Story Time by Neal, Mike, and Shari Hanko
Neal, Mike and Shari are members of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Wyoming, Michigan.
God’s Special Providential Care
A Hiking Trip in the Wind River Mountains
Come, hear, all ye that fear the Lord,
While I with grateful heart record
What God has done for me;
I cried to Him in deep distress,
And now His wondrous grace I bless,
For He has set me free.
Our lives are determined and directed by our sovereign God. We sing in our versification of Psalm 139: “My life with all its perfect plan was ordered ere my days began.” This is the comfort of every believer. There are times in our lives, however, when God’s providence is so obvious, so immediately at hand, that the truth of what we frequently take for granted is driven home with great force.
This is a story of a series of remarkable manifestations of God’s special providential care of His people which resulted from escape of what was nearly great tragedy. It is the story of a terrible fall in rugged mountains, serious injury, but deliverance in an astonishing way.
One could ask: If God determines all our pathway, does He not then determine the terrible fall as well as the remarkable deliverance? This is beyond doubt true. And God, all wise in everything He does, had His own purpose also in the fall. In these, what we call accidents, He teaches and instructs. In what was nearly a great sorrow, He brought us closer to Him. In His deliverance He brought us to our knees in adoration.
Three were involved in the story: Neal, Mike and Shari. Each tells the story as each one saw and experienced it
We have been hiking and backpacking in the West for more than ten years. Our travels have taken us to the Canadian Rockies, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Teton National Park. Mostly, however, we did our hiking and backpacking in the Wind River Range of Western Wyoming. Located between US Highways 191 and 287, The Winds are the crest of the Wyoming Rockies. There are forty summits over 13,000 feet; the highest, Gannet Peak, at 13,804 feet, is also the highest peak in Wyoming. The range is protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964 and is one of the largest wilderness areas in the continental United States. Briefly, the Act forbids development within the wilderness boundaries, and the only access is by foot or horseback. As we became more experienced in hiking in the wilderness, we started doing some off-trail exploration with USGS topographical maps and a compass.
In the late Nineties, Mike (then in his late teens) and I went on a two-day and one-night trip into the Northern Wind River Mountains. We spent half the time working our way cross-country, through boulder fields and scrambling to the summit of Squaretop Mountain, a 11,695 foot high plateau. We sat in the evening on the north edge, looking over the valley 3000 feet below, with views of the Teton Mountains to the north, the Absaroka Mountains, and the Beartooth Mountains, one hundred miles away.
In July of 2005 we decided to do the same trip again, this time with Shari (age 22; Mike was now 24.) We planned to spend three days and two nights camping: the first night in a high valley, and the second night, on the summit of Squaretop Mountain. Jeanne stayed in Pinedale Monday and Tuesday nights and planned to meet us mid to late afternoon Wednesday at Green River Lakes trail head. She had done enough backpacking the week before on a four and a half-day trip in the southern part of the range.
At about 6:00 Monday morning the three of us said good-bye to Jeanne at the New Fork trail head and started up New Fork Canyon. A glorious day of blue sky, sheer canyon walls, rushing rivers, and grassy meadows filled with wild flowers ended with a steep climb to our campsite at about 10,000 feet above sea level.
Tuesday morning we packed up early. We ate breakfast an hour later at Kinny Lake. After breakfast we left the trail and spent the day picking our way over ridges, past Martin Lake, through boulder fields, down the Martin Creek Drainage, up a steep scramble of 600 feet into the col just west of the summit of Squaretop Mountain; and finally up another scramble of 100–150 feet on grassy ledges to the summit. We set up camp on the summit at about 11,500 feet at the head of the gully we planned to descend early Wednesday morning. After supper we walked to the north edge of the mountain and spent an hour or two enjoying the view. Before we went to bed, Mike and I walked down the gully a little distance to see if we would be able to manage the descent in the morning. We both decided that it looked fairly easy.
