Lost on a Mountain – How we were almost completely Fucked Up.

September 7, 2019

Hiking in thunderstorm, threat, weather in the mountains
When the skies turn dark...

I gaze and smile into the camera with my pilot sunglasses on my nose. The sky is bright blue and the sun reflects in the glasses. Who could have known that just a few hours later I was hanging in a steep wall with no hold, while the blood was running from my boyfriend's legs?

 

We just wanted to hike. A new path along the rim of a canyon. When the first dark clouds came in, we joked. We're not made out of sugar. We've faced worse things than rain. We have jackets and we don't whine.

The truth is that you sometimes get into horrible situations no matter if you're smart, tough or totally dumb. Sometimes all cinematic impossibilities come together and a high-flying adventure suddenly turns into a blatant disaster. The crucial moment is when you realize the difference but can't make it undone. The moment you turn around for the first time and realize that there is nothing between you and the 1300 feet deep ground with the small green river.

Breathtaking Views over the Abyss

Clarks Fork Canyon, Wyoming, hiking Wyoming
A beautiful gorge - like paradise

It's hot. I slam a ton of sunblock in my face and we start off. The way is about 4 miles long. 4 miles out, 4 miles back. 1300 feet elevation change to the bottom of the canyon and up again. We are not at Miami's Golf Club for Seniors!

The view is magnificent. Rocks like muscles of giants lie in the valley, cut by the white water of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River. A waterfall plunges out of a crevice and roars into the abyss. Although we are still at the top of the canyon, the sounds are overwhelming. Nobody but us is on this relatively unknown trail at Chief Jospeh Scenic Highway in Wyoming today. A pretty good thing, we think, because people sometimes really suck.

 

The path leads from the magnificent view further and further down into the gorge of the canyon.

"I know, it's great news - but we'll have to come up again all the way later," my boyfriend says with a thievish smile. He has got the most gorgeous smile in the world.

"Or we can just stay down there until the next geological upthrust in 2,5 million years, that will throw us back up to the car," I suggest. He agrees. A high possibility!

From Blue Skies to Thunderclouds

Weather change mountains, hiking adventures
Blue skies - who is thinking about thunderstorms

The trail begins to wind down in serpentines as we enter the really steep part of the route. Boulders from previous rockslides make it difficult to see the actual way. Who cares. We just climb over the rocks.

 

"Looks pretty dark back there," I say at some point when we are already quite far down but still a long way from the river in the valley. A wall of gray-purple clouds pushes over the horizon from the left. It is kind of surreal. On the right side, the sun is blaring from the blue sky. We stopp. I think I hear thunder. Maybe it's just a grizzly that coughed. I don't know what's better.

"We should turn back and continue the hike another day," my fianc´e diplomatically suggests. Not because we could get wet (which of course has never happened to us before in our lives´!). "If we're down there and can't see the trail well enough and the whole sandstone gets slippery, we're screwed."
We decide it's not so cool being screwed, and turn around.

Adventure Time: Climbing Rocks!

Mountain climbing adventure, Wyoming, USA
Climbing in the rocks to find the trail

"I don't think this is the trail." My boyfriend shrugs his shoulders. The entire slope simply looks like a desert of huge white rocks.
"I can't see anything," I comment cleverly.
Our considerations come to the conclusion that we simply have to climb up straight and at some point we will definitely cross the trail again, which runs along a straight line above the canyon. The easiest way is through one of the scree avalanche fields. There's plenty of big chunks to hold on to. Exciting shit! I layaway along some rocks and we're gaining height quickly.

 

"Do you see the path?" I shout. We climb next to each other instead of behind each other to avoid throwing loose stones at each other's heads.
"Yes, there it is," my boyfriend replies.
Then we figure that he was wrong. Never mind. We hiked deep into the gorge and it probably takes a while until we reach the rim of the canyon again, where we come across the trail.

When the Trail was finally Lost

Climbing in the mountains, danger, thunder
First injuries on the way up

A few rocks shoot right down into the gorge and my boyfriend makes some noises which do not exactly express enthusiasm.

"Is everything alright?" I yell.

"Yes!" he calls back. I know he's always lying a bit in situations like these. Because we both think that a little blood and a few scratches are still within the bounds of Alright.


It gets darker and darker and the wind increases. My hands are starting to feel a little rough. Well, that's part of an adventure!

"The trail's up there!" I snuffle. A flat area opens up in front of us. I'm starting to get a little bit tired. It thunders in the distance.
"Oh, shut up," I say to the clouds.
Then I pull myself up at the last rocks and - see even more rocks. But above all, tiny gravel. Unenthusiastic, I try to find a foothold somewhere. Where's that stupid trail if not here?!

Shocking Reality - The Gaping Nothing

Clarks Fork Canyon, Dead Indian Hill, Hiking Trail
Steep walls leading to the ground

Everything has been okay so far. Suboptimal, but okay. But then I see that my boyfriend has not only a scratch, but the blood is already dripping from his legs on his shoe. I'd like to take a closer look. But I can't get away anymore. I mean, I can not get away anymore.

