My wife and I enjoy the great outdoors and for the past six years have set aside one week out of the year for backpacking in the high sierra mountain ranges of California. God has created a wonderful plethora of majestic landscapes populated with a tapestry of animals, flowers and trees. Each sunrise and sunset is a unique and spectacular display of His artists talents. Bubbling brooks, raging rivers and lucent lakes reminds me of the visible sign of our Lords omniscient presence. Ah, but the expense of getting to these precious spots involves trekking for 20 to 50 miles over steep and treacherous terrain while carrying 40 to 60 pound packs. It is not uncommon in August at elevations above 10,000 feet for night-time temperatures to plunge well below freezing. Rigorous physical conditioning usually starts 6-8 weeks before the trip.
For the trip this summer of 2001, Becky was unfortunately unable to go due to obligations at work. This trip was a bit different than the previous ones in that a group of us had been planning to summit Mt. Sill (14,100 ft. Note: Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental USA, is 14,569 ft). The complexity of the route necessitated the use of ropes and climbing gear so our preparation began 9 months earlier. On September 1, 2001 our trek began 11 miles east of Big Pine at Glacier Lodge. The team of seven assembled at Glacier Lodge and the next day departed on foot for a two day hike to Galey Camp. Galey Camp, at 12,500 ft, is situated well above the tree-line amongst the boulders and talus along the glacial cirque at the base of Mt. Sill and a host of other 14,000 peaks. The Palisade Glacier inhabits the glacial cirque and is California’s largest glacier (and the southern-most in the country). We arrived at this majestic site on the third day, exhausted after a steep trek and encountering a 1-hr hailstorm complete with lightning and thunder. The storm created a sunset that was a fire-show of brilliant reds, yellows and oranges. On the fourth day we rested and acclimated to the high altitude taking photo’s and practicing climbing moves.
Three on us set out early the following morning to climb Mt. Sill. The route initially took us along several hundred yards of steep, boulder-filled talus to the edge of the Palisade Glacier. At this point, we donned our ice crampons and ice axes and carefully walked along the 45- degree glacier slope. Our intent was to walk across the glacier to where it met the base of Mt. Sill and begin the ascent. Although I had safely traversed a glacier previously (Mt. Lyell), these conditions were unknowingly far more dangerous. The Palisade Glacier was much steeper with a surface of solid ice warranting a rating of “black ice number 3” (equivalent to a class 5 rock climb where serious injury or death could result from a fall). After only traversing 100 yards along the icy surface, the sharp teeth of my crampons slipped and I found myself sliding feet first and faster by the moment toward the abyss below. I desperately fought to perform a self-arrest by driving the tip of the ice axe into the frozen surface but it felt like a car muffler dragging across an asphalt surface. Then unexpectedly, I found myself on my back and struggled to roll over onto my stomach. It was then that the crampons on my left foot snagged the ice, twisting my ankle and rolling me onto my stomach. This slowed me down just enough so that I was able to self-arrest in a “soft” spot on the frozen surface. My icy slide ride was over but the journey to safety and medical attention was days away.
Immediately, the other six team members focused all efforts on my retreat to safety. Within 20 minutes, an experienced mountaineering emergency medical tech whom happened to be at Galey Camp, was tending to me on the frozen ice. My ankle, which surprisingly did not hurt, had no lateral movement and could not support any weight. After bandaging and splinting the ankle, I hobbled, crawled, and slid over and down rocks for eight hours with able assistants to an intermediate campsite that had been assembled. I cried. I prayed. God is merciful, God is great. Sleep that night was difficult, punctuated every 30-45 minutes by a painful and throbbing leg. The next morning I deliberately crept down the mountain for another two hours for a rendez-vous with a cowboy named Murt and a giant white gentle horse named Moose. Finally, after a 3 hr horse ride, I was at my car and civilization. Thank you Lord. Six hours later I was home, where I showered and ate some grub before being driven to the ER at 10pm. My fibia had been broken at the ankle in three places, with minimal tendon or ligament damage and no surgery needed (apparently the little walking I did helped to set the bones). My body was battered, bruised and beaten. For the next two days I slept. Many thanks for the visitors, phone calls and cards.
……On Tuesday September 11, 2001, Becky called me from work and informed me of the horrific events unfolding in New York City, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. From the comfort of my bed, I switched on the TV. For the next two days I watched in stunned silence as the tragedy unfolded about the malicious evil a group of terrorists had committed to innocent people in our homeland. I tried to rationalize, analyze the events, but could not. Who? What? Why? Where else? Over 6 thousand innocent lives lost including rescuers and good samaritans. The suffering and desolation endured by those loved ones left behind: spouses, parents, children, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, friends and co-workers. Memorial services were being held to eulogize the deceased. The suffering I had endured over the past several days paled in comparison. The loss of use of a leg for 4-6 weeks has made me more thankful for that leg. But can you imagine what the loss of a loved one, never to return, must be?
People are rallying in unity around our flag, country and God, yes God! In the days following the attacks, I have seen and felt God’s presence rise from amongst His people throughout all nations. Our towns, cities, statesman and leaders of this great nation are calling on God for comfort and peace. Songs of His praise and glory are echoing throughout our nation like never before. Why is it that for so many, a great tragedy is needed to rally to God? We should rally to God even in times of joy; singing and praising His name to all the ends of the earth. I pray that the people of our nation and around the globe, continue to outwardly and publicly praise and worship God. God has a plan for each and every one of us. For salvation is by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, from Romans 5, verses 2-5: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
In His Name, Joe Arlauskas