It was 1am on May 24th 2004 and we were in a position that we would never have imagined in our wildest dreams…we were crouching in our freezing tents, high in the death zone and about to embark on the toughest day of our lives. It was another summit day but this was no ordinary summit day - we were about to attempt Everest and from the daunting north side; and God willing we would summit and survive.
Nearly eight years before that, Rob and I had tied the knot. On our wedding day, our pastor said we’d be like a buoy, tossed around by storms but by being anchored in our faith, we’d be able to hold on….
Just a few years later, we were stopped in the tracks of our busy careers when Rob was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer for the second time. Walking through cancer wasn’t easy …but through it all God had worked refining our faith, drawing us closer to Himself and each other.
After Rob’s treatment we knew there was a 50% chance of his cancer recurring in the next three years. Despite trusting in God for our future, it was time to reevaluate. We had dreamt of spending more time together but now, we realised there would never be a perfect time to make major changes. Taking a leap of faith, we left our careers behind and set out to spend more time together, doing what we loved - travelling and climbing. As we left, God gave us his promise through Psalm 121 - that he would watch over our coming and going.
Just one week into our first expedition, we were on our knees desperate for God to intervene. Rob had become critically ill with an obstructed intestine and we were stranded high in the Himalaya with stormy weather preventing a helicopter rescue. At the 11th hour, just at the point that Rob was certain he was going to die, our prayers were answered - there was a temporary break in the weather and the helicopter pilot pushed through to rescue Rob. Once in a Kathmandu hospital, the doctors were amazed that Rob was still alive and continually retested his blood, unable to believe it could be so thick and yet Rob hadn’t suffered a stroke or heart attack. Even in Kathmandu, although our troubles were far from over, Rob was miraculously spared any fatal complications of his condition and eventually had successful abdominal surgery in the UK. Not to be beaten, after his recovery Rob decided to go back to the mountains. One thing led to another and 18 months and many expeditions later, we now faced the greatest test of all – summit day on Everest. One in ten climbers that summit Everest don’t come home. With two of us – the odds were further stacked against us. The night before, at over eight kilometres high on Everest, we had done everything we could to prepare and we’d said our prayers, but now we were at the mercy of the brutal elements. No human would be able to save us at this altitude, not even each other. It was just us, the mountain and God.
In the darkness, high on Everest’s windswept and icy north face we moved even slower than a crawl. With only 30% of the oxygen available at sea level, the rarefied air offered no relief to our screaming lungs and shaking legs. Before leaving Advanced Base Camp I had read Joshua 1:9 ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’. Even though every fibre and sinew in our bodies was straining at its limit, it was our will power and belief in God’s protection that fuelled us on.
High up in the death zone, as we climbed along the threshold between life and death, knowing the maker of Everest itself was with us enabled us to keep going, even in the face of extreme fear as we had to climb past dead bodies. From the rooftop of the world, we were permitted to glimpse the most sublimely beautiful and other worldly sights…it felt like we’d entered God’s throne room and was an unspeakable privilege.
That day we really experienced divine strength and protection as we managed to descend all the way to advanced base camp, help with carrying additional equipment, and neither of us lost any digits to frostbite, despite Rob’s damaged nerve endings from chemotherapy and my poor circulation.
Like so many of life’s difficulties, Everest forced us to live beyond what we felt were our limits but it was in that place that we moved over and gave the God of all creation room to move.