First of all, let me send a large Thank You to Coconino Search and Rescue, Chad, Jon Clark *clap *clap, Steph, the U of A TSO, Pat & his mom, Family, Friends, everyone… & thank you to everyone who’s put themselves out this past week thinking of Kira and I. We don’t think we can thank you enough and we deeply apologize for the anxiety and fear that we caused, whether you saw that we were safe or you were the first to notice that Kira didn’t show up to her finals or work.
Kira and I have enjoyed a number of requests for information and for the ‘whole’ story. I’m going to try and do my best to give it here, trying perhaps not to cook it up too much. Now, let me try to begin to clarify this whole mess….
Day 0: Pre-departure preparation.
Early in the week I was enthusiastic about my last weekend before the holiday. Having traveled about for the last few months, it was kind of my routine to disappear. Little did I know this disappearing act would become a national spectacle. In this act I was intent on seeing more of Arizona’s beautiful landscape while spending some time away from people and practicing my fly fishing. I pulled up Google Earth and begun my search. I had spoken with an acquaintance about a recommendation for a nice hike in the state and he suggested a place out near Sedona, so I started there. Driving my cursor around the greater Sedona area I found little in the way of water, limiting my ability to accomplish my third goal, so I began moving East, closer to Flagstaff. I passed over mormon lake and slowly moved south into a highly wooded area of Arizona. This began to look quite appealing. Water, trees, and dirt roads all seem to add into an ideal springtime weekend trip. It was December. I checked online for some suggested Arizona routes, took a look at sections of the Arizona Trail, and I returned to Google Earth. I felt good about the information I was slowly collecting and felt that I’d soon have a good plan. Honing in on the Forest Lakes area off the Mongollon Rim I wikied a couple of lakes in the area and again enjoyed some reviews of the area. Bear Canyon Lake was the one. It looked great. Secluded, it was an Angler lake where boat access was highly limited. That would be where I started the hike.
A unofficial map of routes, review, and a general outline I was able to look at during planning:
I felt comfortable with my choice so I began to solidify the plan looking at websites for the region and the adjoining ranger stations. I called Payson and asked about trails, “Which rim trails exist?” “240, 290, 390, 30, 143, 292, 184, 185” “Are they all passable?” “Yes.” “Are there any issues with any of them?” “Nope.” “Are there any issues with fires this time of the year? Can I collect dead wood and burn it for small camp fires.” “Yes.” “What do you know about getting from Knoll Lake to Bear Canyon Lake?” “Not much, give SItgreves a call, here’s their number.” I hung up and called Sitgreves. “You should just walk the road, it’s nice and quick. Don’t worry about trails up there. Otherwise you’ll be all set.” “Thanks,” I said and then hung up the phone. I felt confident, the plan was coming together.
Next I pulled out my AZ USGS quadrant map, identified the maps I’d need for better planning of the hike, jumped on my bike and rode to Tucson Map and Flag Center, one of my favorite stores in town where I presented my list of likely necessary maps. The list grew to 6 maps large and I was sold on the National Geographic TOPO! software, $100 and I get two states, one by mail, where I could print the whole state to my heart’s content… and it fit into my backpack better for the ride home. Excited about the new software I took it straight to Ike’s Coffee, installed it, and began planning my hike. I drew lines in red, blue, black, yellow. I planned hikes for the next three years. I was wired on new toys and several cups of GREAT coffee and boy was I having fun and wanted to show everyone and couldn’t keep my self from smiling to myself and from keeping myself from smiling about smiling about myself and … phew, I shouldn’t have had that coffee.
I had planned on a 10-15 mile hike over three days. I felt that was appropriate for Kira and I and anyone else who was interested to hike. When I finally got home I showed Chad my new toy and routes. The hikes ranged up to 50 miles. I didn’t keep those as serious routes. I kept the 20 mile loop. I figured we were tough and had plenty of time. I spent the rest of the night perfecting three possible routes and then enjoyed reading more about the area. I checked the weather for Strawberry and Payson. Things, while cold, seemed good. It was Monday.
