Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Teamwork Mountain Adventure

Here's a story that needs to be put in writing for future historians.

As regular readers might remember, I love climbing Colorado's many 14,000 foot mountains ("14ers" to the locals). Last summer, we tackled Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado (see the archives for pics). So this year, we decided to tackle the easiest and closest peak, Mt. Bierstadt. I advertized it to our church as a "light hike, good for beginners".

Rule 1: Never over-promise and under-deliver.

Five of us went on the hike. Here are the four happy, unsuspecting first-timers that came with me:

It started out a beautiful day. We took a leisurely pace, and enjoyed nice conversation on the way up. About halfway up, we started to split up since some of us wanted to rest more often than others. Phil & Edith weren't sure they were going to make it to the summit, and I assumed they'd wait for us and meet us on our way down.

Rule 2: Never assume.

Abby, Craig and I summited and had lunch. It was really beautiful at the top:

Not more than 10 minutes on our way down, we passed Phil & Edith on their way up. They were going to make it. I was excited for them and impressed by their perseverance. I thought of waiting for them while they finished their summit, but they were so close. I assumed they'd make it up and be right back behind us in no time. See Rule 2.

Rule 3: At 14,000 feet, hail really hurts.
Craig was making great time coming down the mountain. A bit behind him, Abby and I were about 1/3 of the way down when the rain started. Then the rain stopped. And the hail started:

Even though I've been on a few of these climbs, I was too stupid to bring rain gear. Abby is not stupid. You know that little flap on your ear that you can push to block out noise? Well apparently it hurts to get that little flap hit with a piece of ice falling sideways out of the sky. Yeah. Trust me.

Rule 4: The only thing worse than hail at 14,000 feet is lightning at 14,000 feet.

About that time, we heard some thunder behind us. I am only occasionally stupid. "RUN!" I shouted at Abby. She took off down the mountain, and my concern for Phil & Edith increased. Where there's clouds, there might be hail. But where there's thunder, there's always electricity.

Rule 5: Leave no one behind.

Thanks to my stupidity and lack of rain gear, I needed to get below tree line. Soaked to the skin and freezing, I slowly made it back to the van where Craig & Abby were waiting. I assumed Phil & Edith couldn't be far behind me by now. See Rule 2.

We watched people coming off the trail for an hour or so, but no Phil & Edith. Then another 2 hours passed and we only saw one group. From them we learned that they saw a couple on the summit when "two bolts of lightning struck". Over 4 hours had passed since then.

Another hour passed with no people coming off the trail and no sign of moving bodies on the mountain. It was getting dark. Obviously, by now we were very concerned. All sorts of possibilities went through my head, along with the accompanying newspaper headlines. Most of them were along the lines of: "Local pastor leads members to their death. Told them he was experienced climber."

Rule 6: God makes blessing out of disaster.

We called the police for a search party.

Roughly 18 seconds before the police arrived at the scene, Phil & Edith emerged from the trail. Amazingly, they didn't throw rocks at me. When the police arrived, I apologized for the false alarm, only to be interrupted by Edith. She announced that there was another couple still up there, badly injured and needing assistance. The reason they were so late in disembarking was because they were helping another couple in need. The search party went out, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Here's the happy couple before their adventure:

I didn't get an "after" picture, but I did hear of a blue electrical arc that jumped between their shoulders on the summit. And of the boulder they jumped under to avoid the strikes. And of the muddy paths on the way down that caused a few slips. But mostly of how God is good even though He sometimes makes us sweat. We were praying for our friends, but He needed them to help people we didn't even know. Which leads us to Rule 7:

Rule 7: God is good. All the time.


At 8/04/2006 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Jeff, sounds like a pretty standard outing in the front-range to me...you can COUNT on rain and hail in July on Evans/Bierstadt, you can count on people who don't have a clue and really shouldn't be in this environment, and you can count on running into some good people who will help out others in need.
Which reminds me of rule #8: You are never in charge in the mountains.
Blessings! Vince


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