At 5:45 Wednesday morning we woke up, broke camp and started down the mountain. We soon dropped into the gully, which was about thirty to forty feet wide and about half full of snow. Along both sides there was a trench about three feet wide and five to six feet deep where the heat of the sun on the rock had melted the snow. The snow field had a vertical drop of 600–800 feet at an angle of about 45 degrees, and getting steeper as it got lower. It bent slightly to the left about three-fourths of the way down.
I went first, kicking steps into the snow. I told Shari to follow in my footsteps. Mike stayed in the trench on the right side picking his way through the rocks as we descended.
The snow, which was soft at the top, became harder as we went down. I remember thinking that it would be a relief when we finally got to the bottom.
Tuesday night Dad and Mike went to investigate the route down to the bottom of Squaretop Mountain. If there was too much snow, we were going to have to go back the way we came. They came back and said that there was a little snow, but it shouldn’t be a problem.
We wanted to get an early start Wednesday morning. We had decided to get up at about 5:30. Camp was quickly taken down. Things started out like every other morning in the mountains. Dad always liked to get up early and get going. We were talking about how we couldn’t wait to see Mom. She was all excited about getting us treats. We couldn’t wait to get to Green River Lakes to get our Snickers candy bars and have a wiener roast.
We did what we normally do. We didn’t eat any breakfast, because it was a little chilly. Breakfast always waited until the sun was a little higher in the sky when it was warmer.
At the beginning of the hike we tried to see if there was a better way to go down instead of the snowy way. We didn’t see anything that looked much easier, so down the snow we started. It was hardly steep at all at first. Gradually it got a little steeper, but we were going slowly, so everything seemed to be fine. I didn’t think anything of it because Dad always knew what he was doing and if he thought it was remotely dangerous, we would try to find something better.
Dad was going first, digging his heels into the snow, making footholds. I was following behind him, using his footsteps. Mike was over on the right side of the snow. He said that he was going to try and make it down that way. Every once in a while Dad would turn around and ask me if I was doing ok. I was.
When the trail started to get steeper, Mike said that we should try to get off the snow because he was not comfortable with us on it. Dad listened to Mike and tried to work his way over to the left side. He said that wasn’t going to work. He said that it was easier to keep going down. He told Mike that we were going to keep going down the way we had chosen, but we would take it very slowly.
I had driven Shari’s car from home to the Wind River Mountains. Dad, Mom and Shari had left home in the family van July 8; I left home Friday, the 16th of July and arrived the next day. I met the rest of the family in Pinedale. Together we took the family van and Shari’s car to New Fork Lake, where we began our hike with the three of us.
We got up at about 5:30 so we could get back to the trail head on time. All of us were eager to see Mom again and get some better food. We were ready to hit the trail around quarter to 6:00, and Dad made the comment that we were getting pretty good at breaking camp and getting a fast start. As usual, we were going to hike a little while, then stop for breakfast. Since we started descending right away, and there wouldn’t be many places to eat, we planned to stop for breakfast once we crossed the Green River and got to the trail. It was another beautiful day, there were few clouds in the sky and our route was obvious to all of us.
The afternoon before Dad and I walked a little way down the gully to make sure there was no snow blocking the route. If there had been, we were going to go down the other side of Squaretop (the way we came up) and follow the Martin Creek drainage to the Green River Valley. This would have taken us to the river going behind Squaretop instead of going down its side. Going down the side is the way listed in all the guidebooks and is the easiest route to the summit. However, there is no official trail to the summit, but since it is a popular route, there are bits and pieces of trail here and there, and footprints can be seen in many places. We had already seen paths through the snowfields closer to the top, so when we came to the next snowfield, also with footprints, we didn’t think twice about descending it. All the snowfields up to this point had been easily traversable and this one seemed the same. The upper end of the snow was quite flat and open, but we could see that it got steeper, and the cliff walls on each side got higher. I guess it is more accurate to say that the ground leveled out on each side, and the chute with the snowfield in it continued at the original slope, slowly getting steeper.
