“I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit”
Morning came so slow. The dark lingered so long. The silence of it all was deafening. We cried out to God, reached for Him, we waited. We didn’t hear Him speak. We asked Him if this would be it, if this would be His time for us to come home. He didn’t answer. We clung to each other, kept each other awake, too afraid to fall asleep and wake to find the other one of us frozen to death. We did math equations and quizzed each to check each other’s lucidity. We both seemed to go in and out of being clear-headed. The weakness we each felt was terrifying: we knew now that we would not be hiking out of this canyon. We slowly acknowledged that we would have to wait for rescue. We prayed and hoped others were already looking for us. We talked about what everyone was probably doing at that very moment. We talked about how hard it would be on mom and dad if we didn’t make it out alive. We wondered if they’d ever find our bodies.
Sometime in the middle of the night, we both began to despair. We were already feeling so labored in our breathing, in our shivering, so weary of the cold. We began to feel like we didn’t have much more time. It was at this point that we began to hear the faintest sound, no, actually we could feel it, too. The faintest hum of a motor. The slightest hint of vibration in the ground. The sound grew louder and then would fade out again. It was a shot of adrenaline! We knew that sound: snowmobiles! They were looking for us. We yelled a few times from a small hole we made in the roof of our snowcave. We yelled when we heard the motor stop. Then we’d hear it again. We clung to that sound. It was the faintest whisper of hope, but it kept us going. It literally sent a surge of warmth through us every time we heard it. We’re going to be okay. It’s only a matter of time now.
Just before dawn, the sound stopped. The weariness set it again. All I wanted was to get off the snow, to get off the constant life-sucking, warmth-sucking ice beneath me. I could feel my skin prickling with freezer burn against the constant wet cold.
The faintest hint of light seemed to filter through the snow above our heads. It seemed to only get colder. I began to fade a bit, whether from sleep-exhaustion, whether from cold, I don’t know.
Sometime around that point we began to hear the distant chop-chop-chop of a helicopter. It was so faint and muffled, and I was in such a fog mentally I couldn’t identify it at all. Jennie began to get excited again, sure that someone was looking for us, and telling me it was a helicopter, but I couldn’t grasp it. I had no idea in that moment what a helicopter was, all I could think of was “cold…. cold… cold.”
We heard the helicopter here and there, sometimes louder, sometimes not at all, and I couldn’t even tell you for how long. I didn’t care at that moment. Then suddenly it was close. Louder, louder, louder and Jennie began yelling, “Martha they’re going to find us! They’re right above us! They need to see us!”
The sound was deafening, and she burst through the roof of the snowcave, waving wildly and screaming at the helicopter that was then circling just a few dozen feet above us, just above the trees, so close we could easily see the pilot + scout smiling down at us, grinning from ear to ear and making hand signals, telling us they’d be right back. Then they flew off.
Within twenty minutes or so, we heard some whistling in the trees, and two men snowshoed into our clearing. We couldn’t stop beaming and laughing. “Do you believe in God? Because He is definitely looking out for you,” one said as he came into the clearing. “YES!” We cried. We talked with them about what happened, as they quickly checked our fingers and toes and looked us over, handing us each a snickers bar to eat. The other rescuer looked down into our small burrow in the snow, our shabby snow cave, and paused. “That’s what saved your lives right there,” he said, as he snapped a couple pictures of it. We then hiked down with them to a bigger clearing that the helicopter could manage to land in, and we jumped in and were whisked away from the wilds and back to civilization. Back to safety, to family, to warmth, to the unexpected surprise of several news agencies waiting to interview us as we stepped off the Flight for Life helicopter at Summit County Hospital.
It was all over.
We managed to come out of it with very mild hypothermia and minor frostbite on our fingers and toes. Helicopter Pilot Pat Mahaney informed us that we were his first live extraction in 25 years of search + rescue. We were shocked. We began to hear the stories from the other side. We told the rescuers how much it meant to us through the night to hear them sweeping the bowl on the snowmobiles, how it seemed to literally keep us alive. They looked at us confused, and said, “No one was searching through the night. We began searching in the afternoon after we received the call (from my brother Andrew), and had to call off the search through the night because of weather conditions. We never used any snowmobiles. In fact, the whole pass road was shut down to any traffic, so you wouldn’t have heard any motorized vehicles.”
We still have no explanation for what we heard. But we both heard it, we felt it through the ground ever so faintly. And it was a big part of what kept us alive and fighting.
We later found out the temperatures dropped that night -21 degrees with windchill. If we had chosen to keep hiking instead of hunkering down in the snow for the night, the story would have ended very differently.
There were many other details we learned from the rescue teams that were searching for us that night that cemented for us the certainty that God’s hand was all over this, that He was working in the smallest of details to ensure our survival.
In the immediate months that followed, life looked different through my eyes. As a teenager, you truly do think you’re invincible, and our experience shattered that. I knew with a certainty that I wasn’t just here by accident, but that God had given me the gift of life again. That He wanted me to know He had a plan for me. He wanted me to know that I was alive on purpose. He wanted to save. Reading back through my journals, I didn’t speak or write much to the whole experience. Only one little blip about feeling it all bottled up inside and not knowing how to process it.
“I sought the Lord, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears.”