Thursday, December 29, 2005

Last Year's Trip to Hell

It’s been just about a year since E, D, BH and my trip to hell (and back). Once I got home, I typed everything up; the only problem is its long, really long! But, because it's almost the one year anniversary I thought I'd post the experience on my blog. If it’s too long, I'm sorry in advance!


Chapter 1- Getting There

It all began with a great idea of a weekend away. My cabin was the destination. It was peaceful, quiet, and truly beautiful in the winter. BH, E, and I had snowshoed into my cabin twice before, but it was D’s first time on snowshoes. We left on Saturday morning at about 9:00 and had to pick up a few things before driving up to Park City.

As we hit Park City it began to rain, and the rain quickly turned into snow. We were confident, however. E was a great driver in the snow, and we were excited to get hiking. As we neared the silver mine, we noticed the road was closed. We turned around, went through Deer Valley, and entered the same road above the mine. At this point the road was terrible to say the least. And we still had a couple miles to Empire Lodge where we would park.

E, and his car, were doing great. He was calm, and his little two-wheel drive car was steady at two miles per hour. At one point BH, D and I all jumped out to help push. We were almost to the lot, and not going to give up. Finally, we rolled into a snowy lot at the base of the mountain. We kept telling ourselves that the hardest part was over.

It was snowing pretty heavily as we got our snowshoes and packs on. We were happy though, and confident. We got started up the road and soon started chatting. We were going uphill, and although the wind would pick up every once in awhile, we were making great time. Before I knew it we were under a bridge, with a Deer Valley ski run over us.

I broke out my camera, and took a couple of pictures. We then started up the steepest slope towards the ridge. E told D he was doing great, and this was the hardest part of the hike. Little did he know what lay ahead.

As we reached the summit the wind began to pick up. It was cold and the blinding. At the summit we began to realize this was not wind, this was a white out. We huddled together and decided to stay close, and keep walking. We kept going, thinking that as soon as we were off the ridge, there would be no wind. But as we kept going, the wind got stronger. I was positive this was the hardest thing I had ever done. At one point, we all fell over, because the freezing gusts were so intense.

Not only were we concerned about the wind, but also the avalanches. The threat was high, especially on wind blown slopes. And after we had crossed over the summit, there was not avalanche control. We were now in backcountry and we needed to get somewhere safer and quickly.

However, whenever we would try to huddle and make a plan, our voices would get drowned out by the howling wind. Finally BH and E decided to yell in each other’s ears, and D and I stood there until the plan was decided. We needed to get off the ridge and quickly. We started walking south down into the valley below. The walk was hard and scary. I couldn’t see where I was stepping, and I knew we had to stay together, if one of us got lost, we would never find each other again.

We got lower and lower into the valley. Finally we could see the woods in the distance and the wind lessened slightly. Now we were facing a new challenge. The snow on the ground. It was still snowing and windy, but the snow on the ground was deep, really deep. And powdery. Each step we took was a workout in of itself. The snow was up to our knees. We had to take turns leading the group, and switch off frequently.

Also, we were lost. I know approximately where we were, but we decided to turn E’s GPS on, for further assistance. E’s GPS wasn’t much help. Because there is not a compos build in, and we were moving really slow, it could not give us a direction we needed to head. It gave us a distance, but said the cabin was behind us. I knew this was incorrect, so we kept going west.

We were literary fighting for our lives. At this point I was scared, and hungry. We decided to try to get to some trees to stop and eat. This way we could be slightly shielded from the wind. Also, E’s GPS batteries were dead, and we needed to replace those. As we stopped and got out our food, we realized how cold it was.

The wind was icy, and our hands were frozen. We could not keep warm unless we kept moving. We decided to try to head up and out of the valley and towards the road, where we hoped the snow was more packed. I quickly finished a half of my sandwich and told the other’s I was going to head for the road. BH followed me, and E and D stayed back to work on the GPS.

At the road I admitted to BH I was scared. Really scared. I told him I was cold, and exhausted. BH said to keep moving, and not to panic. That was the worst thing we could do. He said that we could make it, and we were doing great. Those few words really did inspire me to keep going.

At this point E and D caught up to us, and E sadly informed us that the new batteries didn’t fix his GPS problem; it still said the cabin was behind us. At this point we needed to make a decision: to keep moving and try to get there, or turn around and try to get back to the car. Most of us wanted to turn around, but BH said lets just walk to the next bend and see if we can figure out where we were.

We followed BH, and the wind again knocked us to our knees. We were so tired, and ready to turn around. Finally we got to the bend in the road, and down bellow us was Bonanza Flats, the large meadow that symbolized the entrance into the cabin complex. We even saw a small Park City sign poking out of the snow.

I was so happy! I knew where I was, I was not lost. I decided there that we were not turning around; we were going to keep going, and get there. The cabin was safe and dry. We would be okay.

We dropped down off the road again, and started snowshoeing across Bonanza Flats. To those of you who don’t know, Bonanza Flats are huge, as large as 4 football fields. As we began across, we remembered again how terrible the deep snow was. At this point D informed us that is hip was hurting him badly, and he could no longer break trail. This meant BH, E, and I would have to be the first to trudge thorough the knee deep powder.