Kira eventually came over, I gave her the plan and she conceded that it sounded perfect and she was excited to pickup a new pair of boots for the trip. It seemed like we were already on our way. A few days later I checked the weather again. It called for wind on Saturday and precipitation at 40% Sunday & Monday. I still wasn’t intimidated, I packed differently.
Thursday arrived, I pulled out my gear and packed my bag, picked up the food that fit our menu, and waited for Kira to arrive with her things. We repacked, got rid of redundancies, looked for gaps and got on our way, being sure to include one last stop for chocolate bars. Kira made sure we had at least one for each day, plus an extra ‘just in case.’
Our pre-trip plan, designed on National Geographic’s TOPO! (C). Three routes were plotted: Blue, Red, and Black Dotted Line. This is the map of routes from which Chad and Jon communicated to SAR our intent and promoted our quick recovery:
Day one, Thursday, December 11th. The drive was a bit long. It was late. I was tired. From what, I don’t know, but driving just makes you tired. I thought about the return drive and stopped, I didn’t look forward to it. I began thinking of all the ways I could convince Kira to drive home. I didn’t come up with much that didn’t make me feel like a jerk. We pulled off the 17 at Camp Verde, filled up with fuel, changed into warm clothes and headed East. Pulling onto the 87 our driving slowed as my mind became confused. We passed a shadow and I said to Kira, “ummm… ahhh…. Kira? I think.. I think I just passed a llama, but that doesn’t make any sense, so I think I’m a bit tired or crazy.” I starred at each passing tree thinking that perhaps I saw a tree and a shadow and they fit together just right. My eyes are not that good and things like that happened often. I then moved my foot off the gas and put it hard on the brake. Kira was clearly now awake. There was that llama, some ten feet tall, big brown chest, tan body, legs up to my shoulders, a giant set of antlers, and a slow pompous stride that took it from left lane to right lane to shoulder and then the shadows. Evidently the Arizona Llama is very similar to elk. I was amazed. That was cool. That was really cool… I’m glad I didn’t destroy the car and the elk, and that was cool. I started the motor up and as soon as I got to fourth-gear I geared right back down and slowed for the next crossing and then back up to 45. I would have really appreciated some organization within this elk’s lodge. I had no problem stopping or slowing, but before the up hill? come on. and 15 times? Really? Paint some lines, get a sign, all cross together. It was obsessive. By the time we reached Forest Road 300 I was ready to purchase my license.
FR 300 is a seemingly well graded dirt road, not worthy of my Ducati, but just fine for the Volvo at speeds under 15 mph. It was apparently used by a lot of logging trucks according to the signs and as we approached our Bear Canyon Lake, the fire had damaged a number of trees, clarifying the rational behind the forest clean-up. The road was long and I began to feel my first embarrassment of the trip. I hadn’t known the roads very well and decided to take the most ‘direct’ approach to the lake which involved FR 300 as soon as it intersected the 87, however, this route put us 30 miles from the lake on dirt, whereas if I had driven around through Payson and up the 260 I would have been able to park a) at a lower point on the rim and b) spent only about 15 miles on FR 300’s fine dirt path. Oh well, note that for next time. We finally arrived at the lake. I drove about the simplistic camp site, ignoring signs that indicated I couldn’t ‘camp’ past their location and parked the Volvo as close to the lake as possible. The whole place was empty. I didn’t anticipate harassment for at least 10 days had I parked there. I used the rest room and we crashed in the back of the car. We were there, our first day was over. I was excited.
Day two, Friday. Ah Friday. I slept in until the sun made sure I couldn’t any longer, about nine. I figured I blew my chance to catch any fish, but woke up in the cold morning and prepared my gear anyway. I really wanted to use my license while it was still good, plus, who knows, maybe I’d catch something and really be a hero. I walked down and Kira followed behind. Forty minutes later I was done. It was windy and I wasn’t putting my fly into the water well. Maybe I was grumpy from the cold air, who knows. We got back to the car and packed our gear. We drove to the top of the camp site, made breakfast, and then closed the car for the weekend. I considered placing an itinerary on the dashboard but decided it would be better for Kira to carry the extra map. We were on the trail, it was eleven.
