Climbing the Mountain

Episode #37: Published Novembert 4, 2019

Stacy Taniguchi grew up as a Buddhist in Hawaii and joined the Church so that he could marry his girlfriend who was a Latter-day Saint. He confesses that his testimony and knowledge of the gospel was minimal before a harrowing climb on Denali, the highest peak in North America, forced him to put his new faith to the test. 

SHOW NOTES

Today's episode was sponsored by TOFW.

Stacy submitting Denali, Alaska's tallest mountain peak. 


Hidden under snow, crevasses or cracks in glaciers can be difficult to spot. The one on the right in the picture above is about 3,000 feet deep. 


Stacy has climbed Denali several times and has also climbed some world's tallest mountain peaks including Everest. 

If you're curious about Stacy's list and how it has shaped his life, check out the article by BYU Magazine Sarah references in the show notes here.

Transcript

Sarah: Welcome to This Is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm Sarah Blake filling in today for our regular host, KaRyn Lay. 

I will be forever grateful that I got to spend the first 30 years of my life in the Rocky Mountains, living in Colorado and Utah and Idaho and Montana. I've always loved the presence of the mountains around me, but I would say we never really got acquainted until I was in my 20s. I was living in Salt Lake City, and my sister Liz and I got hooked on hiking. And we started a tradition we called "Summit September: a peak a week." As the name implies, we would summit a mountain every weekend in September. And we carried on the tradition for four years before life took us in other directions. But now, I love to look back on those four amazing "Summit September's" where we spent our Saturday's walking and talking in the autumn glory of the Wasatch Mountains. I should also mention that because we thought it was funny and we were trying to prove a point about how you don't need a lot of fancy gear to go hiking, we climbed in wool skirts and tights that we got at the thrift store. So now you have a visual. Two sisters and raggedy skirts, climbing the Rockies. Now I live in Virginia. And although here there are many opportunities to walk through mosquito-infested forests that smell like rotten swamp water, I hardly ever hike. In case you can't tell, I am much less motivated to get out and hike in Virginia. I've been thinking lately about why that is. And I think that for me—although it's true I don't dig the bugs and humidity—what's really missing is summits. There is something so special about getting to the top of a peak. The sense of achievement is great for one, but most of all it's that view. There is nothing else like it. To stand on the top of the biggest thing you can see and look around you 360 degrees, everything spread out around you and beneath you, and you, a tiny speck at the top of this huge and rugged world. I could drink in that view and that feeling forever. And part of what's so powerful about a summit is knowing that there is no other way to get there, except to put in the effort step after step after step after step after step, until you have earned that moment of godlike perspective, with the exertion of every cell in your exhausted but exhilarated body. We know from the scriptures and from the fact that the temple is sometimes called the mountain of the Lord, that our Heavenly Father uses mountains as special places for sacred experiences. And today, we have a story of a personal moment on a mountain from a lifelong adventure who has experienced more of the dangers and glories of summit's than most of us will ever know. Here is Stacy.


Stacy: God can convert me and anyone however He wants. But we always have to remember the eternal principle of agency is something that He will never disrupt. And it has to be our choice. He can put opportunities in front of us, He can put challenges in front of us, but we ultimately have to make the choice whether we accept those opportunities, which opportunities we choose. I think He knows me very well that for me, things have to kind of like explode in front of my face to really get what's going on. If He tries to do something subtly, I could easily pass over it—I guess it's just my personality. But this was one in which He had to Get me to be in a position where this is like in your face, it's happening now and the time to think through and pretend and whatever is over. 

