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Captured for Zion

Captured for Zion. What exactly does this mean, anyway?

Eternity has been written on my heart, and I must fight to taste it.
I’ve been throwing it around in my head for sometime, even making it some sort of moniker for myself. It’s something I’ve been using to define a facet of my identity. I’m sure it’s no secret that I am an outdoorsman and adventurer, but I don’t want to flippantly ascribe those terms to myself to the point where my identity is solely found in that I strap on boots and a backpack and wander off into the woods. There has to be meaning to it. I can’t just slap on a pair of SmartWool socks because they’re decadent…which, they are, by the way. Let me do my best to help with this phrase captured for zion that I’ve given double meaning to.
Let’s start with something very obvious. I love the outdoors. I’ve only been this way for a couple years, as before that I hated the thought of camping… but that’s a good story for a later entry. This enthusiasm has taken Zion National Park in Utah as the symbol and centerpiece of adventure. I’ve read about it, poured over pictures of it, bought guidebooks and topo maps for it, and watched documentaries and movies on it. With it’s peaks and canyons, mesa and mystery, I’ve truly been captured by it. I long for and dream of going there. Every outdoor step I take is a step on the road that will eventually take me to Zion National Park. Yes, there are other parks with sensational scenery. Yes, there is Yosemite and Yellowstone and Glacier and Grand Teton and The Everglades and Capitol Reef and Rocky Mountain and Isle Royale. For whatever reason, Zion has become the crown jewel, if not a shadow of another jewel, and one day I hope to go there.
Let’s follow with something that may or may not be so obvious. I love Jesus, and the only reason I can say that is because He loved me first. Somedays, I falter in my love for him, as it’s obvious by my actions I still love myself, however I will trust that I will always love Jesus first and foremost because he has captured me. He has captured me for his kingdom to be one of his people, to Zion. There are many other kingdoms and cities that would have me build a home on a hill to die upon. There are idols that would have me bow to them, living my life for their lie that their city will bring me ultimate fulfillment and joy. To live under the curse of sin and the folly of idolatry, and to live under the burden of the impossibility of keeping the law of God, there is no joy. For reasons unknown to me, I’ve been captured for this city, this new Jerusalem, where every resident will finally rest in shalom. Zion, The City of God, is the ultimate crown jewel that rests of the head on the ultimate King, who my heart aches to be with. (For more information on being captured, slowly read from John 6)
So what does this have to do with hiking? What meaning does this bring to my feet that walk in socks that fit in boots that climb on rocks? What ties Zion National Park to Zion, the City of God? One day, this earth is going to pass away, not to extinction, but to the curse that our forefather Adam laid upon it. Like you and me, this world has been ravaged by sin and the effects of sin. While the death blow has been dealt to death and the grave, we are still waiting for the ultimate culmination of that renewal. When I venture into the outdoors, I still encounter briars and trials and thorns. Although there is beauty crashing through with every step and sight, the beauty is marred at some level by imperfection, frailty, and flaw. One day, the earth will be renewed even as citizens of Zion will be renewed. That is exciting news, and it makes every step a reminder that one day, all will be made new and restored to its fully glory that reflects the awesome Creator. Every ache, scrape and blister is a reminder that it will not always be this way. Every sliver and fleck of enjoyment I get from this life, whether its my wife, children, adventures or socks, is a foretaste of what Zion will be like. That really jazzes me up.
While I may dream about visiting Zion National Park one day, that is merely a shell of how I dream for Zion, the new Jerusalem, the city of God. The City of God. I believe this is the key to all of it. Zion is the City of Yahweh, a city that He has brought to full glory that does not beg His patience as our current dwelling does. I long to be in Zion because I long to be with God, and God’s country will bring him much glory, which he will delight to make it a home for it’s citizens, where Yahweh will be our God and we will be His people. What does this look like, though?

