UHT Day 3: Into A New Reality

August 18, 2021

7:38am

Temp 38F

Morning: I must have fallen back asleep when the air temp plumetted just before dawn. I’d snuggled my face deeper into my sleeping bag and when I woke, it was light out, and that surprised me, Ididn’t think I’d fallen back asleep. It was not a good night’s rest. It rained heavily literally nonstop all night and at daybreak it turned to slush. It is still slushing now.

Just the beginning…

The accumulation of slush on my tent made it collapsed in on me just as I woke up. I had to get that fixed immediately and got sort of wet doing so. Then, I had to get my rain gear on to go outside and de-ice my tent and go poop, fetch water and get a look around. Honestly, the conditions are miserable out there. I am staying relatively dry in my tent here but I don’t know how long that will last. Plus, the forecast for tomorrow calls for 90% snow, which means it will be getting even colder than it is now. Today was just supposed to be rain, 97%, but just rain. It is slush, heavy, ice cold, very wet, nasty.

I really really just want to hike out and get to the safety of my car, and yet I don’t feel it’s safe to do so in these conditions, especially climbing over the passes, what woud the trail conditions be like? What about visibility? The trail over the last two passes were steep and somewhat sketchy in a few spots on dry ground, I can’t imagine what they will be in this downpour of rain and slush.

I am in a situation. I honestly don’t know what to do, the weather does not look favorable until Friday, that’s two days away. The temp inside my tent now reads 38F, and I feel pretty okay, but sitting here all day, not moving, and then temps getting even lower tonight, does not sound great either. Then sitting all day tomorrow in snow and additional colder temps tomorrow night, how do I manage this?

From here, it is 31 miles to my car, I can’t hike through that burn area in this weather, so I will have to take the alternate, which adds miles. On a normal day, with a good trail, 31 miles manageable in a full day. In these conditions, Idon’t see it being possible. At least I don’t think it is. Right? Should I pack up and see how it goes? See if I can make like 10 miles today and then find another good place to camp again?

Shit. I may have just gotten my answer, thunder just started to roll…if conditions return to the way they were last night, a constant downpour, I can’t do it. Slush is building up again on my tent walls even though I just cleared it. It is so heavy and makes my little tarp tent slouch and I’m concerned it will just collapse again. I am literally in my Z Packs pocket tarp. Lame selection of shelter for this hike, I know, and I have two other tents in my car, both just heavier! Gosh I wish I were back at my car, if somehow I could just beam myself there and wake from this reality into a better one. My In Reach does not seem to be getting a signal either, at least not here by my tent in the trees, so I am going to have to get outside again and get it out in the open to send a message to my Mom so she knows I am ok but just not moving.

8:50am. It seems as soon as I scrape all the slush off my tent it accumulates right back on in minutes. This is going to be a very difficult situation to manage as every time I need to exit the tent, I have to change into my rain gear and try not to get my puffy jacket and my sleeping bag wet, but these things are inevitable. I’ve been looking over my maps and I see a trail that follows along the Lake Fork River and in about 10 miles it leads to what looks like a road and a place called Moon Lake Resort, at elevation 8,900 ft.

I am evaluating the situation at hand. Honestly, with how my tent keeps caving in due to snow accumulation, I seriously doubt how I can keep getting in and out and scraping it off every hour, getting wetter inside each time?

This is not going to work, I need to at least get to lower ground and pitch my tent in a better place in the trees that is much more protected and maybe it will only be rain down there instead of this incessant, heavy slush.

Mulling everything over in my head, I get a strong feeling to get going. I down a honey stinger waffle and choke down some almond butter that feels really dry in my throat, so rinse it down with the last of my coffee. I then start to get organized.

This feels like a much bigger task with all my gear so wet, and needing to get into hiking clothes, as well as carefully preserve what dry things I still do have. I realize as I am changing out of my sleep clothes that the butt of my merino wools leggings is sopping wet. Grrr…

9:32am. I am all packed up, bundled up in my rain gear, umbrella, and already very wet feet despite my decision to start in my dry socks. That lasted about 2 minutes. I take a look around me and it is even snowier than I had realized. It’s time to get somewhere else, anywhere but here.

I text my Mom with my InReach and let her know I am moving and heading toward Moon Lake. I start to walk and realize immediately how much water truly fell last night. The trail is literally a stream, the little rivulet where I got water last night is a mid shin deep ford now, overflowing onto the trail. I have no choice but to plunge my feet into the icy water. This is going to be a long, wet, cold walk today. I just hope something good comes out of this decision.

