Volume > Issue > A Life’s Worth of Failure, an Abundance of Gratitude

A Life’s Worth of Failure, an Abundance of Gratitude


By Karl Keating | July-August 2022
Karl Keating, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, has engaged in Catholic apologetics for more than four decades and is the author of 20 books. His most recent is Sun, Storm, and Solitude: Discovering Hidden Italy on the Cammino di San Benedetto. He is completing the last of a series of four books on hiking and backpacking. The series title is How to Fail at Hiking. This article is based on a talk he gave at the Diocese of Scranton’s sixth annual Catholic Men’s Conference on October 30, 2021.

I came to hiking and backpacking late in life. I remember exactly when it was that I went on my first backpacking trip. It was in California’s Sierra Nevada, south of Mammoth Lakes. The first day I hiked to Duck Lake and camped there. The second day I hiked farther, to Purple Lake, and camped there. The third day I began to retrace my steps. Along the way, I met a ranger. We spoke for a few moments, and then she said, “I don’t know if I should tell you this. I don’t want to ruin the rest of your hike.”

“Well, now you’ve got me wondering,” I said. “So you may as well tell me.”

“New York’s Twin Towers have been destroyed.”

That first backpacking trip sticks in my memory for more than one reason, as do two preparatory day hikes I took in the months immediately prior.

In July 2001 I hiked up White Mountain. At 14,252 feet, it’s the third-tallest peak in California and, by general consensus, the easiest of the fourteeners to summit. But I didn’t find it easy. Once I passed 13,000 feet, my leg muscles turned to Jell-O. The farther I ascended, the more often I had to stop to catch my breath: every hundred paces, every fifty, every twenty. At length, I reached the summit, and, at length and thoroughly exhausted, I returned to the trailhead, where I said to myself, “This, by far, is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”

I changed my mind a month later.

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