I was born in Hawaii, on an island that most people probably never go to when they go visit Hawaii. It's called Molokai. It's probably most well-known because it's the place where the leper colony existed, but that was just a small peninsula on the island. My father was a rancher. He was the foreman of the Molokai ranch, and that's where our family was raised. So I could have just stayed on the island lived a very rural Hawaiian, tropical life, surfing and doing that all the time. But I had run across an article that came from a magazine. It was called Life Magazine and I just was always fascinated looking at the pictures. And in the very back, kind of the picture of the week, there was a gentleman holding up a piece of paper, and it just looked like it had an itemized list. And the caption at the bottom was "He completed his list." And basically what it was is he had created a list of the things that he wanted to do and learn and accomplish in his life. And he had finished the list. And I thought, "That's kind of interesting." And so I thought, "Yeah, I should probably make a list." And so I did, you know, as a young man. And over a period of probably 10 or 12 years, the list grew to 100 things. And one of the things on that list was to climb mountains because Hawaii doesn't have huge mountains and Molokai definitely doesn't have anything that's of any substance. But for some reason, I just thought climbing a mountain would give you a better view of things. And climbing has really made my life one in which I left the island of Molokai and I've been around the world several times. I moved from Hawaii to Japan, because my sister married a gentleman who was in the military and got stationed there. I lost my father when I was only a year old. But he became my father figure. And so we traveled a lot with my sister and my brother in law. And being in the military, we moved around a lot. So Japan was the first change, California, Illinois, Washington, and then eventually to Alaska where I got there when I was, you know, older teenage years. Then eventually, coming to Utah was because of opportunities that I had in Alaska that I took advantage of. One of my former coaches, when I was skier, invited me to help him do a study. But I needed to be close to Park City. I had never been to Utah before. And so he gave me several choices of universities that I could go to. Brigham Young University was one but you pretty much were a member of the church to have any interest in going there.

So the U of U was definitely the ideal. And so that's where I applied and started my master's program there. And I met a young lady who was down in Provo at the time. I think when you live in Utah for any period of time, obviously, the exposure of the church is everywhere. I don't think you're going to find very many people that can't say that there's something about members of the church, that they are striving to do good in this world. I recognized that when I was a student at the U of U, but not a member of the church. So when I met my wife, obviously, I was very attracted to her. And she was the one that I felt like I wanted to live with for the rest of my life. And she's an active member of the church. And I'm thinking, "Okay, how bad is this to join an organization where they're really trying to do good?" And the thing that really caught my attention was, they're not wishy-washy and gray areas. You either do this or you don't do this. And I'm probably about as wishy-washy as anybody. You give me a little bit of gray area, and I'll take advantage of the gray area. And I thought, you know, what, if I'm going to be a husband, and I'm going to be a dad, I don't want to be wishy-washy. And I thought, "You know what, I need that in my life." But again, the reason why I'm first interested in this religion is not because of the philosophy of the religion, it is because of the young woman that I've fallen in love with. And if she wants me to join this church, then I'm going to do it. Because I don't see anything like really bad about it, you know, it's a good group of people to be around.

So I got baptized, really for ulterior motives. We moved back to Alaska, and my wife, being new to the 49th state, went to the church to get friends and I went with her. And then, of course, you receive callings, which kind of gives you some purpose and that was very important to me. And so going to church was never an issue. Being raised the Buddhist, a Jesus figure is not relevant. But it was an interesting concept for me. So everything that I learned from the religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was relatively new and it was fascinating. Did I have a testimony of Jesus Christ? Probably not in the sense that most members of the church would say. But did I believe He existed and He was doing good things and trying to make people better people? Absolutely. For me, He became more of a role model of how I should live my life, rather than my Savior, so to speak. That came later.

