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How a deadly storm fanned the flames of love

Near-death experience binds two souls in a love to be celebrated by marriage in Whistler

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Huddled together in a snow cave on Mount Rainier, trying to keep the cold fear of death at bay, Josephine Johnson and Jim Dickman could have easily turned to despair as an epic blizzard rose up around them.

They could have railed against the world, pointed fingers in blame and recriminations; they could have given up. They had been dating for just eight months and here they were, facing the very real possibility of a frozen eternity together.

"When you're in a situation where death is knocking on your door, your true inner being comes out," says Johnson, who has been mountaineering for more than a decade. "You're either going to be this ugly, selfish, hateful, blaming person, or a coward, or fearful or whatever it is you're going to be. Or you're going to pull through with flying colours.

As it turns out, Dickman was calm, quietly supportive, focused on Johnson's wellbeing and fighting down his own worst fears as the frostbite began to nip at his fingers and toes.

"When you're in a situation like that, people don't act, they revert to who they really are," says Johnson.

After three days lost on the mountain, two nights freezing to their very souls, they discovered that they are an "absolute team," so much so that she said "yes" when he proposed in Whistler one month after their harrowing mountain ordeal. Now, one year later, the couple is making it official at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler on Saturday Feb. 16.

Johnson's growing excitement about her upcoming nuptials bubbles over into the conversation as she looks out over Mount Rainier from her office near Olympia, Washington. She's found her perfect partner after all.

It's been just over one year since that fateful snowstorm, which would end up claiming four lives on the mountain. It's hard not to think about them, the four that didn't make it out, when she recalls her own story.

"It's just the horrible loss of life and I marvel every day at my survival... we walked out and they didn't," she says.

Theirs was just supposed to be a day's snowshoe in the area known as Paradise. There was nothing particularly out of the ordinary that morning. While they knew that a storm was approaching, it wasn't stopping several snowshoers from heading out. Johnson and Dickman had readjusted their initial plans to climb to Camp Muir, Rainier's base camp at 10,000 feet, and decided on a short hike instead.

It was at this point they made what would turn out to be a life-saving decision, though they had no idea at the time.

When they realized that they wouldn't be able to do the bigger hike as planned, the couple decided to make the short three-hour snowshoe worthwhile by loading up their packs. They were in training for a Rainier summit bid later in 2012.

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