Over the Precipice

Over forty years later, this episode from a holiday in Scotland is still vivid in my mind. That morning, my friend Adrian and I set out from the youth hostel in Fort William, intent on climbing Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain (1,344 meters [4,409 ft]). We were a pair of adventurous teenagers and brushed off warnings from the locals that it was not a good day to climb.

We took warm clothing, strong boots, ice axes, and Kendal Mint Cake (a peppermint confectionary popular with mountaineers for its high energy content), and started out, even though the pale wintery sun was already becoming clouded over by a thick mist. We’d chosen the harder north ridge ascent, and surrounded by a blanket of white snow and fog, we soon lost all visibility.

We continued climbing mostly in silence. I was holding the compass, map, and illustrated guidebook—though these had limited use under the circumstances. When I thought I recognized a landmark, I paused to try to make out my surroundings… and realized that Adrian was no longer there! I squinted, then jumped back in alarm: the thin gray line just inches in front of my feet was the edge. I realized with horror that my friend must have gone over.

My immediate instinctive reaction was to pray for his safety. Prayer was not a regular habit for me at the time, but I knew how to pray from rare church visits and religious education classes in school.

Then I remembered a mountain hut lower down the slope and turned back to get help. Soon, though, I ran into Adrian, who was also heading down! It turned out that he had in fact fallen several hundred feet, but he had bounced off the snow-covered outcrops. Remarkably, his only injury was a scratch on his wrist. It seemed I was more shaken by what had happened than he was!

I don’t know the exact details of what happened, but I truly believe that my prayer, unpolished but sincere, played a part in saving my friend that day.