Well, back to Alaska. One of my jobs in Alaska was a wilderness adventure guide. And every year I was guiding people on Denali, which is the highest mountain in North America, it stands at 20,320 feet. And on one particular expedition, one of the clients was a police officer who his dream was to climb the "Nali." And he came from a police department that sponsored one of their police officers every year to accomplish something that they're doing if they can tie it in with a charity. And so this gentleman, he was going to get pledges for every thousand feet that he would gain on the mountain. So that was his thing. But what was interesting about him was not him so much, as his girlfriend who was at this gear check. We usually about a couple of days before we leave for the mountain—the guides, myself and my two assistants—we met with our clients and we call it a gear check. We go through all of their gear and we look to see whether they have everything or they’re taking too much. And we start to get to know each other because we haven't met anybody personally, all we've seen is applications and things. And she came up after we had done all of our minglings and checking the gear and she said, "Stacy, I am Denny's fiance. And we're going to get married about two weeks after you get back from the mountain, so I need you to do something for me." And I thought, "Okay, what do you want me to do?" And she says, "I want you to promise me that you will bring him back alive." And I was a little taken aback. I thought she was kidding. So I said, "Oh, yeah, sure. He'll be back." And then, I could see in her eyes, she was very serious. And she said, "No, I want you to promise me." And I told her I said, "I mean, I can't promise that but I will do all that I can to protect my clients. I have not lost a client yet. I will do my best." She says, "That's not good enough, you need to promise me." So to kind of like, okay, I just got to get out of the situation, I just nonchalantly said, "I promise." And then she turned around and walked away. And I didn't really think anything more of it. So a couple of days later, we're flying into the mountains and we arrived at the base camp, which is at about 7000 feet, and we begin our journey to climb this mountain over the next three weeks. And it takes us that long because Denali being a very high mountain, it's a high altitude mountain. It's one of the Seven Summits of the world. And even though we don't use bottled oxygen, we have to climatize to get used to that kind of an altitude. So typically the way we do it is we make a camp, then we carry everything we don't need at that camp to the site of the next camp, which is usually anywhere between four to six miles up the glacier and up the mountain. And we bury the gear and supplies and we bury it very deep, and then we wand it so that it can be identified when we come back the next day. And then we go all the way back to the lower camp and we spend the night. The strategy's called "climb high, sleep low." And it has shown to help in a climatization. Then the very next day, we get up, we break the camp, and we now move everything to the site of where we left the gear the day before. And then we set up a new camp and we repeat this process all the way up the mountain. We may take a rest day every now and then and we have some storm days where we can't move. So all in all on the average to climb a mountain like Denali, you're looking at anywhere from 12 to 19 days to try to get to the summit. And on this particular trip, Denny, this police officer, we started to notice fairly quickly that he was not as strong as the other members of the climb. But, like in any other team effort, your team is only as strong as the weakest link. So we kind of took our time, tried to keep an eye on him. And as we progressed higher and higher up on the mount, we noticed it was not getting any better. He wasn't sleeping well at night, he couldn't eat very much because the stomach was always upset. He was showing all the signs of what we call "acute mountain sickness." So when you're not sleeping and you're not eating, and you're having basically oxygen starvation in your body, you are just getting weaker and weaker as we go. So we made it to the 14,000-foot camp, which is about midway up the mountain and the next day, we are carrying a load up the steepest part of the climb called "The Headwall." 2000 feet of just blue ice, very hard, frozen ice. So you know if you've seen a glacier, you've probably seen the blue ice there. So if you can think about going up a very steep staircase, probably more than 45 degrees. And this is 2000 feet of this kind of ice, this is a pretty steep and very technical and hard section to climb. So we have crampons, spikes on our boots, ice axes in our hands, and we have a rope that's fixed on the slope that the climbers can clip into in case they slip and fall, they won't go very far. And as we're going up, I'm in the very front of the group. And about three-fourths of the way up, I hear my assistant guide who is further down starting to yell, "Stacey, we're having problems with Denny." And so we stop and I turn around and look, and I can see there are people around Denny. And so I have to now work my way back down to where he is, which is probably a couple hundred feet. And as I'm getting closer, I notice, down by Denny's feet, there is a red spot on the ice. And I'm thinking, he just has an upset stomach. He probably threw up the cherry Kool-aid that we gave everybody that morning to put in their water bottles. But as I'm getting closer, I'm realizing that's not Kool-Aid. That's blood.

