Darkness enveloped the five members of the Hike 4 Friendship team as they sat together in the Grand Canyon’s Cave of the Domes. It was Day Two of the hike, and inside the cave was a group of twenty five Boy Scouts. Having all turned off their flashlights, a unique serenity surrounded them deep in the dry cave.
“There is a parable told about a man who found himself in a cave with a lighted candle,” shared some of the hikers, as the two groups sat together in the pitch black cave. “When his candle went out he did not fear, for he had seen the walls of the cave and knew that they surrounded him. Our souls are sent down upon this world. In heaven our souls saw G-d, but in this world we do not see Him. Each of us has our mission in this world and we do not fear, for we know that G-d surrounds us.”
They later explained that they felt it was an opportunity to share something positive with the others, whom they met by chance deep in the wild ruggedness of the Grand Canyon. The group of Boy Scouts would be the last people Team Friendship met until they left the Canyon a few days later.
The five hikers spent five hot and grueling, yet inspirational days, hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in support of the Friendship Circle, an international Jewish organization dedicated to helping special needs children and their families. With no phones or internet, the group was cut off from the outside world, fully immersed in the harsh grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
For Danny Hill, a 55-year-old property manager from Los Angeles, the Hike 4 Friendship offered a unique opportunity that he had always dreamed of.
“I was at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon thirty years ago,” explains Hill. “Back then I decided that one day I would return and hike down into it. This was the first time that I saw a practical, intelligent opportunity to join an organized, fully kosher hike into the Grand Canyon, and simultaneously raise money for a good cause.”
Fundraising and supporting the Friendship Circle was no side point to Hill, who is father to a special needs daughter who participated for many years in the programs offered by the Los Angeles-chapter of the Friendship Circle.
“We benefitted and our daughter benefitted very much from their Friends at Home program, and so I felt very strongly about that aspect of the hike. I’m very proud to say that I met and exceeded my fundraising goals by a large margin.”
Another hiker, Mordechai Wilshinsky, echoed Hill’s support of the Friendship Circle.
“I never did anything like this before,” says the Brooklyn resident, “and it was a big privilege to be able to do this for the Friendship Circle. I like doing out-doors stuff, but I wouldn’t have joined if it was not in support of the Friendship Circle.
“The Friendship Circle does a tremendous job. It helps people and drastically changes the quality of life for the children it benefits and their families.”
Wilshinsky explains that the trip additionally allowed him to “go back to basics, to the bare minimum. You quickly realize how little of our modern technology you really need.”
Hiking in the Grand Canyon is a vastly different experience to a comparable mountain trek. While hiking a mountain is strenuous at the onset, with the hiker exerting himself in the beginning of the trip, the return-trip on the way down is relatively easy. The order is reversed when hiking in a canyon, with the bulk of the tough part coming at the end of the trip, after a few days of hiking.
While safe if well-equipped and prepared, the lack of water and sweltering heat of the Grand Canyon – where day-time temperatures can reach well into the 100s – can easily and rapidly transform a hiker’s situation into a dangerous one.
“The group trained very well, they really took all of my warnings to heart,” said the hike leader, “and it showed in the results. They were all strong hikers on this hot, rugged, and isolated hike. They all hiked it, and hiked it well.”
The group of five were mostly strangers to each other before the trip’s commencement, but quickly bonded as they hiked together through the majestic solitude.
“We spent the Shabbos before the trip in Flagstaff, Arizona,” says Hill, “and I really did not have too many expectations for that Shabbos, I thought it was just a necessary stepping point on the way. It ended up being such a lovely Shabbos. We were hosted by the Chabad community there, which is run by Rabbi and Mrs. Dovie Shapiro, and it was a very memorable Shabbos.
“What was great about the entire trip was that five strangers come together, they’ve mostly never met before, and amazingly come together to become a cohesive unit – davening, laughing, sharing stories – and all get along. That was very nice.”
“It really was a team,” adds Wilshinsky, “we all banded together and worked together.”
Hike 4 Friendship also helps to break a common stereotype.
“People think that Jewish men don’t backpack. Well on this trip it was heartwarming to see four people with no experience, who became backpackers.”
Wilshinsky encourages more people to participate in future trips:
“I would recommend it to anyone. The fundraising and the training has to be adequate and it’s no walk-in-the-park, but it’s a great experience if you’re ready to work hard.”
To apply for Hike 4 Friendship Women’s Or Men’s this May, please visit Hike4Friendship.org.