A three-man team of mountain climbers were preparing for their descent after reaching the summit of a very rugged and seldom-conquered mountain. As they made preparations to depart, they discussed their readiness. One, a chaplain, said he felt ready and totally recovered from the climb up. The second, a professional climber, rather slight in build, admitted to fatigue and nausea with its evident weakness, but wasnít one to complain and was ready to leave; while the third was a rather heavy-set, robust ranch hand who admitted only very little fatigue and was ready to depart.
They were all looking forward to reaching the first base camp late that evening. Their first descent was a very difficult vertical drop which went without any unusual difficulties, and the rest of the descent was fairly routine except for the necessary rest periods to help the slight mountain climber recover from some of his nausea and dizziness so they could go on. The chaplain continued his exuberance as they passed the most difficult part of the descent, and the ranch handís fatigue was normal for his weight and condition as they continued down the mountain.
As they journeyed around the base of the vertical drop toward easier going, they stopped to see a giant storm cloud approaching at a very rapid rate in their direction. Almost immediately it brought darkness upon them and snow started swirling at them, whipped by a cold northwest wind. They decided to stash most of their equipment to facilitate a quick run to the base camp below. As the obscured afternoon sun set further, the darkness and the fury of the storm increased and the ranch hand started complaining of deep fatigue due to deep and heavy snow. The smaller mountain climber was even worse, as his nausea and weakness continued. In spite of their condition, the mountain climber made the suggestion that the chaplain should continue on toward the base camp alone, knowing inwardly that he and the ranch hand would never make it alive. The chaplain went along with the decision, feeling he knew the way, and left them to do the best they could.
The fury of the storm continued as almost complete darkness brought practically zero visibility. The smaller mountain climber took the arm of the ranch hand over his shoulder and started slowly in the direction of the base camp. There was no doubt in the experienced climberís mind that they would never make it, but he felt good about the chaplainís chances. The ranch hand became almost dead weight as they inched along; from time to time it seemed a new strength came over the little mountain climber as the cold and whipping snow seemed ready to stop them completely. He stopped more often than before, wondering when they would fall and freeze Ė then in the dim distances a light of the base camp blinked through the snow and an hour later they stumbled in the door, totally exhausted, but alive.
Two days later the chaplainís body was found, a half mile from camp.
( He who loses his life shall save it; he who saves his life shall lose it. Ė Lk. 17:33; top )
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