My Family in Danger

Fall 1973, Palos Verdes California at a cliff next to the Pacific Ocean. We were having a late afternoon picnic out on the rocks. After eating, we played in the tide pools between rocks.

High tide began to come in, and instead of walking along the pathway next to the cliff to get back to our car, I suggested we take a short cut by scaling the cliff. I assured my wife I had done this dozens of times.

I put my two year old daughter on my shoulders, grabbed hold of the picnic basket, and started climbing up the cliff. My four year old followed behind me and my wife behind her.

Everything was going well until about fifteen feet from the top, where I ran out of small crevices and ledges to hold on to and stand on. At about the same time my two year old started rocking back and forth, causing me to have to work to keep my balance.

We had climbed about forty feet up, and the waves began to hit the rocks below. I looked down at my wife, who was now steadying our four year old with her left hand, and asked, “Do you think we should try and climb back down?”

“Dozens of times?” was her only reply.

“This whole thing is driving me crazy,“ my four year old blurted out.

I froze, I had put my family in danger. I was at a loss for a solution.

I immediately dropped the picnic basket and watched it tumble down until it hit the surf. I then tried one more time to stretch my arm up as high as it would go to catch on to something. My finger tips found nothing but smooth surface.

The wind started up. I could feel my two year old’s body start to shiver as it hit her.

With nothing left to do, I reflexively started bargaining with God. As I did, I caught a figure out of the right corner of my eye coming toward me from around the cliff.

It was a mountain climber! Not just one, but two. They were dressed in khaki green mountain climbing clothes tightly laced boots; and the first climber had a rope hanging from his shoulder.

As the first climber approached me, he asked in a surprising French accent, if he could help us.

I was so shocked at what I was witnessing, I could only get out one word, “Please”.

They quickly took control. The first climber lifted my daughter off my shoulders and easily took her to the top of the cliff. As he gently placed her on the ground, he calmly directed her to stay there. He then came back down a few feet and stretched out his right arm. I grabbed hold of it and used it as leverage to pull myself up to the top.

The other climber then placed my four year old over his left shoulder. Instinctively she grabbed and held on to his neck with her small left hand. Climbing to the top, in what appeared to me to be almost effortlessly, he placed her directly beside me.

Then, without a word, the climber returned down the cliff to where my wife was. He was above her when he sat down on his legs and extended his right hand toward her. Also speaking in a French accent he asked, “Madame, may I escort you to the top?” Cheri replied, “You may”, reaching her hand upwards toward his. In no time at all she too was brought to the top of the cliff.

Safe, the stress of it all hit my wife and me as tears welled up in our eyes. Watching us, both of our little girls also began to cry. Expressions of gratitude then poured out to our rescuers. They asked if we would be alright. We assured them we would be, and as quickly as they came into our lives, ever so quickly they were gone, continuing their quest along the cliff’s wall.

As the sun began to set, the four of us huddled together with arms wrapped around each other. Laughs of relief and joy spontaneously broke out.

I cannot remember ever being any more grateful than I was at that moment, for a rescue I had done nothing to merit.

As the years have gone by, my feeling of gratitude has added a deep sense of wonderment to it. Today, I have no quick explanation for how it was that two French mountain climbers happened to intersect with a small family in danger, along the side of a cliff next to the Pacific Ocean.

The odds of such a thing happening are so remote as to be virtually impossible. But, the virtually impossible happened. When I think back on it, all I can do is smile and turn my head back and forth in awe.

My two daughters now have small children of their own. Every flower pot these grandchildren might knock over, every drink they may spill on the rug means nothing to me, as I reflect back to that special day when their mothers were safely raised to the top of that precarious cliff next to the ocean.