A short while later we showed up at the See Spring trail head and adjust things before our decent. A loud truck drove past us as we inspected the signs… you’ll never regret taking time to read every sign. We took a few steps down the trail and the truck painted dull green with the US Forest badge on the side pulled up. A young man stepped out and smiled. We turned around. A ranger is kind of like a sign, you never know when information you’ll get from them. He introduced himself as Patrick and we talked about our route, down to Ridgeline and over to Horton, perhaps out to Tonto. He said Horton wasn’t a very good trail out, but along the creek it was well traveled during the summer and should be in really good condition, in general we should have a lot of fun. He suggested a route East that was about 8-miles long and might be nice and showed me on his large map at the car. I forgot his name and had to ask a second time. I asked him about the weather report and he noted they expected the storm I had seen in the report and said it was due to hit hard Wednesday… or end Wednesday… we thanked him and I told him where we were parked and what in. Told him if he saw any bears driving my car around to give me a call and take a picture. About ten minutes later I regarded that statement as pretty dumb and wished I hadn’t said it to him. Kira mentioned that she was surprised he didn’t comment on whether or not we SHOULD continue our hike, just that he gave us info and let us go. I appreciated his laissez-faire governance and the first half mile of the walk melted away with a discussion about responsible government systems and politics. I think she’s a communist. HA!
We enjoyed the hike, paused for a much enjoyed first lunch on a cold rock, re-adjusted our packs and set off again. Finally expecting the darkness to hit soon we set up shop at the intersection of See Spring and Christopher Creek. It was picturesque, complete with the sound of running water all night long. We were high enough where I expected a rise in water level to miss our camp, though I stayed a bit anxious of it. We ate dinner, had a fire, drank some tea, hung our food and tucked in for the night. I felt we were both pleased with the spot. I feel a light first day always makes for a great weekend.
Day three, Saturday, December… 12th? no 13th. I was far enough removed from society before hiking that the weekend did nothing but distance me further from my calendar. All I could remember was that I had a dentist appointment on the 16th. Tuesday? Plenty of time. We were up at nine and prepared a nice hot breakfast of oatmeal which we ate together from the bowl to save on cleaning. After a handful of nuts I was content with breakfast and we packed up and got on the trial again.
I had been letting Kira lead the way in order to get some familiarity with paving trail and orienteering our route. At one point the previous day we had ended up without a trail in the midst of very spiny bushes. We dropped our packs, walked up to the last point of known trail and reconnected ourselves. This morning again she took the lead and we came into some grass where we stopped to differentiate between rabbit trails and forest trail. We talked about what to look for, about cairns, about tree marks, about signs, about basic trail wear. We continued along and about thirty minutes later we intersected the Highline trail at Christopher Creek. There was a restroom and we stopped to enjoy it and then continued along our way. We were finally on our way West, hooray. Though we were slow moving, I was enjoying the hike. The rim was beautiful and the pace was perfect to enjoy it. We took lunch on a warm south facing rock and enjoyed lunch. I didn’t want to get up again. It was so beautiful and I was so comfortable. I put my pack back on and continued walking behind Kira, but couldn’t stop thinking about that spot for the rest of the day. This was GREAT!
Eager to make our goal for the day, Kira kicked herself into high gear and we walked hard with infrequent stops for the second half of the day. We purposefully passed the Horton TH left turn we had charted on our route and then I noticed the Promontory Point TH, a steep ascent that I had considered using but decided against. Clouds had moved in over us and the day was dark earlier than the previous night, I urged Kira to pick from several options for a campsite and we picked one next to a creaking tree. Kira set up the tent again while I prepared dinner and made a small fire. I put the tarp up with Kira’s trekking poles and snow began to fall. A bit earlier than I had anticipated, but it was light and I didn’t see any frustration from it. We packed up for the night and the tree continued to creek. I was scared it was going to crush us, but hell, there are too many people in the world already, right? I left it up for fate and fell asleep.
