Over 10 years ago on September 11, 2001 almost everyone can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of the terrorist attack on America. On December 10, 2001, John Hogg remembers where he was at and what he was doing when he was informed that his son, Ezra Hogg, was killed during a traffic accident on his way to school that day. The tragic events of 9/11 changed America forever; the death of John’s son changed his life forever.
Ezra was 17 years old when he died. He was senior in high school, a member of the National Honor Society, an Eagle Scout, lifeguard, and played hockey and rugby. He died five days before John’s birthday, 11 days before Ezra’s 18th birthday, and 15 days before Christmas.
John was emotionally, physically and spiritually devastated. “The outpouring of support from family and friends was critical during those first few weeks after he died,” stated John.
Later, two scholarships were established in Ezra’s memory, and a staff cabin at Gerber Scout camp in Michigan where Ezra worked during the summer was named in his memory. A group called Compassionate Friends, which helps parents who have lost a child, also provided much needed emotional support.
Despite all the initial support, as time passed John continued to struggle with his son’s death. As the months passed, John read in the Bible that when men had powerful life-changing experiences, it was usually on top of a mountain or in the wilderness. Moses on Mount Sinai, Elijah on Mount Carmel, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, Peter, John and Andrew on the Mount of Transfiguration‑all had life-changing experiences. John decided he was going to the mountains and wilderness to find healing. He set a goal to summit the highest point in all 50 states in memory of his son.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Ezra’s death. John has successfully reached the highest point of 48 states in the last 10 years. From the very beginning it has been a spiritual journey to come to terms with the grief of losing his son.
The first state’s high point John achieved was Michigan. It is here he learned a valuable lesson about how he was to depend on God to help achieve his goal. He buried his Jeep up to the bumpers in mud and dug for three hours. He was in a very remote area of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Finally he gave up and sat down and prayed to God for help. Within five minutes several guys driving ATVs drove up and helped him pull his Jeep out of the mud. This experience taught John that if he was going to successfully reach his goal he was going to have to depend on God.
Over the years, John traveled the country going to the highest summit of each state. Reaching the high point of each state has always been a spiritual experience, coming to terms with his son’s death. It has not been an easy journey. In North Carolina, he drove over a log after a hurricane had blown through the area, which ruined two tires. An icy winter climb of Mount Marcy in upstate New York forced him to hike with crampons for 15 miles, which resulted in ripping the flesh off each of the heels of his feet. In Wyoming he broke his leg 20 miles from his vehicle. It took him two-and-a-half days to climb and hike out of the mountains.
During 2011, John successfully made the summits of Hawaii, Washington and Oregon. He saw firsthand God’s providential powers working in his life, reaching the high point of Hawaii. John miraculously got a roundtrip flight from Denver to Kona, Hawaii for $279‑the average price usually around $1,000. He saved a large amount of money by staying at a condominium with a friend and an executive board member of the Santa Fe Trail Boy Scout Council, who he works for in Kansas. A trip that should have cost him several thousand dollars only cost him several hundred dollars.
Later in the year, John climbed 14,410-foot Mount Rainier in Washington. He teamed up with a Scoutmaster named Kent Brotten from Seattle who has successfully climbed Mount Rainier over 30 times. John read about him in a magazine back in 2006. Not only was he a Scoutmaster, but he was also an Eagle Scout. John only climbs with Eagle Scouts when he attempts a state high point mountain in memory of his son.
Mount Rainier is one of the most difficult mountains to climb in North America. Most mountain climbers must make several attempts to reach the summit. John successfully reached the summit on his first attempt.
One of the most amazing ways God has helped John on his spiritual journey was in Oregon. After he climbed Mount Rainier, he drove to Oregon to attempt Mount Hood, that state’s highest mountain peak. However, this time he was going to attempt a solo climb. This was a dangerous way to climb the mountain‑over 130 climbers have died trying to reach the summit.
At 2:30 a.m., John was standing in the parking lot ready to start his climb. He looked up toward the mountain and said to himself, “God, this is really a dangerous mountain for me to be climbing alone.” Right after saying this to himself, a guy drove up and asked if he could climb with him. John asked him if he was an Eagle Scout. To his amazement the guy said he was an Eagle Scout from Michigan named Gary Morgan.
Gary climbed with John until a blinding snowstorm developed and Gary turned around because his fingers were frozen. John continued up the mountain, knowing he had to find an opening in the snow-covered rock face called the Pearly Gates to reach the summit. The opening was only about three to four feet wide. John only had about 10 feet of visibility in the whiteout condition so there was no one to see the opening. He asked God to help him find the opening in the rock.
John continued to climb for almost an hour and then suddenly looked up and he was standing dead center, looking straight up into the rock opening and went to the summit. There is no doubt in John’s mind that it was the hand of God that led him to that opening.
The final mountain John attempted to climb this year was Granite Peak in Montana. This was his third attempt to climb this mountain. Unfortunately, he severely injured his toes and could not climb the last 900 feet to reach the summit. This was very discouraging to John. However, after his toes began to heal John decided to go to the gym to continue to work out and stay in shape.
The first day he decided to return to the gym, he was walking up to the door of the gym and a guy rode up on a bike, got off and left it by the door. John looked at the bike and on the bike was printed the words “Challenge Granite Peak.” John never heard of such a brand of bike, and took a picture of it with his cell phone. He took this incident as a sign from God to not be discouraged.
John stated, “Someday I will summit Granite Peak when God is ready for me to make it.”
Despite these challenges, every state’s summit mountain peak has been a spiritual experience.
“I really feel the presence of God when I am standing on the highest mountain peak of a state,” said John.
Over the years, God has helped John deal with his son’s death. He knows it is a grief he will carry with him the rest of his life. His state high point adventure has helped keep his son’s memory alive. John’s goal is to reach the highest summit of all 50 states, write a book about his mountain-climbing adventures, and help parents deal with the death of a child. John only needs to summit two more states: Montana and Alaska. He is confident that someday he will summit all 50 states, but as he learned from his first state high point summit, as long as he depends on God’s providence he will succeed in reaching his goal.
John Hogg is the CEO/Scout Executive of the Santa Fe Trail Council in Garden City, Kansas, and Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch in Walsenburg, Colorado.