Vacationing in Jasper National Park in Canada, Bud and Nila Neslen and their children decided to explore the Columbia Icefield. On a summer day in July they arrived at the famous Athabasca Glacier, one of the world’s largest moving glaciers. The Neslens parked their car at the toe of the glacier and began the hike up the hard-packed snow. They noticed the signs—Danger, Caution, Proceed at Your Own Risk—as they started up the path.
Bud and Nila brought up the rear as the five oldest children, in all their exuberance and excitement, raced several hundred feet ahead toward the top of this massive glacial spectacle. The children jumped over crevasses, wide and narrow, as they climbed.
Nine-year-old Greg was ahead of 11-year-old Cannon when he reached a crevasse about three feet wide. He leaped and made it across. Next Cannon jumped; he barely landed on the other side, then felt himself losing his footing. He was slipping into the crevasse, and there was nothing he could do to stop. In an instant he was sliding down between two walls of solid ice. Deeper and deeper he plummeted, down a breathless 30 feet before the walls finally narrowed enough to stop his fall. His shirt and sweatshirt were pulled up to his neck as his bare chest and back wedged between the walls of ice. Looking up, he could not see the top of the crevasse. Below, he could feel his legs dangling and could hear the roar of rushing water beneath him. Had the glacier walls not narrowed, he would have continued his fall into the raging ice water below.
Screaming for help, the other children frantically raced back down the trail to their parents. Bud told Nila and the children to hurry for help, and he ran up the trail to his son. He leaned over the edge of this gaping crevasse but could barely see Cannon. However, Bud could clearly see the under-glacier torrent flowing just 10 feet below Cannon. He felt it was by the grace of the Lord that Cannon had not fallen to a certain death in the river below. Fervent prayers were offered by the Neslens as the drama unfolded.
Cannon was screaming for help. Bud called down to him, fighting to stay calm himself, and offered encouragement. Then he called to several young men who were exploring the glacier, and they came running to help. Bud knew they had to keep Cannon calm and assure him that they would get him out. One of the men had a small rope in his pack. They lowered the rope down to Cannon and he took hold of it. The three men pulled as hard as they dared but couldn’t budge Cannon loose. They were afraid that the rope would break and that they would lose him to the river below.
Bud got down on his stomach and again leaned over the edge of the crevasse. Cannon was terrified and screaming. Bud tried again to calm him, to comfort him, reminding him that he was there and that help was coming. Most of all he assured him that his Father in Heaven would help him get out safely. Bud knew he had to keep his son talking and awake, fearing that the ice he was trapped in would soon bring on hypothermia. Bud recalled the Boy Scout skills for survival in ice and snow; he called down to Cannon and told him to keep his fingers, hands, arms, legs, and toes moving to avoid getting frostbite.
Bud told Cannon to pray and to sing his favorite song. Cannon began to pray out loud. It was as fervent a prayer as a father ever heard a young boy offer. Cannon pleaded with the Lord to help him. He prayed aloud for several minutes and then began to sing at the top of his voice: “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here. …” Cannon sang this song over and over again—for more than half an hour. The rescuers were visibly touched by his faith and actions.
At the bottom of the glacier, Nila and the other children were trying to get help. Nila and three of the Neslens’ daughters—Gina, Heidi, and Natalie—drove over a mile to the Athabasca Glacier Lodge. They were told that the Jasper National Park rangers could help. Personnel at headquarters were called and informed of the accident and immediately dispatched an ambulance that would have to travel the 75 miles from Jasper. They also said they would try to reach the two park rangers who covered the entire 100-mile-long Jasper National Park. Word soon came that the park rangers had been located. They were in the Athabasca area. Cannon’s family believed it was through the influence of the Lord that these rangers were so near. Nila and her daughters were able to find the rangers, who immediately assembled their rescue gear and raced to the glacier.
Bud continued to talk and pray with Cannon, offering him encouragement. Finally Bud saw the rescue van speeding down the hill and pulling into the parking lot at the glacier’s base. The rangers loaded the rescue gear into their packs and headed up the glacier. By now Cannon had been in this ice abyss for over an hour; time was beginning to take its toll.
The rangers quickly assessed the situation, then drove spikes into the ice, put on their cleats, hooked up ropes, and tried to lower the smaller of the two rangers into the crevasse. After he was lowered three or four feet, he found the crevasse was too narrow for him. He tried to chip away enough ice to squeeze down closer to Cannon, but it was no use. The rangers decided that the only way to accomplish a rescue was for Cannon to hold on to a rope while they pulled him out. The ranger told his father, “The only way this will work is if he has the strength to hold on to the rope.”
Bud said a prayer again in his heart—the most heartfelt prayer he’d ever offered. He pleaded with the Lord quietly to save his son’s life: “Spare him; bring him out of the crevasse.” As Bud finished his prayer, a calm assurance came to him and he knew without a doubt that Cannon would be all right.
By now, an hour and a half had passed. Cannon was barely conscious; his final whispered prayer and a faint “I am a child of God …” barely reached the ears of the hopeful rescuers. They knew Cannon was almost out of strength and fighting to stay alert. One ranger called questions down to him and told him he knew God would help him. But Cannon did not reply. Bud yelled down and told him a rope was coming: “Grab the rope and hold on with all your might; we’ll pull you out!”
The rangers lowered the rope—down, down to Cannon’s icy hands. Then unseen hands must have placed Cannon’s numb fingers in a tight grip around the rope. When the rescuers felt movement, they gave it their strength, pulling the rope and boy upward—inch by inch, foot by foot, all 30 or more feet. Afterwhat seemed an eternity, Cannon’s unconscious body was finally within the grasp of his rescuers, and he was carefully lifted out. Cannon’s fingers were frozen around the rope; they had to be pried loose.
Cannon had been rescued from the depths of the crevasse but was still in grave danger. He was alive but in shock; hypothermia had set in. His face had turned blue and he was sopping wet. The rescuers quickly stripped off Cannon’s wet clothes and wrapped his stiff body in blankets and a sheepskin coat. One of the rangers picked him up in his arms like a babe and ran down the glacier.
Just as they reached the bottom, the ambulance from Jasper arrived. Paramedics tried to start an IV but were unable to because of Cannon’s slowed circulation and frozen skin. His body temperature had fallen to 89 degrees. One of the paramedics took off his own shirt and bear hugged Cannon to warm his body. About 20 minutes later Cannon began to respond slightly.
As his mother watched him in the ambulance, Cannon gradually regained consciousness. With it came an awareness of terrible pain. Though he was now awake, for the present he had no memory of being trapped in the glacier. By the time they arrived at the hospital over an hour later, Cannon was fully conscious and his body temperature had risen to normal. The first thing he saw when the doors of the ambulance opened was his father.
There is no doubt to the Neslen family that God loves his children and hears and answers prayers. Even though they had not adequately heeded the warning signs at the foot of the glacier, the Lord had blessed Cannon and his rescuers that summer day. According to his father, Cannon has changed since the incident. His life has taken on deeper meaning, and he lives with sincere resolve. In 1995 Cannon received his mission call; he was called to serve in the Canada Vancouver Mission, not far from the Athabasca Glacier.
This article may furnish material for a family home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider questions such as:
The Spirit often posts “warning signs” when we are in physical or spiritual danger. Can you think of an experience when you were led to safety by the Spirit?
Comfort and solace can often come through music. What are some of your favorite hymns or Primary songs? What do you feel when you sing these songs?