The trek across Bonanza flats took us about ninety minutes. I watched the GPS count down the area between us and the cabin. We had .38 miles to go, and I averaged that would take us two or three more hours at the slow speed we were going.

We finally got into the woods on the south side of the flats, and here I started getting nervous about finding the cabin. All the woods look the same in the winter, and we had always used the GPS in the past to find the cabin. I was the only one that knew the woods well, and I would be the one to lead our group in the right, or wrong, direction.

I thought I knew roughly were we were, and I told our group to keep going forward and to the left. Each step was terribly exhausting, and the wind and snow were not getting less intense. Also, it was getting late, and it would be dark soon.

E finally admitted after he fell down again, that he was having terrible lower abdomen pain, and he couldn’t really help break trail. This left the last .25 miles up to BH and me. We were in a part of the woods I didn’t recognize, but we had to keep going. There was no other choice.

Finally, I thought I saw a meadow I recognized. We call it Moose Meadow, and it was not far from my cabin, not far in normal conditions that is. Down a hill and to the left we thought we saw the meadow that backed onto the cabin. BH and I kept breaking trail, and we mentioned to each other that the snow was getting deeper. Now it was thigh deep instead of the knee deep stuff.

Each of us could only take a few steps before we had to switch the lead person. I was exhausted, and it took everything I had to keep moving. We finally dropped down into our meadow and it was over an hour until we were to the cabin.

BH, D, and E as soon as we got to the Cabin. Notice the sky is almost dark and it's snowing! I was the one taking the picture.

Chapter 2- The Cabin

Finally, we were there. However, we were not inside yet. The snow was about ten feet deep, the deepest I had ever seen it, and we had to start digging. There were shovels on the cabin that we detached and started. Again, D was in pain and tired, so E and I started to dig, and dig, and dig.

BH went to the side of the cabin with the other shovel to try to dig out chimney cap. To light a fire inside the cabin, we needed to uncover the chimney cap, get the stack from inside, and attach it to the cabin.

E and I dug eight feet down before we decided to push open the door. We knew that all the snow that we hadn’t dug out would spill into the cabin, but we needed to get away from the wind. Finally we were inside.

I began shoveling the snow out of the cabin by passing buckets of snow up to D. E was helping BH locate the chimney, so we could get a fire started. E taped on the roof from the inside, and BH listened from the outside.

Finally the cabin was free from snow, and the stack was attached. BH climbed in the cabin and we all sank into chairs. We needed to get warm; the cabin thermometer read a toasty 21 degrees. BH and E began working on the fire. It was now completely dark outside, so we had to light the lantern. We opened the upstairs windows to help vent the carbon monoxide, and finally got the fire lit.

Soon the cabin was filled with smoke, but we were happy for the first time since that morning. We talked and laughed in front of the fire, I turned off the lantern, and we told jokes. Soon, however, the conversation changed to “how will we get out of here tomorrow?” We decided we had two plans, one, to wait out the storm and leave on Monday or Tuesday, or two, to try to get someone to help us to leave.

Nobody was hungry, so we didn’t make dinner. I had some beef jerky and gum.

Luckily E brought his cell phone. That night we gave my dad a head’s up on what was going on. We told him that there was lots of snow, high wind, and that we would call him in the morning.

As we got later, and we got more and more sleepy we decided to set up our beds. My family has some cots and sleeping pads that are actually very comfortable. We set up our beds, and (thank goodness) none of our sleeping bags were wet.

Before we went to bed, we decided to each go out to pee. We didn’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night to go. As I opened the door, I realized it had snowed a foot or so more and snow started to cascade in. I was not going to shovel the cabin floor again.

I guess it was time for plan B, find a chamber pot, and something with a lid because I can’t stand the smell of urine. We did a couple of tests with different things around the cabin. The first two tins leaked, but finally on the third try we found our winner, an old fashioned milk jug!

After the guys used the milk jug (I didn’t even need to go) we all climbed into bed. Oh my god, this was the best feeling in the world. My sleeping bag was so warm and toasty I didn’t even mind the snowflakes hitting my face (we decided to leave the windows open, and I was right under one).

The next morning I woke up needing to go out, the chamber pot was too nasty for me. I opened my eyes only to see a little mountain of snow at the front door. It was about a foot tall and two feet across. The door had not sealed overnight, and all this new snow had come in through the small crack.

I pulled myself out of the sleeping bag, and started putting on my winder clothes. When I opened the front door to let myself out, I realized it had snowed close to three feet overnight. The snow came cascading into the cabin, and the thought of shoveling again overwhelmed me.

After I peed I realized I had a huge job ahead of me. I started shoveling the cabin alone, because everyone else was in bed. I couldn’t even shut the door until all the snow was cleared. At this point I just started to cry. Nobody seemed to care that I had shoveled, by myself, three times now. E and BH finally got up and helped me a little bit, but by the time they were dressed, the job was mostly over.

I was frustrated and grouchy. I didn’t want to stay in this cabin for another day. We decided to call my dad and see if we could get a rescue mission, because D felt he couldn’t walk out. Also, the snow and wind were not lessoning.