Day four didn’t begin, so much as it creeped up on us. Awaking every 40 minutes to the sound of a heavy doses of snow falling atop Kira’s three season tent. She didn’t sleep a bit. I ignored the situation. At six Kira had me up and awake. I mocked her anxiety in a vulgar attempt to calm her. It didn’t work. She unzipped the tent door and I slowly pulled my head out of my bag, adjusting my eyes to the bitter grey morning light. A bright white environment pulled us out of the tent. HA-HA! this was radd. The whole forest was dusted with snow, a perfect 2-inch layer lay across everything. Best of all, my simple winward-wing shelter had worked perfectly. A brown square sat, like a shadow, beneath it and within it our gear was dry and unmoved. I took some pictures and smiled a lot. This too was beautiful. I was really enjoying this trip. The sky was clear and I felt no sense of panic. Kira was still anxious and we set out quickly. In front of me Kira kept her pace. She had a map which I made her check often and knew where she wanted to be by night fall, out of the rim. I followed behind taking pictures and gawking at the white lined pine and rock and animal tracks. Small openings in the forest presented a valley of green and white. I would pause and Kira would keep walking. I smiled a lot that morning.
We arrived at Horton Creek without event, crossed it, and continued along. We found the Horton Creek TH-south sign and looked for the rim sign. We walked back to the creek and then back to the sign. I studied it, looking for interpretative loop holes, something I may have missed, but found nothing. It wasn’t there. The Horton Creek rim trail was missing. Patrick was right, it really as an awful trail. We evaluated the map, our options, and then continued East. At this point Kira’s morning anxiety had not disappeared and standing was not appealing to her. We needed to move. Trying to stay positive, I encouraged her and said “we’re almost there.”
Near 11 we saw the power lines, clearly marked on the map, and I stopped Kira. We were both really tired from the hike and the mounting stress of not finding Horton Creek-north. Now we knew where we were and re-evaluated our situation and options. We did this a lot, sometimes for practice, and sometimes for real. It was at this point the hike came to an end and we began our retreat.
Disappointed with my planning ability, I followed behind a very upset Kira whom I did very little to support at that point. I tried to rationalize my arrogant attitude to her to myself but got nowhere. A bit later I tried to make it up to her and made the biggest mistake of the trip. I offered something I couldn’t give, created risk, and gave her all the reason in the world to trust me. I suggested, as she had wanted, a way off the rim. I pointed to a small gap some 800 feet above us to the North-East where trees could be seen all the way to the top of the rim, everywhere else a sheer wall existed, clearly impeding any trail out. I said, “If you really want out of here, if you’re willing to risk it, but if you really want we can consider this…. look here… see there… it’s a big maybe… but maybe we can. Want to try?” She said yes and per my directions we left the trail and started hiking north. Though the day was sunny and clear, I had a deep pit in my stomach that was poisoning myself for allowing this fallacy of hiking. Up, up, up we went. At first through downed trees, then through brush and grass, then through a boulder field and then the dense manzanitas, and finally to the rocks of the rim. We pushed bags onto five-foot rocks and climbed up lifting them onto the next ledge. There we sat.
The sky was beautifully clear, a few clouds dedicated themselves to the art while the rest were on vacation. The sun beat down on the snow covered hill side and we were quite warm on the rocks. We ate a much deserved lunch of a few bites of salami and a couple of nuts and then continued on. Shortly after we arrived at the point which I had devastatingly expected. “Kira, we can’t go any further,” I said. We could see the rim top. We were about a half mile away from it, I checked the GPS and it put us at 7300′. The rocks were now much larger, the cliff wall was a treacherous face and real gear was necessary if we were to move forward. Certainly not a path we should take with 40 lb packs on our backs. “We could perhaps make it,” I said “but one mistake and we’re not delayed or behind, we’re dead. We need to turn around and find another route.” Kira agreed and we took in the panoramic at that height and then moved back down the hill, retracing our steps in the white inkpad. While it took near three hours to get up the hill, we were down it, through the manzanitas, over the boulders, between the downed trees in less than 40 minutes. We found our foot path intersect the Highline Trail and set back East again. Kira was in front once again and she moved swiftly and steadily. The sky was still clear. We arrived a the Horton Creek-S TH and Kira pointed out a small sign hidden under a bush about 3 meters away from the other sign we had inspected for so long. It points North and says “FR 300.” I’m astonished.
