On Top of the World
May 1996

“On Top of the World,” New Era, May 1996, 20

On Top of the World

The trek this Aaronic Priesthood group went on took them to the summit—not only physically, but spiritually as well.

You’re going on a backpacking trip, with lots of camping and hiking involved, and you want to make it the best trip ever. Here’s a checklist of important things to bring:

—A warm sleeping bag.

—Comfortable shoes.

—Lightweight cooking gear.

—Your scriptures.

Yes. The last item is correct. That’s what the young men from the Canyon Ward, Spanish Fork Utah Stake, learned last year. Not only did they get to hike in some of the most scenic mountains in Wyoming and Montana, but they scaled even higher heights by including daily scripture study as the focus of their wilderness experience.

“We’ve been on great hikes before,” says John Oldham, 16, past captain of the ward’s Varsity Scout team. “But this time we really emphasized the spiritual side in our planning.”

For example, the trek began with a testimony meeting. “It was great,” says Joshua Christensen, 18. “We sat and looked at the Teton Mountains as the sun went down. We talked about the gospel, about each other, about the Savior. The Spirit was there. It set a great mood for the entire trip.”

That’s not all. The group held devotionals and firesides every day. And each day they studied a scriptural theme.

“We’d read a scripture together in the morning, ask some questions about it, then we’d try to think about it or put it into practice during the day,” explains Doug Thompson, 15. “Then at night we’d talk about our answers.”

The result was that everyone was talking about, thinking about, and acting upon the scriptures.

“We read about prayer,” Doug continues, “and while we were hiking there was a time for everyone to ask for something, like praying for strength when the backpacks seemed too heavy, or for a little extra boost to make it through the rain.”

Joe Oldham, 16, says he appreciated one day’s devotional that talked about helping others.

“That same day, my cousin John and I were the first ones up to the top lake. I stayed there to watch our packs, and John went down to help my younger brother, Mike (14), with his pack because it was so heavy. Everyone helped each other out.”

“One day when our firewood was all wet,” says Alex Wright, 19 (now on a mission in Brazil), “a bunch of guys came and brought us dry firewood. That was on the same day we’d been reading about service.”

“There were tons of waterfalls,” Ryan Steadman, 14, remembers. “They’re huge and they cascade down the rocks and make all this mist. It’s so beautiful you have to believe someone made it. It made me think of the scripture (Moses 6:63) that says, ‘All things bear record of me.’”

And there were other lessons learned while hiking and camping:

“I gained an appreciation for the blessings we take for granted at home,” says Joe Elliott, 16. “In the wild you can’t just go get a drink of water; you have to pump for 20 minutes to purify it.”

“You think you need all these things to survive,” John adds. “You think you need to play basketball, to go on dates, to listen to music all the time. But out there, you can live without the worldly things. And when you read the scriptures, you can concentrate more closely on what the Lord wants you to hear.”

“Our first devotional was on prayer, on being able to pray at any time about anything,” Joshua says. “I think we all did that throughout the trip. And it taught us how to walk with the Spirit. I thought a lot about Proverbs 3:5–6 [Prov. 3:5–6], ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ I thought as we were hiking along the mountain trails physically, that spiritually we were also hiking some trails.”

Talk with these young men today, and there’s no question last year’s trip left enduring memories. They speak of how the rains came every day, right on schedule, and how that taught them the value of being prepared in advance. They talk of deepened respect for plants and animals. They express a desire to learn more and more. They laugh about diving into ice-cold water, enduring mosquito bites, and returning down the trail in search of stragglers. They even speak reverently about specific answers to prayer.

But threaded into almost every comment, and tied forever with their summer activity, is a deepened love and appreciation for the word of the Lord.

Mike may express it best when he says, “Anybody can go out and go backpacking. But we had a different kind of experience because we oriented it toward the scriptures.”

It’s an adventure that left them, literally, on top of the world.

His Way Each Day

Here’s a partial list of scriptures and discussion ideas used at the daily devotionals:

  • Alma 34:26–27 “Pour out your souls … in your wilderness.” Compare yourself with those in the scriptures who went to the wilderness to pray. How does prayer help you feel closer to the Lord? Does carrying a prayer in your heart all day help you feel grateful?

  • Genesis 1:26 [Gen. 1:26] “And God said, Let us make man in our image.” How do you feel knowing you were created in the image of God? What kind of reverence should we have for all of God’s creations?

  • Mosiah 4:16–26 “Are we not all beggars?” Out here everyone is surviving together, helping one another. What can you do to help others? Do you feel good after lending a hand?

  • Moses 6:63 “All things bear record of me.” In what ways do the beauty, magnificence, and even the simplicity in the world around us bear witness of its Creator, Jesus Christ?

  • Mormon 8–9 [Morm. 8; Morm. 9] Moroni’s advice to us. Go out on your own and read these two chapters. If you were all alone looking out over the destruction of your people, how would you feel? What advice would you give to those who would later read your words? How well does Moroni describe our day?

Step by Step

Here’s a list of things you can do to make your next camp or hike more meaningful.

  1. Begin with a goal in mind. Know where you want to go—not only geographically, but spiritually too. Have a priesthood purpose, such as learning from the scriptures. Consider starting with a testimony meeting to set a spiritual mood for the entire event.

  2. Take care of practical matters. You’ll have a much more enjoyable trip if you don’t have to spend time compensating for equipment you forgot, or wondering how to make do with too little food. Careful planning will leave you free to have happier memories.

  3. Incorporate daily reminders. Start each day with a devotional. During rest stops, review photocopies of key scriptures. Set aside a regular time for individual study and meditation. Share your insights. Write what you’re feeling in a journal.

  4. Look for opportunities to serve. Take advantage of opportunities to do what the Savior would do—carry each other’s burdens, find dry wood for someone else’s fire, seek out the wandering and weary.

  5. Don’t forget to pray. Both in your pre-event planning and in your time along the trail, talk often with your Father in Heaven. Ask for guidance and direction, and don’t forget to express gratitude, especially for the wonders of creation.

Photography by Willie Holdman

Stunning scenery was just one of the rewards these young men enjoyed while hiking. by carrying a scripture in their hearts each day, then sharing their thoughts each each night, they found their spirits also soared like the spires to the heavens.

“When you read the scriptures,” John Oldham says, “you can live without worldly things and concentrate more closely on what the Lord wants you to hear.”

“There were tons of waterfalls,”Ryan Steadman says. “They were so beautiful they reminded me of the scripture that says, ‘All things bear record of me.’”

It’s the quiet moments the young men remember best, the times when they really had a chance to think or talk or pray.

“Anybody can go backpacking,” Mike Oldham says.” We had a different experience because we oriented it toward the scriptures.”