by Jim Ginn
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound...
One shining morning in August, 1997, Jim Segaar and I confidently set out with ice axes and heavy backpacks to conquer the summit of Washington's second highest mountain, 12,280' Mt. Adams. How hard could it be? We had summited the much more challenging Mt. Rainier the previous August. On this adventure we wouldn't traverse treacherous glaciers. We simply had to climb the volcano's south flank through remote coniferous forest and alpine meadows to the timberline, and then continue up a steep snow field to the summit. It was the same snowfield that, during the first half of the 1900's, miners had traveled with pack mules carrying sulphur from pits on the summit.
Our adventure began well. Almost before we knew it we had climbed to the 9000' rocky plateau known as the "lunch counter". Here, over the years, climbers had fashioned semi-sheltered camp sites amongst the boulders. We chose one of the best sites, and lightened our loads of any gear not required for the 3000' push to the summit. It was a great relief.
We laboriously stepped our way up the snow field, and hours later dragged ourselves to the summit, exhausted, but victorious. As we arrived, the only other climbers that remained high on the mountain were heading down. We enjoyed our peaceful solitude relishing the views and snapping selfies in triumphant poses above the surrounding wilderness stretching in every direction far below. The only thing that tarnished the experience was a slightly sick feeling that we attributed to the stench of sulfur fumes from a volcanic vent nearby.
Soon we plunged in broad steps down to the 11,500' false summit where we paused for a rest. When the time came to move on, Jim Segaar didn't feel well enough to get up. He was seriously suffering from altitude sickness. In the waning hours of the afternoon, our situation had turned. And we were alone. With some anxious coaxing Jim mustered the mental and physical strength to resume our descent. With each foot of decreasing elevation the effects of his illness gradually diminished, and my anxiety faded. By the time we saw the setting sun reflecting off the roof of our tent we were practically leaping across the boulders. We had made it!
Later as we lay on our sleeping pads gazing up at the Milky Way galaxy, we both felt a humbling sense of gratitude and awe...and for me an increasing ache that signaled the existence of a stress fracture. By morning I could scarcely bear weight on my bruised and swollen foot. Our remaining descent would be slow and painful.
I can't remember when it finally dawned on us that we were off trail. Perhaps it was atop the rocky cliffs that we hadn't navigated on our ascent. Using my ice axe as a crutch we carefully lowered ourselves through the rocks to an unfamiliar, unmarked plateau. Lost.
For the first time in my life fear overcame the Whiteaker restraint in me, and I let fly with long-repressed, visceral curses mixed with earnest prayers for deliverance.
"Bring us home!"
"You must change your life."
Silence. There are times when you can hear your own heart.
With no map, but with hope and a compass, we pressed on. We came upon a trail. We chose the correct direction. We found our way. And we forged ahead to even greater adventures.
Life's inner wilderness experiences, even more than actual ones, provide profound challenges and opportunities. Through it all, I would like to believe that the weathered varnish of my smug religiosity is gradually stripped away freeing my soul to sing with ever clearer resonance those beloved familiar words. "I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see." Because, for me, this Grace is less about a one-time miraculous act of deliverance, and is more an open-ended, often gritty becoming.
"Dear God, what the #%&@ just happened? Please help me learn to see. Amen."
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist