by Jason Martin Schnackenberg
Dedicated to the memory of Zach Haines
I have had many experiences in the outdoors that have left tremendous impacts on my life and have continually cultivated in me a deep passion for the outdoors. However, my most memorable experience, the one that I will absolutely never forget, occurred last summer when I had the opportunity to hike to Crater Lake, which lies in a basin just below the Peak of Treasure Mountain in the Cabinet Mountain range. I was accompanied by a group of five other great guys, who were all just as excited for the hike up to the lake as I was.
We were all looking forward to the hike, but this was only part of the reason we were so excited for the day. Two of the guys in our group, Tatum and Zach Haines, were father and son, and what made this experience so special and unique is that we were hiking specifically to Crater Lake so that Tatum and Zach could get baptized. It was Tatum and Zach’s goal to be baptized in a place they would never forget, and what a place it was.
What makes this story even more amazing is that Zach Haines was only 11 years old and battling a terribly aggressive bout of brain cancer when we made this hike. He had just recently recovered enough of his strength, that he had lost from Chemotherapy treatments, to be able to attempt the 4500 vertical foot climb.
We got up early on a beautiful Saturday morning and met up at the bottom of the mountain where our starting point for the hike was. The trek to Crater Lake is usually expected to be a six to seven hour hike when it is hiked at a strong steady pace. Due to Zach’s health issues, we were expecting the hike to be a little bit longer, around eight or nine hours. With this in mind, we started up the mountain early enough so that we could make it back before dark.
The first legs of the hike were not too rough because we had a nice trail to follow, but as we continued, the trail eventually dissipated into various small game trails until finally we were bush whacking through extremely thick forest and trudging along at a very slow pace. The entire time up the mountain, we would stop every ten minutes or so to allow Zach time to rest and recuperate. He could only keep going for small stretches before he would get winded and need a break. Through the grueling hike, Zach continued until we finally reached the lake, at a much later time than expected, but it was well worth the effort. Tatum got baptized by another from our group and soon after, baptized his son, Zach. Seeing the joy on their faces when they came up out of the water was an amazing experience.
After they were baptized, we spent some more time at the lake, jumping in the water to get refreshed and just enjoying the beautiful scenery. As the time came to head back down, we did so with happy hearts. Zach continued to be strong the entire way down, even when it started getting dark, until we finally reached the trucks, twelve hours after we had left. Taking much longer than we originally intended, and hiking the terrain that we did, Zach proved how strong he was. Being able to witness his baptism in such a beautiful and awe inspiring environment was one of the greatest privileges I have ever had. Seeing his determination to complete this hike was an inspiration.
After that amazing day, Zach Haines courageously continued his battle with cancer for the next five months until he left for his true home on January 18, 2014 at age 11.
Jason Schnackenberg is a 2014 graduate of Libby High School. This essay, which appeared in the November 6, 2015 issue of The Western News, was submitted to the 2014 FSPW Essay Scholarship Competition.