High Mountain Magic


Adventures along the way enhance the view from the summit as a group of young Latter-day Saint women goes backpacking in the high Uintas

Above the timberline, a mountain peak is a desolate spot, a land of boulders and glaciers. In the high Uintas, particularly, such a peak is often a land of rocks and rocks and rocks, with an occasional patch of snow or sparse vegetation to relieve the monotony. But it is also a spot from which the entire world spreads before you like a marvelous tapestry, designed and woven by the Creator.

Some peaks are lone and desolate and foreboding. Others, though cluttered with talus, seem glad for the company of adventurers and eager to lift them, both through their elevation and their lofty view of the world. Mount Watson is one of the latter, a friendly mountain if you get to know it. But it rewards only the diligent with a view from the top and a slide down its snowbanks. To get there requires some strenuous hiking.

The young women of the Spanish Fork 14th Ward, Spanish Fork Utah Stake, accepted the mountain’s invitation and challenge last summer and spent four days in some of the most beautiful country on earth—country made even more exciting by the fact that it’s reasonably close to the girls’ hometown.

“The Uinta trip is a yearly adventure for me and my two sons, and since I had been called as a ward camp specialist, we decided that this year we’d take the Young Women along,” said Sister Mary Visker. Her two sons, Jeremy (age 9) and Kevin (age 11), easily blended into the group and offered lots of help and advice about building rafts, putting worms on hooks, mixing pancake batter, and lighting safe fires. (In addition, they were the only ones, along with Bob Trevenen, a Sunday School teacher who’s also a seven-year veteran forest firefighter and a paramedic, to catch any fish!) A few other hardy adventurers, like Young Women President Beverly Lewis; Bishop Darwin Thomas; Ray Huntington, first counselor in the bishopric and a seminary teacher at Spanish Fork High; and Pam, Bob’s wife, who’s also a Sunday School teacher for many of the young ladies, rounded out the group that included a dozen Mia Maids and Laurels.

Sister Visker knew that with some advance planning, the trip would go well. Besides, most of the girls had completed the stake Young Women Campcrafter Certification program, which included hiking, camping, and first-aid training. With her help, the young women prepared a menu, a cooking schedule, and a packing list, including items needed to build a reflector oven to bake cakes in the wilderness. “We wanted the girls to bring as little as they could and still be comfortable for the four-day trip,” Sister Visker said. “We had to talk them out of bringing huge pillows and stuffed animals, but some of them still smuggled up things like fingernail polish, curlers, and lipstick.”

For 14-year-old Kimberly Lewis, however, it was the first time on a backpacking trip. “Before we left, I didn’t think I’d make it,” she said. “I thought it would be a long hike the first day, but in fact the three miles went so fast that when we got to the camp, I said, ‘You mean this is it?’ Then some of us went swimming (in Watson Lake by the campsite),” Kim continued. “It was cold, but fun, because the water was so clear.”

While the others were swimming, Marlene and Jeremy became the Tom Sawyers of the group. “Jeremy was out there building a raft, and he said ‘Come in and help me,’” Marlene said. “So I went over and we started putting boards and logs together and tying them with string and rope. Then we just floated out on it.” Adult leaders nearby kept a careful watch on swimmers and rafters in case of emergency. In fact, Sister Lewis lent a hand building the raft.

The group had arrived in Mount Watson’s neighborhood, but the trek to the summit would begin the next day, after dinner and a good night’s rest. What the young ladies hadn’t counted on was rain—buckets of it. Maybe the mountain wanted to see how sincere they were about the climb. “The rain came while we were trying to get our dinner. It put out our fire and everything. Soggy macaroni, soggy everything,” said 15-year-old Becky Thomas. “But it was good, wasn’t it?” laughed, Suanne, her 17-year-old sister.

There were the inevitable problems of leaky tents, soaked sleeping bags, and dripping clothes. Luckily, Bishop Thomas, who had been rained out once on a similar trip, had hauled along a box of plastic garbage sacks. A large face hole punched in one corner transformed a sack into a makeshift rain coat and offered some protection until dinner was done. (To avoid danger, the use of the plastic bags was carefully supervised.) Later that evening, when one tent was flooded, those in well-pitched shelters courteously doubled up so that everyone could be dry and warm. There were also the usual sleeping struggles of avoiding roots, pointed rocks, and bumps in the ground, but eventually everyone managed to doze off.

The next day the girls left their backpacks behind, carrying with them only canteens and crackers and cheese for lunch, and mounted the assault on the peak. As the elevation increased, forests gave way to scattered trees, trees gave place to shrubbery, and finally, there was nothing to climb but barren, broken rock.