So I know this is getting bad. We're moving from acute mountain sickness to probably pulmonary edema, which basically means fluid is building up in his lungs. So the decision is made that I'm going to take him down by myself, back to the lower camp and hope he starts to improve. If he doesn't, I'm going to drop him another thousand feet lower, and hopefully, improve enough that we might be able to move back up the mountain and catch up with the rest of the team. That was the plan. But when we get back to that lower camp, he's actually getting worse. It's not improving at all. His trip is over, this is as far as he's going to go. I told Denny, I said, "Hey, you know what, you're going to be able to go home, get more time to get ready for your wedding. That's an exciting part of your life." We radio up to the team and we tell them that we're headed down and they can go ahead and continue up. So Denny and I together, are roped together and we're heading down the mountain. Now, we've been gone for about a little over two weeks and we had beautiful weather during that whole time. So on the upper half of the mountain, having that kind of beautiful sunny days, it's just wonderful. But it's not good on the lower part of the mount because the heat is high enough that it's melting the snow. So when we get to the glacier at the bottom of the mountain, we have six miles to go from the base of the mountain to the base camp where the planes come in to fly people in and out. And that glacier, two weeks previously had had a lot of snow on it. So we could walk fairly straight and get to where we needed to go. But now, because we've had such good weather, the sun had melted out a lot of the snow and we start seeing the cracks in the glacier. Now, these cracks we call crevasses. Glaciers, I'm not sure people know what it is, but it's basically a frozen river of water. And it's just where snow accumulates faster than it can melt. And so over hundreds of years, this ice just builds up. Well, the glacier we're on has been estimated to be over 3000 feet thick. So that's a big chunk of ice. And because the bottom has to move over the irregularities of the earth, it moves slower than the ice up on top. So it causes cracks. And some of these cracks are big enough that you could take the car that you own, drop it in the hole, and you will never hear it touch the sizer at the bottom. So you don't want to fall into these things. So as long as you can see the cracks, you're okay because you know I'm not going over there. So you have to zigzag around them, look for places where you can cross. The danger comes in is where you can't see the crevasse because it's still being covered by snow on top. And some of that snow is thick enough—we call them "snow bridges"— that you can cross the cracks. But some of them are not thick enough that your weight will cause it to collapse. And if it collapses, you fall into the crevasse. So we are roped together, we have 150 feet of rope. We're tied in at the one third and the two-third marks of the rope. So there are 50 feet between us. And each of us has a 50-foot tail that we coil around our body that we can use for anything that we might need to use it for.

Denny is in the front, I'm in the back. And the purpose of that is when you're going downhill if something bad's going to happen, it's usually going to happen to the guy in the front, and you want the person who's the most skilled and knowledgeable to be not in the crevasse. And we have ski poles in our hands and we're using ski poles to probe the snow as we walk. Now, I have never been in the military and I've never been to war and I definitely never had to go through a minefield, but this is probably the next closest thing because every step you take the snow is soft enough that your foot sinks in. Now most of the time, it'll sink into your ankle or maybe to your mid-calf. But sometimes you're on one of those weak snow bridges and your foot pops all the way through. And you know you're on a very delicate bridge that hasn't collapsed but your foot is underneath. So we prob with every step. So now what probably should only take us a couple of hours to get six miles completed the base camp, we're into this traveling about four hours because we're zigzagging back and forth, we're looking for the snow bridges. We're sinking up sometimes to our ankles, sometimes to our knees and then sometimes one leg pops through. Denny stops and he says, "Stacy, I can't handle this anymore. My stress level is so high. I'm freaking out. We have to trade places, you have to be in the lead." So I switch places with him so now I'm in the lead. Now we're each carrying a backpack that probably has about 35 pounds of gear in it. And we're each dragging a sled and it probably has anywhere about 50 to 70 pounds of gear in it. And then we have the 50 feet of rope. I'm probing with each step and it's—I totally understand where Denny's coming from because I never know if my foot sinking into a crevasse or I'm just on some soft snow. So you prob with every step and as you walk, you're just wondering, you know, is this the step that's going to collapse under me and it's just very, very tense. Nobody else is around on the glacier. All you're hearing is the crunching of snow below you but there is no other sound because the snow on the ground is buffering any other noise and you've got these huge mountains that are just on both sides of the glacier. It's actually when you stop, it is dead silent.

