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Two Climbers Survive a Blizzard at 14,000 Feet

Tim Smith - 700 Club Producer

Mark and his friend Brad were trapped in a snow cave on Mt. Rainier in Washington. Just 7 hours earlier, they were climbing up with no problems at all.

“The weather was clear when we left,” Mark says. “Everything was gorgeous, it was picture perfect.”

Starting at Paradise Trailhead, they hiked to Camp Muir, at 10,080 feet, where they made camp for two days. The third day, the two climbed to the summit, and took a few photos before heading back down the mountain. That’s when the weather took a drastic turn.

“The wind was blowing really hard, you couldn’t see—I mean, your visibility was maybe 30 feet or something. The conditions were deteriorating really quickly.”

As experienced climbers, Mark and Brad had food, water, and survival gear to get them through the storm. But they only brought enough provisions for three days.

Mark says, “7-8 minutes of this and I’m like Brad, ‘We’ve got to start digging a hole. (edit) Because if this storm lets up, great, we’ll go down in an hour if it lets up. But if this sets in on us and stays here, we’ve got to get out. We can’t stay in this weather. So at that point, then we started looking for a spot to build us—dig a snow cave and then we started digging.”

The storm didn’t give up and they dug for 7 hours, in blizzard conditions. They were now trapped in the ice cave at an elevation of 14,100.

Mark says, “You couldn’t roll over, you couldn’t raise your knee, you couldn’t move your arm. It was just this, but it kept us alive. But I do remember that evening that we just prayed for wisdom. That we would know the next thing to do. That we would act decisively and with intention.”

That night, they decided to activate Mark’s distress beacon. He says, “It’s not going to a cell signal, it definitely is going to a satellite. But when you push it, no, you have no idea if anybody is getting it.”

The signal was received and Mark and Brad’s families were notified by the park rangers. They also learned conditions were too dangerous to send out a search party. Mark’s wife Julie was staying with her parents when she got the call.

Julie said, “I was extremely shocked. You don’t ever expect something to go wrong or happen. And there just were no answers at that time, just speculation about what it could be.”

During the night, Brad got out once an hour to remove the snow and ice the storm was dumping on the makeshift cover on their cave.

Mark says, “I was really concerned about the weight of that just kind of caving in on us. We would either die of suffocation in our sleep because there’s no air flow coming in, or it would basically collapse on us and we’d create our own avalanche on ourselves.”

For the next two days, the only thing anyone could do was wait – and pray.

Julie says, “I prayed a lot about breathing because of altitude sickness, which turned out to be really incredible because that was a very difficult thing for Mark in that tight space to be able to breathe.”

Mark says, “The other thing that I remember we prayed was just for our families, that they would just kind of have peace, (edit) because there’s no way they could know anything about our position or the state of how we were or if anybody was hurt.”

Julie asked a friend to get the message out to pray. “‘Sound the alarm’ was all that I said to her. And she texted back, ‘I already have.’  There were so many people praying. I had had that fear of everyone’s going to bed. And we actually had a team of people we knew in Uganda at the time. And I remember at midnight emailing one of the people on the team because I thought, ‘Oh, they’re getting up, they’re wide awake. They will, they will pray through the night.’”

Sunday morning, the weather finally cleared. Mark and Brad had been trapped for three days and frostbite had begun to set in when they started the climb back down to base camp. 45 minutes later, the two friends saw a welcome sight—a rescue chopper was coming their way.

Mark says, “They were going to come up there and collect bodies. And then to find us up moving down the mountain was joy for them. Because they were like this is good, you know, we’re going to get some live people off this mountain today. It was overwhelming, I guess, because you’ve just lived through these days of just exhaustion and everything’s just changed.”

Meanwhile, Julie was flying in from Tennessee. During the flight, she felt like God was telling her everything would be okay.

Julie says, “The plane landed and the texts were flooding in. And one of the very first things I saw was a picture of Mark and his dad. And I was like, ‘He’s so okay! He’s so okay.’  Because even – even though my — I had felt the Lord saying that day to me that that was the day of His glory. And in my heart that meant he would be rescued, I couldn’t imagine he would be that okay.”

Dehydrated, hungry and suffering mild frostbite, Mark and Brad were flown to a Seattle hospital. There, Julie and others from both families came, overjoyed to be safe with those they loved.

Julie says, “It was just smiles as wide as you can imagine. Just great, great joy to be together.”

Mark says, “It wasn’t like they just drove for 30 minutes in their car. I mean, they flew halfway—they flew across the country to come and just be there with us.”

Mark still loves to climb when he’s not home with Julie and their 2 children. Looking back at his time on Mt. Rainier, mark is thankful for how God protected and provided for himself and his friend.

Mark says, “We dug this hole in the ground for 7 hours and we both had shovels like this that we use to dig. And there’s two pins here. This lower pin holds it while you’re using it. And it worked the whole time, for 7 hours. But when I got down off the mountain, when I looked at the shovel and tried to extend it, the tab here was broken and it’s no explanation for how that is broken. But it functioned the whole time. So for me personally, I look at this and it’s one of those miraculous moments. And I look at this now and it’s just a reminder of what I see as God’s faithfulness.”

He’s also thankful for how God answered the many prayers of friends and family.

Mark says, “The Lord was faithful in giving us the wisdom of what to be about and what to do to stay alive. And then to give peace to our families and to our kids. And just His watch, care over them and just His kindness when we were up on the mountain, it was really evident to us.”

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