Last week I joined three other men on a harrowing 40-mile high-Cascade ski mountaineering expedition called the Ptarmigan Traverse. I had wanted to hike this route my entire adult life. When an experienced mountaineer pastor friend of mine invited me to join him in skiing it, despite my lymphoma treatments, I jumped at the opportunity and began seriously training.
For six days beginning May 1 we traversed steep mountain slopes, climbed up and skied down high-mountain passes, and ascended glaciers. On the second and third full days we experienced unexpected whiteout conditions, requiring us to navigate almost exclusively by GPS.
Our final descent to camp atop the frozen Kool Aid Lakes at the end of day two was in the dark. I wondered how I could experience God then and there illuminating my every turn through avalanche debris-strewn slopes as Psalm 119:105 states: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
I prayed continuously as we descended and traversed, experiencing something closer to Isaiah 50:10:
“Who is among you that fears the Lord, that hears the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.”
We were glad to make it to Kool Aid Lakes by headlamp, without falling.
On the next day the whiteout conditions continued as we ascended alongside the massive glacier on Mount Formidable. With a 60 pound pack slipping or sliding backwards felt like a major setback, and cliffs below us were not comforting. I sought to experience Psalm 17:4, “My steps have held fast to your paths. My feet have not slipped,” and experienced a kind of insecure security as we broke out above the clouds to find ourselves in a gorgeous paradise at the Spider-Formidable Col, where we made camp at 7320 feet.
The following morning we awoke to clear skies. What a relief that we were going to be able to see where we were going on treacherous terrain! We made it without incident to White Rock Lakes. However on the fourth night the wind picked up, knocking down our snow wall and thrashing our tent, and the clouds engulfed us once again. It was then that I found myself feeling an old but familiar sense of impending doom.
What was I doing on this mountain, risking my life at a time when Gracie and I are feeling like we’re in the prime of our ministry lives? I remembered how I’d surrendered my life to Jesus during a snowstorm half way up El Capitan in Yosemite in 1976, when I thought all was lost.
I recalled how clearly I felt called to give up serious mountain climbing while on the edge of Mount Blanc in France in 1978, after some 150 climbers had lost their lives in the Alps that summer. I was experiencing a higher calling, which really then did take off shortly after my final serious alpine ascents there in Chamonix at the peak of my climbing career.
Now the weather was closing in around us and I found myself repenting. “Jesus, forgive me for going back to taking unnecessary risks in the mountains, which I’d left behind to follow you. Have mercy on us! Save us! We don’t want to be navigating by GPS through potentially even more dangerous terrain tomorrow!”
On the fifth day we awoke to sunny skies and began another challenging day traversing, one person at a time, below corniced mountain ridges across avalanche-prone slopes.
That entire day as we skied across, up and over the final massive mountain pass near Dome Peak and down to another frozen lake (Cub Lake), I sought to tune into God’s words to me, as Isaiah 30:21 and Psalm 32:9 declare:
“Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.”
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
As I followed the track up the mountain and skied down over the passes and through trees (and over trees) towards the trailhead at the end of Downy Creek, I experienced a mixture of exhaustion and delight as Psalm 17:5 was being realized: “My steps have held fast to your paths. My feet have not slipped.”
I return home with a new sense of the value of life and renewed appreciation for those I love and this adventure that continues. Tuesday night at Tierra Nueva I worshipped with our faith community, experiencing Psalm 26:12.
“My foot stands on a level place; In the congregations I shall bless the Lord.”
I continue to be aware of my need to be lead by the Spirit as we navigate our path forward every day in these complex times. May God richly bless and guide you too!
For more reflections on reading the Bible in rapport with everyday life, see Bob Ekblad, Guerrilla Gospel: Reading the Bible for Liberation in the Power of the Spirit.
To support Bob & Gracie in their ministry with Tierra Nueva and The People’s Seminary click here.