In the days following this incident which happened two years ago on 8/27/2016, I had some great experiences hiking and exploring Utah and I didn’t have much time to process my emotions. The memories have been sitting in a dusty corner of my mind waiting for the right moment. It was so overwhelming that I am still struggling to put it into words that fully describe it. I feel a little shaky for some reason. But I feel that you , the reader, may benefit from my dangerous, rookie, flatlander-goes-running-in-the-mountains mistakes , so I will do my best to fight my surprising reluctance to type this. I want to state right now that I know that God was with me and protected me from my foolishness, as he has done so many, many times.
Overconfident and underprepared
Before starting off on what I thought was going to be a couple of hours testing my legs in the mountains and then meeting up with my sister at the bottom of the mountain , I had checked out some trail maps. My sister had given me some instructions when we met up on the mountain, with some trail names, and we both thought I knew how to find my way to the meeting spot. She was riding her mountain bike while I ran. I had no trouble finding her at the top of a certain trail so I figured I was good to go. Unfortunately, I was not really prepared at all.
The run started off fairly late in the day , 1:00 PM, at Park City Mountain Resort. Originally I was planning to run the Mid-Mountain Marathon that happened the same day on these trails, but I decided to just do my own run so the race would not take up too much time of my trip to visit my sister. I figured the lower pressure solo “easy” run would mean I wouldn’t have so much prep time and recovery time. Also, I truly questioned my ability to run that marathon. All the other runners would be locals who were totally altitude and mountain ready. I live at just above sea level and train on the same.
I was thrilled to be running in the Aspens, in low humidity, low temperatures ( compared to Texas), and on trails! I’d been looking forward to this for a long time.
I could not get over the beautiful views! This shot was taken when I first got up high and out of the trees.
The climb to this location was not easy, but I was feeling good. I waited a little bit for my sister and soaked in the views of Park City. I think this was at the crossing for Quicksilver Gondola.
That was the last photo I took before my phone battery died . Back to the list of mistakes I made.
I didn’t bring a battery pack for my phone.
I didn’t bring extra fuel/food for emergencies, like getting lost.
I didn’t bring enough water.
I didn’t have a headlamp, jacket, compass, or any emergency supplies.
I DIDN’T HAVE A MAP.
I was so exhausted I could barely remember my sister’s name and phone number! Might want to write down some info like that.
When things went Bad
I was running along for a good while and I noticed that I was getting low on water and fuel . I started to worry that I was going the wrong way. I stopped for a minute and some nice mountain bikers came by and kindly shared some extra fuel and water with me and told me which way they thought I should go, except that I barely remembered the instructions my sister had told me. I kept moving but my anxiety was growing. I talked to a couple of other of the few people I saw on the trail and they honestly weren’t much help. Finally, I was moving in one direction when I met a man hiking in the other direction. I made the decision to turn around and go with this man because at least I wouldn’t be alone. He wasn’t the most helpful or friendly guy, and he could have been a serial killer for all I know, but we chatted a little and he seemed to indicate that he was headed in the same direction I wanted to go. By this time I was so tired and turned around and all the trails felt like I was going in circles, that I just didn’t want to be alone.
It’s hard to tell by this Garmin map where I did the backtracking. You can tell that the area was fairly tree dense, but you can’t see the scary, sheer drop-off trails I had to cover twice. Have I mentioned I have a fear of heights and falling off cliffs? All of the gray lines are ski trails. The brown lines are the trail I was supposed to take but I turned off the trail I was on too soon because I was panicking as I will explain more soon. You can see where I finished up , the red marker, was still up in the mountains, not where I was supposed to be at the end of the brown trails.
The point where I completely lost it
So I was hiking with that man and he was headed to the ski resort where I had started the run. I however, was supposed to have been finished and at the bottom of the mountain by this point, where my sister was waiting for me. I made a decision that eventually turned out to be a good one, but for the next mile and a half was terribly frightening. I turned off onto a trail that can be seen on the Garmin GPS, but is not shown on this trail map. The whole time I was ‘running’, scrambling, careening down this trail I wasn’t sure if it was a trail or just a dry creek or something.