So we're walking, we're walking for probably another couple of hours. And then all of a sudden, boom. I'm up to my armpits on the glacier, and I can feel nothing under my feet. And I realized, whoa, this is a snow bridge. And it's at least deeper than what I can reach under my feet. So I'm very cautious because I don't want this snow bridge to collapse because if it collapses, I'm going in. I'm in a hole, and my arms are the only things that are keeping me from going through the hole. And I've got my arms stretched way out as far as I can, just to try to kind of disperse my weight. So I slowly mantle myself out, not wanting to push too hard because I just don't know how thick this bridge is. And when I finally get my body out, I literally crab crawl as best I can on my stomach to where I think the edge of the curve is, which is probably another 10 feet away. And when I feel like I'm on solid ground, I stand up and I turned to Denny and I tell Denny, "That's a snow bridge that's waiting to collapse." Now I'm not a very big person, I'm five foot six probably weigh, at the time, maybe 120 pounds. But Denny is a police officer, six foot four, probably 230 pounds, and he's pretty fit. So I know that if I popped through that snow bridge, he has a much better chance of not just popping through a hole, he could collapse the whole bridge. So I tell Denny, "You can't follow my path. Go to the far right or to the far left of my path. Keep the rope tight, and you prob with every step that you take. And he says he's got it. So I take a step, he takes a step forward, I take a step, he takes a step forward. So when I turn around after about four or five steps, I see that he's now moved to the right where I was going. And I think he's probably in a good place. So we start walking a little bit faster, but we're still probing. And then all of a sudden, I'm on my back, and I'm sliding backwards. He's just fallen through and he didn't just fall through a hole, he's going to the bottom of the crevasse and he's pulling me in. And I'm on my back, sliding back and I'm going, "Oh, my heavens." Now, most people hopefully don't spend a lot of their time in their life thinking about how you're going to leave this earth. But at that particular moment, I was realizing that unless I stop, Denny and I are going to disappear off the face of this earth. We're going to both go into this crevasse, which could drop maybe a couple thousand feet, maybe the whole 3000 feet, and no one will know where we are or what happened to us. And I was thinking like, "Wow, that's an interesting way to go." But then I also thought, "I don't want to die yet, so I've got to try to stop somehow." Well, when you're on snow and ice, the typical way and the best way to stop is you need an ice ax and you do a technique called a self-arrest. The ice ax has a pick on it and if you can plant it into the snow and ice and put your body weight on it, it can cause enough friction that could stop you. The only problem is I don't have my ice ax in my hands. I have ski poles because I was using that to probe. And I'm thinking like, "Oh my gosh, where did I put my ice ax?" I'm thinking all this as I'm sliding back and I'm sliding back fast enough, where seconds are counting. And I remember that morning when we started off, I had placed the ice ax on the outside of my backpack. But I can't remember if it was on the right side or the left side. And I know I don't have time to make the wrong choice. 

