Lost at Window Mountain Lake

Above Window Mountain Lake looking at the Seven Sisters and Crowsnest Mountain.

It was my second summer working for a wilderness bible camp in the Alberta Rockies.  It was a gorgeous day for a trip down the Atlas road to Window Mountain Lake, just north of Crowsnest Pass.  An eclectic collection of vehicles ferried the group of teens we had in camp that week, down the bumpy, rutted, more-quad-trail-than-road to the trailhead at the base of a cliff.

It is a steep climb, with the trail switch-backing through the trees to the top of the cliff, where one can rest and take in views of Crowsnest Mountain and the Seven Sisters.  Then the trail eases hikers down through the trees, past a slough to a beautiful jewel of an alpine lake tucked in a bowl hollowed out in the mountain.

At the lake shore we settled down to eat bag lunches and skip rocks in the glistening waters.  The teens were then rounded up to start the next part of the hike that would take the group up the eastern side of the lake following a path through trees and meadow, up Up UP to a view point on the rock wall that surrounds the lake.  This was dubbed by the Camp Staff as First Base.  From there the group would then scramble to Second Base—a higher yet viewpoint—and then they would hike along the wall that surrounds the lake to Third Base.  From here the group would split and the go-getters would carry on to the Grand Slam viewpoint, while the remaining group would return to the lake following the same route they had traveled on the way up.

Hikers scrambling down from Second Base

For some reason that day I wasn’t feeling all that well and volunteered along with our camp cook Corine, to hang back at the lake with three girls who were not able to do the big hike.  The rest of the staff hustled the rest of the teens up the mountain.  It was a beautifully sunny day and the rest and relaxation of just being at Window Lake revived my tired soul.  I managed to convince the girls to walk around the lake with me and we enjoyed finding springs in the rocks above the lake that trickled down and fed the waters.  Even in summer, snow hugged the southwestern tip of the lake.

The cairn at Third Base above Window Mountain Lake

Hours went by and finally I heard returning hikers chattering as they walked through the trees.  Corine and I hurried to meet up with them—two boys who had hurried ahead of the main group to reach the lake first.

“Have you seen William?”  They asked.  “He came down ahead of us.”

We hadn’t, but then I had been hiking around the lake and hadn’t really paid attention to see if any kid had returned early.

They explained that William—a quiet boy from Taiwan, if I remember correctly— had been lagging far behind the group and totally slowing them down, so eventually one of the staff members got really frustrated and told him to head back to the lake.  They were between second and third base when he was last seen heading back down to the lake.

Eventually two of the staff returned with the first hiking group who had only made it to Third Base.  Jackie was asking everyone worriedly if they had seen William.  A few teens chose to hike around the lake to make sure he hadn’t taken a detour.

Arne above Window Lake

The rest of us decided to wait until the group hiking to the Grand Slam returned to see if they had met up with the kid and in the meantime, scoured the ground around the lake and the trail back towards the trucks.

By the time the last of the hikers came down the trail, we knew that William wasn’t around Window Lake and somehow was still up on the mountain—which was mind boggling for most of us staff, because there was really only one way to come down the mountain to Window Lake and two groups of hikers had scrambled and chattered their way down.  It was late in the day, already suppertime and we knew that we had to find the boy fast before the nighttime fell, and with it the chill winds of the mountains.  A quick plan of action was formed between the staff.

Immediately our camp director Arne, and staff member Steve—who had just finished a four hour, hard-core hike—turned around and started back up the grueling vertical trail towards First Base.  Corine and Jackie agreed to organize and take the rest of the kids back to the vehicles and head back to camp, while Pete and I ran ahead to snag a truck for ourselves.

We were going to make an attempt to drive up Race Horse Pass that ran behind the mountain on the off-chance that William had come down the mountain on the backside.  As well, we were hoping that Arne and Steve would meet up with the kid early on and be able to hike down the backside to the truck, rather than hike all the way back to the lake and then down to the trailhead.

