Since 2005, the Living Church of God has conducted a dozen Adventure Camps in several of the top-rated national parks and national forests in North America! We began our first backpacking trip just a few short miles from Jackson, Wyoming, at the top of the Aerial Tramway above Teton Village, and ended over 40 miles later at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. There were no Adventure Trips in 2006 or 2007, but they resumed in 2008 when adventurous young men and women hiked in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. In 2009, adventurers canoed in Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota. In the following years, there were trips in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (2010); Baxter Park, Maine (2011); Glacier Park, Montana (2012); Yosemite National Park, California (2013); Yellowstone National Park, Montana (2014); Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (2015); Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (2016); Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (2017); and in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado (2018).
Beauty and Adventure
What made these among the most beautiful places on earth to conduct Adventure Camps? Majestic snow-covered mountain peaks, spectacular views, glaciers and icefields, crystal clear streams and lakes, thundering waterfalls, thermal features and geysers, dense coniferous forests, alpine landscapes, multicolored meadows of wildflowers, and abundant wildlife are only a few reasons to call these places some of the most beautiful in God's earthly creation. In the backcountry, campers and staff have seen bears, buffalo, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolves, foxes, beavers, otters, marmots, pikas, eagles, and a multitude of other species. On many of these trips, moose, elk, and deer walked through our campsites and between our tents or blocked a path. Our backpackers have been blessed to be able to camp in pristine backcountry campsites, far from the crowds, bringing to mind conditions prophesied to exist in tomorrow's world (Ezekiel 34:25).
Every Adventure Trip since the program's inception has included whitewater rafting. Those who have had the chance to attend these camps have known the thrill of rafting on the Class III rapids of some of the following waterways: Snake River, Wyoming; Colorado River, Colorado; Middle Fork River, Montana; Kicking Horse River, British Columbia; White Salmon River, Washington; and Cache La Poudre River, Colorado. They've also braved the breathtaking Class IV and V rapids of the Tuolumne River in California and the epic Class V rapids of the mighty Penobscot River in Maine!
The courageous young men and women on various trips have also gone rock climbing and whitewater kayaking, soaked in backcountry hot springs, forded chest-deep mountain streams, swum in refreshing glacial waters, stood in the cool mist of majestic waterfalls, and even taken a 29-mile mountain biking journey from Trail Ridge Road (11,796 feet) to Estes Park, Colorado, a classic ride that most only see on television and dream of taking. These trips have allowed young people to walk through magnificent forests like the "Grove of the Patriarchs" at the base of Mount Rainier, Glacier Park's giant cedars, and California's giant sequoias. They have also stood in awe of amazing rock formations, such as the dome-shaped rocks of Yosemite and Devils Postpile National Monument. This unusual rock formation ranks as one of the world's finest examples of columnar basalt, and its symmetrical columns tower 60 feet high.
All of these are great reasons for having embarked on any of our world-class Adventure Trips, but not one of them is the greatest thing about Adventure Camp. So, what is? The answer might surprise you.
The Best Part
The best thing is not walking through lush green valleys or breathing cool mountain air. It's not the breathtaking view atop a high mountain pass. It's not catching trout in a glassy mountain lake or clear mountain stream and cooking them for dinner. These experiences are awesome! But they are not the best part of any Adventure Trip. The best thing about Adventure Camp is the character built by those completing the hike!
Did you know that every one of our hikers to ever set out into the backcountry on a four-or-five-day hike has completed the journey? That's amazing! Countless other hikers and hiking groups have set out to accomplish what we have but failed. Many of them have turned back, or taken an exit route and caught a shuttle back to their cars. This past summer, a group of backpackers attempting the same route, at the same time, and going in the same direction as our hikers had to set up tents and abandon the route, because some of their team experienced hypothermia. Even the manager of the hotel where we stayed after completing the backcountry trip was very surprised that all four of our groups (each made up of eight hikers) completed the four-pass loop without anyone turning back or dropping out.
We've put a great deal of thought and careful preparation into selecting strenuous and challenging routes for these trips. We've chosen difficult but doable hikes—and tough routes rather than easier options. Why? To challenge the campers and staff. Each trip has been designed to push hikers to their limits!
It seems that every year there is one day that stands out as an especially hard one, or one on which something happens to make the trip even more demanding than we had planned. The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness trip this past summer was no exception. On Friday we were hiking over two mountain passes—West Maroon Pass (12,480 feet), followed by Frigid Air Pass (12,415 feet). Our packs were heavy, and it was to be a challenging day. The day started out with light rain, but before long the temperature began to plummet, the rain increased, and the wind picked up. By the time the last two groups began their final ascent over the first pass, the wind was blowing rain horizontally and ice pellets the size of peas were pounding everyone. The hail subsided after several minutes, but the wind, rain, and temperatures in the low 40s Fahrenheit continued to hammer us during the entire descent of West Maroon Pass and all the way to the summit of Frigid Air Pass. Hikers were cold and soaked to the bone as the rain found its way through all three layers of their clothing. The fingers of many were too cold to work zippers. The slippery, muddy, rock-strewn path was treacherous. For hours, everyone prayed for the rain and cold to stop, but it persisted—and so did we. Everyone kept eating trail mix or other snacks, and drinking fluids to stay hydrated. Heads were covered to maintain body heat, and rain gear was zipped tight. All four groups pressed forward in an attempt to generate needed additional body heat. Many were pushing themselves beyond their perceived limits.
Members of the Navy Seals, an elite military group in the United States, teach what they call the "40 percent rule," a concept they use to increase mental toughness. Their belief is that when your mind is saying you're done, you're really only 40 percent done. If that is true, several of our hikers pushed beyond 40 percent.
Eventually, we reached the top of the second pass. Then, something amazing happened. The rain stopped, the wind subsided, and within a few minutes the sun came out to warm our cold, shivering bodies. On this day, Frigid Air Pass did not live up to its name! Everyone began to pray once again, this time not to make requests, but to give thanks.
Challenge and Character
This is an example of what can make these trips so challenging and exacting. Adventure Camp hikers have seen the direct intervention of God's mighty hand in one way or another on every Adventure Trip we have taken. In previous years, we have faced a variety of difficulties, including mosquito plagues. We even had to conduct Sabbath Services while sitting in a river with water up to our necks to avoid being bitten. We have also dealt with up to six inches of snow accumulating on our tents overnight, braved rain and cold throughout the entire five days in the backcountry, hiked in water over the tops of our boots for days on end, backpacked throughout the night, and encountered other adversities too numerous to mention. In each case, mental and physical toughness were put to the test.
At the end of each trip, we hand out Adventure Camp shirts to the hikers who have completed it (and to the members of the hard-working base-camp staff, too). When you see anyone clothed in one of these shirts, you can be assured that they have earned the right to wear it!
The next time you think you can't do more, you probably can. These Adventure Camps have been challenging! The sense of satisfaction one gets from completing the hike and finishing the course is deeply rewarding. Seeing the effects of the mighty hand of God and experiencing His intervention firsthand when it was needed the most will stay in our memories forever. The greatest thing about these trips is how they strengthen and develop character in those who sign up!