Stranded in the Andes


What had begun as a carefree youth activity, became an experience with the Holy Ghost we would always remember.

The bus load of excited seminary students were singing their way from Santiago, Chile, to the Andes Mountains. From my seat on the bus, I listened with delight as some fifty young people from all over Chile sang hymn after hymn together, sharing the spirit of the gospel with brothers and sisters they had just met. The joy on their young faces made me think of small children playing with a Christmas toy.

It was 1973, and I was a teacher in Chile’s pioneer early-morning seminary program. Together with my wife and several other adult leaders, men and women, we were on our way for a day at the beautiful Morales Baths in the Maipo Canyon of the Andes.

When we arrived at our destination, our group was ecstatic to see and touch snow for the first time. Immediately, the young people began running through the snow, throwing snowballs, and even rolling down the hills. Even though our smooth-soled shoes were not suitable for hiking in the snow, we enjoyed our play. Then a mountain guide, a member of the Andean Club, saw our group. He warned us of deep pits covered with snow and other dangers of the mountainside. Then he led us, single-file to a shelter at the summit of the mountain, where we would camp and eat.

Our high spirits were subdued a little by his warning, but it was when we started for home that afternoon that we met dangers that required us to listen to another guide—the Holy Ghost.

By the time we boarded our bus, it was getting late and we were tired. As the driver started the bus, a wheel spun deep into the snow. We all got out to lighten the vehicle’s load. Then someone suggested that some of us could walk on ahead while the driver solved the problem. Twenty of us—all men—began our descent, confident that the bus would soon catch up with us.

Suddenly, it began to snow, and as we went along, it snowed harder. Before we knew it, night had fallen, covering the sky and the snow-covered ground like a black mantle. By this time we had walked for about an hour. Fear came upon us, and we stopped walking. One of our group who was a Boy Scout had us form a circle and sing cheerful songs with body movements to warm and entertain ourselves. But as we searched in vain for reflected light from the bus headlights, we began to feel the seriousness of our situation.

After a while, the bus did come along. But when it finally reached us, we saw that it was empty except for the driver. He told us that the bus had a broken part and that he must go down the mountain for repairs. He had left the women at the shelter, he said, and we should return there and wait for him to come for us the next day.

With that, the bus drove away, leaving us to make the long walk back to the shelter. Snow quickly covered the tracks of the bus, and we could not see the road. As we walked, our clothing got soaked and cold, and our feet sank into the soft snow with each step. Some sang, and others walked in silence. But I know that there was a prayer in each heart.

We reached a point where we had to decide whether to turn right or to keep going straight. There were various opinions, none of them based on knowledge. In that moment, we prayerfully entrusted our steps to the direction of our Father in Heaven, who guided Lehi safely through the desert. We did not have the Liahona to guide us. We had no leader to show us the way, but we did have the gift of the Holy Ghost.

We turned to the right and continued our march further into the snow-covered mountains. Suddenly someone cried, “There they are! See that light!” Our enthusiasm and hope were reborn, and, like a well-trained choir, we began singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Then someone in our group said, “Quiet! Listen!” And in the silence we heard the distant voices of our brothers and sisters at the shelter joining in our grateful chorus: “Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.”

We tried to keep singing, but our emotions kept us from doing so. In vain we tried to stop the tears that rolled down our cheeks. But as we hurried on to meet the rest of our group, we thanked our Heavenly Father for guiding and protecting us.

The next morning was Sunday, and we awoke to the wonder of a world covered with new snow. Warm inside the shelter, we gathered for Sunday School and sacrament meeting. An older couple and another young man who had also been trapped in the storm and the caretaker of the shelter also met with us. There were heartfelt messages, prayers, and songs of praise. Afterward, the nonmembers expressed their gratitude for being able to attend our meeting and for the opportunity to meet with such exceptional young people.

Later that day, the bus arrived to take us back to Santiago. What had begun as such a carefree adventure had become an experience we would always remember. Never would we forget that our Heavenly Father had saved us on that dark mountain through the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mark Buehner