In this life, there is so much pain, sorrow, grief, strife, hardship, suffering, sin, sickness, death, deceit, heartache and a host of other words that everyone wishes they would never have to utter again. This is truly what I long for most of all:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
A few quotes are helpful in this matter of longing for Zion:

“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“If the ‘wrong side’ of Heaven can be so beautiful, what will the right side look like? If the smoking remains are so stunning, what will Earth look like when it’s resurrected and made new, restored to the original?” ~ Randy Alcorn

“Now I’m moving, moving to Zion where there’s rest for these weary bones. There on that mountain I’ll be rejoicing, for in Jesus I have found my home.” ~ Jimmy Needham
“Sometimes it’s good to look back down. We’ve come so far, we’ve gained such ground, but joy is not in where we’ve been. Joy is who’s waiting at the end. There is a road inside of you. Inside of me there is one, too. No stumbling pilgrim in the dark. The road to Zion’s in your heart.” ~ Petra
I would be remiss if I didn’t say how anyone has any hope of ever seeing those distant shores: 
 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV) 
A large part of this whole mindset has been fueled by Randy Alcorn and his book (or audiobook, as I’ve been experiencing it) Heaven. Also influential, although it has been a couple years since I’ve read it, is Ted Dekker’s book The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth
hiking Panthertown Valley Trip Planning Waterfalls Yosemite of the East

The Plan is Coming Together

The Panthertown Valley hike for next month is coming together.

Studying Burt Kornegay’s Map (a great map, with official and unofficial trails), Google Earth (wow!), Backpacker Magazine, Blue Ridge Outdoors, and some other online resources, I’ve put together a rough draft of the route for this upcoming trip. I’ve taken Backpacker’s lollipop route, and adjusted it for an east side entry, and also incorporating Big Green Mountain. This will essentially be a figure-8. So here we go..

May 11th, I hope to be leaving Greenville by 4:00PM which will put us at the parking approximately 5:30PM. Parking at the Cold Mountain Gap Trailhead, we will head northwest on the Panthertown Valley Trail, which crosses Greenland Creek via a bridge (or so I read) which will take us through the valley along Panthertown Creek, to the base of Big Green Mountain. This is largely a flat area, which should have plentiful places to pitch a campsite. If we don’t come to any places, once we pass Granny Burrell Falls, there is a shelter we can stay in or near. After morning, we will hike south along Panthertown Creek on the Great Wall Trail with The Great Wall of Panthertown looming over us (this is quite impressive from even Google Earth). Turning north, we’ll intersect with the Big Green Trail and take that to the summit, then down the far more gentle east side of Big Green Mountain. This will put us back near Granny Burrell Falls. From here, we will follow Mac’s Gap Trail to the Little Green Trail, to ascend Little Green Mountain. We will come down the east side and divert to School House Falls, then back up to our initial trailhead.

The mileage is kind of hard to track, but I am estimating between 8-9 miles of hiking, with astounding views.

I have already sent out a few invitations to guys who may be interested, but if you ARE interested in going on this trip let me know.

The Forest Service map does not show the unofficial trails, but it can somewhat be followed for this. Here is the link —-> – Panthertown Forest map.

If you wish to get a copy of the waterproof map for Panthertown Valley and adjacent areas (Bonas Defeat and Big Pisgah), you can buy it from Slickrock Expeditions.

Christianity Gospel Grace Heaven Hope Jesus On A Personal Note Sanctification Supertones

On a Personal Note: Mirrors

It feels like I’m two different people sometimes.

The other day at work while I was on a test drive, I had a realization. I’m a… grinner. (Watch the episode of Man VS Wild when he’s in the Baja desert for that reference). Of all things in life, this is what I am the best at being. That isn’t reassuring.

Maybe I’m not two people, but one person who hides half of himself with different groups of people. One group hears how I am in need of grace, yet doesn’t see how I need it. The other group sees how I am in need of grace, but doesn’t hear that I need it. A third group, which would be very small, sees those two overlap.

I look at myself and see so many areas in need of growth, and maybe this introspection has become morbidly acute to the point where I cannot see the grace of God and the good news of Jesus life, death and resurrection that covers those areas. I wish I would live my life in a way that everyone sees the overlap, but I’m pretty sure this would require me to live perfectly, which I can’t. A chorus by The O.C. Supertones captures this perfectly: “Who I am is in between, what I wanna be and what I am.” In another song of theirs, they sing, “I’m somewhere in between Canaan and Egypt, a place called the wilderness.” That’s me.

