Do you believe in angels? If you Google your way to some angel research, you’ll find that polls show around 1/2 or more of Americans believing in some sort of heavenly beings — many believing in the classic sense that these beings sometimes involve themselves in our affairs.
Of course, science is always here to break up the party and prove angels to be figments of the mind, most often experienced during times of extreme duress due to some sort of poorly understood brain chemistry. But over the years I’ve heard of quite a few angelic encounters, convincing me that that the existence of angels as a species (I use that as a term of art) is something to ponder — or perhaps even believe.
In his book “The Third Man Factor,” John Geiger explores both the above possibilities, along with other explanations for supernatural entities manifesting in our lives. But this book isn’t so much about science, or theories — or religious doctrine. Instead, Geiger has produced an amazing compendium of personal stories about what’s known as the “Third Man,” an entity encountered by humans at the end of their rope (sometimes even literally). Some of these experiences are of an actual additional team member. In others, the Third Man is a sensed presence. Either way, in most of Geiger’s stories the Third Man leads people out of trouble or at least helps them maintain their sanity through an ordeal.
What a fascinating subject. While an astounding quantity of stories about the Third Man weigh Geiger’s book down a bit, you’ll leave this read knowing that in the scheme of human experience (perhaps since the dawn of humanity), many of us have experienced some sort of entity or helper when things get tough.
Though brief, one of the best stories in the book is about Herman Buhl’s experience of a “second” (this time) man during his 1953 solo first ascent and subsequent death march back down Nanga Parbat. Buhl’s epic included a night spent standing by a boulder at about 26,600 feet, near the summit. Few open bivouacs have been survived on top of 8,000 meter peaks. But, then he had to descend — without his ice ax which he’d left to flag the summit. That’s when his mystical companion joined him, providing words of caution as well as a sense of companionship that got him down the mountain. That Buhl made it home is amazing, and his survival is still one of the all-time great stories in mountaineering. Fascinating that he had the help of a mysterious companion.
Skeptics will of course say the Third Man is a creation of the subconscious mind. People of faith will claim angels. Either way, once you read the variety of experience that Geiger has compiled, you realize the experience can be as real as having a flesh and blood person appear out of thin air and say “this is the way home.”
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.