Now, the story of my life is I'm never picking the right thing the first go around. When I go to church on Sunday, I come to the double doors, I always pick the door that's locked. The other door's the one that's open. I can come back the next week and say, "Oh, well, that door was locked last week, I'll pick this door. No, that door now is locked, I got to use the other door." So I'm thinking like, "Oh man, my chance of getting it right the first time is not very good. And I'm just—I got to make a choice, though. And it's a 50/50 choice. At the time, my calling in the church was, I was teaching primary, CTR 8. And believe it or not, that's what I thought of at that time. CTR, why not choose the right? So I reached up with my right hand, and for the first time in my life, I picked the right one the first time. I pulled it out immediately, slammed the pick into the ice, rolled over as fast and as best as I could, and just tried to plant that pick into that glacial ice, which is not easy. But as we were moving, I'm noticing I'm slowing down but I'm not stopping. And I've got to be very close to the edge now. So I keep pushing and pushing and pushing, and finally, I'm starting to slow down enough where I think I might be able to stop in the next maybe foot or so. And then I come to the stop just as my toes feel nothing. In other words, my feet now are over the edge over crevasse where Denny went into the hole. And I just lay there for a while, and I'm just thinking, "I might survive this." But now Denny is in this hole. And he's about 40 feet down. So now I have to unhook myself from the rope, anchor the rope off so that I'm free to move around. And remember, I have 50 feet a rope coiled around me, so that rope now becomes my safety line. So I rig up anchors the best I can to hold Denny's weight. And then I take the other 50 feet and tie it into me so that I can now crawl over and look down in the hole where Denny's at. And Denny is dangling into this dark abyss, 40 feet below. He's fine, he's shaken up obviously, and Denny's gotta let go of some of his excess weight. So the first thing he has to let go is the sled that's got about 50 pounds of gear in it. And mountaineers typically carry some kind of a knife close by where we can get to it usually on the strap of their backpack or in a pocket on their outer jacket. And I tell Denny, you got to cut the rope, let the sled go. Well, kind of funny, he goes, "No, my brand new climbing gear is in the sled." And I said, "Denny, we don't care about the sled anymore. You got to cut it otherwise you're not going to get out of there." So kind of reluctantly, he takes this knife out and he cuts the rope that's attached to the sled and we watch the sled—which is the orange plastic sled that you see kids sliding down hills, that's what we use—we see this orange thing disappear into the abyss and we don't hear it. It's not hitting anything, we don't hear it touch the sides, we don't hear it touch the bottom. So we know this is a big, deep crevasse. Now Denny's gotta let go of his pack. And he really doesn't want to do that, because a lot of his personal climbing gear is in it and stuff, but it weighs about 30 to 35 pounds. I said, Denny, you gotta let it go. I'm sorry, but you gotta let it go.

So again, he's kind of reluctantly taking this pack off, he drops and we watch it disappear into the abyss. Now he has to try to get himself out. The only problem is his hands are getting cold. So when you're in a crevasse, you're basically in an icebox. And typically, the temperature in a crevasse is 40 degrees colder than being outside of the crevasse. And that morning, I had taken the air temperature at about 10 degrees above zero. So Denny's in an icebox of about minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit and his hand aren't operating very well, which is bad because now he can't handle the equipment that he needs to get out. So now, the second option is I have to get him out, I have to somehow pull that rope that he's attached to out. But in the meantime, what had happened was the rope as it crossed over the edge of the crevasse had now melted into the edge. And the ice above it now has refrozen. Now I could try to chop it out, but I take a risk that if I hit too hard in the wrong direction, I could cut the rope and then he's gone. So I don't want to do that. And so now I know this is not good. I don't know how I'm going to get him out. By this time, a couple of hours have gone by and he is getting hypothermic very quickly. Now I do have a stove. I had a thermos and obviously plenty of snow and ice. So I'm melting snow, heating it and boiling the water because I know I need to keep his core temperature warm. I lower the thermos down so that he can drink it and keep his core temperature. So I think that helped keep him alive for at least now. But I'm on my radio and this is back in the day where we don't have cell phones or we don't have sat phones. So I'm on a CB radio just calling, "Mayday, Mayday, I need help on the glacier." And, of course, nobody's answering because nobody's there. And this is going on for probably four hours. And Denny is slowly losing it. And I'm yelling at him, "Denny, don't fall asleep. Because if you fall asleep, I lose you. You've got to stay with me, talk to me and keep drinking the hot water." But I can tell this is not turning out good. He is dying on me. And then I remembered the promise.