Although I cannot live as someone who is in no need of growth and change, I can, however, imagine what it might be like to have no need of growth. Now, I realize this image is quite likely flawed, but I can imagine some version of it. Looking at myself in the mirror, truly looking, requires humility. “This is who I am. This is what I have done.” As a Christian, and typically where I fail, it is imperative I see beyond myself. My reflection should look something like “This is who I am and what I have done. God sent His Son to die on a cross and pay the penalty for who I am and what I’ve done. What I see is a scoundrel who has been made righteous in God’s eye by being captured and made new in Jesus.” This whole Gospel and grace of God thing is a mind-bender for me.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV)

One day, it will not be dim. One day, the veil will be lifted. One day, sin and death and suffering will be no more. One day, every tear will be wiped away. One day, I will be finally home, because I have been captured for Zion. Hopefully as I walk along this road, I will reflect him in a much more balanced way.

hiking Panthertown Valley Trip Planning Yosemite of the East

The beginning of a plan

It’s almost the end of April and I haven’t done one over-nighter yet. Since many of the guys I go outdoors with laugh at me for always planning in Linville Gorge, I’m taking their advice when they tell me, “You know, there ARE other places than Linville…”


But I love Linville.

I came across a brief mention of Panthertown Valley in Nantahala Forest a year or so ago in Backpacker Magazine. It has been dubbed “The Yosemite of the East.” I also said, “yeah right” when I saw that until I read that it earned that name from being formed in the same way as the great western stomping grounds of Ansel Adams and John Muir. Largely, it has been off my radar due to an infatuation with Linville Gorge (rightly so), and the reputation Panthertown has of confusing and unnamed trails. I heard there was a map, but it was only available locally, and it was hand drawn.

Well, I was in Mast General Store downtown Greenville last month and spotted out of the corner of my eye a waterproof map of Panthertown Valley by Burt Kornegay, the same author of the map locally available. The topo map is 1:24,000 and has great detail, even differentiating between official trails and unofficial trails, along with point to point mileage. It will be a great asset.

Backpacker Magazine has a 5.6 mile loop, which I won’t be taking in its entirety, but a large portion of it. I hope to ascend Big and Little Green Mountains. The Great Wall of Panthertown is seen in the foreground, the great granite wall on Big Green Mountain.

Looking at Google Earth, the terrain is definitely more mild than Linville Gorge. I guess I can try something else. Who knows, I may be amazed.

Hopefully, in a couple weeks, this trip will come together.

hiking Trip Planning Zion National Park

You want to do WHAT??

I was talking to a friend of mine who is going backpacking this weekend. Knowing I probably wouldn’t be going with him due to schedule conflicts (which is indeed what happened), curiosity was still wanting to know his trips plans. In my email to him, I asked, “You’re not going to Linville, are you?”

“Bro, we’re going to Linville for two nights and just hanging around Babel Tower!!” Jealous. I love Linville Gorge.It might be my favorite place ever, and it is with great fondness I recollect Babel Tower because that was my first trip down into that big ditch. Area to grow in: rejoicing in good for my brother (semi-easy) WHILE not having a pity party for me (very hard).

The conversation continues and he tells me that next yea he’d like to plan a 5 or 6 nighter backpacking trip. Whoa, that’d be sweet. Then he drops the bomb…”Somewhere like Yellowstone. If we don’t start planning it now, it will stay a pipe dream. Let’s just go for it!” Staying in character for big adventures, I suggested Zion National Park to go to Angel’s Landing and The Narrows. So that’s what we’re planning.

From Greenville, SC, Utah is a long ways away. Especially Zion, on the west side of the state. I toyed with the idea of what it would take to drive there versus flying. 2,100 miles (roughly) and approximately 34 hours of driving. Ouch.. This will have to be by air.

Yellowstone and Yosemite and Glacier all look like awesome and marvelous places, and a trip to any of them would be amazing. For some reason, Zion holds a peculiar interest to me. Perhaps it’s the ascent to Angel’s Landing and then the descent into The Narrows, from the heights to the depths, that holds me to some romantic outdoors vision of a desert oasis adventure. Perhaps I’ve just seen the scenery and it looks like an awesome place. Perhaps it’s because of all the places I’d like to go, Utah doesn’t have grizzly bears (as far as I know!).

Why not Canyonlands, Bryce, Arches, Capitol Reef, Goblin Park, or any of the other awesome scenic places to visit? Perhaps, for just some reason, I am simply captured for Zion.

