Today I was grateful for the years I have been building my physical, mental, financial, and spiritual strength because all were required as I led a group of about 20 young ladies on a hike to Table Rock in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness. We experienced nature’s breathtaking beauty… as well as her angry fury. We also experienced what I believe was a miracle.
Twenty girls of varying ages (about 15-17 years old) and varying physical fitness levels set a goal to reach the summit of Table Rock with me and a few other adults. We ascended the “Face” which is shorter and more direct, but extremely steep. So steep, in fact, there is a small, rather too inconspicuous of a sign at the beginning of the trail that says, “Very Steep. Not Recommended.”
After about three miles into the hike, we ran into snow and lost sight of the trail. Sloshing through the snow made the hike harder, especially on the surprising amount of girls who wore light tennis shoes and “no-show” socks to hike in. Talk about being unprepared! (But that’s another topic for another day!)
We could see our destination at several different points, but had to rely on memory and GPS to find our route… all in all, we knew we had to travel UP the mountain, so we kept on keeping on.
When we reached the point where we could always see our destination, at least half the girls were cold, wet, and extremely tired. For 99% of the entire duration of the hike there was literally not a single downhill section. With the summit beckoning directly in front of us, we moved at a pace that allowed the girls to catch their breath every 5 minutes or so.
Table Rock is called Table Rock for the simple reason it looks like a giant table on top of a mountain. When you finally reach the base of that table, there is a very steep pathway up to the top of it. There were about 8 of us who reached this portion of the climb first and immediately started hiking up to the top. However, almost the second we got up there we heard thunder, and a few drops of rain glided down. When I looked up and out toward the horizon, the darkest and most menacing clouds I have ever seen seemed to suddenly come at us from three different directions. We immediately started yelling at each other to get off the summit as quickly as possible because it was more than apparent we were going to be right smack dab in the middle of a horrendous storm. The second we were all off the very top of Table Rock, heavy hail, intense lightning, extreme wind, mist, and deafening thunder hit our little group like a freight train. The hail was pelting us and causing us all pain and bruising, the wind was whipping at us, and mist made it difficult to see where we were going… but it was the lightning that caused fear to grip us to the core.
In our area, there is a well-known story of a group of girls who were hiking at Girl’s Camp (which is why we were there also). They got caught in the same type of storm and five of them were struck by lightning and killed. This story was playing through all of our minds.
At this point, we were completely exposed to the lightning. We had absolutely no cover, and we were at the very top of the highest point in extremely rugged mountains. To give you an idea of just how rugged, the Grand Tetons are only a mile away (and right in front of you) when you are standing on the top of Table Rock. Our situation could not have been more precarious or intense. We literally ran for our lives through deep, soft, slippery, snow and extreme rock gardens that would cause any ankle to sprain or break just by walking across them at a good pace, let alone running through them. After about a quarter of a mile, there was a small forest thicket – just barely wide and long enough to get our group inside the branches by literally crawling through them. This was shelter from the hail and wind, but the lightning was still going strong and I knew in my gut we were in big trouble. We HAD to get these girls down to a lower position or someone was going to get hurt or killed.
We said a prayer together as a group, but my wife made it clear to me that while there is most definitely power in prayer, we literally needed God’s power to calm the storm. She asked me to use this power (our Church calls it the Priesthood), to calm the storm.
I did this – and after 2 minutes or less – a miracle did happen. The lightning stopped. The wind and hail continued, but the lightning broke. I turned to the other two men in our group and said, “We have to go… NOW!” One of them wanted to wait out the wind and hail a little longer, but I said “NO! Lightning comes in cycles…we have to GO!”
They both said okay and we led the girls around the trees. Wind and hail pelted us so hard as we turned that corner it almost caused some of the girls to lose their balance. The snow was soft and deep enough by this time, we even had one girl sink in up to the top of her thigh and we had to first pull her out …and THEN her shoe out. But graciously enough… the lightning was gone.
We kept moving as swiftly as possible down to a lower position, but the lightning never returned. The farther and farther we got, the more the hail stopped, the mist lifted, and the wind calmed. By the end of the hike the sky was clear and the sun was shining.
I have a firm belief God helped us. I am so grateful I have been building my spiritual pillar, with the help of my mentors, for many years now. We all made it safely back to the vehicles in the parking lot, and now have a wild story to tell for years to come; however, if you look to me as a mentor at all, I do advise you to avoid such a storm, if possible. 🙂
I am exhausted mentally from the stress, but the other leaders and I helped each girl mentally handle the fear they felt. No one had a panic attack or broke down to the point she couldn’t keep moving. Were there tears from fear and just plain being cold? Yes! But kudos to all those girls because they kept going. We, as leaders, were also able to push them physically past their perceived abilities both on the way up AND through the storm.
I am also happy they each had a spiritual experience because I believe it will add another level to the strong, spiritual anchor they will need throughout their lives. As hard and difficult as it is, It is through adversity and pain that we grow as human beings… “good timber does not grow with ease: the stronger wind, the stronger trees; the further sky, the greater length; the more the storm, the more the strength”
My wife, a few girls I had extras for, and I were all blessed as well because of the time and energy my wife and I have taken to build financial well-being. We had high quality gear to protect us from the elements during the storm. We had great shoes and comfortable hiking clothing that provided a better experience for us.
I failed to eat like I was supposed to, even though I took all the protein and carbs with me that my coach required me to eat today. It was cold, my back was cramping (probably due to having lifted twice yesterday), and I was so busy worrying about the storm and the kids that I did not follow my diet to perfection. I did feel strong overall due to my past workouts, and being in good physical condition. I think I get to keep my title as GoatMan, for I was in Billy Goat terrain for 10 hours and climbed well. It was a pleasure to serve my wife and the young women in our Church today.