Our weekend adventure story (05-20-2017)
Mr. Hot-shot (normally I call him Mr. Hot Stuff), Meigi, and two sons-in-law planned a big canyoneering hike down Neon Canyon near Escalante for this past weekend. They went prepared. Possibly over-prepared – I don’t think they needed nearly all the rope they took, and that stuff is heavy to pack.
Mr. Hot-shot’s sister and I also drove down, with plans to head to a family event on Sunday in St. George. Our two cars separated at the place where Hole-in-the-rock Road meets Utah Highway 12. None of us knew how long it would take to drive the 4 wheel drive vehicle down the dirt road to the trail head. The hike was said to take six to eight hours. Mr. Hot-shot’s last words to me were, “If you don’t hear from us by 10, you should probably call someone.”
My thought was, “It’ll be too dark by then to do anything.”
His sister and I waved good-bye to the hikers and went on our way to Escalante for the night. The next day we went on a canyon-driving adventure and did our own easy hike. I can follow an invisible trail uncommonly well. Unfortunately, it too often results in heading off in very much the wrong direction, so if I start to wonder if I went the right way, I immediately head back out the way I came in. That’s what happened this day. We were actually on a really good, clear trail, but something about it didn’t seem right, so we headed back. We figured we needed to be within cell phone range by 3:30, so we didn’t try any further to figure out what was our intended trail. We discovered later, that the trail was intended for people to hike counter-clockwise on the map, not the other way around. The trail markers are pretty obvious if you go the intended direction, but not so much if you are doing Opposite Day. I would love to find out where that other trail we took led though. It looked like a prime adventure through some beautiful places.
Anyway, we made it back to the car, refilled our water bottles, and went to hang out by the lake. It was a gorgeous day, but a little chilly in the shade. We waited for the hikers to call, and read, and drew, and ate snacks. We moved to the warmer car as the sun dropped in the sky. At 7:00 we decided to drive into town and find some dinner. By this time, I’d begun fielding text messages and getting phone calls from my daughters asking if I’d heard from their husbands. They had been told to expect those two back home in Provo by 10 pm.
When do you call Search and Rescue?
I was watching the sun get closer and closer to the horizon and by 8:10, I felt like I’d better figure out who I should call before there was no one around to ask. Escalante is not really a late-night kind of town. I stood in the parking lot of the Circle D Motel where we’d stayed the night before, and got on their wifi, searching for the Escalante Search and Rescue number. I found a very helpful website that included this sentence, “This person should know your travel plan and know who to contact in an emergency, which in this case is Garfield County Sheriff’s Office/SAR: (435) 676-2678.” This jumped out at me like it was written in neon. I didn’t know if this was an emergency yet or not. I wasn’t horribly worried, but I was concerned, and my daughters were worried. I decided to make the call and just ask. So at 8:15 pm, I spoke to the Garfield County Sheriff. After I explained the situation, he was quick to say that if it was his family, he’d be worried by now. He was concerned about losing daylight, but said he’d contact a deputy in that area to see if he could spot their car. He took my number and said they’d contact me when they had any information.
I went to the manager of the Circle D Motel and explained the situation and asked if it was okay for us to park there while we waited. Wanda was very supportive and even offered us a blanket so we wouldn’t get cold in the car. After waiting for about 30 minutes, I decided that the phone service there just wasn’t going to be reliable enough, and went to talk to the manager again. I told her we were going to head back out to Escalante Petrified Forest State Park where I knew I’d have good reception. She insisted that we take the blanket with us and I assured her that I’d bring it back.
At the state park (with running water and flush toilets!), as I was walking from the bathroom to the car, I looked up at the stars. They shone so brightly there that even without my glasses, I could see constellations and one shooting star that streaked across the sky before disappearing. I thought, “Heavenly Father, my wish is that we can hear that everyone is okay.”
The scripture from Isaiah 40:26 popped into my head and brought me peace,
“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” (NIV)
I was still getting texts and phone calls from people who were worried they hadn’t made contact yet. Christina and I waited quietly in the car and chatted and replied to the worried texts. Then my phone rang. It was the sheriff’s deputy calling to say the wonderful words, “They are safe in their car and driving out.” It was 10:13. I gave him my deepest gratitude for the news. Best phone call, ever.
Meg’s text came about ten minutes later. “We are okay and on our way out.”
We met up back at the motel about an hour and twenty minutes later. The hikers were tired and sore but otherwise fine. I returned the blanket with heartfelt thanks, and we rearranged all the stuff in the cars so the sons-in-law could head back up to Provo and the rest of us could head on down to St. George.
What caused the delay?
It turns out that a couple of “detours” had added about three hours to their hike, and then they had to wait for an hour-and-a-half for about 14 people ahead of them to do the final 83-foot descent. The delay was not helped by a guy who rappelled down, set up his camera, then re-ascended, so he could video himself rappelling down. Seriously?!
At some point on the hike, Mr. Hot-shot bruised his ribs pretty hard, and near the end it made hiking and breathing painful, and forced the group to go slowly, adding even more time to their delay.
When the deputy sheriff found them driving out, he seemed pretty amazed that they’d hiked out of that canyon in the dark. But as I said, they were prepared, and had flashlights and a water filter with them, and they were determined to keep going as long as they could.
Everyone is fine now – blisters, bruises, and stiffness healing up. Although, if there’s a version of Mr. Hot-shot, who’s not bothered by the fact that his wife called the sheriff before 10 pm, and then later forced him to take ibuprofen, I’d make a trade.
Even more thanks.
There were so many friends and family who were praying for all of us that Saturday night. I can’t even name them all, but I am deeply grateful. I felt them and they strengthened and calmed me, I know. Terrible outcomes happen sometimes and I’m grateful that this wasn’t one of them.