Conley Cove Trail hiking Linville Gorge Linville Gorge Trail Linville River North Carolina Sandy Flats Trail scrambling Spence Bridge

The report that started this ball rolling…

If you’re reading this, it’s probable you’ve already read this on Facebook or… This is the trip report from March 24th, 2012 where my wife Jenny went with me to Linville Gorge. After typing this up and publishing it, a lot of people seemed to enjoy it and it was in response to this report that it was suggested that I start this blog. So here it is..

3/24 Trip report

I always underestimate Linville Gorge.
I’ve hiked there 4 times before this trip, and I should know that by now.

My wife, Jenny, is so gracious that for my birthday she agreed to go to the Gorge with me. This will be her first time into the big ditch. My original plan was to park at Conley Cove, take Conley to LGT then north to Cathedral Falls. On the way back, we would detour on Rock Jock to Hacker’s Point, then back to the car. But I got greedy.. Looking at maps before the trip, I was reading Allen Hyde’s Hikers Guide, and he had Sandy Flats on the map. Sandy Flats had been closed in 2004 by the USFS, which I knew, and it was not on Kenneth Crump’s 2010 Mapbook (available in the forums at I want loop hikes, and the Gorge does not offer them typically. I had done some recon on Sandy Flats for a friend who asked about it a month ago, and heard it was closed and probably overgrown but should still be followable. So, with way less research than I should have done, we parked at Wiseman’s View and went down Sandy Flats, which is easy enough to find from the intersection of KMH/Wiseman’s.

Let me interject here and say it has been raining here this week and everything is wet. Waterfalls are flowing, even where there wasn’t waterfall before. Jenny is carrying her DSLR camera pack, and I am carrying water, food and supplies for both of us (in my untested Mountain Hardwear Splitter pack), weighing in around 20lbs. So here we go..

It was definitely overgrown and was pretty much what I estimated. Not far in, we came to the cliffs, and our hike turned into a scramble. At this point, wisdom should have kicked in and said, “Turn back and do the original plan.” Sadly, I didn’t hear it because ambition was speaking much too loudly. Even then, I should have known better. We kept going. Our scramble down had turned into a waterfall from the rain, and while we did not get soaked, it was certainly slick. We kept following surveyor’s flagging that marked the route. Someone has been through here, but not enough to leave an ultra obvious path. We crossed over more water, and found a solid branch that was taller than I am we used as a walking staff. I had poles with me, but the branch allowed me to go ahead on the path and stabilize it, giving Jenny a secure handhold as she came down. I named this staff “Mercy and Kindness,” as I kept praying to God for the river to come soon and it would have been much more difficult without it. So, with Mercy and Kindness, Jenny and I made it to the final tiers of waterfalls and pools before the LGT. We stopped here, took a bunch of pictures, and enjoyed the calm and serenity of the lush Linville jungle. We emerged, freshened from the rest, at the Sandy Flats campsite where we stopped to take the shoes off and eat lunch. By this point, the sun was out, the sky was blue, the clouds were sparse and white. It had turned into a perfect day. I forgot I had packed the ENO DoubleNest in the very bottom of my pack, otherwise it would have been a real nice, sunny relaxing time. As it was, we still had a rejuvenating lunch stop. It took us over 2 hours to get from Kistler Memorial Highway to the Linville Gorge Trail. We turned south and headed for Cathedral Falls, the scenic goal of this trek.

I had not been on this section of LGT, and I assumed it would be flat near the river. If you’ve been in the Gorge, you’re probably laughing at me right now. You’re probably asking, “Did this guy even look at a map?” The answer is…barely. I looked up the original plan on Google Earth.. Anyways, back to LGT. It was up and down and narrow and plenty of views from high above the river. We began to feel the pitter-patter of rain, and decided to put the Marmots back on. I had brought a trash bag for Jenny’s camera pack, as it wasn’t waterproof. We put our hoods up, ready for the rain. “Great first trip to the Gorge for your wife, Josh. REAL smooth,” I was thinking. The rain began to increase, and the dark clouds rolled in, bringing low bassy thunder with them.  Then the lightening came, and eventually the lightening caught up with the thunder and they occurred simultaneously. As we decided to take cover under a thicker patch of rhododendron, it began to pour. Then sleet.. and then hail. It was hailing on us. Awesome. Instead of taking the opportunity to make me feel like a fool for bringing us out here, Jenny graciously laughed it off and insisted we get out my camera (Canon PowerShot D10, waterproof) and make it a memory. I have an awesome wife.

