myriad of terrain ranging from the gently rolling foothills near the base camp to the barren, rocky peaks of Mount Phillips at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level. All we had with us was the gear that we carried on our backs, along with a map and an itinerary to guide us to each camp we were to stop at each night.
It was the experience of a lifetime, with many mountaintop moments – both figuratively and literally. I’ll never forget the images of the landscape as I stood at the top of the Tooth of Time on our last evening in the backcountry. Standing at the 9,000-foot peak of the mountain, we had a clear view of the plains below us to the east, that stretched for as far as the eye could see. Other unforgettable moments occurred each night when the sun went down and every last bit of light dropped down below the horizon to reveal the sky overhead, filled with who knows how many hundreds of thousands more stars than are visible to us here.
Though our rations were meager, we had the strength and energy, as teenage boys do, to get to where we needed to go. And though we didn’t have the luxuries of modern-day technology like GPS and smartphones to guide us, the camp staff knew where we generally ought to be. We felt invincible!
Invincible, yet vulnerable. Among those mountaintop experiences, we hiked, sometimes rather strenuously, over rocky and uneven terrain. We went from flat, grassy fields, to nearly climbing up vertical cliffs to get to our next destination. We had to watch our step, as well as before we sat down on the ground, to make sure that there wasn’t a snake hiding in plain sight. We treated or boiled the water we collected before drinking it – or pay the consequences – as I did one day after my water didn’t get enough treatment.
At night, we hoisted our food or belongings that had any kind of scent twenty feet into the air to avoid attracting bears into our campsite. We faced extreme temperature swings throughout the day that went from 20° one morning to nearly 100° during the hottest hours of the afternoon. There were also the perennial afternoon thunderstorms that pelted us with heavy rain and hail.
Stronger, Better Skilled, Closer
As strong and as invincible as we felt we were, we were vulnerable. Though we were surrounded by the awe and beauty of the mountains we passed through, it was also desolate and perilous, filled with hazards that could potentially harm or endanger our lives. Fortunately, we only experienced minor illness and injuries over our ten days of hiking. And, when we packed up our gear and headed back toward home, we came back stronger and better skilled in survival. Though we were physically tired, we returned mentally refreshed from being removed from the bustle of city life and its distractions. Already strong friendships grew ever stronger, and though each of our lives has taken different paths in the year since, we still count each other as the closest of friends.
I tell you about this experience because this journey through the wilderness, through the hills and valleys, was a time of growth for my friends and me. Each one of us returned home changed – shaped just a little more into the men that each of us has become today.
Jonathan Allen and his wife Jill live and work in the Missouri Ozarks.
Photo by Wayne Groner