Rounding the steep corner, I hum to myself in rich contentment, completely unaware of the surprise that waits ahead on this exhilarating hike. Mentally reciting the spectacular views already witnessed, the colorful wildlife observed, I’m thankful for the privilege of being out among it. I started this trail at dawn and the sun is rising without hesitation; how time passes so quickly when you’re having fun. I’m relieved this first leg of the summit is in the midst of shading oak and pines. I take a deep breath; the pine scent is sweet, delicious. Better enjoy the cool shade while you can, drink it in Marybeth!
As I reach another switchback I’m graced with an encouraging glimpse of the dignified, high peaks rising with towering ambition far ahead. It looks as though I’m more than half way up this beautiful mountain; I estimate the elevation at 6,500 feet. I’m excited, and feeling very alive, pacing myself to maintain a reserve of energy on the back burner, waiting for the even more strenuous climb to come. The last leg of the climb is always the hardest. It’s almost as though the pinnacle has called out the challenge: come-and-get-me-if-you-can. I’m dialed-in and ready to meet that challenge so I power forward, and disregard my complaining knees.
Suddenly, the outer edge of the trail gives way under the pressure of my step, propelling me painfully down the side of the mountain. Large waves of the rock slide that I have created begin to overtake me. I slide on my abdomen, head first, when one of my trekking poles catches the edge of a protruding rock spinning me a full 180, now I am sliding feet first. A large boulder flips me onto my back; I am struggling to gain purchase. Purchase of anything, I don’t care, anything to stop me from hurtling over the mountains edge into the valley far below. It’s a long way down and I’m approaching the edge with what seems to be a terminal velocity. The mountainside is loose sand and pebbled shale, absolutely nothing is solid except the occasional jutting large and very sharp rock, deeply entrenched studded outcrops, but too far away from my frantic grasps. I spot a felled tree, oh please let that stop me, I prepare to grab hold of it but I’m too fast, I have such intense momentum that I smack agonizingly sideways into the end of the log …I can’t breathe, the air is knocked out of me!
… then I am sailing, flung into the atmosphere, I’m actually catapulted over the downed tree and land in an excruciatingly, bone-jarring, slide. My bloody rag-doll body is scattering more rock and debris. I’m choking on the dust cloud that my landing has created, worsening my shortness of breath. I’m utterly engulfed with pain, I can’t be distracted! I am approaching the edge at a thundering, terrorizing rate, reaching impossibly, willing my body to lengthen; I must grab that tree stump.
I continue to scramble, I’m mute with fear and adrenalin. It wouldn’t have mattered if I did cry out; I’m alone, breaking a cardinal hiking rule. I am struggling to clear my mind; normal thought process is hammered, my perception is completely bulldozed. I’m now only a few feet from the edge, reflexively digging my heels deep into the slack ground beneath me, when miraculously they catch. My “brakes” work, I’m at least temporarily spared from a horrible, pain- ridden, fall to certain death.
I catch my breath, forcing myself to breathe slowly, deeply but I’m only partly successful. I begin to access my tenuous situation, I must clear my head. I am in very deep trouble without a viable rescue plan. The dust-filled air is silent but for the lingering, sporadic clatter of pebbles and the sound of my heavy breathing. Or is it that I can’t hear anything over the sound of the thundering pulse in my ears?
Crazy, have I hit my head? I hear a voice, am I hallucinating? Carefully I turn my head ever-so slightly in the direction of The Voice. Out of my peripheral vision I can see men frantically tying rope to a tree and someone is heading my way, causing more rock and sand to begin a secondary rock slide; I fear this will engage an additional slide under me. Terror grips me.
Lord, show them how to be careful, cautious. But … somehow make them hurry! Using the slight delay to steel myself, I pray they be mindful as to just how close they get to me, I’m far from solid ground and by no stretch of the imagination is my position stable. How long is their rope and just how long will my “brakes” hold?
Just as I question that, I slide several more inches, my heart is booming an erratic beat against my chest, my face a mask of fearful tension mixed with determination. I am applying savage pressure to my weakening “brakes”, well beyond what I’m capable of, reaching within myself for that extra resolve. I claw at the ground for additional traction, useless, it relents none.
I need a miracle. Just then a looped rope is passed over my head, I instinctively raise one arm at a time, being intensely careful to limit my movement, over the loop and it tightens. I slip a few more inches; there just aren’t very many inches left! I’m frantic, fighting panic, I’m wild with fear that is desperate to unleash. I’m shaking uncontrollably. The Voice is close to me now; I’m being reassured that everything will be alright. I slightly nod my acknowledgment, not as confident as The Voice; my entire life is in the strength of this rope and a stranger’s ability to tow me in it.
A hail of rock, dirt and shale-gravel assault my head from above me, I tuck my chin into my chest and clamp my arms around my knees, I am a frightened, tight ball. I am then hauled a few inches up, and then The Voice is being hauled up a bit. We seesaw like this for what seems like eternity, The Voice continues to speak assurances to me, reaching out to touch my arm, the slightest contact better than none at all. My trousers and pack are filling with gravel as I’m being dragged uphill, the rock tearing into soft tissue. The rope is painfully biting into my flesh and fairly new scar tissue across my chest, burning, yet I’m grateful for the pain. It tells me I’m alive … at least so far.
The men get me to the trail, moving me to the uphill side. I’m immensely indebted but I am still unable to speak. This was really an intense screw-up on my part! I know better than to step to the outside edge of the trail. One of the men asks if I’m alright and I nod my response. I need a moment, maybe a few hours actually, to collect myself. The Voice is now sitting on the trail, taking in big gulps of air, he’s a big guy. Tears well in my eyes at the sight of him and the men who had the challenging rope duty. Finally I am able to speak my gratitude, wondering at the fortuitous timing of their arrival. After full inspection for broken bones or bad sprains from the initial fall, the “rope team” has bandaged me in just about every exposed part of my body, blood is already soaking through a two of them. I can already feel the bruising, but I’m grateful that I will be able to descend under my own power; nothing is broken, thank You God. I then inventory lost equipment.
I assure them that I am recovered. I’ve been poked, stabbed, abraded, bruised, flung, slammed, slashed .… most likely a few stitches here and there. . . and scraped but I’m not beaten. The equipment lost are non-essential. I decline their offer to escort me back to my vehicle and wave good-bye; smiling like I haven’t smiled in months as I watch these “good Samaritans” continue their journey. I notice that The Voice is still shaking his head in a can-you-believe-what-just-happened and I nod to myself in an amazed “no-kidding!”
Lord, thank You! I am alive to thank You … oh, Lord! I’m battered, but alive!
I decide to sit and rest a while longer; my hands are still shaking, and my heart rate hasn’t gotten quite back to normal yet. Wow. Look at what the Lord has done for me today! I thank Him for sending the men at that particular time, this particular trail with the particular equipment that they had. Belatedly, I realize that it didn’t make sense, their having climbing equipment for this trail. I look again at the trail ahead, to call out to them. I haven’t even asked their names and I want to ask why they had climbing gear but I can no longer see them, yet I can see quite a distance up the trail. I blink several times, maybe there’s dirt in my eyes. No, they simply aren’t there.
Were these good Samaritans or were they angels? Bottom line is, I’m extremely grateful that miracles still happen!
NOTE: Always, ALWAYS step to the inside edge of the trail! The outer edge is unpredictable and unreliable. Do not hike solo! You never know when you will need a hand. 🙂
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