Over the course of my sabbatical, I spent 40 nights camping in a tent. While that has a nice Biblical ring to it, I didn’t plan it initially that way and until about two weeks ago thought I’d hit 39. The longest consecutive stretch of sliding into a sleeping bag was 12 days while on our family car camping trip as we made our way up the Rockies with stops at Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier and Banff National Parks. I additionally had a seven day stretch on the hills of Kilimanjaro, and six days in a row while in the vast wilderness of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota and Ontario. Out of those 40 nights, most were not in the same location, but rather setting up camp for a day or two and then moving on to a new place.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

Some of the sites were breathtaking, like the one at the Signal Mountain area of the Grand Tetons. We looked out from our tent over Jackson Lake with the entire jagged range of those mountains just beyond. We sat entranced that first day by the immense beauty. But not all was rosy even there as we had not one but two nights of gusty winds that kicked up for an hour or so after bedtime with the stiff breeze coming down hard from the mountains and over the lake. The wind had nothing to stop it before it hit the side of our enormous eight man tent which acted just like a sail. The four of us stood with our backs against the poles, holding hands, trying to not have our tent take flight and waiting for the storm to pass. On other nights at places so remote I could hear only the call of a loon, that plaintive wail it made as it tried to locate other birds nearby. One night I heard the sound of trucks rushing by and then hitting their brakes on the interstate that the campground backed up to.  I never really knew what I would get.

Continue reading Water in the Desert

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I’m down to just a few more days in my sabbatical. I saw a few parishioners around town and in the parking lot last week as I was home with my family (who has returned to full school year mode). This week I’m tenting at a campsite near Acadia National Park, soaking in a last few days of the outdoors at a time when I’m usually in full getting things done mode at our parish with a return to an active schedule.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

There’s a light rain today; I’m sitting under a tarp at the picnic table. I’ve been reading a book this morning on wilderness spirituality as a drank my coffee. Continue reading Nearing the End

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Last week I paddled with two other men in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Minnesota and Canada. I traveled with Renewal in the Wilderness—an organization that hopes to bring refreshment to those in helping professions like clergy, social workers and teachers by having them get out into the wilderness. Over the course of seven days we canoed in a dozen different lakes with ten portages from about 100 feet to three quarters of a mile. All told we traveled thirty miles.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Watching the moonrise from our campsite. Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

I’ve never been in a place like the BWCA before. After the first two lakes, no motor boats were allowed. Additionally, local aircraft cannot fly over the designated wilderness area. Campsites dot the lakes and are limited to a single group. The week after Labor Day brings fewer people—and fewer mosquitoes—along with the beginnings of a Fall chill. While we saw other paddlers from time to time, we generally were alone breathing in the pine scented air and listening to the slight wish of the paddles.

Continue reading Time Alone in the Wilderness

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The great gift of deserted country to us is solitude, the chance to be alone before God. This gift may also be the desert’s greatest terror, however….  We are left by ourselves, and suddenly we are faced with the question of what that self really is…. The desert lacks everything except the opportunity to know God.” — David Resenberger

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

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Every hiker knows that once you reach the summit you’re only halfway. Unless there’s a gondola waiting for you at the top—anathema to peak baggers—you’ve got to hike back down. And often that hike is harder than the one that got you to the top.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

After reaching the very top of Africa, we took about 35 minutes to soak it all in. The weather was spectacular, so we took pictures and cherished the view. But you don’t hang around too long at 19,000 feet. The lack of oxygen starts getting to you. So down we went.

Continue reading Descents

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We made it!

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Our group and guides at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Phil LaBelle, 2017[/featured-image]

On August 14, 2017 at 11:45am Noah and I and our entire team reach Uhuru Peak at 19, 340 feet. We began with a 2am wake up call, breakfast and preparing to leave. Zippers on the tent had frozen overnight in the cold and previous day’s rain. But the skies were now clear and the temps were chilly. Just before we were set to depart, Noah began overheating. He’d put on a number of layers including my puffy coat to fight the cold, and as we got outside his body just started getting too warm.

Continue reading On Top of Africa

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And now we are five.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Near base camp. Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

This morning we had a sad departure as both Craig and Barry had to head down the mountain for medical attention. Both had been experiencing the effects of altitude sickness over the last couple of days and especially last night and this morning. One of the reasons we all chose Tusker was for their focus on safety. Unfortunately it meant saying goodbye to two wonderful men at least for now. (We hope to see them when our group descends in a couple days and get back to our hotel.)

Continue reading Getting to Base Camp

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Today we conquered the Barranco Wall. It looms large on most Kili hikes as it stands 850 feet above Barranco Camp, and it’s the first thing you do after breakfast and heading out. It’s primarily a scramble, working your way over rocks and boulders via a number of switchbacks. You use hands and feet to pull yourself up at some points and slowly make your way to the top. We go slowly—”Pole! Pole!” in Swahili—and it’s great preparation for the pace to the summit.

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Noah, Barry and I at Karanga Camp with the Kili summit in the background. Phil LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

While Noah and I had a blast—it reminded us of the Beehive Trail in Acadia—others not so much. Especially Barry.

Continue reading Walls, Perseverance and Barry

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“It’s different cultures that make the world go ’round at the end of the day.” -Samantha Fox

[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]Noah LaBelle, 2017.[/featured-image]

When I was about to start the trip to Africa, all I was thinking about was the mountain, not anything else about the trip as a whole. Not the fact that I would get to experience something that I had never experienced before. I had been to 2 different countries outside of the USA before I went to Tanzania, the UK and Canada. Before I flew from the Amsterdam airport to Kilimanjaro International Airport, my American body had never touched down onto second world soil, let alone be among the ones on third world ground. When people ask about the adventure, they only ask about the mountain. They have no idea it was so much more.

Continue reading A Reflection On Africa

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