The Cairn


Have you ever been lost in the wilderness? Or found yourself wandering an unknown area of the mountains, valleys or deserts asking yourself where the trail might be?



In those hard places where few people go, where a path has not worn through the thick skin of the earth, the need for guidance is all the more vital. It is those paths where the cairn proves the biggest blessing.


Cairns have been used throughout the ages to guide the wanderer through the difficult trails. The Inuit in Alaska use them to guide them home when snow reshapes the landscape. Even the Israelites set towers of rocks to remind them of where they’d come from and where they were going. They served as a memory of a long journey through the wilderness.


The avid hiker finds the cairn as they move beyond the tree line into the upper ranks of the alpine. Here the trail can easily be lost as vegetation gives way to rock at the mountain’s peak. The hiker experiences the fatigue of rarefied air and without the encouragement of those beacons it would be easy to falter.



Cairns offer hope.

They remind the wanderer that there is a path to tread. It is a path that others have experienced, it wasn’t too hard for them and it isn’t too difficult for us. They thought of us when they added a stone to the pile, offering us encouragement to continue moving toward the next guidepost.


I thought about cairns a lot on Thanksgiving day this year.


I found myself wandering through the upheaval canyon loop in Canyonlands National Park with some friends that day. Talk about “dry and barren” – there was no water, and hardly anything living that didn’t have sharp defenses. It was dusty, rocky, and utterly desolate. One could easily get lost in the maze of the Canyonlands… and many have.


As we hiked, the one who trekked first would keep an eye not just on their step so as to avoid stumbling or subbing a toe, but also be vigilant in spotting the next cairn.  Without care, it was easy to lose the cairn and we had to stop and retrace our steps until we again caught sight of the next stack of rocks.



Once or twice we followed what looked like a trail, feeling confident that we were going the right way. We paid little attention to spotting the cairns that marked the rout going the opposite direction. Sure enough, we found ourselves on the edge of a cliff with no option but to turn around and try to spot the real trail.


All these experiences got me thinking. I am so thankful for those who have gone before. For those who’ve left a stone, a cairn, for me to know where to turn when I have no clue where to go next – to them I am thankful. I am thankful not just for the hikers who thought of me without knowing it as they set an extra stone up to make the way more obvious… but I am also thankful for those in the faith who have done the same.

Gratitude fills my heart as I think of those who personally touched my life at critical junctures and pointed me in the right direction. Some encouraged me with words, others with experiences and still others with their profound and faithful example.

There are so many who have forever changed my life because they were faithful to mark out the way toward discipleship. People like my parents, Christina Smith, John Nugent, George Brown, Dustin Jizmejian, Tim and Mahnon Cline all added vital wisdom and encouragement in my journey of faith. They spoke into my life in ways that have forever changed it and I would not be where I am today but for the Grace of God in giving these people as gifts to my life.


And then I think of those who set down the stones that are beneath those laid down by my mentors. The men and women of faith whose example is read of in books, and who lived a life that represents The Way though their part of the journey ended many years ago. These individuals were faithful to death and without them countless people would not be where they are today.


 I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose book “Cost of Discipleship” radically influences millions of people. His example of a life lived in light of costly grace is beautiful and his encouragement to simply follow Christ daily, powerfully impacts the church around the world. He challenges to the core and inspires me more than any other author outside of scripture.

Other faithful believers, like Francis Schaffer, remind me of the dignity of humanity, the sanctity of beauty and creating beautiful art. Sermons of Paris Reidhead were used of God to show me more of what Grace is and the rest we have in the Lord. And my favorite teacher, Malcolm Smith taught me to recognize that life is sheer gift and I simply get to say thank you and live in light of the gifts of God with gratitude and faithfulness.



History is full of the faithful few who built on the solid foundation – that rock of ages – who was the pioneer and trailblazer of our faith. It is Jesus Christ in whose steps we follow. We daily walk through this journey of life and discipleship looking to the next cairn that was placed there first by Jesus, then added to by the faithful saints who walk before us and left their solid examples as faithful followers of our Lord.


 We cannot see the end from the beginning but we are gifted with knowing the next step. The one who calls us also offers us the hope that our journey’s end will bring us to a place of rest, refreshment and renewal after the long and hard trek.



Thank God for Cairns!

San Juan Sunset

It was a perfect day to ascend the Quartz Lake Trail toward the Notch near Pagosa Springs, CO. Four explorers hiked up a few miles to watch the sunset and moon rise over the rocky mountains. The atmosphere quickly took on a unique feel as the warmth of sunset faded into the cool silvery light of the full moon of the November sky.

There is no place like home.
Though I don't officially live in this place, it's where my heart is and it feels like home.

