I really love my husband which is why I agreed to hike the Wellsville mountains with him yesterday. Josh grew up just below these mountains touted as the "steepest mountains in the world." (They are steepest because of the narrow base. I know it doesn't make sense, but you can google it.) I AM NOT A HIKER, but I have been dieting and thought it would be a great work out so with a lot of persuasion I decided to go with him. We had talked to many sources that told us it would take "all day" to hike to the top of Wellsville peak. When we would pry for more information they would say that it takes about four hours if you are hiking without to many breaks to get to the peak and and that it is much quicker to get down.
Mistake number one: we are not hikers nor are we in great shape. Hiking the Wellsvilles is not a small undertaking. We probably should not have spontaneously picked such a vigorous hike.
Mistake number two: we left later than we should have. We left our house at about 2:00 and we were on the mountain by 3:00PM with the commitment that we would turn back by 6:00PM no matter where we were. We know we were racing the sun so we hiked as hard as we could and made it to the summit by about 5:40. IT WAS NOT EASY. The views at the summit were breath taking. We could see all the way to the Great Salt Lake on the south west side, and by just turning our heads we could see all of Cache Valley.
Mistake number three: at the summit we decided to continue up and go to Wellsville Peak. We had already come so far and we had been told that hiking along the ridge from the summit to the peak was not nearly as hard and that it would only take about an hour. I make many decisions in my life based on the desire to avoid regret. I never wanted to hike to the summit again so I figured I had better "finish" what I had started and hike the rest of the way to the peak so that I wouldn't regret it later. We wanted to make good time so we were pushing ourselves. The views were really unbelievable. (I will post some pictures soon.)
When we got to the peak I was shivering and not feeling well. I had been "working out" for just over four solid hours, it was compared to doing 13,000 steps. I was shivering even though I didn't feel really cold, and I even told Josh that I felt like I was experiencing shock symptoms. In hind site at that point he felt a little panicky, which he didn't let on to me until today. It was now 7:00PM and we had intended to head back to the car by 6:00. The sun was beginning to set and we were tired.
Mistake number four: we decided that it would be easier to hike along the ridge and go down a different way than we had hiked up. Instead of doing the steep trail we had just taken up we were hopeful that this other way would get us to a car a little faster. As we came down from Wellsville Cone we saw a trail that went down instead of staying on the ridge and heading back up to the next peak, Box Elder Peak, the two highest peaks on the Wellsvilles. (Later in the night we learned that trail was a hunting trail so it had no real destination, just a place to camp.)
Mistake number five: it made perfect sense to us to just head down. We figured that any trail would lead to the base. We could see Mendon, and it didn't seem very far. We just wanted the quickest way down. We head down some very steep terrain and at some point we lost the trail. We were sure that we would run into another trail. What we didn't know is that we were headed into nearly unpassable ridges, ravines, cliffs and brush so thick that even a horse would not be able to pass though it.
A little after 8:00PM we called Josh's parents who were tending our kids. We told them that we were in trouble, that we had lost the trail and that it might take us a couple more hours to get home than we had anticipated. I was concerned because I wanted the kids to get a good night sleep because it was the primary program in the morning and we have early church. We asked his parents to take the kids home. We also got on the phone with Gabe and April, Josh's brother and sister and had them searching the internet for any trail that came down from Wellsville and Box Elder peaks.
Josh and I got along amazingly well. I knew that he was really sorry that we were in such a mess so I didn't need to yell at him or make him feel worse about the situation. (Possibly I didn't have the energy to be angry either.) He was very kind to me and just kept encouraging me. He was trying to keep our spirits up. Later I learned that he was as scared as I was, but he put on a great game face. As we were wondering trying to avoid cliffs and major ravines I just kept thinking, "I have covenanted to follow him so I am just going to follow. I don't have any ideas that will get us out of this mess." Working together was a great blessing.
At about 9:00PM Josh's dad called Search and Rescue. By then it was totally dark except for the moon lights, but even the moon set at some point in the night. We would not have called that early, but now we are so grateful he did. We were really miserable but we didn't feel like we were in a life threatening situation as long as we could keep our feet planted on the steep mountain. At 9:22 I received the return call from Dispatch. We were still inching our way down the mountain. The woman was so nice. She took information and tried to comfort us. I told her I had to get back for the Primary Program!
At 9:51 we received our first call from Jake the Chief Police over Search and Rescue. He told us that we needed to turn around and go back up to the peak and take Rattle Snake Trail into Sardine Canyon and Search and Rescue would meet us there. Josh told him that there was no physical way we could hike back up. At that point we didn't realize what our bodys can handle, but we had been hiking down for almost three hours. He told us to get to a clearing where we could see Wellsville and to turn on our head lamp. (Josh had packed some very smart things. First he packed a ton of water bottles. In order to protect his back from the water bottles he packed a full size towel which came in very handy to help to keep us warm. Finally the spirit prompted him to pack a head lamp which is what made it possible for Search and Rescue to locate us.)