 

My arms and legs are nailed to the wall like an X and as soon as I move my little finger, the whole slope starts to slip. The little rocks run through my fingers like sand. Then a bigger chunk comes loose under my right foot. It falls and falls and falls until I can't hear it anymore. I feel around for solid ground with my shoe and can't find anything. Then I look down over my shoulder for the first time.

"Shit," I whisper. "Where are we?"

Of course the ascent felt steep. But not as vertical as what I see below me now. My heartbeat is freaking out. I'm not afraid of heights. But I also have no intention of meeting the Lord today. All of a sudden a lightning strikes. A cold breeze is roaring in my hair. I feel like Bruce Willis on cocaine. All I want is to get out of here. All I don't want to do is move an inch. If I can't hold on now,it is over. There's nothing down there. Only big rocks and trees on which you will be smashed into very small pieces if it doesn't tear you apart earlier. There is a silence in my head that seems to be blazing.

Lightning and Deterioration

Mountain desaster, climbing, drama
Climbing on and on although everything hurts
I don't know anymore how I got out of this situation. There was more risk involved than plan. But finally we stop at a small plateau with bushes. I'm cold and thirsty, but we only have a few sips of water left.
"You stay here and I'll go look where the trail is," my boyfriend decides. I think it's a good idea because then I can take a break and go pee around the corner. But then he doesn't come back and I find the idea pretty crappy. I'm checking the Bear Spray in my backpack. It's not like we're not also in grizzly territory. However, the critters are not likely to be on a vertical wall.
When my boyfriend comes back after centuries, he bleeds even more, but he doesn't tell me that he has crashed violently and that his head has only stopped two inches away from a big boulder.
He thinks he saw the trail. We're climbing higher. And higher. In an open spot lightning crashes like crazy. I have scratched my leg several times and my wrists hurt like mad from the constant clinging and gripping. We don't have anything that reminds us even slightly of climbing equipment.

"Then we hope that someone calls Search and Rescue."

Pilot and Index mountains, Beartooth Mountains, Wyoming
How strange - I can see Pilot and Index!
We sit under a big rock to have a short rest, eat one of our two sandwiches and discuss the situation. It's about as comfortable as picnicking on barbed wire. It's starting to rain.
"If it pours out right now, we can't get away from here. Far too slippery. Then we can only stay overnight and hope that someone at home will find the note and call Search and Rescue," says my boyfriend. Unfortunately, we cannot call the them by ourselves, because the mobile phone reception has disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle.
Search and Rescue has always been a running gag. Haha, then the helicopter comes. Haha, not funny at all anymore.

Fortunately the rain stops again.
"Aren't those Pilot and Index back there?" I suddenly ask and point to the two high mountain peaks with the strange names at the horizon. I'm impressed. I didn't see them on the way into the canyon earlier! I take some pictures. Since I'm here. Then I have the brilliant idea of looking at the shots from the morning to see if I recognize something in the landscape that could give us orientation.
"Look, this looks like that cliff over there," I say and hold the display against the horizon. "But no, somehow it's different!"

200 Feet above the Trail - We could be Dead

"Yes,that's it. That's the cliff," my boyfriend replies after a closer look. "But we are much higher. Incredibly high!"
I'm looking at the vast landscape. That explains why I can suddenly see Pilot and Index. A second later, I've got the phone out. I'm looking at one of my offline maps. "I can't believe it. We're 200 feet above the trail!"

 

How for heaven's sake did we cross the trail without realizing it?

We don't really have time to wonder about it. The sun will set in two hours. Brilliant. I stare into the vertical gorge and feel aswoon and helpless for some seconds. We're not gonna make it.

 

But there is no real alternative except Search and Rescue. And therefore someone has to call them first and send them to the right spot.

My back hurts like mad and my knees feel strangely numb. Then I hear a loud crac just as I'm clinging to a little rocky outcrop to descend. The only thing I can see is my boyfriend who shoots down and hits a rock with the back of his head. Suddenly I can't hear the wind. I think I scream. But I can't remember exactly. There's nothing I can do. If I let go, I'll just fall as well. My heart is racing. I'm scared like hell. We could be dead. And there's nothing I can do.

The Way back

Sunset in the mountains, Hiking Wyoming
Back after sunset

It will be two hours before we finally reach the trail. A few times we just slide over the scree on our butts towards to low bushes and roots, hoping that they won't break. My boyfriend bleeds everywhere and I can hardly stand upright because of the pain in my knees. There is nothing left of the spirit of adventure. This is no fun. One time I have tears in my eyes, because I just don't know what to do. I worry a lot about my boyfriend and feel my own body slowly giving up. Under an extreme pressure that goes far beyond what is still borderline.

 

Back on the path we hug each other briefly. We still have got each other. That's pretty much the only thing - but also the only thing that counts right now. Now we have another 4 miles to go before we get to the car.

As we stumble through the forest, it gets dark. I'm thinking of bears. Then I'm thinking of my boyfriend falling down the mountain. Then I start humming the melody of "Yellow Submarine" in order to be able to overcome my pain and walk on.

 

It is pitch-black when we stumble through the door into the living room. I heat up a piece of pizza like in trance. We're drinking gallons of water. As we sit, my boyfriend suddenly shivers so much that he almost drops the pizza. I'll get him a blanket and crawl back. Then we just sit there. In the dark. We're back. We're still here.

I'm grateful.

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