As we started down this snowfield Dad went first, kicking steps in the snow for us to follow in. The process was very slow and we all were looking forward to getting back on the trail. Shari followed him and I followed last. After a short distance I noticed a small gap, about 1–2 feet wide, between the cliff and the snowfield where the snow had melted away from the rocks. I decided this looked easier, so I got off the snow and continued down on this path. It was rocky, and at this point not any easier than the route through the snow. However, as we got further down the chute and the snowfield got steeper, I thought maybe we should all get on this path. Whether I said anything to the others at this time or not, I don’t remember. A little further down, the slope was still getting steeper, and I did suggest that we all get off the snow. Dad made an attempt and cut diagonally towards the narrow gap between the snow and the cliff on the opposite side that I was on. (I was on the right side of the chute and they were on the left side of the snowfield). This was quickly abandoned, because when going at an angle it is harder to dig into the snow, making the footing even worse, so they continued down the original way. I didn’t really think they were in any danger, I just thought it would be a little easier, quicker and maybe safer to get off the snow; so, as they continued down, I wasn’t too worried. We were about half way down when I thought we should really get off this snow, but I knew Dad wouldn’t do anything stupid, and he was being very careful, and again I wasn’t too concerned.
I believe it was about this time, maybe 10–15 feet later when I really started wishing we had all been off the snow. Dad was first, Shari was next, and I was last, behind them but still off to the side.
About one-half way down the chute my right foot slipped. I do not know what happened: whether my left foot slipped when I kicked back with my right heel to make a step, or whether I just lost my balance. Things happened swiftly. I sat down hard and started to slide. I knew immediately that I was in trouble. Mike told me later that I said “Oh no!” I tried to dig my heels into the snow but it was too hard. I flipped on to my stomach and rammed my hiking pole into the snow as hard as I could. It merely snapped in half. I started hurtling down the slope out of control.
My pants and my pack were made of nylon and were very slippery. I slid about 200 feet completely out of control. I was going head first down the slope. I curled onto my left side, tucked my chin into my chest, and covered my head with my arms. I slammed into the side of the gully, my left hip and left side taking the impact. I had my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and rain gear in my pack. The pack partially cushioned the blow, but I still hit very hard. The impact tore off my backpack and I tumbled onto the rocks in the trench. I don’t think I was knocked out, but I’m not sure. I staggered to my feet with my left shoulder dislocated and I was nauseous with pain. The first thing I saw was Shari lying face down in the rocks below me and not moving, I thought she was dead. Mike heard me say “Oh Shari, Oh girl, Oh Shari” over and over. I thought, because of my mistakes I killed my daughter. I was desperate to get to her, but I couldn’t use my left arm. I grabbed my left wrist in my right hand and placed my left hand on an outcropping of rock. I dragged on my shoulder until it popped back into place. I remember doing this, but I don’t remember it hurting at all.
I was able to put a little pressure on my shoulder now, although I could feel it sliding around. I worked my way down to Shari. When I got to her, she was starting to move. She stood up and I said, “Are you OK?” She said, “I think so, but my shoulder hurts.” She also had a bruise on her forehead. At this point, everything went gray and then black. I was not unconscious very long, but as I came back to consciousness, it was like waking up from a nightmare. I was hoping it was all a dream. I said, “Did we fall?” Shari responded, “Yes, we did.” Then reality set in. Pain, cold, wetness, nausea. She asked me whether I was ok. I told her I had broken ribs, but that I didn’t know if anything else was injured.
Here already God so cared for us that when we fell, our packs, loaded with sleeping bags, tents, ground pads and clothes hit the rocks first, absorbing much of the impact. Any blow to the head would certainly have been fatal.
We knew we could not stay where we were because we would soon die of hypothermia from the wet and cold. Somehow we had to get out of there.
I went back up to where I hit the wall and where my pack was lying. I tried to throw it up on to the snow so that it would slide to the bottom, but because of my shoulder I couldn’t lift it high enough.
