At the Heights, everybody becomes your friend

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:

COMING UP: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr