In my youth I often went with two of my buddies to climb the high peaks of the Adirondacks. We were adventurous and began to do this in January when the tourists were all gone, and other climbers were sitting in the warmth of their living room. However, for us the back country during these frigid months was a glorious time of solitude, challenge and unmatched beauty. Thus, one late January weekend we planned to climb Mount Marcy by parking below Marcy Dam on Friday afternoon. We would hike past Indian Falls and make it to the table land below the mountain by dark. After sleeping that night at the base of the mountain in lean-to #1 we would make the climb the next day and then hike back out.
I knew I would get a late start on Friday so I told the guys to go ahead and I would meet them at the agreed upon location after dark. That afternoon I was rushing to make up lost time and quickly grabbed my pack, some extra food, warm socks and gloves and headed for the area east of Lake Placid, NY. My friends had a two hour jump of me when I finally parked my jeep at the trail entrance below Marcy Dam. By the time I reached the dam there was about an hour of light left so I began to push myself hard up the trail towards Indian Falls. It was well after dark, my flashlight was nearly gone and I was tired and hungry by the time I made the falls. Thus, I decided to camp there for the night and meet my friends early the next morning.
As I set up camp and opened my pack I was stunned to realize what was inside. I had mistakenly taken my summer pack and out fell a sleeping bag that was better suited for a July evening at the lake then a January night in the wilderness. With that realization I decided to make the best of my situation and put on my extra clothes, get in the sleeping bag and just tough it out through the night. I ate the nuts, cheese and chocolate I brought with me to boost my energy, said a brief prayer and then fixed my mind on the fact that I was alone and must deal with a long, cold night.
That night there was a massive arctic cold front that ripped across the region. As it blew in from Canada the wind picked up and the temperature plunged. My thermometer read -10, -20 and finally -30 degrees. I could hear the loud “pop” of Spruce trees as the sub-zero cold froze and expanded the sap, breaking wood fibers deep within them. I laid there from 6pm till about 1:30 the next morning doing isometrics and trying to stay warm. However, as the grip of cold got worse I was shaking and getting groggy and knew I had to do something to keep from freezing to death.
At about 2am I knew had to get up and start a fire. The light and warmth it created would make all the difference in that bone-chilling cold. Even if I was exhausted in the morning, at least I would be warm and alive. I crawled out into the blistering cold and found a covered area to build a fire. As I was getting down to my last match I managed to light a small bundle of dry birch bark and pine twigs. As they caught fire the yellow flame that sprang up was a thing of amazing beauty and it lifted my spirits. Best of all the heat it released began to warm me and settle my heart that all would be fine.
As I leaned back and pulled out my old coffee pot to melt snow and boil water for hot tea, something caught my eye. It was just a slight wiggle above my head but in the soft flicker of the fire I could not quite make out what was there. I threw a few more dry branches on the fire to increase the flames and turned to get a tea bag when it happened. The heat from the fire warmed the air above and the “wiggle” I noticed turned into an avalanche of snow. The warmth of the fire had released it from the branches above and the moment it fell it smothered my fire and my hopes of surviving the night.
I sat there surrounded by smoke and hissing wood. It stunned me and caused a rising panic to nearly choke the breath out of me. I had all I could do to calm my thoughts but in that forced moment of peace I made one last decision. I had to get back to my jeep if I was going to survive the night. Thus, I was shaking like a leaf from the cold, but as calmly as I could I gathered my pack together, put on all the warm clothes I had I headed back to Marcy Dam without a flashlight.
The light of the moon was bright that night and it was enough for me to just see the trail ahead. At times I still made wrong turns and found myself off the trail in a moonlit forest. Even though I ended up in unmarked areas I still knew the basic heading by the stars and continued a straight downhill course towards where I believed Marcy Dam would be. All that night I found my way around steep ledges and deep ravines. I pressed through thick brush and blow-downs deep in the Adirondacks. Just as the sun was showing on the horizon, by some miracle I came straight out of the woods less than a 500 yards above the crossing at Marcy Dam.
In total exhaustion I walked the final leg of the trail to my Jeep. My legs were shaky and I was more cold, hungry and tired than I had ever been. Most of all I was glad to be back in civilization and was looking forward to a hot cup of coffee and a solid breakfast. As I sat in my Jeep and turned the key my heart sank. The bitter cold had killed the battery and there was not enough juice in it to turn the engine over. My starter made a few sharp clicks, my lights went dim and then everything stopped. At that moment I just sat there and began to cry. I put my head on the steering wheel and said “God is this what it’s like to die?” and I leaned against the side window and started to fall asleep.
As I began to drift off I felt myself being lifted out of the jeep and carried away. I really thought I was dying and being carried to heaven. To my surprise I heard two male voices and then found myself wrapped in an electric blanket and given multiple cups of hot coffee. In God’s providence I had parked my jeep near the driveway of a camp that was owned by two families. The husbands, for no reason, both awoke that morning with an unexplained urge to check on their camp. As they drove up and made the turn, one of the men spotted me in my Jeep leaning against the window. When they opened the door I was alive but groggy. They quickly pulled me from the vehicle and decided the best thing to do was warm me up in their camp. Within an hour I was fully awake, had been given a jump start for my Jeep and I was on my way home.
God had certainly found me in a “waste howling wilderness” as it says in Deuteronomy 32:10 and He had “kept me as the apple of His eye”. Even before I really knew Him, His watchful eye was upon me, keeping me safe. He had guided me back to the dam and provided help when I was unable to help myself. This is the kind of God our God is. His love is amazing and His heart is for us. If I ever doubt how much He loves me, this encounter changes my concept of Him every time. Perhaps it will change your idea of Him as well. If you are struggling with the idea of the surrendered life to God, remember my night in the mountains and know that He is most certainly watching over you!