We walked to the spring over the hill and put up camp. A beautiful red sunset warms our fears of a short time line and impending doom, sailors delight, right? A short while later after a failed attempt at starting a fire and some dinner we were in the tent warming up and planning in our minds the next day’s move while time and the weather made theirs.
Sunday morning arrived kind of like Saturday. Restless, neither of us did much to sleep, thinking about the next day, timid of what was to come. Kira kicked me awake at six. As anxious as I am, I was tired and sore and in general don’t wake up before eight. I woke up anyway and we were almost packed up soon after. I walked to the spring to try and filter some water. Our PUR filter, from waaay back, had no pressure. It moved about an ounce of water through the intake tube and then nothing out. I took it apart, inspected it, all looked good, I put it together again, and still nothing. I gave up. I filled all the bottles with the spring water and walked them back to the camp some 10 meters away, cursing under my breath. I imagined what a day would be like to not have had to carry that heavy and bulky thing. Grumbling I pulled out my MSR Miox filter (the redundancy thing I had talked about earlier). The batteries in the device were old, from 2006, so I remove them and replace them with a pair of Duracells I had in the bag, brand new, EXP 2010. Still nothing. No lights, no bubbles, no pop-pop fizz-fizz… I calmly, but quite angrily put both filter and purifier away. I handed the water to Kira to boil. We boiled one and a half liters and gave up on the rest. Now we had some ‘good’ water and some water that tastes just fine, three liters of it.
Earlier in the morning I had exercised some time briefly digging a six-inch hole and sitting on a log when I noticed a reflective tree marker across from my seat. Now that we were ready to go I full anticipated checking both the sign under the bush and this phantom tree marker closer to the spring. We started at the sign. Looking North we could barely figure out where to start. We picked a direction and slowly moved upward, around logs and through brush sticking up in the snow. We walked up and around boulders and stopped every 3 meters to reorient ourselves. About 100 meters later we were stuck, without direction. We could look in all sorts of places and ‘see’ trails, lines we mentally drew in the snow with little arrows at the end, but where they went we didn’t know, wether they were correct, we couldn’t tell. We made a strike at a trial that began to ascend up the hill at a steep diagonal, but without a marker it was likely to be a repeat of the previous day’s waste of time, something the current conditions wouldn’t allow this day. We turned back to the Highline and moved to the trail I had seen earlier that morning. At least this time we had some tree markers. Unfortunately about 3 markers later we were back in our old footsteps and without direction. Another long pause looking for a marker and to discuss options.
The sky had closed up, and snow was falling. This encouraged our anxiety and shortened our tempers with the trail. As much as we tried to avoid blame, much of it that did make it out was directed straight at our feet and the ground below it. Again we paused to reflect on our situation and the options at hand; continue up this ‘trail’ in hope that we find the real one, or turn East again and attempt the promontory point trail. I make the final decision and we begin East.
At 10:30, a short while after we pass our campsite where we had enjoyed the first night of snow and a short while later found the Promontory Point trail sign. “Promontory Point, 3/4 mi.” The weather was worsening, wind was blowing, snow was falling, and we started up. This trail was marked entirely by cairns, rock piles atop other rocks, on logs, on stumps, on anything obviously hand placed and unnatural.