We were praying William wasn’t hurt or incapacitated in any way, as we jogged through the trees towards the cliff.  As we topped the cliff, it was like night and day difference in the sky.  Forest fire smoke obliterated everything in front of us forming an alien landscape, and I remember being shocked at the difference in visibility between the blue sky above the lake and the valley before us.  The sun shone blood red through the smoke, as we burned down the trail to the trucks.

We hopped in the old 1970-something green Chevy truck.  Two wheel drive.  Standard.  A workhorse in it’s hey-day, which was long since passed.  Pete gunned us down the rutted road and out onto the Atlas road in a show of spinning tires, swaying back-end and spraying gravel.

We roared at a mind-blowing speed of 60 km an hour up the Atlas before turning up the quad trail that leads up Race Horse Pass.  Here, Pete slowed to a chugging 20 kilometers an hour as he babied the grumpy old Chev up the little-used road.  Thank God for low gear on the old stick shifts.  Rock falls and huge ditches in the road hampered our progress some, but Pete pulled of a masterful job of getting the truck past those difficulties until we hit a massive roadblock that forced us to park and start hiking the backside of the mountain that surrounded Window Mountain Lake.

Shadows already were creeping across the valley Pete and I climbed up, heading towards the knob of Second Base.  We kept a sharp eye out for William and called his name, just in case he had decided to come down on this side of the ridge away from the lake.  We were also hoping to meet up with Arne and Steve, who, God-willing, had found the kid by now.

Steve pulling a camper up the mountain above Window Lake

No such luck.  We did spot Arne and Steve hiking along the ridge towards Third Base.  I have to shout it out to those two guys—they did some pretty darn awesome hiking that day!  That’s no easy feat to do back to back, especially after I had watched Steve allow some of the kids hang off his backpack while he dragged them up the hill the first time.

There was a great sense of urgency upon us and Pete and I stopped to pray that God would show us William—Help us find the lost boy before nighttime fell.  Arne and Steve were well ahead of us and suddenly they stopped and veered off away from the trail, heading across a large open scree field.  Thanks to walkie-talkies and line-of-sight, Arne relayed to Pete and I that they had just spotted William across a giant scree field—maybe a kilometer or so away (forgive me, I may be a little foggy on the distance, but he was a long ways off and the smoke swirling around us made it difficult to see.

Arne and Steve headed for the last spot they had glimpsed the kid’s white t-shirt in the gloom of the setting sun.  Time was short.  Darkness falls fast in the mountains, and the smoke didn’t help with the visibility.  Pete and I stationed ourselves on the edge of the scree field to keep and eye out for Arne and Steve and give them bearings when they headed back.

The wind was like ice.  I pulled a space blanket out of the first aid kit I had in my pack and wrapped myself in it, while Pete watched intently with his binoculars for any sign of the guys.  William had to be freezing in just a t-shirt!  It got dark.  Then darker.  It seemed we might be pulling an all-nighter on the mountain.

“There they are!”  Pete jumped up excitedly.  Barely, in the sooty darkness we caught sight of Arne and Steve, with William between them, heading back across the scree field!  The lost was found!

It was so dark before Arne and Steve reached us, that we started flicking the lighters that each of us carried in our pockets, to keep track of each other as we headed back for the old truck.  None of us were prepared with flashlights that day.  (I started packing one at all times after this trip.)

Adrenaline had us in pretty high spirits as we groped our way down the mountainside in the smokey darkness.

The moon rose a deep blood red.

We found our truck and bumped our way cautiously down the quad trail of Race Horse Pass.  Sections of that trail have a straight drop-off on one side and ah, the dim lights of the old Chev and the nastiness of the road conditions made for a white-knuckle drive for poor Pete.  We made Atlas Road and headed as fast as the ole beast could move for camp.  A convoy of headlights greeted us.  Search and Rescue from the Ranger Fire Station on the Forestry Trunk Road.  They were on their way to help search—sent by staff that had returned to camp.