Chapter 3- The Rescue

After awhile of sitting in front of the fire (well the guys were in front, I was near the cold door that didn’t seal) my dad called and said he had found someone that could come and help us! His name was Robbie; he lived in the area, and had a SnowCat. We were so excited. We quickly started packing up our gear and cleaning the cabin.

Everybody at this point was very helpful, and I began to feel better. After awhile we heard a knock on the upstairs window, it was a young man that had a snowmobile. He said to send the first person up, and maybe grab a shovel. D and BH walked out to his snowmobile only to find it stuck. The young man’s brother was also there, with another snowmobile. After a lot of work, they got it unstuck.

They took E and D first, and BH and I stayed back to finish closing the cabin up. (I was shoveling the cabin out again). E tells me that after they left on the snowmobile, it got stuck many more times. The snow was so deep and powdery; the snowmobiles didn’t work very well. He said at points he would have to crawl to stay on top of the snow as the young man worked on getting the snowmobile unstuck.

I worked on the front door for another hour or so, but never was able to get it to seal. Finally the cabin was ready to be closed down. BH and I walked to where we would have to load onto the snowmobiles, and before long a young man was back to pick me up. BH said I could go, and he would wait for the next one. I strapped my backpack onto one shoulder and held on.

The snowmobiles were not able to move very quickly in the powder, but I still had to be careful, because my heavy backpack could have pulled me off if it got caught on something. Soon I saw the SnowCat up ahead. I got of the snowmobile and saw D. He didn’t know where E was.

Then I met Robbie. He was thin, had a long black beard, and seemed really nice. Also, I noticed that he was very good with outdoor machinery. He told D and me to clear off the SnowCat’s deck, and so we started digging.

Soon Robbie told us to sit down, and he started the cat. The young man followed the groomed trail behind us on the snowmobile and we were on our way. I had not seen E and BH though. We traveled on the cat along the main road in the complex. Around the next bend I saw E and the other young man near a snowmobile that didn’t appear to be working. E climbed in the SnowCat with me, and told me that he was in pain again, and that the snowmobile had gotten stuck four times, and then it broke. Robbie seemed to fix it though, and then we saw BH coming up behind us on another snowmobile with another young man. This was quite the rescue!

We all piled into the cat and we were off. The young men followed behind on the snowmobiles. We weaved up and around the mountain to an area I didn’t recognize. We stopped at a cabin that I soon realized was Robbie’s and his son’s. We got out of the cat to help the young men pack up their stuff; they also needed a ride down to Deer Valley.

After loading the cat as tightly as we could, we all piled on it again. There were five us in the open back with all the luggage and packs, and two inside, and Robbie driving. It was very full, very wet, and truly a Godsend.

We traveled strait up to the summit, and we kept commenting on what a monster this machine was. We couldn’t believe it just blasted through all the snow. And behind the cat we could see Robbie’s two dogs following us. We laughed at how funny they were, this trip could not be easy for them, yet they refused to stop.

At the summit the snow was falling hard, but there was not as much wind. This was the way to travel! As we descended the slope on the other side of the summit we noticed huge cracks in the snow. E commented that this could be an area were an avalanche could easily happen. We were glad to leave it behind!

The SnowCat was amazingly fast and smooth. In the tunnel under the ski slope, the cat had to plow a huge amount of snow out of the way. I wanted a few pictures, and thought that under the tunnel would be a good time, because I didn’t want snow on my new camera.

As we reached the upper parking lot Robbie stopped the cat and told all the young men to go start digging out their cars. Each had a car, and each was buried under four feet of new snow. E and I jumped out and Robbie had us start to dig out two snowmobiles that were in the middle of the road. He said he needed to get the SnowCat down to his truck to refuel and he couldn’t with these in the middle.

I was happy to help Robbie, and so E and I started to dig… again. Then we realized that to move the snowmobiles would likely ruin them, so Robbie decided not to refuel that day. E and I unloaded the cat so we could carry all the luggage down the rest of the road. Then Robbie decided to take the risk of riding on the edge of the road, so we re-loaded the cat with the luggage. He was able to ride the edge, barley missing the snowmobiles. After he was down near the cars, E and I started to help the others digging.

We got two cars out, and there were three more to do. D and BH were helping with those three. I asked them if it was alright to walk down and start getting our car unburied. They mentioned that our car might be towed, because the Deer Valley lot is very restrictive. Oh man, I really hoped our car was still there.
I thanked all the young men again, and hugged Robbie. I told him he really saved us. Then I was off, with a shovel to see if our car was still in the lot. I jogged the entire way.

It was there! E’s car had not been towed. I was so thankful. It was buried, but it was there! I started digging, and digging and digging. There was at least four feet of snow. Soon E joined me, and before long BH and D were there too. We all dug. And pushed. Soon the car was loose.

BH and D pushed the car out of the lot, I gave the shovels back, and we all piled in. We were all soaked, but so happy to leave.

On the way back we stopped to get burgers in Park City. None of us had eaten since the few snacks the night before. Everything tasted so good. After we had eaten, we drove home, with dreams of a hot shower and warm beds.

It was quite an adventure.

The End

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