I had promised his fiancee that I would bring him back alive. And that hit me like a ton of bricks. At that moment, I knew I'm gonna break this promise. I'm gonna go have to go home and tell her, "I'm sorry, but we lost Denny." So at that moment, with nobody around to help, we've tried everything that I know how to do to get him out, and he's slowly dying of hypothermia. I remembered that when I did join the church, I was told by many people, that I would receive a priesthood. The authority to call upon the powers of heaven. That power that created the earth. That power that can heal. That power that could move mountains. And again, remember, I'm a convert. If you ask me back then, "Did I really have a true testimony?" I would probably have to say, "Nah, I don't think so." I had ulterior motives. But now I'm in this predicament where I'm thinking, "Okay, if this church is true, and what they tell me about this priesthood is real, I need to move a mountain right now. And it's got to happen pretty quick. So if you can imagine, I get on my knees in the middle of this glacier, in the middle of Alaska, in the middle of nowhere, with nobody else around and I have a heart to heart talk with God. I said, "If this is real, I need to know now. I have done the best I could to be faithful to this religion. I have practiced and gone to church like I've been asked to do. I've tried to give service when I could. But this is something that I need for myself to know is this true?"

And I don't even know if I said, "Amen." But that's how serious and how desperate I was. So I get on the radio one more time I go, "Mayday, mayday! If anybody's out there, I'm here on this glacier and I need help, and I need it now." All of a sudden there's crackling on the radio. And that's a sign that somebody is on the other end and I'm yelling, "Who is this? Who is this!?" Only to find out it's a mountaineering Ranger who is at base camp, who came in a week earlier than he should have to do a reconnaissance of the base camp to get ready, to clean it up. And he had been falling asleep in his tent, got up early, went to the radio tent, heard the mayday call. He says, "I'm coming down right away." Now he's with his girlfriend, they both get on skis, they rope up together to be safe and they ski down to where we are. It took them about half an hour. In the meantime, he's a mountaineering Ranger for Denali National Park, so he does have a satellite phone. So he's calling for a helicopter rescue because he knows we're going to need a fast evacuation. Now, here's an interesting side note. At the time, I didn't know who that pilot was of that helicopter, but that pilot, his name is James Jury, and he's a member of the church. And for that particular morning, he is flying that helicopter near to where we are. Normally he wouldn't be doing that. But because he's flying that day close by he can be there like in 10 minutes. And so both the Ranger and his girlfriend who happens to be a nurse and the helicopter pilot arrived. And he immediately, the helicopter pilot, drops a cable about 100 feet. I attach myself to the cable he lifts me off the snow and somehow, miraculously drops me into the hole that Denny is in. I grabbed Denny, hook him into my harness, cut the rope that's been his lifeline for like the last five hours and pulls us both out of the same hole, which is a miracle in and of itself. We immediately put him in a sleeping bag, put hot water bottles in the bag, we load him up into the helicopter and we fly him out of dodge. Get him out now.

Now I don't know what anybody else thinks, but for me that day, I converted. The priesthood is real, don't ever underestimate that authority. Call upon it. And if you have faith and know that it's real and you trust the Lord to do the things that you are asking for, miracles will happen. Because there is no reason on Earth why Denny is alive today. Two weeks after this incident, he did get married and he now lives in Alaska as a family, and I know why he's there, and I know why he's alive. Because I know the priesthood is real because of that day on Denali.


Sarah: That was Stacy Taniguchi, who, besides being a riveting storyteller and adventurer is also a retired BYU Professor with a lot to say about how to live an intentional life. You might, like me, need a few minutes to get your heart rate back under control after that story. When you do, make sure you go to our show notes where we have a link to the BYU magazine article that features more of his adventures, and also his top tips for living an intentional thriving life. It's definitely worth a read. 