Shortly, I come around a bend. My breathing is labored as I am pushing a pace to keep warm. The vapor of my breath floats out ahead of me, the sound of my breathing is drowned out by flowing water everywhere. Momentarily the rain/slush lightens up and I reach a vista with spellbinding views.

My hands are so cold, they haredly can grasp anything, I am fumbling as I try to grab my phone out of my jacket to take a few photos. It seems ridiculous to do so with how cold I am and how much I just need to get safe, but the beauty still overtakes me. It is really stunning. I wish I could stay up here and not die doing it.

Down the trail I go, sloshing along, I try to get my footing sometimes in the fresher snow rather than the trail full of rocks and water but it is futile. I had forgotten about a few little creeks I crossed last night as they were rock hops, and now, I am again forced to ford them, plunging into icy cold water now up to my knees. In an odd way the cold water feels good, numbing I suppose. I tuck my umbrella onto my pack, my trekking poles under my armpit and stuff my numb hands into my jacket pockets, noting how just that little bit of netting inside them really feels better.

I reach the trail junction for the Lake Fork River and take a good look around. Is there any good place to pitch my tent around here and wait this out? Even if there was, I can’t imagine re-pitching all my sopping wet stuff. I don’t have unrealistic hopes that if I did set up here that I could possibly get dry and stay warm enough for two more days. So, I press on down that trail which I hope will get me to Moon Lake Resort eventually.

About 1 mile down trail, it apears to cross the River. Another ford, this one a little deeper, and a little more intense than the last few. I take out my map to be sure I am going the correct way, and am dismayed when I realize yes I am, and that the trail crosses this river several more times. This makes me a little nervous, as I know the further downstream you go, the stronger the water current and volume gets.

I am still committed to getting somewhere though, somewhere better than here, so I continue. Within another mile, I see a blue tarp tent pitched close to the trail. It is looking quite saggy like mine was, and I wander over and call out “hello” to whomever is in there. A young man pokes his head out and I ask “are you okay?”

He says “not really” half heartedly, “I have some people coming to get me on horseback” he offers. In my mind this makes sense because I saw the sign at the TH that this trail is maintained by Backcountry Horsemen of Utah.

Then he mentions that the river is too swift to ford further down and that there are mudslides and road closures down near Moon Lake Resort. I tell him that I am planning to hike to Moon Lake and he had the same idea, but apparently we can’t get to it. My heart sinks and I begin to feel impending doom. But I shake it off and try to think of how we can now manage this situation together, as I wouldn’t leave him and don’t want to be alone in this situation anymore.

I squat down to re-stake one of his tent stakes and give some tension to his sagging tent . As I am down there, and we chat, I start to shiver in earnest. I get real cold real fast. He agrees to get me out with him and proceeds to text the folks on SAR communication that there is a second hiker who needs rescue.

As he is doing this, I decide that I really need to move to get warm and go scouting for a place to pitch my tent while we wait, as it might be several hours. It is still raining and there are rocks everywhere. Alongside the trail there is now a raging river, torrents of water are just crushing over the rock. He had told me that last night that River was just a little Creek.

Ten or so minutes go by and the movement has stabilized my body temperature and I am no longer shaking thankfully. My new companion then apears in his wet clothes and rain poncho to let me know they can’t get the horses up here but they are going to send a Life Flight helicopter. He was able to inform them that there was a second hiker now, but has not gotten a response about that. I thank him and figure if they can’t take me, they at least know I am up here, and maybe they can come back for me, so I get a sense of relief knowing that SAR knows I am out here and in need of help.

It is literally only minutes that go by when we think we hear a sound in the sky. I have been helicoptered once before and I know that sound unmistakably. That time, the situation felt so much more dire, and while we got out safe that time too, it was never certain what would happen to us. Now, the sound of help is permanently ingrained in my consciousness.

I feel relief again. We move out to an open rocky slab and look up to the sky. It is them, a transport, we’re saved!! They are flying over us and we wave our hands in the typical “here I am” fashion, and they circle around a few times before finally coming into the narrow gap in the forest.

As the helicopter lowers itself, it gets really windy and the raging waters from the river get stirred up even more, now spraying water everywhere. I move further away and duck down, placing my arm over my right ear and head like I am boxer dodging a strike. This felt instinctual, but soon the wind died down, and as I stand up, I watch them make a perfect “on a dime” landing atop the rocky slab.

The helicopter pilot checks in with us and is a little hesitant to add me in to the plan, or so it seems, as the original SOS call was for one person, so I am an add on for sure. He askes me “do you need out?” to which I say “well, yes, unless you can tell me it’s safe to hike out.” His eyebrows raise and he shakes his head.

“How much do you weigh?” he inquires, and “how about your pack?”

