TABLE MOUNTAIN in Washington State isn’t exactly Mount Everest, but it sure felt that way to us. We’d spent the morning huffing and puffing up a trail through cedars and towering pines. “Trust me,” said the woman from my church who organized the The last part of the climb was tough. We had to pick our way up a rock ledge like mountain goats. I collapsed when we reached the peak. This was harder than trying to keep up with my two-year-old. I pulled out my chicken sandwich, chips and a fruit drink. I was too bushed to even admire the scenery. But after resting awhile, I decided to see what the others were gushing about.
A rock ledge jutted from one side of the mountaintop. I hopped down on it and sat. The view was breathtaking. Craggy mountains, green valleys, forests as thick as the bristles in a toothbrush. Surrounded by nature, the crisp mountain air in my nost-rils, I lost all track of time. When at last I stood up, our picnic area was empty. The others had gone. No big deal, I figured. They hadn’t realized I was missing. I’d catch up to them. They couldn’t have got very far. I circled the picnic site, search-ing for the route we’d taken—the one that would lead me back to the trail . We’d marked our route with yellow ribbons, but the others must have pocketed them while heading back . I picked a spot I thought I recognized and started climbing down.
The slope was more treacherous than I remembered. This isn’t the way, I told myself. Hike back to the top. When I looked, I realized the cliff was too sheer to climb. Down was my only option. Table Mountain wasn’t that high and sunset was hours away. There were ranger stations at the bottom. Someone would drive me back to my car. But the route grew more dangerous.
Once, twice, I slipped on rocks. I stumbled a third time, ripping my jeans and bloodying my knee. Take a deep breath. You’re halfway there. I picked myself up and started off again. I didn’t get far . I came to a rock ledge. Dead end. The forest floor was 10 feet down. I’d break my ankle if I jumped. Fear swept over me. I had no food, no water, no cell phone, no sleeping bag. I’d worn a tank top and jeans. The temperature would slip to the 40’s at night. I crawled to the edge of the ledge and peered over. If 1 hang from my hands, I thought, it will be just a five -foot drop to the ground. I found a groove in the rock to use as a handhold, and swung my body over. Oh, no ! I couldn’t support my weight. My hands gave way I fell heavily to the ground, right on that same knee . It was bleeding like crazy I sat on the ground panting, squinting in pain. I hurt too much to keep going. The wind picked up and a chill filled the air. Sunset was near. I wrapped my arms around my shoulders. I won’t make it back tonight. I began to cry
Between sobs I thought I heard whistling. I collected myself and listened closely. A songbird? No, it was a person. I leapt to my feet, ignoring the sting in my knee, and ran after it. I came to a stand of tall pines . There! A man! A big, woodsy -looking hiker dressed in a long sleeve red plaid shirt, jeans and hiking boots, a pack slung over his shoulder. He was walking into the woods. “Hey!” I yelled, and limped toward him. The man turned to me. “I’m lost,” I said, and began to sob.
“Not as long as you’re with me.” He saw my bloody knee . “Sit down. Let me take a look at that.” He eyed my cuts,. then pulled a first-aid kit from his pack. Gently he cleaned the wound with gauze,.disinfected it and covered it with a bandage.. “I think you’ll live,” he said...I calmed down and stopped crying...“Can you take me to the ranger station?”.I asked. “My family will be worried.”.. “The sun’s going down. .We .don’t .have time.. And there’s a mother bear with cubs near the trail.”. He chuckled.. “We don’t want to mess with her”
I protested, but he stopped me . “Don’t worry” he said. “The best thing for your family is for you to stay safe tonight, right?” I don’t know why I trusted him, but I did. Completely We made a campground. As night crept in, the man built a fire. I walked into the woods to gather more kindling. When I returned, he was cooking a carrot-and-beef stew It was delicious.
He didn’t talk much about himself. Mostly we talked about my family—my husband, Mitch, an Air Force captain, and baby Aidan. She’s a mommy’s girl, and was used to me telling her a bed-time story “I want to call home so badly, to let them know I’m okay” “I’ll get you to them first thing tomorrow” the man said. “I promise.” Something about his voice was so soothing. I relaxed a little, thankful that I wasn’t alone. God really does watch out for us, I thought. I fell asleep by the fire in my clothes . I’m not sure when, but sometime during the night I awoke to a growling in the distance. Twigs snapped and bushes rustled. The bear? I hugged my arms about me. The fire had burned out. It was freezing. But I was warm. The man had draped a blanket over me. Red plaid, the same as his shirt. Thank you, God, for letting me run into the hiker. I snuggled the blanket around me and drifted to sleep.
Sometime later I heard a voice, as if in a dream. “Call for help. Now ” I awoke with a start. Dawn was near. I listened. Nothing. Then, suddenly a flash of light and people shouting my name. “I’m here!” I cried. “I’m over here!” The rescue party found me wrapped in the blanket. I turned to where the man had just been sleeping. But he was gone.
No footprints, no evidence of our campfire. No sign of the hiker whatsoever. I tried to tell the rescue party about him, and was embarrassed to realize I hadn’t asked his name . “I swear he was right here,” I said. “This blanket, my bandaged knee—I didn’t have these things when the group left me.” The rescuers shrugged. I could tell that they thought my adventure had me talking nonsense. But I knew the truth.
God really does watch out for us. And I had quite an angel story for Aidan. •
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