I'll be thinking about Stacy's experience on Denali for a while. But right now the thing that hits me is the way God led Stacy to that personal moment of testimony. Like Stacy said, God knew what it would take to get his attention, and on that mountaintop, on the edge of a crevasse with someone else's life hanging by a thread and a promise to be kept, God had created all the conditions necessary for his son, Stacy, to finally, sincerely reach out and ask for the help and answers he needed. Just like it was for Moses and Nephi and the brother of Jared, the moment on the mountain was personal. 

I read something that relates to this years ago from a writer who is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His name is H. Wallace Goddard. I looked and I looked, but I wasn't able to find the article again so I hope I'm quoting it right. Basically, he described that the Savior was perfectly obedient to the will of the Father. But then he said that surely, there were many, maybe even infinite ways to be perfectly obedient to the will of the Father. Even within perfect obedience, there was still agency, still freedom of choice in the way Jesus chose to fulfill his role on earth, and the words he chose to speak in the order in which he did things every day. And here's the quote that has stuck with me for years. "It is beautiful to ponder what elements of the Savior's life are simply reflections of His own sweet style." His own sweet style, I love that. A few years later, after I read this, I stood pondering that idea on a mountaintop in Israel, the Mount of Beatitudes where the Savior gave the Sermon on the Mount. It was an incredibly beautiful day, with a light wind rippling through the white yellow grass on the hill, and the cerulean blue of the Sea of Galilee below. And beyond that, the hills of Galilee and Nazareth stretching out in shades of salmon and purple to the horizon. I stood there and I thought, "Jesus liked this view." We know that he chose to spend a lot of time around there and maybe, I thought, "Maybe he just plain liked it here." He liked the color of the water, the look of those mountains, the feel of that breeze. And I stood there reflecting on his own sweet style in this place that we know is one of Jesus's favorites. And as I stood there I found God answering so many of my own prayers with a wonderful overwhelming sense of okay-ness this with myself. A confidence that God knows me, that He enjoys my own sweet style, and that He trusts me with my life. This answer came at a time when I really needed that kind of confirmation. As I struggled to know if my meandering path through my single years was okay. And it was yet another sweet confirmation of his unique knowledge of me that my Heavenly Father chose to give me that moment on a mountaintop. We can't always climb literal mountains in pursuit of these moments of connection with heaven. Sometimes, frankly, we can't even make it to the mountain of the Lord. But I have certainly felt God create mountaintop moments in my life and get me there to meet him on the summit. Usually, on the craggy peak of some uncomfortable trial, sort of an explode-in-your-face situation like Stacy experienced. But there, with legs, shaking from the effort and the wind whipping our hair in our face, God creates the experiences where he can speak to each of us and greet us as unique individuals and teach us the things that we simply couldn't have learned before the mountain. He calls us to the mountains, literal or metaphorical because he wants us to know Him and to know ourselves. And because it is there that he can give us a glimpse of his world that we can get nowhere else. And I know it is worth all the effort to get to the top and be given that perspective. At the summit of your seeking, there is an experience designed to just for you, the answer that you earned through your own sweat and exertion and faith. Whatever mountain lies ahead of you this week, I hope that you find the power through the Savior's love to keep climbing and trust that God is waiting to teach you something there, and that you will make it safely back to tell the tale.

That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." It has been so fun to share my thoughts in this episode with you. Thanks for joining us today and thank you to Dr. Stacy Taniguchi for sharing his story with us. We'll have the transcript of this episode as well as that article from BYU magazine in the show notes for this episode at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel.

All of our stories on this podcast are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. If you have a great story about your experience living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we want to hear from you on our pitch line. Leave us a short three-minute story pitch at 515-519-6179. You can find out what themes we're working on right now by following us on Instagram and Facebook @thisisthegospel_podcast. Don't forget to tell us about your experience with this podcast. Please take the time to leave a review on the Apple Podcast app or on Bookshelf PLUS+ app from Deseret Book. We love to hear your thoughts about certain episodes too. This episode was produced by me, Sarah Blake. With story producing and editing from KaRyn Lay. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Derek Campbell at Mix At Six Studios. Our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at LDSliving.com/podcasts.