About halfway up we lost the trail cairns and stopped to evaluate our situation. We used our topos, GPS, geography, and orientation to locate ourselves and attempt to move using perceived paths and general sense of direction upward. However, each forged trail ended at downed logs, thick brush, or boulder fields. We descended several times and recrossed our old tracks in the snow. Our frustration mounted as we became more eager to leave the rim. We returned to our last known trail cairn and methodically weighed our options. Knowing we had a long but good path East along the Highline trail to the See Spring trail, we make one last attempt to ascend using last springs trimmed branches, hidden beneath this years growth to identify the path. Then Kira found a cairn hidden beneath the snow and we earned our first confirmation of direction in more than an hour and a half. Slowly, and methodically, we moved up the trail marking each obvious cairn with large Xs in the snow, never distancing ourselves more than 10 meters from the last obvious sign of the trail. Several times we were lead off trail by elk paths, or open clearings, however after serious evaluation and consulting each other we back-tracked and would find the trail again, eventually. Over and over I was reminded of how vital having a hiking partner is. We each identified mistakes and cairns, working together to effectively gain true altitude and maintain our positive attitude.
After a seemingly all day venture through the mounting storm we arrived at the Promontory Point trail head sign and stopped for a photo, some pack arrangements, and a quick couple bites of salami. Our watches said 2:30 PM. Both of us were ecstatic, but contained ourselves because we knew about the long walk still left ahead. At the top of Promontory Point snow fell at a rate just less alarming than the degree to which the wind was blowing. We shouldered this and our packs and began our 6-mile walk North. The snow, initially easy to walk through began to build quickly on the road, covering some recent tire tracks in the snow we are following. The snow was calf high at low points and knee deep off the road and building. Walking became really difficult and my pack pinched my hips. I stopped every 100 meters to readjust it or rest my pack on my trekking pole, asking myself what I could have done differently. After a couple hours we arrived at Forest Road 300 and we broke briefly for some frozen salami cuts. After sitting in the deep, and at some points now frozen, snow for only a few minutes we made sure to keep on keeping on. A short while up FR-300 we turned up the last 3-mile walk of our trip up the Bear Canyon Lake road, back to the car.
Kira ploughed through the snow as I tried to focus on my foot steps to keep from falling over. Looking up periodically, I would get vertigo and when I thought about it, I couldn’t tell if I was walking up or down hill. While I knew I was walking ‘up’ to the car, my inner ear was far from accurate and I choose down hill because it made me feel like it was easier. Kira stopped for seconds every mile to rest and look for me behind her before continuing on. I didn’t remember the walk being as long on the way out. Snow apparently lengthened the road, practically dancing on the way out the first day, the way back I could barely lift my boots without wincing. Thoughts about the next step were shuffled out of my mind in order to keep peace and by 6 PM we saw the Bear Canyon Lake sign and were thrilled. We stopped at the turn and both drank desperately needed water. Three long swigs and we turned toward the now visible car, safe.
We dropped our packs and attempted to move the car. Back and forth we tried to roll it up onto the snow top, but all to no avail. In reality, we had no chance of driving through the deep snow, even if we did move the car, so we rested. While our exhaustion was significant, it was not severe and as our muscles ached and unwound we felt safe. Kira broke her last IB Profin in half and we each took some. We fall asleep in hope of a morning of new opportunity and energy.
On day six, December 16th, a Tuesday, according to my watch, it was still snowing.
After a restless night of sleeping sideways atop wet cold gear and clothes we woke up and began to evaluate our position and options. I turned on my cell phone in an attempt to get some signal. We were fortunately parked quite close to a clean, dry, covered toilet and we both took a try. Everything worked well. Three rolls of TP all for us. If not for the wind, one could have left the door open for a fresh experience. I handed Kira my phone before she left and she tried finding service out on the road early that morning. We cleared a small path around the car, cleared the roof, hood, and windows of snow and cleared out an area around the back hatch to use as the primary door. I began to ‘cabinize’ the Volvo, creating a staging area at the hatch for wet gear, a sleeping area and maintained the front seats for dry gear and paper work. I put the kitchen at the hand brake, stored boots along the seats to dry and then rolled out the sleeping pads and bags and tucked in. Kira and I looked over the maps and learned our route out would be about 15 miles along the Ridgeline road, FR-300 to the 260. We also noted the route back down Christopher Creek to the trail head there out to the 260. All other options were extraneous. We saw no other buildings on our maps. Our gaze fixed on Payson as if by looking at the words we could transport ourselves there or at least communicate with the good people of the city to mobilize their snow mobiles and plows to happen apon us. It was clear our only option, at this point, was to stay with the vehicle and wait for rescue or a change in the weather. So, we sat.