There was much rejoicing amongst everyone when we returned with a chilled and fatigued but very-much-okay William.  His peers had been very distraught and were greatly relieved to see their friend!  And the staff?  Well you have never seen such a relieved and thankful group of people!  There was a great party around the camp fire that night and much praise sent up to God for allowing the lost to be found before something terrible had happened, especially since the temperatures dipped down close to the freezing mark that night.

Google Earth rendition of the routes that were taken that day.  The red lines indicate what the main group traveled and then Arne and Steve traveled.  The green line indicates the approximate route Pete and I traveled, and the yellow line is an approximation of the route William took and then Arne and Steve in order to retrieve him and then return to the truck parked at Race Horse Pass.

Where did William end up?  Why was he nearly two miles from where he should have been?  When he was told to head back for Window Lake, it seemed pretty obvious the way he should go, after all he had just walked it, and the lake was in sight pretty much the entire way down.  However, there was one section of trail that bended around a knob and lost sight of the lake, it was here, that William veered completely off course and walked across a giant scree field to find another lake.  Who knows what was going through his mind at the time!  There he walked around the lake, and not finding any people, he hunkered down to build a fire (which I can’t remember if he actually got started or just tried to).  Randomly (read: by the hand of God) he decided to climb back up and pop over the ridge to see if he could see anyone.  He didn’t see Arne and Steve—BUT they just happened to spot him, just as he dropped back over the ridge to return to working on his fire.

It was my turn recently to do Children’s Church and the lesson I taught on was based on the verses from Isaiah 53:5-6

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him”

This passage is a prophecy written about Messiah the Jews were waiting for and was fulfilled when Jesus of Nazareth went to the cross and died—taking the sin of the world on His shoulders.

The Bible often uses Sheep as an allegory for us (people), probably because it was an animal the people of the time were very familiar with, and probably because we are very much like sheep in attitude and can easily identify.

That day at Window Mountain Lake and this verse got me thinking of a story Jesus told:

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it?

When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’

Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.”  Luke 15:4-7 (MSG)

Yep, that’s exactly how we felt when we discovered William was lost.  We left the others (in good hands) and immediately set about finding the lost boy.  When he was found there was much rejoicing and celebration.  In fact, he became a bit of a celebrity—not because he got himself lost, but because he was FOUND!  And of course, the lake he discovered was dubbed William’s Lake.

Jake sitting above Window Mountain Lake

Jesus is my Search and Rescuer.

He is relentless in his search.

He set aside His own comfort for my well-being.

He will not stop, until I am found.

Once found, He comes alongside.  If necessary He carries me over the rough dangerous parts, he illuminates the darkness.  He brings me to safety.

And I am rescued not because of what I have done or am doing (or not doing), but because HE did the work.  He tramped the mountains and valleys.  He endured the heat or the cold. . .   He sweated and bled—for ME!  And not only for me, but all the other stubborn, misguided, self-confident, totally-in-control, lost-but-not-admitting-it sheep in this world.

The big deal is not in being lost— but in being FOUND by Him!

Therefore:

“This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.

He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss. They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right.

He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way.

His wounds became your healing.

You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going.

Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25 (MSG)

He will pursue you with a reckless extravagant love . . .

***Okay anybody else who was involved in this little escapade is strongly encouraged to leave their version in the comments—add information I was missing and correct my faulty memory!
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2 Responses to Lost at Window Mountain Lake

  1. Steve Maier says:

    Very well recorded Jake, though I never thought of myself as that much of a hero. I was just trying to keep up to a man twice my senior… 🙂 (or atleast at the time he was) God definetly had His hand on the events of that evening.
    One thing I recall from my perspective is how the ever-fun and never appearing to take things too seriously (ensuring that everyone is laughing at or with you) Heather was rock solid and unbelievably level headed.
    Good job on recounting and giving praise where it was do; GOD the author and perfecter of our faith.

    By God’s Grace Only
    Steve

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