Grand Canyon Tales

It's a 7 hour drive from Pagosa Springs, CO to the Grand Canyon. 4 vehicles caravan through the winding mountains to the strait desert roads. With cramp set up in darkness we awaited the morning sun to see the glory surrounding us. 3:30 AM thunder echoed across the canyon and at 4am I assisted those sleeping in hammocks dive into vans for the rest of the night- we all were soaked through from the sudden downpour.
    In the gray morning light 29 students and 7 staff arise to explore our surroundings. We venture to the rim for an awe-inspiring sunrise. The shadows of the canyon shift from gray, to purple and blue as the sky comes alive with the pink, orange and yellow vibrance of a new day.

After a hearty breakfast, we head to the South Kiabab Trail and descend to Skeleton Point. I hoped to go farther but water refill stations were closed and few with me had enough water for a longer journey. After a lunch on a cliff, three miles down the winding trail we turned to ascend the three miles of hairpin turns to the top of the Grand Canyon.

The day passed quickly. Once the sunset faded and we finished our dinner, the group of us loaded our vehicles and drove back to Pagosa Springs. Arriving at our home Lodge at 4:00am, I was ready to sleep.

Sunrise & Aspens

As fall drifts toward winter. Few things are more inspiring then the sunshine in the golden aspens. I got up around 6 one morning to enjoy this stunning sunrise on the edge of the San Juan Wilderness in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The colors of the morning were unmatched as the sunlight played on the rolling clouds that shrouded the beautiful peaks.

Another part of being in the mountains that I love and take full adventage of is to enjoy a little time in my Eno Hammock. I love strapping it up on some gorgeous slope and taking in the magnificent scene around me.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Southern Colorado in October is full of adventurous opportunities. Each turn is crowned with golden scenes of aspens that contrast beautifully with those rocky Mountains. One day a few friends and I went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to see the rugged gorge and the unique horizon that is carved out by the mountains near Ouray. One of those peaks was Uncompahgre - the 14,309 ft peak I climbed back in September.

Million Dollar Highway

Early October in Southern Colorado makes for an incredible transformation of landscape as the mountains shift from greens to yellows. Here in the Rocky Mountains, one can only capture portions of the true beauty of these rugged mountains and valleys. 

I must give credit where it is due - some of these images were photographed by my co-pilotKellan while I drove a van of students from Pagosa to Ouray. The first photo of me was also taken by him and the second by Macie - a student at Summit Semester. Thanks to their creative eyes I'm able to share some of the beauty we all enjoyed. All editing was done by me.

Balloons & Dunes

Balloons & Dunes

September 17th we piled into the Summit Semester vans with food and camping gear ready for an over night adventure to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. First, Colorfest in Pagosa Springs was happening so we had to stop and enjoy the picturesque sights of hot-air balloons soaring above the sky of our little home town. 
   After a bit of frantic picture taking by everyone, we again got comfortable in the vans and headed nearly 3 hours north-east to the Dunes. After lunch we ascended the highest dune which mocked our lungs and legs by creating a rather difficult, but worth-while hike. The Dunes are such a unique spot, full of beauty and mystery.
   Not everyone from the Summit Semester gap-year program wanted to camp but those that did stayed the night in the Dune's Oasis campground where we enjoyed the fire, laughter and watching the full moon rise over the dunes. The adventure was memorable and these are a few of the highlights. Our last stop was Treasure Falls, along the continental divide, it provides yet another amazing view and experience for those with a wonderlust heart. 

Uncompahgre Peak

4 am two adventurers set out as the rest of the world slept. Staffing at Summit Semester in Pagosa Springs comes with the unique bonus of one day off a week to explore the beauty that is out our back door. My coworker Max and I headed three hours to the Alpine Loop in Lake City, Colorado. The sun was just beginning to rise as we went over the pass to see the mountain we were to summit.

We figured that 4 miles up would be nicer on a bike when we had to come back down. So we began the slow ascent to the trail head where we then locked up the bikes to hike the remaining 3.5 miles to the Summit of Uncompahgre.

The actual hiking trail began at 11,000ft and we slowly meandered up the remaining 3,000ft, stopping regularly to snap photos and catch our breath. At the top however, breath was again taken away as we enjoyed the incredible panorama of Colorado's beautiful wilderness. Multiple 14,000ft peaks were visible in blue, sown together by mossy green valleys. Those sights cannot be captured or communicated but rather their beauty takes hold in the memory and the worship that it arouses.

What a beautiful day it was! We hiked back to the bikes, biked down the last 4 miles (we were both very happy that we had the bikes since our knees were ready for a break.)
  Stopping in Creed, we checked out a local taco place and made our way back to Pagosa, arriving after dark. Again - what a day!


Early mornings and late evenings often whisper the invitation for tea in the hearts of many people around the globe. Few times have I experienced the beauty that exists at the place the tea begins. These tea fields are in Kenya and made me appreciate even more the Kenyan hand-picked tea.