I’d like to say that we followed the Light into the wilderness. In reality we headed off into the mountains unprepared and the Light accompanied us, knowing we would need divine intervention.
Years ago my husband and I decided to take our teenage daughters on a hike over the continental divide in Colorado (12,000+ elevation). The payoff, we knew from past experience, was a natural hot springs set at 11,000 ft. high above the clouds: an ineffable experience. Knowledgeable hikers encouraged us to try a new ascension route requiring two days to get to Conundrum (the springs), but allowing us to embark from a trailhead hours closer to us.
After gathering all of the necessary supplies, packing and unpacking to lighten our monster packs, we were driven to the trailhead, ten miles from the closest signs of humanity. Empowered by a sense of adventure and a certain amount of confidence which occluded our true naiveté and inexperience, we set off. That first day we hiked until dusk, with blue skies morphing into mist and drizzle and the tree line left behind. Around 9,000 feet we set camp beside a mountain tarn, finding old pieces of a crashed plane to protect our meager fire from the mountain winds. Cold, wet, and tired, our tent became a welcoming sanctuary within which the four of us managed to find a measure of warmth and comfort. The second day began with more inclement weather, but our spirits were bolstered by the promise of a blissful soak in 102 degree water.
Approaching the higher altitudes around noon the next day, a well-worn path gave way to a boulder-strewn field covering the next quarter mile. Avalanches from the previous winter had obliterated any semblance of trail. For miles around we could only see mountain peaks, steep escarpments and now a leg-breaking/crushing boulder field. With the understanding that injured limbs posed disturbing ramifications for all involved, we gingerly and prayerfully began the arduous trek over 3-6 foot rocks. Three hours later, with that particular scare behind us, we still could find no semblance of a path, signs of humanity, of life, a campfire, any clue as to where we were or where we should go. Trudging along with lungs gasping for oxygen, my confidence and faith appeared as bedraggled as the rest of me. Just as the sun descended behind a high ridge, we dropped into a valley of greenery beyond which we spied steam rising in the distance….and the path for which we had so desperately searched. Temperatures had already plummeted into the 40’s by the time we dragged our weary bodies into the hot alpine pool.
Were it not for an old forestry shack 80 yards from the springs, hypothermia would have become our reality that night. The doorless structure kept us from getting completely soaked by the continuous rain, and we awoke to the comforting magic of sunshine. Buoyed by warmth, food, and a sense of God’s protection and grace, we were then able to hike the 12 miles back to civilization. Our little group survived cold, discouragement, fear, panic, and harsh mountain weather. Despite ourselves, we were protected, guided, provided for and comforted by an almighty Presence. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”