The Search and Rescue team was amazing. Cache County has 35 guys on the all volunteer team. It happened to be their Demolition Derby Fund Raiser that night and so they were all together. They average 40 calls a year, but they happened to be out saving a mountain biker in Logan Canyon and they were returning to town when they got our call. Because they were all together originally for the Derby, Chief Jake was able to pick the dream team of hikers to rescue the mountain biker who had to be carried out from an accident, and then us. These men were so skilled and so kind. My perspective of Search and Rescue has forever been altered. Next time I read, "Cache County Search and Rescue was dispatched" I will have a little bit better understanding of what these men sacrifice to SAVE PEOPLE, and how much time and effort goes into that one simple sentence.
Lance was the first on the rescue team to get to us at about 1:00 AM. At that point we were literally trying to scale down a cliff. He saw us from across a ravine and yelled "stay right there I am coming to you." We could not believe how he scailed down and back up that ravine. His talent was unbelievable. I told him that I had never wished to be a mountain goat, but it would have been handy. He made us laugh when he radioed in and between giving our location he bahed like a mountain goat. He was so kind. I thought that Search and Rescue might point out the stupid decisions that we had made along the way, but during our initial visit he said "I hope that one of the last feelings you are feeling right now is embarrassment." He explained that he was happy to spend his night out helping us. I owe my ability to get down the mountain to Lance. He offered me his shoulder, his arm or his hand for the next 4.5 hours as we hiked to the bottom. He cleared brush for me and when we would pass though stinging nettle or super thick brush he would have me hold on to his pack and duck behind him and he would blaze though it for me. I hardly had the energy to hold out my arms to protect myself from the brush. I was very proud of myself for continuing to walk though and tried to keep a respectable pace.
Josh's spirits were great especially once we got with Search and Rescue. He was very tired and grateful that Lance was helping me so much. He did feel like we were all lost together, but he kept telling himself, these guys would get as down they are professionals, even though most of them were younger than us. They had the right tools to get us down. He was relieved but so exhausted. They kept reminding us that we needed to put safety first and that we could take a break whenever we needed. At this point my muscles, feet and really every part of my body hurt so bad that taking a break provided no relief so the best thing was just to keep moving which is what we did hour after hour. Lance kept saying to me, "one thing I know for sure is that we are getting closer."
We had an unusually long time to get to know our rescue team, and we had great conversations getting to know them. Jason's wife is a veterinarian in the Army and she had been gone for three months and she had just returned that day. He still took the call to come rescue us on what would have been their first night back together as a family. I think Ron was part deer. He is an older gentleman who does 100 mile trail races. Josh really trusted him. Finally there was Vic who did a lot of the trail blazing and scouting. He had night vision goggles that helped him to find a route that was passable, and did stop us from getting sprayed by a skunk.
When I would talk about how grateful I was and also how embarrassed, Lance would tell me that it is all about how I present the story. He said that I should tell people that we had four escorts to experience a portion of the Wellsvilles that very few humans have ever experienced, and that I am very possibly the only woman to have ever hiked down the most challenging ridges of the Wellsvilles.
We reached the forest line a little after 5:00AM and radioed for Jake and Darien who were part of the base camp crew to come and pick us up in some grass field. We took a few minutes to lay on our backs while we waited for them. We turned off our headlamps and to looked at the stars. It was really great to count our blessings.
We returned to our home at 6:30AM. At 4:30AM Erica, or dear friend, had taken over staying with the kids for Josh's dad who need to get to work. We looked so bad when we walked in Erica couldn't help but laughing. She even pulled out her phone video camera to show how dirty we were and how we were limping. She and I visited for a while and then it was time to get ready for church. I was so glad to make it to the Primary Program. By the time I got to bed at about noon I had been awake for more than 28 hours, 14 of which were hiking. I am grateful to be surrounded by people who are willing to help and allowed us to sleep this afternoon. I may never walk normally again. My knees currently are the worst. They wont bend, and they are terribly swollen. Poor Josh hiked through all of that brush in shorts. His legs are stripped raw. We need a little recovery time, but as with all hard things in life there were lots of lessons to be learned.
I have to mention a few lessons even though I need to get some sleep. I am sure there are more, but here is a start.
Lesson number one: our bodies can do more that we could ever imagine. If you would have told me at 7:00 when I was on the peak feeling like I was in shock that I would be hiking for ten more hours I would have told you that there was no human way possible, the key is to continue putting one foot in front of the other.
Lesson number two: the world has great men who are will to put themselves in questionable positions in order to save the lives of others. They provide their own supplies and donate their time to do good.
Lesson number three: how do you thank your savior? We don't know how to express adequate gratitude to these men who we feel really saved us and returned us home safely.
Lesson number four: things are not always as they seem. It might be logical to move down the mountain, and just because we could see Wellsville does not mean it was close.
Lesson number five: when hiking ALWAYS pack lots of water, a lighter, and a flashlight. Follow the spirt!
Lesson number four: stay on the trail!