We played on the uke, read, studied, and played cards. We stared at nothing. We got out and cleared the car again. Kira hiked a bit to try the cell phones again. We honked the horn short-long-short, short-long-short, short-long-short. Planes would fly overhead, beyond the clouds of the storm, and we couldn’t hold still. Every roar, or subtle knock on the car from falling snow & debris startled us and we made another attempt to communicate by getting up, honking, clearing the windows of the car. We smelled terrible and kept to our own bags the whole time. Kira wiped the condensation off the roof to stop the bitter cold drops from getting you in the back of the neck and concluded, “Honey, the house keeping is done.” Kira beat me at the volvo-cabin version of cribbage 220 to 192 and we made bets on when we’ll leave, who’ll be the catalyst, how we’ll get out of here. We enjoyed our comfort, warm and fed. We were content except for the terrible feeling of the unknown. An allegory for life eh?
Evening rolled in and the snow fall subsided a bit. I got a bit excited and rolled the window down a crack to keep tabs on the weather and we notice the windows didn’t have the snow piles on them any more. I hoped for a sunny next day. It was dark and all the bets for the day were over and we proposed a new series of bets for the next day, but never solidified anything. Then I shimmied down and try to fall asleep, but Kira demanded I keep a reasonable schedule. I tell her how hard I’ve worked all day, but she doesn’t buy it. We decide to eat dinner and in conservation mode, we conclude to save our remaining hot dinners for the following day and move to finish some falafel paste we had made a couple days prior and eat the remainder of a cucumber we had, followed by a bit of chocolate. The falafel was good, the cucumber was frozen and tasted terrible… awful.. I never ever want to eat an old frozen cucumber again.. traumatic event aside, it’s terrible, try it. But it was full of water and we knew it was good for us so we pushed it down. Blegh! We then enjoyed our one pice of chocolate each before Kira tried to hand me a second. I began to chastised her with regard to our rationing schedule and then ate it. Dinner was over and again Kira prevented me from sleeping. Okay with it, we studied some soils information, talk about soil depletion and pollution and chemistry. Finally I fall asleep as the faint humming of the world kept me awake.
Our seventh day comes without either of us noticing, it’s December 17th. Half an hour into the day I shoot up, my heart was racing. A faint light reflects off the bits of snow covering our windows and the loud leaf blower sound of a snow mobile is all I hear. Within seconds I’ve popped the hatch and am screaming and whistling with my mouth, waving my hands. The darkness and the storm clearly limited the visibility of the drivers. They’re wearing helmets, white? full snow outfits. There is two of them, they’re about 50 meters away heading down the ‘road’ to the lake. Does the GPS indicate good fishing at this time of night? I was frantic. Kira was barely awake yet. I couldn’t contain myself. They stopped a moment while I ducked back to grab my light. I threw it on and waved it. Seconds later they’ve driven away. My heart was about to burst with the fear they’ll never see us. Our car is deeply covered in snow from the night fall and looked like just another rock mound, clearly in-obvious, or as I saw it, obviously in trouble. Perhaps I shouldn’t have waited to light the spare on fire until tomorrow. I threw on my snow pants, boots, jacket, hat, light, and Storm(TM) whistle knowing I only had a bit of time before they reach the dead end and return back with the possibility to passing right by us, unless of course their fishing. I jumped out of the car and blew as hard as possible into the whistle. I secured one light on the car flashing and another on my head I moved as fast as I could through the thigh high snow to the road. One snow mobile came up the road and briefly and I feared it would pass me before it saw me, forgetting about the second. I could do nothing but focus on making myself visible to the driver – scare him to death for all I can think, jumping out of the woods at him. Whistling and frantically waving my arms I’m five meters away from him when he stops his snow mobile and dismounts. I couldn’t think of what I was suppose to do next. I kind of wait for some direction and Kira and I both suffer minor strokes when we hear “My name is Scott, I’m with Search and Rescue.” He asks if we’re hurt and while I feel obligated to find some problem we have I couldn’t. I told him we’re both warm, and comfortable, we’re unhurt, and are not hungry or thirsty, we would just like to get out, if he’d help us. He obliges.
