By Topher Aderhold
Topher Aderhold is the Camp Director at Annunciation Heights.
On the feast of the holy archangels, we set off before the sun, beginning our hike at 4 a.m. The moon was bright and the sky was clear, so we turned off our headlamps and walked by the light of the moon. It’s a groggy, but necessary way to begin such an adventure. From time to time, the moon shadows cast by the thick forest made ﬁnding our footing a bit of a challenge. But we journeyed on, because there was a mountain ahead of us, and we were determined to reach its summit.
While 14ers are all the rage in Colorado, our sights were set on Mt. Meeker, a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park that rises to the heights of a paltry 13,911 feet. Meeker’s summit is more than two-and-a-half miles above sea level, but because it is 89 feet shy of 14,000, Meeker is overshadowed, ﬁguratively and literally, by Longs Peak. Towering to 14,259 feet, the highly recognizable snaggletooth summit of Longs is only .7 miles away from Meeker.
A couple of hours into our journey, as we stopped for a drink of water and a snack, we glanced back towards the east. The ﬁrst rays of sun cresting over the far away mountains were painting the sky with glorious reds and oranges. The face of the mountains to our west were illuminated by the rising sun — it was as if the grey rock face was transformed into a massive canvas upon which the vibrant colors of the sunrise were splashed.
As the journey continued, we noticed that the trees were shrinking in size, and before long, there were trees no more. Soon after the sun began to rise, we reached Chasm Lake, a beautiful mountain lake at the base of Longs and Meeker. The scene took my breath away, or perhaps the high elevation was hindering my breathing — either way, I was in awe.
Countless wordsmiths, philosophers, and mountaineers of yesteryear have waxed poetically about what draws man towards the mountains, towards the heights. John Muir wrote about it extensively, and Edmund Hillary, the ﬁrst man to summit Everest, had a thing or two to say as well. I love what Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati said about the mountains: “The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ.” However, as we left Chasm Lake behind, and the hike turned more into a scramble over perilous rock ﬁelds and climbs up vertical rock faces, it was the words of Mon-signor Joseph Bosetti — the founder of Camp St. Malo — that came to mind: “Above 10,000 feet, everybody becomes your friend.”
There’s truth in his words, and Msgr. Bosetti knew well the experience of being above 10,000 feet. He was born and raised in the Italian Alps in the late 1800s, and later, in 1915, as a priest serving in the Archdiocese of Denver, he founded Camp St. Malo. Over the many years he over-saw Camp St. Malo, he led countless campers up to the summits of Twin Sisters, Mt. Meeker, and Longs Peak, just to name a few. Oftentimes, high atop the mountains, Msgr. Bosetti would celebrate Mass for the kids, giving them an opportunity to better hear the voice of Christ.
There were seven of us in our traveling party that day. We began the hike as friends, certainly, but there’s something special about the way such a challenge can bring people together and deepen friendships. We were in this journey together, and together we would reach the summit. The higher and higher we were above 10,000 feet, the more and more support we needed and had for each other.
It took us approximately six hours to reach the summit. For several minutes, we stood atop Meeker’s breezy summit. From such high heights, we soaked up the magniﬁcent view of Rocky Mountain National Park — it was a profound reminder of our smallness compared to the power and magniﬁcence of God.
After taking in the view, we scurried down the mountain, slowly and safely choosing our footing. Arriving back at the trailhead, nearly 12 hours after we’d begun our day, I thought about another challenge before us, a mountain of the ﬁgurative variety.
The Archdiocese of Denver recently purchased an old youth camp in Estes Park; an incredible commitment to the future of the Church in northern Colorado. With the help of the archdiocese, our Executive Director, Kyle Mills, has laid out an awesome vision for the bold and exciting mission of Annunciation Heights.
The seven of us, along with a half-a-dozen more, serve with Kyle in various capacities, as we undertake climbing the mountain of transforming this old property into a bright shining beacon of hope and joy for the Archdiocese of Denver. Providentially, Annunciation Heights is located just two miles down the road from Bosetti’s Camp St. Malo, where the stunningly beautiful Chapel on the Rock stands at the base of Mt. Meeker.
Plans for our inaugural Summer Camp, which will be held in 2019, are underway. Between mid-June and late-July, we’ll be offering ﬁve, one-week sessions. To serve on our Summer Camp Staff, we’ll be hiring approximately 30 college students — young adults that are fun, outgoing, great with children, and passionate about their Catholic faith. Not just a youth camp, we’re thrilled to be offering several Family Camps in 2019, as well. More details about both of these exciting opportunities will be posted soon to our website.
Already this fall, hundreds of students from Catholic schools have joined us at Annunciation Heights for environmental education retreats through the John Paul II Outdoor Lab. Additionally, over the past couple of months, many guest groups have found Annunciation Heights to be a wonderful place to host events and retreats.
From time to time, the challenge before us can be overwhelming. However, there’s something special about the way such a challenge can deepen friendships and bring people together. We journey on, because there is a mountain ahead of us, and we are determined to reach its summit.
Mary Undoer of Knots, pray for us!
To learn more about AH, please visit: annunciationheights.org