December 17, 2009 by David Gillaspie
By David Gillaspie
Mountain climbing reaches those you wouldn’t expect. My friend Mel isn’t a climber, but the mountain speaks to him.
“A honeymoon night on Mt. Hood sounds like a dream come true. If getting married isn’t enough, then spending the first night on the side of volcano should be. The plan was to spend the first night at Timberline, the next night in the Columbia Gorge with the following week at a place in Cannon Beach. It’s the big three people from around the world to see.
If a marriage starts this good, how can it ever go wrong? It hasn’t, but there were moments during the wedding day when getting married seemed the least important thing in the world, and the most important.
What is the main fear in any outdoor wedding ceremony? In Sandy, Oregon, it is rain. If you prepare ahead of time the rain won’t start. At least that’s the idea. It follows the car washing rule – if you wash your car, it will start raining soon and kick up mud splatters.
Since the wedding called for clear skies, we rented an awning to cover the band and the dance floor. After the revised weather forecast called for showers, we rented an additional awning for the designated ceremony area. It was the prettiest deck over a well ever set up.
It did rain, but it wasn’t a shower. The rain fell so hard the gutters of my best friend’s house flowed over to create a unique waterfall. It was a crescent shaped house with a yard and well-cover on the inside curve. The water cascading out of the gutters made a pretty half-moon liquid screen for the huddled guests to view through.
In time, the rain turned chill, the ground softened, and the general feeling turned cold, wet, and muddy. I was unfazed. I was getting married after my parents’ divorced, after my brother divorced, after my other brother and sister married. I was late to the game and certain to get it right. Wet? Cold? Mud? None of it matters to a groom on a mission. Let it rain.
But it wasn’t ordinary rain; it was Chernobyl rain in May.
John LaForge writes on nukewatch.com: Some stories (of Chernobyl) were internally inconsistent, citing minimal damage estimates in their lead paragraphs while contradicting these estimates with larger global impacts in their inside pages. For example the Chicago Tribune said on page one that radioactivity polluted “much of Europe,” but on page three admitted that Chernobyl’s “vast” fallout dispersion extended well beyond Europe, and that “radioactivity carried by the wind appeared in … rain in America’s Pacific Northwest.”
I got married in nuclear fall-out? Soaked in cesium-137 and strontium-90 and iodine-131? Johnny Cash sang about getting married in a fever hotter than a peppered sprout. Is that hotter than radio active rain? I don’t think so.
The rain fell harder and the cold grew colder until it was time for the newly weds to leave. We slid into the back of my best friend’s 4X4 and he took off for the mountain. The snow fell thick and fast and the road iced up the higher we got. It turned so dangerous that we considered spending our honeymoon night with our friends instead of letting them risk the drive back to Sandy. Minus one spin-out on the mountain road, they made it home safely.
The next day most of the ladies at the wedding celebrated Mother’s Day at Timberline. Fresh snow gave the mountain a feeling of re-birth, which I took as an omen. It was blindingly white and fluffy with the promise of a new life for my wife and I.
We greeted the moms at the front door and took them to the restaurant. Halfway through the morning a helicopter landed in Timberline’s parking lot. A high roller skier? An Air Force National Guard exercise?
Later, the word passed quickly. A climbing party on the mountain. High school students from the Oregon Episcopal School wilderness program.
The news got worse the rest of the week.
My wife and I began our married life in a hot rain. We talked about the family we would start while Mt. Hood took seven children and two adults. Twenty three years later our two boys are home on Christmas break while the mountain claims more lives.
Take Hood for what it is. Call it a walk-up. Call it an easy climb. Call it a stepping stone to real mountain climbing, just remember it knows your name and doesn’t care.
And the mountain never cries.”
If nations are judged by how they treat those in need, who has more acute need than stranded mountain climbers? How they got on the mountain and how they get off comes under fire from armchair outdoorsmen who wear insulated plaid shirts like letterman jackets; from stand-up tax payers who question their liability for rescue.
Acute need isn’t judged by family caregivers. They see need every day and make a difference; they read a story about stranded climbers in the paper and see the same needs. The miracle in both cases is that anyone cares enough to step up. We don’t throw a sick old man in the ditch because he made poor choices in life, and we don’t leave people on the mountain because we blame them for their actions.
In moments of need, we hope for the best.
Some make it happen while some look for a way out.
Which one are you?