us.” Numbers 14:40

They were ignoring God’s clear instruction.  Moses tries to warn them against getting out in front of God.

But Moses said, “Why are you now disobeying the LORD’s orders to return to the wilderness? It won’t work. Do not go into the land now. You will only be crushed by your enemies because the LORD is not with you.  Numbers 14:41-42

Moses lays it out for them in no uncertain terms.  “It won’t work . . . the LORD is not with you.”  They wouldn’t listen though.  They were frustrated, exhausted and annoyed by their long hike through desert.  They were willing to leave God’s directions behind them if it meant achieving their goal.  The result of their decision is no surprise.

Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the LORD’s covenant moved from the camp.  Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.  Numbers 14:44-45

The Israelites left God’s prophet—Moses—and the physical representation of His presence on Earth—the ark—literally behind them.  They made the most critical error any of us can make, they got out in front of God.

When we run ahead of God we deny His sovereignty and lose the benefits of His instruction and covering.  When we get consumed with our own frustrations, desires and pride we are in danger of running ahead of God.  What did the Amalekites and Canaanites do to the Israelites as a result of their foolishness?  I love this phrase, they “beat them down”.

Foolishly hiking ahead on my way to Fowler hut resulted in more time; more vertical feet and feeling more beat down by the trail.  I had gotten in my own way because of my need to have things on my terms and in my timing.  All of that was avoidable if I had stopped, let go of my desires and wisely stayed close to those with clear directions.

God has clear directions for all of us.  My prayer is that we won’t become distracted and impatient then foolishly run ahead of His will.  If you have moved out in front of God, stop.  Swallow your pride, turn around, retrace your steps and learn to walk alongside the Father.

Joel Thomas


  1. Maybe a map and compass lesson is in the men’s future at Foothills?! Just like we need to navigate the backcountry with these tools, the bible is our “navigation tool” for life. But a map and compass left at home is of no use. Nor are they useful to bring along if you don’t know how to use them. The same is true with the bible!

  2. Thanks for the great story Joel. Sorry I could not have joined you. I am glad you did the right thing and turned around.


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