This story is from about 8 years ago when Doug and I were still fairly newly married, although in many ways, the emotions are still so vivid that it feels like yesterday. We had just moved into our first house and both loved spending lots of time in the mountains. We spent a lot of our weekends rock climbing and hiking aroudnn the mountains of the northwest. For as long as I had known them, Doug and his cousin Ryan had wanted to do a one day ascent of Mt. Baker. This is a giant of a mountain (almost 11,000 feet) that lurks up near the Washington Cananda border. So, happily, one Saturday morning, they headed out and I stayed behind to nest in our house.
I knew that they would not get home until the middle of the night sometime as the drive to the mountain alone was close to 3 hours (one way) so as night fell, I was not worried. Then, my phone rang and it ws a number that I did not recognize. When I answered, this is what I heard, "Is this the wife of Doug Miller? We recieved a distress call, he is stranded of top of Mt. Baker. We are starting a search and rescue team to get he and his cousin down. I will be honest with you mam, I have done a lot of these calls and the only way he will make it down alive is if he knows you are at the bottom waiting for him." I dropped to my knees sobbing, only God could save my husband and his cousin (one of our best friends). Scared to death, I called my sister and she and her husband came and got me to take me to the trailhead to wait for Doug.
The drive was surreal, watching traffic out the windows and just begging the Lord with everything in me to save these guys. I remember saying over and over again, "please bring them home, please bring them home." They were good climbers, smart guys, they loved the Lord...please Lord save them. I knew that they were good climbers but I also knew that they had decided not to bring sleeping bags as they were doing a one day push and thought keeping things "light and fast" would be better. Reaching the trailhead was even more surreal. I felt my stomach lurch as I looked around, an ambulance was there, the Red Cross, a full radio van for trying to contact the guys and the search and rescue climbers were starting to assemble. Also, parked just as normal as could be was our 4 Runner looking ready for Doug and Ryan to drive it home to safety. The sheriff met us with a sober face. He explained what was happening.
First of all....Doug and Ryan had made it to the top of the mountain when a storm rolled in, a whiteout. They could not get their bearings and Ryan had almost stepped off a cliff. So they decided to dig a snowcave and hunker down to wait out the storm. Ryan (Doug's cousin) had become very sick at this point due to altitude and exertion so he was resting in the cave. Doug went outside the cave and with his little FRS radio ( usually they only have a range of a few miles) decided to try to call for help. Honestly, at this point, he didn't think they were in much danger, just in for a cold, wet night. But he knew that I would worry so he wanted someone to call me (smart husband)! So, he started scanning stations and anytime he heard anything he would break in with "this is an emergency." He did this for quite awhile and was about to give up when a man driving in is car with a ham radio...90 MILES AWAY...heard Doug's call. Thankfully, that man called the sheriff rather than just calling me. The man stayed on the same frequency with Doug and they determined that Doug would check in every hour to let them know how they were doing. So the radio van was set up at the trailhead to do just that.
The Sheriff looked me straight in the eyes and grimly said, "I have to tell you that they have missed the last three check-ins. You need to prepare yourself that we will probably be bringing your husband's body down the mountain." Stunned, I quickly said I needed some alone time and crawled into our 4 Runner. In the back I found Doug's blue sleeping bag, his Bible and some of his clothes. I pulled on his clothes and sleeping bag, willing myself to be as close as I could to him, opened his Bible and prayed. I wept and prayed, emptying out every tear I felt was in me. I thought about the future, what it would be like to be alone, what the next day would bring, how would I say goodbye. Curled up in the pile of my husband's things, I placed my trust in the Lord, that no matter what happened, no matter what the next day held...I would walk it with him.
I must have dozed off and awoke to someone pounding on the car window. They had contact with the climbers! I ran to the radio van only to have them take one worried look at me and slam the doors shut. I paced and waited and finally they opened the doors to let me know that during the night, Ryan had started feeling better but Doug was severly hypothermic. They asked me if I would like to say my last words to my husband. My head reeled, all I could choke out is, "I love you, come back to me!" and he weakly said, "I love you too..." Could that really be the last time I heard his voice? Not knowing what else to do, I paced and prayed some more.