Dad was digging his heels into the snow when his foot slipped. He tried to get his balance, but the trail was too steep and the snow was too slippery. He went down on his butt and started sliding. In about ten seconds I saw him slide down and hit the rocks on the left side of the snow. I had only one thought: I had to get down to Dad. I panicked. I took two steps and my feet went out from under me. I heard Mike yell, “Shari, what are you doing?” I hit the wall of rock and blacked out.
When I came to, everything was kind of hazy. I was really hot, but I had a cold clammy sweat all over me. I couldn’t breath very well. It felt like I was hanging by my backpack. I managed to wiggle out of it. I heard Dad saying, “O girl; honey, are you all right?” I was able to answer “Yes”. I then heard Mike yelling, “Dad, are you ok? Shari, are you ok?” Dad told him that he was all right, but he wasn’t going to be able to carry his pack out. Mike was so strong for us. He stayed calm and kept talking to us.
We were down in between the snow and the rocks. I had lost my glasses, watch and camera. My hiking pole was stuck in some rocks, but I was able to pull that out. My watch and camera were both on a rock down by my feet. Dad threw my backpack and hiking stick onto the snow and let it fall to the bottom of the chute, because I wasn’t able to carry it.
Dad took a step, and I believe it was when he planted his right foot that disaster struck. It seemed like it was in slow motion and I remember it like yesterday. As he planted his right foot it slipped out from under him and he sat down with his left leg still curled beneath him. I heard him say “Oh no” in a quiet voice like he knew he was in trouble. Almost instantly he began to slide on his butt. The first thought that entered my mind was if he can stop himself NOW we will be ok, but as he continued sliding and gaining speed I knew only the rocks would stop him. There was a small boulder field at the bottom of the chute (maybe 100 yards down) and for an instant I thought he would hit that. As I mentioned before, they were on the left side of the snowfield. The field must have been crowned in the middle, because as he started sliding, he slid more and more to the left instead of straight down, which would have been much worse. This is all going through my head in a split second as I watched, helpless. Dad had slid about 20–30 feet when Shari reacted. I saw her start running after him. As I saw her move I yelled “Shari, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” She took two steps before she fell and started to slide, also on her butt and back. I watched them both slide down and to the left an estimated 150–200 feet; about halfway to the bottom of the chute. Dad hit first going very fast and I saw him bounce off the cliff. He was still on his stomach, but at that speed I feared the worst. Shari hit an instant later about 10 yards further down, also sliding on her back.
After they hit, they fell into the gap between the snow and the rocks, which was by this time about 5 feet deep. I could hear Dad moaning in agony, but I didn’t know how badly he was hurt. I couldn’t hear Shari at first, but almost right away I could see her moving. Since Dad was conscious, I thought maybe broken legs at worst. Dad kept saying “Oh Shari, Oh Shari” over and over, obviously more concerned with how she was doing, and she was asking if he was ok.
By this time Mike had gone down the trench on the right side to the bottom of the snow field. He dropped his pack and was coming up to us. He threw Shari’s pack onto the snow and helped her over a steep spot so that she could walk the rest of the way down. He tried to get around her on the snow, but slipped and fell back into the trench. He didn’t fall very far, but it was awful watching him go. He bumped his head and was a little stunned for a minute, but didn’t get hurt bad. Then he squeezed past Shari so he could help me.
My camera was smashed. The glass was punched out of the lens, and the camera body was broken in half. It had caught in the rocks, so I cut the straps and let it fall, I tried to pull out my water bottle, but dropped it down onto the rocks.
Mike tossed my pack onto the snow. It slid to the bottom and tumbled end over end through the boulders. I remember thinking that, if we had gone to the bottom, every bone in our bodies would have been smashed. Mike helped me down by making a stirrup with his hands and lowering me over the tough spots. I couldn’t manage them by myself. I first thought that I could make it to the trail head (about ten miles away), but after a few minutes I knew that idea was hopeless.
