Holy Ground at 14,000 Feet

I was blessed this summer to successfully summit four 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado.  Not a bad effort for having had a full knee replacement in March.  I’ve been chasing the goal of climbing all 58 Colorado 14ers since 2005, and I got my 50th this summer.  I hope to finish in the next two years.

I reached my last summit of the summer in late August.  I was outside of Telluride on a mountain called Sneffels. Mt. Sneffels is a wonderful mountain that’s part of the gorgeous San Juan range.  Its short hiking distance and proximity to Telluride make it a popular trek for climbers of all skill levels.  Sneffels packs just enough punch to make it interesting, but not so much as to chase off first-timers.

I camped alone just below timberline and was planning to start at 4 A.M.  Around 3 A.M. a thunderstorm rolled through which delayed my start.  It also left a thick layer of clouds on the mountain.

I got going about 4:30 A.M. and I could immediately tell it was going to be an interesting day.  I’m used to hiking under a starlit sky, but not today.  All I had was a gusty cold wind and a dark, thick cloud cover.  As dawn approached I could tell that the cathedral of towering peaks above me were all shrouded in clouds.  The higher I got, the thicker the clouds became.

When I reached the summit, I couldn’t see anything below me.  While my summit perch was clear, a thick layer of clouds below and around me blocked any potential view of the valley below and the other surrounding peaks.

I was surveying my surroundings and the disappointing lack of view when I saw it: below me on a cloud was the shadow of the mountain I was on.  There, just a few hundred feet or so below me, was the imposing black shadow of Mt. Sneffels, not on the ground, but on a cloud.

The sun was above and behind me and was projecting the mountain’s shadow onto the clouds below.

Mt. Sneffels’ summit is very pointy, and thus I could see on the cloudy shadow below exactly where I was standing on the summit.  I waved my arms and sure enough, I could see my own shadow on the tip-top of the mountain’s shadow below me.

That was a weird moment.  When was the last time you saw your shadow on a cloud?  Crazy, right?

But here’s the clincher: My reflection on the cloud below me was surrounded by a rainbow.  It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had on a mountain summit.  There I was, all alone on a cold and windswept mountain summit, staring at my rainbow-protected shadow on the clouds below me.

That’s not something you see every day!

I quickly grabbed my phone and snapped the picture below.  You can clearly see the dark, pointy shadow of Mt. Sneffels in the lower part of the pic.  The bright spot on the top is the reflection of where I was standing.  There is nothing solid or material in the photo at all.  It’s just all clouds, shadow and light.

I’ve shared this story and the photo multiple times with friends and fellow climbers.  All agree that what I saw and experienced was highly unusual and very, very cool.  Others take a more spiritual tone.  I’ve heard many comments like:

  • Wow, what a gift God gave you
  • You clearly weren’t alone up there
  • You were obviously standing on holy ground
  • And…It’s proof God is always looking out for your sorry @$$

My takeaway? God is totally, bad-to-the-bone awesome.

I welcome your insights.

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