There was nothing but 30 feet of air and rocks beneath me when I slipped. The world rotates in slow motion. I did my best to flex my arms and legs as I stumbled, hitting hard on trees and rocks, but there was nothing I could do to slow my pace. Finally, it landed like a vortex in the snow.
This was my second day on Mount Hood. I was wounded, soaked in water, and frozen. My feet had been numb for a long time, and no one knew where I was. Then it hit me: I was going to die here.
I’ve been trying to climb this mountain since I first laid eyes on it. It was in 2010, when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I had turned to see the summit shining in the sunlight, and she took me. I looked at her and thought: I will come back for you.
But for the next three years, flight after flight was disrupted. So when I befriended a former mountaineering guide who agreed to take me, I told everyone I knew that my time had finally come. Only my parents were worried. My dad made me promise I wouldn’t climb alone.
The trip is planned for a Saturday in April. But as Friday night came, I got an email: My boyfriend didn’t like the look of the weather. When I read his decision to cancel the trip, I was disappointed. Regardless, I thought I remember how easy it felt to cross the steep ice on PCT and how my instincts had always pushed me into tough situations before. I’m going there anyway.
Early on a Saturday morning, I slipped out of my college apartment and drove two hours north to Mt. St. Helens to test my kit. After hiking near the base, I added leggings and runners to my checklist. Then I packed an ice ax, cloth and snacks and headed to Mount Hood.
Before crawling to the back of the truck in the parking lot of Timberline Lodge, I said a little prayer: Oh my God, please wake me up when it’s time to climb.
him too; At 2 am, I opened my eyes. But it was cold, so it rolled. This wouldn’t be the first time I had ignored God’s warnings in the coming days.
When I woke up again, it was 10 AM, feeling rushed by my late start, I went up the mountain. It was more than 5,000 vertical feet from the starting point at the lodge to the summit. As it gained altitude, the temperature dropped and the clouds drifted inland.
A lonely division man seemed wary as I walked past. “Be safe,” he said. He was the last person I spoke to over the next six days.
So far the clouds have been spinning. Visibility fluctuates between 50 feet and five feet. All around me, wind-sculpted ice peaks rose from the snow like strange creatures. I walked for hours, sure I was on the summit path and the weather would calm down any minute. Then the fog storm blew aside, revealing a translucent rock wall, black with painted ice. The path was nowhere to be seen.
I stopped and evaluated the situation. My running shoes and gloves were wet. I had no idea where I was. I need to get off this mountain, I believed. So you turned. But the snow was falling profusely, wiping my traces. I couldn’t figure out which way it was.
I threw a snowball down the hillside and followed the direction of the roll, increasing my pace until I almost ran. Before long, I was moving in a controlled slide. Once, I slid to a stopping point just as the mist faded aside–Exposing a slit about four feet inches wide from my toes. My heart jumped. I need to slow downI believed.
By then it was dark, and I had been walking around for about ten hours, but the thought of sitting down and waiting for the quest party made me feel ashamed. So I kept walking, kicking myself for not bringing a map.
The next time I checked my phone, which was out of service and about to run out, it was 2am, and I was exhausted. I spread my tarp on the snow and wrapped the coat around myself, thinking I’d only sleep a little.
I woke up a few hours later, stiff with fatigue but desperate to keep moving. On the slopes, the snow was too deep to move around, so I instead made my way up a ridge. As I climbed, the hills grew steeper and more difficult. I pulled my ice ax for leverage. I put it in a rock, I pulled myselfAnd I felt my fist slip off the end of the handle. Suddenly I fell into the rocks and air.
It took a minute for the pain to start. I had an eight inch wound on my inner thigh, and my ankle was severely sprained. I couldn’t walk.
I took a deep breath, and for the first time in about 48 hours, I prayed: Oh God, help me get off this mountain. That’s when I realized that God did not exist.
Since I was a child, I have felt God’s presence as a real and constant presence in my life. But now, for the first time, I was looking into the void. I was alone. Terror overflowed.
I dug a shallow cave, rammed the snow with my good feet, and sat on my tarp. Then I set my camera to record.
First, I talked to my father. I told them I loved them, and that I was sorry. I told them with tears that I know that God is good even though he does not answer my prayers. I wanted them to know that much. It hurts to think of all the loose ends I’m going to leave behind. I told my brothers and friends that I loved them. After a few minutes of recording, I was shaking so badly that I could no longer speak.
I spent the next day in the cave, hoping someone would find me. I filled my bottle with ice and breathed in it to dissolve the crystals, and fell asleep.
On a Tuesday morning, I woke up to avalanches streaming over the edge of my snowy cave. You need to get out.
Wrapping my hands in a tarp for protection, I began crawling through the snow toward the valley. It only took me hours to move 100 feet. Exhausted, I dug another shallow depression and rested, trying to regain my strength. So far, I only had a couple of granola bars and some chia seeds left.
Over the next two days, my hope waned. Hours passed and I shivered and waited, periodically screaming in case someone was looking for me. I thought about throwing myself over the canyon wall just to bring the inevitable end closer, but the thought of my family made me pause for a bit. Despite my misery, I still had a firm will to live. It was like a horrific burning ball of light that wouldn’t be extinguished.
Then, Friday morning, I woke up to a voice: Don’t worry about what you will eat, what you will drink, or what you will wear tomorrow. Thousands of people are praying for you. I felt a tremor. It was as if the world had exploded from black and white to color: God was with me after all.
A little later I saw the first search plane. I waved, screaming, sure he saw me. But as I waited, minutes turned into hours, and the plane never came back. I spent the night on the hills, feeling my spirits sink. Then the stars began to appear, winking one by one like old friends. Like sparks of hope.
The next morning, I packed my bag and waited as the sun rose behind Mount Hood, casting its shadows over Portland. As I looked out into the hills, I saw what I had been waiting for: a helicopter rose to meet my gaze, two pilots waved ecstatically through the windshield. I screamed and waved. When they landed, one of the rescuers ran towards me. He offered to carry me to the waiting helicopter, but I shook my head. I can do this.
I started crawling. The savior nodded and got down on his hands and knees to crawl beside me. I smiled at his kind gesture: The darkness is over.