Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

Some things just can’t be captured in words or even photographs. I had the opportunity to experience one of those things this morning when I sat atop the peak of Mt. McLoughlin as the sun crept over the horizon at 5:33 a.m.

A group of sixteen of us crazy young people met at the trailhead shortly after midnight to embark on the journey to the top of the 9,500-foot mountain. With a full moon, clear sky and flashlights lighting the path, we ventured out through the woods and up the ridge of the mountain. For the final hour or so, we were essentially climbing rocks of various shapes and sizes as we could see the colors of sunrise begin to illuminate the sky in the distance.

Right around 5 a.m. we reached the peak, made up of a small group of large rocks at the mountain’s highest point. We crowded together for warmth – the wind is pretty chilly at the top of a mountain – and sat back to witness the fullness of God’s glorious creation. And in no way was I disappointed.

I’ve seen some vivid sunsets before. A couple trips to Alaska have shown me probably the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. But I am rarely up early enough to see the sunrise, and that’s likely not going to change anytime soon. I’m not a morning person; in fact, it was probably easier for me to stay up all night to watch the sunrise this morning than it would have been for me to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to watch it from somewhere else. But this was simply breathtaking.

From the top of Mt. McLoughlin you can see the “city” of Klamath Falls to the east, with the lake next to the town. To the west you can see Medford, and to the south you can see one of the tallest mountains in the US, Mt. Shasta. In between these landmarks are lakes, hills and trees, creating some of the most picturesque landscapes you could possibly imagine.

Of course, as we climbed the mountain in the dark I had no way of knowing exactly what I would be seeing when the sun arrived. It was that anticipation that motivated me as I climbed higher than I ever have before, that excitement that pushed me to keep pulling myself up the next rock when my legs and arms were screaming for me to stop. I’m not an athletic person, and I’ve never climbed a mountain before today. But when stubbornness kicks in not much else matters.

The colorful glimmers of light appeared on the horizon leading into our final hour of climbing. We could slowly make out the scenery surrounding us as we reached the final stages of our ascent. And as a couple people pulled out cameras to capture the colors, we quickly discovered that the sheer glory of God’s creation could not be contained in a mere photo. Each picture left so much to be desired, as the real-life image in front of our eyes transcended anything a camera lens could record.

Even now, it’s a bit ridiculous that I’m attempting to write about the experience and the beauty I beheld this morning. There is simply so much that cannot be put into words, and the glory of a sunrise viewed from a mountain peak is a perfect example. Yet here I am, shamelessly attempting to do just what I know cannot be done.

It was impossible to stand atop the mountain as the sun made its way into the sky and not feel humbled and honored just to be a witness to such glory. In honor of Independence Day we lit a few fireworks and watched the colorful sparks and ash fly into the air. We watched the sun create the most massive shadow I’ve ever seen, as the silhouette of the mountain tracked miles into the distance and even up into the clouds in the first few minutes of the sunrise. And I recalled the song “God Bless America” and thought simply, “God has blessed America so much, and we just don’t take the time to see it.”

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about the midnight mountain climb told me in some variety of words that I (and all my friends who were part of our group) am crazy, and in many ways they’re probably right. It is kind of crazy to stay up all night to climb a mountain in the dark just to watch the sunrise. And I paid the price the rest of the day by suffering various levels of exhaustion (which makes my ability to write at this time all the more baffling).

But looking back on my life, I believe too many of my experiences fit too easily into words and pictures. And I love words and pictures. I love telling stories and I cherish almost every photo of the great memories of my nearly 25 years of life. But if our lives can adequately be captured in those media, we’re missing out.

The truest forms of beauty cannot be contained. The fullest experiences of glory can never be captured. The perfect expressions of love cannot be recorded. It is our memories of these things that reveal the richness of our lives, for once those moments are gone it is only in our memories that they can adequately be recalled.

This morning I experienced something I’ll never be able to properly describe, and it is something that I will never forget. It will go in the annals of my memories with some of the most cherished experiences of my life simply because it surpasses all other media we have available to us. It was probably crazy for me to ever consider doing such a thing, but it was worth every grueling, exhausting second.

I hope everyone takes advantage of the chances to do something crazy, something that can’t be captured in words and photographs. If you haven’t, the sun should be rising on Mt. McLoughlin at about 5:35 tomorrow morning. Start climbing.

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