Written by Ali Gosselin
White Outs and Orange Flagging Tape
1. Pillar of Cloud
Enveloped in a whiteout, the boundaries between the clouds and the snow-covered glacier begin to blur together. I clutch compass in one hand, ice axe in the other.
I trust the general direction, yet actually don’t know what lies ahead.
To my left, my eyes are drawn to the opening of a baby crevasse.
“Stopping!” I shout to the high school guys and girls on my rope team.
“Stopping, stopping, stopping.” The message is passed down the line.
My guide partner isn’t nearby to make a joint decision. So, I pause to call upon that mountaineering knowledge tucked away somewhere in my brain we had learned a few months prior. Crevasses…something about the direction of the fall line… move perpendicular…ah, yes!
“Walking echelon, walking echelon, walking echelon!” The team repeats.
Hours pass by while moving at a snail’s pace,
unable to see even two feet ahead of us.
Weariness was at its peak when suddenly, just as that glacier travel knowledge somehow emerged to the forefront of my mind, a truth that lived deep in my soul crawled its way to the surface:
“As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people
both now and forevermore.” Psalm 125:2
I was not alone, though that’s how it looked and felt. Those vast and striking mountain ranges that captivated us all earlier in the trip continue to stand tall and unwavering directly to the right, to the left, in front and behind us. The mountains’ existence is not contingent upon my ability to see them nor on the cloud coverage that particular day. At that moment, I forgot they were there just because I couldn’t see them with my own two eyes! I cannot say whether or not a clear day would have lightened our spirits as we ascended Mt. Albert. It may have helped. I do know that I desperately need God’s help to hold fast to unseen realities even through stretches of the journey that are of low-visibility.
2. Pillar of Fire
The trail is obscured by devil’s club, thorns, and weeds galore, but the machete Lianna brought helps clear a way. Route notes from the year before stay tucked in my back pocket. They are unhelpful for an overgrown time such as this. Molly, Lianna, and I glance back after some time passes and shout “follow us!” to our campers from Kansas. Some, like Lauren, appear to be chomping at the bit and ready for whatever adventure the trail would bring. She sings a call and response song to lighten spirits and pass the time. Others, like Ava, express obvious ambivalence through widened eyes and furrowed brows. Whether in a state of joy or reluctance, the girls choose to follow and trust their guides.
We see debris from winter storms that washed away any evidence of a once trodden-on trail. Basecamp is at sea level… we must go down? The options are to give it a try or stay paralyzed with doubt. Both tension and our reliance on the inconsistent GPS increases.
We trust the general direction, yet actually don’t know what lies ahead.
The astonishing fact that no other humans have ever seen this wild, washed out section of the backcountry before did not sink in until we were out of the woods. Will I ever recognize such wonders in the moment? Perhaps the true marvel will always come in looking back.
It was a steeper path than we preferred and is not the trail we know. With dead pine needles as traction, extra effort must be exerted to stay upright. Wipe-outs are inevitable and tree roots become lifelines on the way down. No revelations were bubbling to the surface this time to bring peace and comfort to my soul.
Keep on singing, Lauren!
What… What is that up ahead? An exotic berry? A flower in bloom?
AH-HA IT’S ORANGE FLAGGING TAPE! We rejoice to catch a glimpse of it.
Then, we continue marching onwards.
These brief, unfinished stories from summers at Beyond Malibu serve to remind me that Christians are fellow pilgrims journeying together towards Home. I’d like to believe I’m a steady, confident, fully-trusting journeyer. In reality I often frenetically search for orange flagging tape that tells me I’m on the right path. Other times it feels easier to throw in the towel altogether. It seems that the span between each marker is an endurance test for my faith- the exercise that strengthens it and deepens my reliance on the Lord.
When I can’t see the way,
feel Your presence,
or hear Your voice,
Where will my trust go? Will I keep on? Will I trust that this is indeed the way and that I’m not actually lost? That Jesus truly has gone ahead to blaze the trail? Will I trust that the dark, windy, confusing parts are actually a part of this whole thing and that God’s promise to never leave nor forsake us truly endures through it all?
He’s done it before and He’ll do it again.
Just as God gave a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21-22),
His faithfulness is guiding us through this dark, steep, wilderness season
and will surely guide us through those to come.