“For safety’s sake, we have a system—we keep talking to each other and keep each other aware of where we are,” Sister Visker said. “That way, if loose rocks fall, we’re able to give warning and get out of the way.”

“It was hard climbing,” said 16-year-old RaLene Neal. “Sometimes we were on our hands and knees.”

“But we had our fun, too,” 17-year-old Shelly Michelsen wrote in her journal. “We took turns sliding down a glacier and had a super time. Then we pushed on along the ridge until we reached our goal. I sat down as close to the edge as I dared and, like the others, looked in all directions. A cool breeze was blowing around my hot face, but I felt calm and restful. We were so filled with the beauty of our surroundings—the rippling lakes, the pine forests, mountains in all directions, even out into Wyoming. I felt very in tune with my Father. I thought of how he must have felt when he looked over all he created and saw that it was good.”

“One of the men in the ward told us before we left that it couldn’t be done, that we couldn’t climb to the top of Mount Watson,” Becky Palmer, 15, said. “So when we got there we felt like we had achieved the impossible.”

“I thought,” Shelly continued, “that even though we’re not always up in the mountains, we can still have the same feeling, the same reverence for God’s work. I think life with its hardships is a big mountain, but if we keep at it, there’s a time when we’ll reach the top and look down at what we’ve done, and we’ll know that it’s good, too.”

Maria Lecon, 15, said she was “most impressed with the spirit we felt up there. I knew that the Lo.”

For Edie Coats, 17, it was a time of gratitude. “We just moved here from Virginia, and I was a little bit scared. But the first Sunday, everyone was so friendly to me. They were coming on this trip the next Saturday, and they wanted me along! I think by coming on the trip, I really got to know the girls in my ward.”

Most of the girls kept journals of their experiences and feelings, and there on the mountaintop, the group paused and wrote poems. “I felt like every poem was sort of a journal in itself,” Shelly said, “because it came from the heart and described a special time in our lives.” At a morning meeting the next day, the young ladies read their verses to each other.

Of course, the slide down the snowbanks left a pleasant memory, too. “We used the same garbage sacks we had used before in the rain as ’sleds,’” said Rachel Palmer, 17. “The glacier was less slick at the bottom—it looked steeper than it was. But a couple of times we did have to use our feet for brakes.”

Dinner that night and breakfast the following morning were cooked and served in number 10 cans, the main “pan” carried on the excursion. “We did bring utensils and a skillet or two, but the large cans really helped keep weight in the packs to a minimum,” Sister Visker explained. Around the campfire the girls each shared one positive thing they had learned about someone else since the trip began and also drew names to see who they would be the “wood elf” for. Wood elves do mysterious, anonymous kind deeds for someone else in a camping group.

The next day was to have been spent “puddle jumping” (visiting one lake after another). “But when we got to the first one, Wall Lake,” said Marlene Neal, 15, “we liked it so well that we stayed.” Activities at the lake included cliff diving, fishing, and swimming.

“We had to check it out and make sure it was safe before we started cliff diving,” Marlene explained. “We had to make sure there were no rocks on the bottom and that the water was deep enough. And an adult supervisor trained in lifeguarding and first aid had to be there all the time, too.”

At first, the divers were scaring the fish away, so the swimmers moved to another location. Then one of those fishing scared the fish away! “Sister Visker helped me get a little fake fly way out away from the shore,” Maria said. “As soon as it landed in the water, a big fish came along. It scared me, so I threw a rock at it.”

Marlene also had her problems fishing: “I’d hook the grass at the bottom and all my lures and sinkers would get torn off. But it was still fun.”

The various activities of the day left the girls tired, but not too worn out to express their feelings during a testimony meeting. They read their favorite scriptures to each other, spoke again of their love for nature, for the gospel, and for the Lord, and talked about the lessons they had learned on their trip: lessons of perseverance, sacrifice, relaxation, and sharing the load.

“It’s unbelievable the feeling you get on top of a mountain,” said Sandy Kay, 17. “If you have an open mind and a humble heart, it can really help straighten out your priorities and help you see the reason why we’re here.”

The next morning the girls had loaded up their gear and they were on the trail home. But they weren’t rushing away. Somehow they wanted to linger just a bit longer, savoring the strength of the hills they had learned to love.

[photos] Photos by Sharon Beard

[photo] Adventures along the way enhance the view from the summit as a group of young Latter-day Saint women goes backpacking in the high Uintas

[photos] Hike up high and breathe the mountain air. At a lakeside camp, work and play merge into the vibrant adventure of living

[photos] It’s a land where camaraderie is born on glaciers and rocky trails, where fishing is more fun than catching fish, and where “wood elves” leave anonymous surprises

[photo] With the tapestry of creation spread below, a mountain peak provides an ideal spot for contemplation