Now, up on the moutain the storm was thickening. The sheriff said that they would not send a team up if it meant risking the team's life. I told him that I understood, we would wait and pray. Search and rescue people milled around everywhere. I walked through the snow praying for a miracle.... Out of nowhere the roar of snowmobiles reverberated through the trees! A crew of snowmobilers came riding up and said they heard there was a rescue and that they would like to help. The sheriff took them aside but said I could come. He said, "I am taking my sheriff hat off now. I know that it is illegal to go to the top of the mountain on snowmobile but... have you guys done it?" Sheepishly they looked at the ground and nodded, "about 10 times sir..." The sheriff asked, "Are you willing to go now?", "You bet we are!" Things spun into motion as the search and rescue teams loaded up and jumped on the back of the snowmobiles, revving up the mountain.
I do not think that I will ever forget when the next thing we heard from the rescue team, " we got sites on them! ...they are both walking!!!...we got hands on!!!!" We wept and wept at this news...they were alive and walking!!!!!! How did it happen?
Back up on the mountain, after the radio call where Doug and I last spoke, Ryan knew that he had to do something. Doug had hit the point of hypothermia where he was halucinating and feeling warm, he had stopped shivering (this is the final phase before death). So Ryan harnessed Doug up and clipped him in to the rope. He pulled them outside into the whiteout. Just as he started to try to look and see where they should go...the clouds parted and for about 15 seconds (do you hear that...they parted in a whiteout!!!), Ryan was able to look and pinpoint exactly where they were on the map and get a compass bearing on where they should go. The clouds came back in and Ryan literally started pulling Doug down the mountain. As he was tumbling down the mountain, somehow, Doug began to warm up, began to be more concious and walk on his own. One more time, the clouds parted (again, in a whiteout!!!!!) and as they did, Doug and Ryan saw two things. First, they were about to head into an endless crevass field wher they would have been totally lost and second, they looked up to their right and saw the rescue team standing on the ridge (thus "we have sites on them). The clouds came in again and they headed up the ridge to the snowmobiles ("we have hands on").
About 15 minutes later, we again heard snowmobiles. I did not know what to expect. The ambulance pulled up ready to take the guys...but instead, they both stepped off the snowmobiles on their own. We held each other and cried and thanked God...really speechless that we were all there, standing, breathing...alive.
I still feel pretty speechless when I tell this story....speechlessly thankful for the miracles that God did. For a radio that should have only reached a few miles that instead reached a little car 90 miles away. For Ryan's courage to pull Doug down the mountain, for clouds that parted at just the right time, not once but twice, for snowmobilers who showed up in the nick of time and risked their lives to go up that mountain. I can still remember sitting, shaking, in that ambulance between Doug and Ryan as they laughed and drank hot chocolate. I can still remember getting to drive them home, no hospital visit needed...and the days that followed as we three huddled up in our little home recuperating and celebrating....lives never to be the same.
"Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight."
I started reading Matthew today as part of NT 75...it is a group of people who are reading through the New Testament together in 75 days and sharing what they learn as they go along. Today, as I read again the beginning of Jesus' life on earth I was struck by how many times Satan tried to thwart things and how at the exact right moment the Lord stepped in. When Joseph heard about Mary being pregnant he was about to leave her, but an angel came and redirected him, Herod tried to find and kill Him as an infant but the Lord warned Joseph in a dream to go a different way.
Just yesterday, someone emailed me saying that they felt like the Lord was leading them to adopt but they were worried about the timing. That is SUCH a good concern and one that we struggled with too. As I rambled along in my response, what I found myself saying, and feeling again this morning as I read Matthew and even as I re-read this story (not because of the risks the guys took but because of the power of God that we experienced. I am NOT saying go climb a crazy mountain with little to no gear)...I found myself saying, "RUN towards what the Lord has for you." If you feel Him nudging run, jump, risk because He is far more powerful, far more able and has plans far better than you could ever imagine. Jump in with both feet because when you are following the Lord's voice, on the other side of risk is life.
I don't know if these make sense together for anyone else but they do for me! Be blessed today :)
In our Memorial Box? One very crumpled and weather worn map of Mt. Baker and a picture of the three of us as we met at the trailhead.