Here is the map online. The trail intersects somewhere before that number 7 sign. If I had just gone a little farther I would have been where I was supposed to be, but then things would have gone even more wrong. If I hadn’t taken this rough, waterfall type of trail that went straight down the mountain, I would have missed my sister who was getting super worried at the meeting place. She would have called Search and Rescue and my whole trip would have been pretty ruined by the expense of that.
But, I can’t leave out the growing anxiety I had that was multiplied exponentially when I came upon a moose with a calf. I don’t know much about moose, but I knew I’d read that they can be very dangerous. I immediately jumped off the trail I’d been attempting to run down as fast as I could to get off that mountain, and crouched down in the trees. I sat there catching my breath, praying that the moose would not move in my direction. I was also incredulous that this had happened just when I thought I was getting closer to being safe. Did I mention that by then I’d been up there over 3.5 hours and the sun was starting to drop behind the mountain and the shadows were getting longer? I was also dehydrated and hungry. I think I burned more calories from being afraid than I did running! I peeked out down the trail and didn’t see the moose but I had a feeling she was just off the trail. I decided to just go for it and I took off running as fast I could manage on very rocky and steep downhills without falling head over heels. I wish I had photos! But, dead phone.
Rescued by angels in a Suburban in the nick of time
Once out of the moose zone I began to breath again. I still was doubting if this was a trail when suddenly a dog appeared and shortly after , a girl. I asked her something to the effect of how much further to the start of this trail and I think she said half a mile. I could barely think. I kept going, not having the sense to ask her to call my sister or give me some water, assuming that soon I was going to be IN THE TOWN, still not having any clue where I was on the mountain. I made it to the trail head and it was a parking lot. I kept going and ended up in a neighborhood! I was nowhere near the town. I tried knocking on a door, no one was home. The houses were mountain houses, not too close together and they looked deserted. I just started walking down the road. I came to a stop sign when suddenly two angels in an SUV appeared. I must have looked pretty bad because they rolled down the window and I quickly told them my sad tale of being lost and trying to find the town to meet my sister. They knew the coffee shop or whatever it was that I supposed to be at and offered to give me a ride. I jumped in and off we went! I babbled a little and they comforted me , such nice people. We drove up to the place and I saw my sister’s car . I jumped out and saw that she was IN HER CAR ABOUT TO TURN THE KEY IN THE IGNITION to go get Search and Rescue! I am not kidding. A minute later and she’d have been gone. If I’d taken the other trail, it would have taken longer. Thank you God for taking over when I got hopelessly lost !!!
Relief and Guilt
I was too worn out to cry, but I was full of emotions when I finally got back to my sister . The whole time I knew she must be so worried and/or mad at me. Turns out she was both, thinking I’d ignored her texts after my phone had died, not knowing the ordeal I was going through. She also blamed herself, as she is very responsible and always makes good plans, but this time she had given me too much credit for knowing my way around. I don’t blame her at all. I am the one who was not prepared and should have known better than to venture into the mountains without a map and supplies. I was really more worried about getting to my sister on time than about being lost, but once I got on that crazy trail I started worrying about other dangers like the sun going down. Over the next few days we did a lot of fun stuff, including hiking in Moab, and occasionally we’d joke or comment about this day, but it was still a bit raw. I think I’ve redeemed myself since then and I look forward to traveling the Park City trails again, with plenty of supplies and a map!
On the free gondola in Canyons Village, Park City after the run. My sister was probably thinking about what a dummy I am! You can see how dehydrated I was in the photo. I was humbled and have new respect for the mountains and I love them even more than before. If you want all the numbers, here is the link to my Garmin report. You might say, what’s the big deal? But it was a big deal to me and if I had kept going on the Mid-Mountain Trail heading east like I almost did, it would have been much worse because that was a much longer trail in the wrong direction. I’m thankful to all the people who crossed my path that day, especially my Suburban-driving saviors. I also believe real angels, heavenly beings were with me on that journey . They say God protects children, drunks and fools, and I’m not sure about that, but I know He protects his own children.
Stay safe out there!