St. Peter's Blog 'Praise God for the wonders of mountains and for health' from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – North Wales, PA's Blog

Praise God for the wonders of mountains and for health

Image Sunday, Aug 21, 2016
Author: Pastor Andreas Wagner

Reflections on a wonderful hiking tour in the mountains with my son Sam

I have always been drawn to Alpine landscapes. To be honest, it was one of the reasons why I studied in Munich, only an hour away from the northern edge of the Alps. The two other reasons were friends and a teacher who intrigued me.  During those years in the southern German city (from 1989 until 1993), while I studied theology, I took advantage of several opportunities to hike with friends, conquer peaks and enjoy the combined pleasures of physical exertion, conversation, quiet meditation and good food and drink.  Since coming to the United States and raising a young family I have had very few opportunities to follow that passion. So, when we started to plan an extended time away in Europe during my Sabbatical this summer, one of my goals was bringing together a few of my friends for a multi-day cabin tour. It didn't take much convincing. We selected a weekend in July and a route in the Austrian mountains, near the town of Imst in Tirol. Two of my friends are in the Alpine club and were able to make reservations. On some weekends these cabins are filled well beyond capacity and camping out on a floor in a mass emergency setting is not all it's cracked up to reservations are always a good idea.   

At some point in the planning process my friend Toni asked whether other family members would join us. Hmm, I hadn't planned that, knowing that this would not be a tour for beginners. We had talked about an "old guys trip," but I know Toni and his idea of a relaxed tour... Then I thought about my older son Sam, - Sam who had been very severely ill last year. He missed four months of school, from February until June of 2015, due to a mysterious condition that would probably be too difficult to explain here, to the extent that I'm even able to explain it. He was very sick and lucky that he received enough help from a wonderful school tutor and getting well enough just in time during the summer, so that he was able to pass the required exams and move on the next grade. It was a worrisome time.   

Now I thought: how about Sam? He might enjoy this and, given his light weight, might not have such a hard time climbing up steep mountainsides; besides, he is not  a daredevil and possesses good judgment, respect for dangerous situations and calm. It was part gut feeling and part experiment, thinking that this might be a good test of his stamina but also considering that, if he wasn't up to it, I might have to descent with him earlier. It was, in other words, a calculated gamble and Sam seemed up for the challenge and eager to come.

The weekend came. It was July 15-17. I had found some decent and cheap hiking boots in the town of Brixen in Südtirol (Italy) and my friend Thomas had boots Sam's size from one of his girls that he got to wear. We drove to Imst in two hours, had a good lunch at a local spot and were wondering whether we really wanted to hike up to the cabin 4,500 feet above us during cool weather with clouds and drizzle and the prospect of hitting snow up high. We brought gloves and a little bit of ice gear. Would Sam, who had never been in the high mountains, be up for that? Would he last? My gut feeling that yes but my head was still slightly worried.                     

I have to say that the idea of  hiking up 1,500 altitude meters in one afternoon sounds like a nice idea, but bringing that older and heavier body to climb with a full backpack is sure not as easy as it was twenty years ago. The beginning is always hardest, overcoming the first shock of the exertion and finding a good rhythm.  Sam, of course, had to listen to us telling stories and jokes in German, half of which he probably didn't understand. He was awfully quiet. Since he is an introvert, I wasn't sure whether he would let me know when it got too much for him. In the beginning I wasn't sure whether he really appreciated this experience. I checked in with him often and his main mode of communication was raising his right thumb up, international sign language: "I'm o.k. dad!" He was even ahead some of the time. At one point we had to circumvent a bunch of cows on a narrow path, forcing us out of the way (these smart beasts weren't moving one inch!). Later, we hit snow. And for about four or five hours we hiked up, up, up.  During the last hour Sam was taking a few more breaks, another sign of his good judgment. He just let me know when he needed a break and we stopped for a few minutes. We could now see the cabin. The prospect of a warm meal and a comfortable place was beckoning. As we reached the cabin, Sam raised his arms and let out a victory scream. He had made it!

There was no warm shower in the place and our small bunk bedroom probably reached freezing temperature during the night, but the heavy wool blankets did their job. The meal was simple and good. There were only three other people besides us in this small cabin. The weather had scared away many other hikers. The next day brought another 7-8 hour hike with a good degree of difficulty, especially over the snow covered and iced ridges, some of them secured with heavy steel wire to hold onto. Sam performed admirably.  I remembered that he had also had some heart palpitations a few times in his young life. But he was fine. I could now see that he enjoyed the experience: the beautiful landscapes that opened up below us and the sense of accomplishing something truly difficult. I was so thankful for the beauty of these mountains, but also the gift of recovered health and strength for Sam. A little more than a year ago he had spent most hours of every day in bed, complaining of headaches, body aches, weakness, light and noise sensitivity while  he ate very little and slept a lot.  Thank God that he is so much better!!!             

The second day hike led us to a much busier cabin and, realizing that our tour on the third day would be even longer than Day 2, we cut it short, considering the aching knees of some aging hikers. I think it was a wonderful and important experience for Sam. I am so proud of him and so thankful that we could have this experience together.

Pastor Andreas Wagner

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