We walk back to the car where Kira was now awake and excited. Scott gets on his radio, notifies some female voice where he has found us, tells us the snow cat will show up shortly and keeps us company until then. We packed as much as we can into our bags, which as it turned out was almost everything. Save a pair of shoes, food I didn’t care to repack, our maps, and a couple pieces of clothes, the car is clean and empty and we’re ready to go. The cat showed up a hour later due to some mechanical frustrations and we poped in. Everyone was just as nice as Scott and we were amazed at the energy and enthusiasm of every volunteer. Debb hopped into the back of the cat with us and kept us company as we soaked in our previous predicament and new found freedom and safety. She told us that she kept a blog of each event and I consider comparing stories with her later. (Her version: http://debssarstories.blogspot.com/2008/12/volvo-wasnt-so-lucky.html ) Once in the cat and comfortable, they offered a pile of donated energy bar snacks in a box on the floor and Debb told us about her favorite snack, some fruit gummies. I started looking for them to offer to Debb when I was caught by another volunteer noticing the look of hunger as I had boxes of food bars in my hand, seemingly searching for more.
Deb talked to us for the length of the ride. Kira and I were surprised at how lively everyone was at, now 1:00 AM. Debb told us about her other experiences, the other kinds of rescue and focuses on the let down she had not getting to snowshoe tonight, apparently the Maricopa team had been on trail the day before and Coconino was slotted to get out the next day. Apparently we kind of ruined their whole search plan by being at the first place they looked. We apologized.
After a couple of refuelings of the cat and two hours we were at highway 260 where there was a slew of vehicles waiting for us. Unhurt we popped out of the cat back into the cold stormy night to meet the rest of the crew, now in the veil of bright flood lights. Still, the whole team was energetic and nice. Now illuminated our transport was clearly visible and quite impressive. Two monster treads spanned the whole length of the truck. The body was a big red can, simple in shape, but space efficient. On the side were the words “Search & Rescue, Coconino County.” We were offered a spot in the Sheriff’s truck to sit and we take a few pictures with some of the group. At this point, I really felt like a hinderance. I wasn’t even pulling my weight helping them get the gear put back together. Kira and I sat in the truck and watched as they loaded the snow mobiles and the cat back onto trailers from Flagstaff. At one point we were startled by a volunteer who offers us some NutterButters. I was delighted, but not really hungry. How do you pass up NutterButters? I graciously accepted and ate a few, but my stomach warned me not to eat anymore and I sat, contemplatively, in time-out.
A bit after things seem to be wrapped up around us, Aaron stepped into the car, tells us we’re all set, and we began the drive, along a ploughed highway, into Payson. Briefed on all the things we could look forward to in the coming few hours and days, we arrived at Denny’s near 5 AM and sat down for a breakfast with the team where the whole event seamlessly melted into just another normal day.
The whole team was really neat, we talked about everything from gear to making mistakes. Finally I was asked point blank, “Did you even look at the weather?” and I got to start practicing my answer. Breakfast ended and Kira and I moved to a corner booth where we enjoyed some hot tea and some stardom from the locals. Mom arrived and picked us up around 8:30, getting a nice long hung and a smile. We threw our gear into her Volvo, turned the car on the highway South and finally I took my boots off. …
In the end here was our (estimated) true route:
(Red is our in route, Blue is our out route. Bear lake is off the map to the north where the car was parked. Compare to the initial plan map at the top of the page.)
While this video may seem a bit silly and dramatic – it is – but I would also say fairly accurate. I’d still like to enjoy a barbecue with friends. (video contains profanity)
(This video lives on the internet – somehow… don’t know how to access it though. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to know)
The video a second time, on my servers: 2008-12-18 Mongollon..>