When the Clouds Roll In

One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art in conducting oneself in lower regions by memory of what one has seen higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” – Rene Daumal

Twenty-three years ago when I was practicing to get ready for a five-day expedition on Mt. Rainier, my friend Jill and I went up to the mountain to do a day climb up to Camp Muir at 10,200 feet. It’s is a non-technical climb of almost 5,000 vertical feet starting on trails and then trudging up the Muir snowfield which is snowy but not glaciated. On that June morning it was a lovely 4-5 hour hike up with views of the mountain and surrounding peaks to the south. It was early enough in the season that there were a few people on the route but it was comparatively quiet to the really busy high summer season.

When we got to Camp Muir, we sat on a rock outcropping and were eating our sandwiches when we saw the clouds coming in. They started from below and then just rolled up the mountain, thick and gray. Jill had summitted Mt. Rainier the year before, I had attempted it but not summitted so even though we didn’t have a lot of experience, we had heard warnings of how conditions on the mountain could change quickly with dire consequences.

Jill and I started hiking down and very soon were enveloped in the clouds. It was so thick, we couldn’t see the route. If you hike straight down from Camp Muir, you end up off the snowfield and in dangerous glacier territory strewn with crevasses. So Jill and I searched for the wands left by the guiding service. We couldn’t see from one wand to the next one about 150 yards away so we developed a strategy. We’d hike down about 50 yards from one wand until we could just barely see it and I’d stay there while she went down about 50 yards until she could see the next one and then I’d join her and we’d walk together to the next wand. It took us several hours to get down but eventually we reached the paths and got safely to the parking lot.

This hike makes me think of what we do when the clouds roll in. When we can’t see the horizon or any way points and everything looks white, grey or something in between. Do we look for the Divine waypoints marking the route? Do we ask our friends, therapists or other professionals to help us navigate safely through? Or do we keep walking in hope that motion will carry us down?

I think there as many answers to these questions are there are Wisdom traditions and personality types. But life has taught me that there are markers out there, just like the wands in the snowfield, if we bother to look.

The older I get the more I find it easier to stop and ask for Divine guidance. And when I have trouble discerning that, to seek out help from my friends. Whether it’s my ability to be vulnerable, imperfect or just because I know more quickly that I’ve lost perspective, I’m quicker to seek safety. When I’m having trouble finding my way, I have found that talking or writing about it helps me immensely.

The reason I remember this particular hike so well was the day after we returned the news reported that a 27-year-old doctor that had just moved from Georgia for a resident program in Seattle was missing after snowboarding on Mt. Rainier the same day we were climbing. The park rangers were out searching for him but in the days and week to follow there was no luck finding any sign of him.

Then the epilogue to the snowboarder story came for me about 3 years after that climb. The “nice guy” (from The Deep Story post) I dated told me that he had been hiking on Mt. Rainier the summer before with a friend and had gotten lost in the clouds. Knowing they were in dangerous territory, he set up camp and they waited out the night. The next morning rangers found them right on the edge of the Nisqually Glacier. And right around the corner, under a waterfall, was the body of the missing snowboarder who hadn’t been discovered for 2 years.  

While I drew parallels between my hike and life experience in this post, I don’t mean to infer any parallels or judgment on that snowboarder, a promising young man tragically lost too early.

(featured photo is of me and my parents at Camp Muir that same summer)

23 thoughts on “When the Clouds Roll In

  1. Interesting story about your hike years ago and how it has influenced you now. I often seem to be wandering in [figurative] clouds, especially these last two Covid-19 years, unclear about what to do next. I need to look for more, to use your words, “Divine waypoints marking the route”.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I hear you Ally! These COVID years have been hard! Divine waypoints have definitely helped me — and I find them not only in the meditation books but also Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast (“I believe you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage”) and Disney (“You’ve Got to Dig Deeper” from Princess and the Frog) to mention just a couple. Maybe I’m counting everything that inspires me – but wow, they kick me in the butt and keep me going! 🙂

      Happy Tuesday!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. We know an adventurer who climbed Mount Everest, but at well less than 100 feet from the summit, bad weather was coming in. He and his party could chance it, push forward, and “rush” back down, and hope to avoid the bad weather. He told me that what guided his decision were the “corpse waypoints” along the way: climbers who died trying to summit and died along the way. Because of the harsh conditions, their corpses are left where they are. He told me that even though he knew he’d never go back to Everest, he went down and never took a photo at the summit. But he returned safely back to his family. As daring as he is (his adventures spanned the globe!), I always felt he was wise to heed the “waypoints.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow, what a story!! So wise to heed the waypoints.

      It reminds me of the story of Doug Hansen a mailman from Seattle who went to Everest on a guided expedition. The first year the guide turned him back. The next year he went again and the guide didn’t heed the turn around time, trying to get him to the top that time — and they both died. They are part of the corpse waypoints you mention because it was harder to listen twice. Your adventurer was smart not to go back!

      Thanks for sharing that awesome story!

      Like

  3. I’m not adventurous when it comes to mountain climbing. You and your friend were fortunate to find your way back to safety. As your story reveals, we all find different ways of dealing with danger/misfortune. When the clouds rolled into my already precarious life back in 1990, I had to step forward into the abyss with the hope that my god would guide my steps and keep me and my two kids safe. I stumbled and fell along the way but, unlike the snowboarder in your story, we survived.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so right, Rosaliene. We were fortunate.

      And I love your comment about step forwarding in the 1990’s with hope that God would guide your steps. Thank the Heavens you survived. I’m sure that took much guts and persistence as well as faith!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not one to keep pushing forward if I’m in a situation where I don’t see my way forward. I like the idea of waiting until I can see again or if some waypoints make themselves known to me and I then know the route to follow. I like some sort of a plan!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s an interesting dichotomy when you think of the way some have an ability to heed warning signs-pause-evaluate and regroup while others just barrel on-hell bent on the destination- whatever that may be. I think there are multiple influences in our lives that lead us to be one or the other Wynne. This is a very thought provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely post as always, Wynne. I felt like I was enveloped in those thick dark clouds with you.

    Very wise insights about how we can also navigate through dark cloudy moments. Let’s hope that we all continue to be blessed with the ability to find our way out of the clouds unlike that poor snowboarder. 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, we flirted with one of the rescue rangers on the way up so I suppose that was part of the plan B! 🙂 When I put it that way, now I’m doubly glad we used our heads and the wands on the way down. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You do a mean metaphor, my friend.
    I’m not a climber, so I have never summited Mount Rainier, but Tara and I really enjoyed hiking in that area – particularly Naches Peak Loop. There aren’t many things I miss about the PNW, but that is one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, what a compliment coming from you. Thank you! Yes – so much great hiking in that area. I don’t think I’ve done the Naches Peak Loop so I’ll have to put that on the list!

      Like

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