52: Danger Over the Mountain

52: Danger Over the Mountain

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Danger Over the Mountain

We all have an angel who offers us protection… they’re always beside us, for when we need direction.

~Author Unknown

With blue skies and endless fields of wildflowers in sight, it was a perfect day for a hike up the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. We chose an advanced hiking trail that promised to take us to a mountain peak and down the other side. The sign at the bottom of the mountain estimated an eight-hour round trip hike going up one side and down the other. By the look of the dotted line outlining the trail, it seemed the bulk of the hike was on the one side of the mountain. Once we made it to the top, it would literally be all downhill from there.

Our little group consisted of my mom, dad, twelve-year-old sister, and me, seventeen at the time. As novice hikers, we were excited about the challenge. Except for my mother, we were all avid cross-country runners, so the distance didn’t intimidate us.

Off we went. Beauty surrounded us. Summer had brought with it numerous wildlife sightings. Groundhogs scurried alongside the path. Birds chirped overhead. Gorgeous green fields stretched around us. Time passed quickly as we chatted and sang songs as we hiked. Periodically, we stopped for a snack and chatted with people we met along the way. As we ascended past different lookout spots, most hikers turned around and went back, claiming they didn’t have time for the full loop. We pressed on.

As we turned a corner, a surprise awaited us. Snow! It was the middle of August. Wearing T-shirts and shorts with our hiking boots, we had forgotten to take into account that it would be much colder at the top of the mountain. Thankfully, the hours of hiking had us dripping with sweat and oblivious to the cooler weather. Coming from South Georgia, seeing snow in the summer caused us to dance with joy. We only saw it for the rare beauty it presented, never once considering the danger it might pose to us as hikers.

Continuing on, the path got more narrow and rocky. Staying on the path was a must, because stepping on the slippery rocks would be dangerous. The hiking trail map showed of a beautiful pristine mountain lake at the peak. Our conversation turned to this anticipated sight, as our legs grew more tired with the hike. Just a little bit longer, we kept encouraging one another. Soon we would be sitting beside the lake enjoying the lunch we had packed. After a much-needed rest, we would climb over the mountain and then quickly down the other side, ending back in the parking lot. Soon we would be able to proudly proclaim we did the advanced trail, together as a family. Just a little bit longer…

We all gasped at the same moment when we came over the hill and saw the lake. The map was right. This was God’s country! The ground leveled. And in the middle of this plateau-like field, was the clearest, cleanest body of water I had ever seen. We ran to the edge, peering straight to the bottom of the calm waters. No one else had ventured to come this far. We felt like we owned the land. As far as the eye could see were other smaller mountain ranges, green grass spotted with snow, massive boulders jutting out, puffy white clouds, and spotless splendor!

The crisp cool air refreshed us. After dipping our hot sweaty feet into the frigid waters, we felt ready to tackle the remainder of the hike. We could see that the trail went over the top of the mountain and continued onward. Out of nowhere, it seemed, a lone hiker appeared on the top of the mountain coming over the peak.

He had an ice pick and a backpack, impressing us, as we assumed he was an experienced hiker. Since it had been a while since we had seen anyone else, we paused to meet the stranger as he stopped to rest on a smooth rock near us. We chatted about the gorgeous day and the glorious lake. Then we moved on. Calling out to us, we returned to hear his last words. He cautioned us that the other side was much steeper and very slippery. Without ice picks, he advised, we would likely slip and fall. He begged us to turn around and go back the way we came. Then, he got up and proceeded on the trail.

As we considered his advice, we groaned. To go back the way we came would mean we might not get back before dark. With all the majestic sights we had seen on the way up, we were curious to see the other side of the mountain too. My sister and I urged my parents to forget about his advice. “Come on,” we pleaded. “Let’s go. We can do it!”

My parents huddled, discussing the pros and cons of finishing the trail or turning around. Finally, my father announced we would turn around and go back. Grudgingly and with much complaining, my sister and I gave a heavy sigh and followed.

Shortly after heading back down the trail, we ran into some hikers on their way up. We asked them if they had seen the hiker who was warning people not to proceed over the mountain. They shook their heads. The were certain they had seen no one for at least an hour. But that couldn’t be, we exclaimed. The path was so narrow. He wasn’t that far ahead of us. There was no way they could have missed him. He had no other option to get down the mountain but to stay on that path carved out between the ice-covered rocks.

We kept asking hikers as we descended if anyone had seen him. Again and again, no one had spotted a man matching such a description. Weird. The next day, as we ate breakfast in our hotel, getting ready for another adventure, my father opened the local newspaper. He groaned. Two experienced hikers had died the previous day. They had continued over the top of the mountain, slipped and fallen hundreds of feet down the icy, jagged mountainside to their death.

Reality hit — that could have been us. Had we not run into that hiker, we would have surely met our Maker. To this day, we know in our hearts that for whatever reason God chose to spare our family. We thank Him for sending an angel, dressed as a hiker, to warn us that danger lurked right around the corner.

~Ashley Thaba

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