We prayed for the hail to stop, and we had to wait for the answer to finally come. About 50 steps ahead of us, there was a deep rock overhang, which would have sheltered us from the storm. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t this be a lightening magnet? Or was it simply that an overhang is not a good place to hang out with the expectation of staying dry? Help me out, guys.)  The sun emerged and we kept going and finally some color showed up on the river. Picnickers were crossing Spence Bridge, and we were almost there. Not far past that, through the mess of trees along the bank, we saw an obscured Cathedral Falls and a group of guys hammocking right in front of it. It’s a steep slide down there.. Not content with our view, we slid down the mud and I asked the guys if they minded if we walked through their site. They kindly allowed us, and we scrambled down to the boulders in the river. Sitting upon these boulders is truly the way to view Cathedral Falls. Now that the sun was shining, and our torrential day had turned to perfect weather again, we were thankful for all the the rain because the falls were gushing! We exchanged a few words about how great the Chimneys are with the guys sharing the site and headed out. There was a downed tree with all the branches broken off but stumps left, and we used that as a hand ladder to haul ourselves out. That’s a lot of work to get down to the river!

As we kept on down LGT, we admired the rock structures and amazingly huge boulders along the river. Those boulders are so big I cannot believe it, and if they broke off and tumbled down from Table Rock that would definitely be a bad day at the river! We saw a downed tree that almost nearly crossed the river not far north of Conley Cove. There’s a cave-like overhang that all kinds of goat graffiti on the walls.. Disgusting.

Conley Cove came, and I was excited for it at the moment. Later as I reflected on the trip, I realize this was our halfway point. That’s tough! Conley Cove was the clearest and easiest to follow trail we’d been on all day. Although steep, the switchbacks make it much easier. It seems like they never end, though. I started singing, “This is the trail that never ends, yes it goes on and on my friend, some people started hiking it not knowing what it was and they’ll continue hiking it forever just because this is the tra…” There were lots of downed trees along the trail which made for difficult crossing. Those tree trunks are big! As we got closer to the top and where the off-trail to Conley Cave begins, the Conley Cove trail became Conley Creek. The storm had flooded the trail, and it made for wet hiking. Up to this point, we had dry feet. Even in the storm, our shoes were wet on the outside but stayed dry inside (not even waterproof!), but a final bit on Conley got through Jenny’s shoe. We passed Rock Jock, and came across the flagging for North Rock Jock up on the right. That looks totally inviting, I really hope it gets re-established, even if just by consistent and wise use (not haphazard). I’d never been happier to see Kistler Memorial Highway.

Until we started walking back to Wiseman’s View. This is all uphill and a total grind. Ugh! Not much else to say about it.. There’s an interesting bog that resembles Lost Dog Pond on the west side of the road that was full of frogs. It started raining lightly again, and we the Marmots back on. I carried Jenny’s camera pack on my back and slung my pack over my shoulder. By the time we got back to the car,  8 hours and 51 minutes later, we were so exhausted I didn’t even want to go to the overlook at Wiseman’s View. The clouds were casting darkness over a lot of the Gorge anyway, and I knew I’d be back. On a side note, KMH has a few ruts but nothing my 2wd Toyota Matrix couldn’t handle. I was pretty encouraged by that. Owning a Subaru still wouldn’t hurt my feelings, just in case anyone is feeling generous.

What an incredibly challenging and humbling day in the Gorge. I love that place, and it reaffirmed what I tell people about it: “If you want to play, you gots ta pay.” Indeed.

A huge thank you to my wife, Jenny, who was such a trooper and maintained a gracious countenance as we waded through my poor planning and misjudgment. You are an excellent wife, Honey.


A Journey Begins With One Step…

This is not the first step I have taken. Many have come before, but not as many have been inspired.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV) says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
The band Sleeping Giant has a chorus to a song called Dynasty which says, “When I’m dead will my children say, ‘My father had a destiny. He fought to taste it, and now because of him I will rise and say, “I’m par of a dynasty. I wont be wasted.”‘”
I believe all of what I do in life, from family, to work, to adventure, to trusting in grace, to hope, can all be put under the same umbrella. So, taking from these sources, my mission statement, if you will, as I begin to catalogue steps here, is as follows:
God help me.