There often exists a fine line between adventurous zeal and myopic irresponsibility. My husband and I have erased it several times in several places. In one quite memorable case, God protected us, strengthened us and blew our socks off.
It was nearing the end of summer 1994. Our plates were typically full and overflowing, so inserting a family vacation into the agenda was more of a desperate attempt at escape than a wise well-planned excursion. Backpacking into the Northern Cascades fit our budget, desire for the wild places (us more than the kids) and need to regroup as a family unit before school began. Sahali’s Arm, a pristine glacier, beckoned with promise, proximity, and high recommendations from a seasoned backpacking friend.
A six-hour drive took my husband, me and three of four daughters to the trailhead outside of Marblemount, WA. Upon registration, the folks at the ranger station mentioned that children do not normally ascend the Arm. We were undaunted. The first day consisted of an easy six miles up a series of switchbacks on a well worn forested trail culminating in a wooded streamside campsite shared by man-eating deerflies. They seemed to revel in our arrival.
By day two we anticipated a glorious departure from flies, woods, and life as we knew it. A couple more miles of steady movement upward and onward took us beyond the tree line to more of an open boulder strewn surface peppered by glacial tarns and boggy crossings. Under a cloudless sky our party of five trekked up into the unknown. What we hadn’t planned for or anticipated was the final half mile of scree, a narrowing trail and steepened pitch demanding we use both hands and feet half of the time. Intense focus and motivation inspired by raw fear and stubbornness impelled us forward and up. A quarter mile down to the right sat a glistening teal lake. Were any of us to slip there was nothing to catch a fall…no room for mistakes. I hadn’t thought to bring ropes. A growing panic restrained me from looking back as the weight of our precarious situation doubled gravity’s internal pull.
Our emerging adolescent at the time spoke of reporting us to CSD. The other two offered surly glares between pantings.
Too breathless to talk we crawled…and prayed… By early evening we had reached the summit, a flattened expanse of ice with six rock outcroppings each just large enough to accommodate a tent. Potable water ran clear from under its edges. Surrounded by a 360 degree view of snow-covered mountain peaks we made camp, ate, then gathered to snuggle up in down parkas/ sleeping bags and watch the sunset while temperatures plummeted. We could hear distant glaciers thunderously calving. An ineffable mystical Presence blanketed our weary and relieved group of hikers with grace, supplanting earlier fears with gratitude, filling hearts and minds with the peace which surpasses all understanding. We sat in silence and drank it in.