All together with me and my wet clothes and my pack, I am probably weighing in at 140lbs. He pauses for a moment, then says “go get your equipment.”

I race over to where I began to pitch my tent, it lays flat on the earth and has already accumulated puddles of water on top, plus the tarp underneath is covered in mud and forest floor. I shake it all out as best I can and fold it neatly, it is heavy with all that water. The flight nurse comes over and is eager to help me, but I politely decline and just thank her, as I really am able to shoulder my pack just fine, then I move fast to board the helicopter.

Soon, we are all buckled in, and lifting off. My friend and I are at first a bit shy about taking photos, but then the flight nurse offers to take one of us together! We both let our guard down a little, enough to take a few snapshots of the raging river and immense landscape below that is appreciated on a whole other level once in flight. Actually, it was really amazingly beautiful. Looking down at where we were, floating now so high above, I realize how small we are, and how truly remote of a location we were trapped in as well.

The helicopter pilot takes us to the town of Roosevelt, Utah where the sun is shining and it’s in the low 70’s, but I am still quite cold and very wet. We stand on the tarmac until a ride from the Sherrif’s departent comes to get us. The sun feels really good and I am texting my Mom to let her know I am okay.

We get a ride to the Deschenes County Sheriff’s Office where they take us in, let us use the restrooms to get into dry clothes and then they feed us lunch! Remarkable! We both devour the ham and cheese sandwitch along with a few other items as the cops joke that “it’s really not bad for prison food” and we all chuckle.

“I am just so grateful to all of you and this is really just over the top, thank you so much” I offer.

As if that weren’t enough kindness in and of itself, next, the Chief Deputy gets us to pile into his truck and drives us 2 hours back to the Highline Trailhead where our vehicles are parked. Just amazing! We all chat the entire way and he tells us he is really enjoying the conversation. I am so amazed at this. We have had really good people helping us today.

At the TH, my new friend and I hug goodbye, he sets off and I take a few minutes to get my gear organized and make a cup of hot tea for my ride into town. I paused for a few minutes of reflection before Idrive away from teh TH, and just then a massive hail storm rolls in. By the time I get to the town of Evanston, WY, it’s diminished to a slight rainfall. I check into a motel, take a hot shower and order takeout from the Japanese Restaurant next door (which btw is amazing, I gave it 5 stars, if you go to Evanston, I highly recommend Ichiban Steakhouse https://www.ichibanevanston.com/)

And that’s a wrap for day three on the Uinta Highline Trail. And I thought a lot happened yesterday! At the end of the night I am reflecting on all that just happened and feeling so very blessed and lucky to be safe and warm and off the mountain. Looking back over what I wrote from my tent just this morning, I am amazed at the power of manifestation I seemed to have. I had literally written that I wished I could be back at my car, I wished I could somehow be beamed off the mountain and transported into a better reality. Well, I asked for help, and help was offered. I am so so very thankful.

14 thoughts on “UHT Day 3: Into A New Reality

  1. Mary Poppins, you make good things happen all around you all the time! John and I are so relieved that you’re OK. That was a tough day. Im sure you’re reassessing what to do next. Keep us posted. We’re hoping for you that that Utah winter’s still a few weeks away! Take care! Sending hugs!

  2. You’re a strong, brave hiker. Your years of experience, knowledge, use of maps, and critical thinking led to a good outcome. Glad you ran across that guy that was in the same boat as you and had already notified SAR. Great outcome, so glad you made it out okay.
    I’ve heard of the UHT but know almost nothing about it. Thanks for the pictures and trail report.

    1. Thank you for your comments and yes, the Uintas are no joke, I have a Z Packs Plexamid too, and when I returned to the UHT after that ordeal I brought it instead, and a warmer (heavier) sleeping bag!! I’ve used the pocket tarp in the Grand Canyon, great shelter for that area in the Spring!

  3. PS: After seeing your ordeal in relation to the fire situation you found yourself in, I’m m convinced the only time I’d consider using a Zpacks pocket tarp would be a day at the park. Lol! But seriously, saving weight is delightful, but saving your life is top priority!

  4. Gripping read. When I read your hike was going to be over 10,000 feet I suspected that would present its own unique set of circumstances. Closest wilderness stretch of trail to that we have on the East Coast, AFAIK, is the Maine “100 mile wilderness” section of the AT. I bought the map for that section some years ago hoping to do it once
    Anyway, you made the right decision to turn back and as another mentioned, those portable gps I reach are a necessity for backcountry hiking.

    1. Hey Diego! Thanks and yes. In Reach is a must! The 100 mile wilderness sounds incredible, I hope you do get out there sometime!! I figure I will do it when I hike the AT someday 🙂

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