#73: Hike Emory Peak
(These photos are courtesy of Shannan Goss.)
As we left Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park Saturday afternoon, I looked at my friend Shannan and asked if he thought we could make it up Emory Peak (7825 ft., the tallest point in the park) and back to camp before night fall. We were there with 11 other guys from my Sunday School department on a guys’ retreat. We had already experienced some spectacular things, including the 1500 foot sheer rock walls in the canyon that morning, and a magnificent evening on the “Window Trail” the night before. But I had shared my 100 Life Goals list with the guys that afternoon, and Shannan, Jeremy, and Justin all said they wanted to help me cross Emory Peak off my list. As we walked back to the car, we decided to do it, though in order to make it back in time, we would have to shave an hour off the normal time it takes to complete the hike (five-six hours). I also happened to make a brief, passing comment about the small clouds gathering in the distance over the Chisos Mountains. There was a 10% chance of rain, Shannan said; surely we wouldn’t run into any of that.
But we did. About 2 hours into the hike, dark, foreboding clouds gathered over Casa Grande Peak and started to roll over towards Emory. We could hear thunder getting closer by the minute. As we reached the turnoff from Pinnacles Trail to scale the peak itself, we laid our packs in the thoughtfully placed bear bins (thanks NPS!), grabbed our Camelbacks, and began jogging towards the top. By the time we reached the peak, we were into a full run, heaving and huffing our way up the gradually disappearing trail. Finally, we reached the final challenge: a fifty foot rock wall to the summit, which has been identified as a class three scramble. (I have no idea what that means, really.)
The wind started to howl out of the northeast. The rain clouds were tumbling over the peak like tumbleweeds; I have never seen anything like that before. It was becoming a dangerous situation. One false step and you weren’t just injured, you were dead. I felt that queasiness in the pit of my stomach; you know what I mean. How am I going to explain it to one of these guys’ wives if they get blown off? How will they explain it to Carrie?
“Guys,” I turned back and said, “Should we stop here? This might be as far as we get to go.” Shannan replied: “Clark, we’ve come this far. Let’s finish.” I turned around, for no other reason really than not wanting to be the one guy in the group who chickened out. We said a prayer, and I started to climb. The other guys followed. After some careful maneuvering and a few breath prayers (“Lord, help!”), we reached the summit, and I crossed #73 off my list.
Here are some photos of the hike. There’s a reason we seem to be leaning on the peak. :) The picture at the top is what the peak looked like right after we got off the mountain, so we made it just in time. Afterwards the storm passed, and on the way down we observed the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen in my life. We thanked God for giving us that moment. We made it back to the trail head in four hours and fifteen minutes.
I told the guys when we finished that there aren’t many things you know in the moment that you will never forget. This was one of those things. Thanks guys - thanks for encouraging me to finish. It was worth it. And thank you Father in heaven - you were good to us that day.