My freshman year of college at BYU, I was asked out on a date to hike Mount Timpanogos. I readily agreed and my date told me he would bring supplies and we’d be going with a group. I love the outdoors and hiking, but Arkansas mountains and Utah mountains are vastly different. Being new to Utah, I didn’t even know where this mountain was or what to expect (like that it is the 2nd tallest mountain in the Wasatch range and is 11,752 feet high). Our group met up, we got some sandwiches and headed out rather late with the day quickly dwindling.
The boys assured us of their preparedness with flashlights and we’d still enjoy the hike. By the time we arrived to the trailhead, it was more night than day. The boys only had three flashlights for our group of six. I don’t remember how far we got, but I vividly remember how dark it became and how narrow the trail was. We couldn’t walk side by side and the boys thought holding the flashlights for us was the gentlemanly thing to do. I am astoundingly clumsy and never without burns, bumps, or bruises. We came to the point on the trail where I kept hearing rocks fall down the edge that I was kicking over as I was shuffling on the trail not being able to clearly see. As adventurous as I am, I decided I was not going to die on that mountain navigating an unknown trail in the dark. I stated as much and emphatically insisted on turning back. The group relented, but I think they thought I was overly cautious.
My next attempt to hike Timpanogos was 19 years later in 2015. One of my neighbors and I decided we felt like a hike and drove up the canyon with not much more of a plan than that. It was late afternoon when we ended up at the Timpanogos trailhead. While we knew we wouldn’t make the summit, we decided to just see how far we could go and come back to the car by dark. I was a little better prepared this time with a backpack, water, and snacks, but no flashlight. As Melissa and I hiked, we chatted and enjoyed the trail and views. We just kept going not paying attention to the time. I had lived in Utah for many years, but the altitude began having an impact on me as we kept going up. I was nauseated and light headed, but didn’t want to turn back because the views were so stunning. We probably made it about halfway up.
We then encountered a group of hikers who greeted us with an inquiry about what weapons we had with us to protect ourselves. Being two lone women, we felt it best to assure them we were well armed (we weren’t) and could defend ourselves against any threat. Another hiker informed us he had to fight a mountain goat on the trail. We had passed the goat and he’d been courteous enough to us after we yielded the trail to him.
This interaction made us pause with uneasiness and we reassessed our situation. We’d both done a fair amount of hiking and had never been asked what weapons we had. The oddity of the encounter was one we could not easily brush aside. We knew going down wouldn’t take as long, but we realized sunset was approaching. We had walked through a glacier blocking the trail coming up. I broke through at one point and cut my leg which was still bleeding. I did not want to traverse that icy section in the dark since I’d managed to hurt myself with plenty of light. We decided it was best to turn back then. It was disappointing to do so with how far we’d come, but we were simply not prepared to continue hiking that night.
We began losing daylight quickly and had to run down so we could reach the snowpack with some light. When it got dark, it got DARK! We used our phone lights the rest of the way down which turns out is not ideal for hiking at night. I sprained my ankle but we had to just keep going. Our batteries on our phones were depleting faster than we were getting down the mountain. We started praying out loud that we’d make it down safely. With everything that seemed to be going wrong, it seemed fated that our phones and light would die. One phone died and then the other literally made it exactly until we reached the trailhead and could see lights in the parking lot. The exertion to get down so quickly and painfully had me getting sick once I finally stopped.
One year later, Melissa and I decided we would finally summit Timp. We planned to hike at night to arrive for the sunrise, I purchased a headlamp and extra batteries. We agreed to leave at midnight so I took a nap before. I packed bandaids and pepper spray, extra socks, warm clothes, and a flashlight. Being prepared, having a plan, hiking with good gear made all the difference in the world from my past attempts. I hiked 7.5 miles in the dark to summit 11,752 feet to witness one the most incredible and unique view sunrises. I was not ever scared like the other times. We made excellent time passing many other hikers along the way, our confidence growing as we accustomed to using our headlamps.
Being prepared to hike such a summit is like commandments, values, and standards God gives us for life’s trails. Not being adequately equipped or prepared will surely lead to dangerous situations. We will fear. We will lack confidence. We will sometimes have to turn back and begin again. God was still gracious to me in my failed attempts in helping me return to safety with just a few scrapes, vomit, and a swollen ankle.
Alma 25:15-16 in the Book of Mormon changed how I view commandments many years ago. Speaking in a time before Jesus was born about a people waiting for Him it says:
“Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them.
Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come.”Alma 25: 15-16
My failed attempts to hike Mount Timpanogos clarified this lesson for me. The equipment I had was not all that I needed to reach the top, but it gave me confidence, safety, and more hope and ability to reach the goal. Commandments and keeping them, give us surety and light for the path ahead individually. We need our own source of light to hold and carry to point us to Christ. Relying on another or insufficient light will lead to stumbling. We need our outward performances of ordinances, covenants, and service to continually protect and strengthen our faith and resolve. They are truly gifts given by a loving gracious God for us to keep to help us in ascending daunting peaks.
Even more amazing to me is that through and because of Jesus Christ, as many times and often as we need to turn back, He is always beckoning us to try again. Through Him and His ways we can confidently ascend to not only see, but have all Jesus has promised.