When I could help myself Mike went ahead and started to set up his tent on a grassy knoll in the sun. I said, “Mike, not up there. I’ll never make it that far.” He was on a high knoll above the chute, so he came back down a little lower.
By this time my body was going numb and swelling up. My eyes were swollen almost shut, and my neck was thickening. I thought that I was bleeding inside from smashed kidneys and who knows what else. Breathing was becoming difficult and my whole body was a sea of agony. If only I could lie down. I thought that would help. But it didn’t.
Dad threw my backpack and hiking stick onto the snow and let them fall to the bottom of the chute, because I wasn’t able to carry them. Mike threw Dad’s pack down once he got to him.
I was able to turn around and see Dad about 10–20 feet above me. Mike asked us again if we were ok. That’s when Dad told him that he wasn’t ok and that he wasn’t going to be able to hike out because he was busted up inside. He was already starting to swell up. I told Mike that I was ok except my shoulder which hurt badly.
Dad told Mike to be very careful and that he was going to need help getting down. I figured I was ok enough to get down myself. I tried to move and realized I was wrong. I didn’t have strength in my shoulders or arms.
Mike finally got to me. He said that it wasn’t going to be too difficult to get down. There was just one spot that was going to be a little tricky to get to. I was slowly moving down the rocks on my butt. Mike stayed in front of me the whole time. I had to use his hands as a stirrup to get down the tricky part. It was a little bit of a ledge. I tried to go down by myself but it was a little too high and I could not brace myself with my arms at all. Mike had tried to get around the ledge by going out onto the snow. He ended up falling a little ways, but, thankfully, he didn’t get hurt. After that, I was able to work myself down to the bottom of the chute. While I was working myself to the bottom, Mike went up to help Dad. It was a slow process.
Finally we were all at the bottom of the snow. Dad told Mike that he had to go to get help. He told him to find a place to set up the tent in case we had to stay over night. Mike found a small hill to set the tent up on. He didn’t even bother to stake it down, because he knew he had to hurry. He helped us both into the tent and got us food, water and Tylenol. Dad finally told him that he had to get going. As Mike was leaving Dad told him to hurry because he was hurt bad and didn’t think that he was going to make it. That wasn’t going to be the only time that I heard that.
My first thought was to get to them as fast as possible and see if they were ok, but I could not move very fast due to the rocks and slope of the path I was on, plus I had about 100 yards to go to the bottom, then half that much back up the other side. I did not dare to cross the snowfield from my side to the side in which Dad and Shari were lying. Instantly I tossed my walking stick out onto the snow so I could use both hands to get down faster. There was only one spot where it was tricky for me to get down. It was a short drop off of about 6 feet. Difficult, but doable even with a pack. The problem was there were small cascades coming over the cliff in a half dozen spots, about 20 feet above me. This was soaking the entire area both above and below the ledge making it very slippery. I tried going over on my butt, but realized I would still have to jump about 2 feet, and I didn’t want to land on a wet slope even if it was from only 2 feet. There was no way I was going to get over that ledge with my pack on, so I took it off and dropped it over the edge. The cascade had melted a cave under the snow and my pack slid about 20 feet down and 5 feet back until it wedged upright at the bottom. I turned around and slid feet first with my stomach towards the rock, over the ledge. By this time I was soaking wet, freezing cold, and couldn’t feel my hands, but I retrieved my pack, not completely comfortable going under that overhang. Since it was faster and easier to get down without my pack, I tossed it onto the snowfield and watched it slide the 50 feet or so to the bottom.
Now that I was down, my next job was to help Dad and Shari get down. As I was coming down, I heard them talking so I knew that at least they were both alive and conscious. As I was getting down, they both said that they were ok, but Dad didn’t think he could carry a pack the rest of the way out. As I was going up the other side their story changed. I had asked again if they were sure they were all right and Shari said she was sore but that was it. However, Dad’s response was more frightening. He said that he was not good and that he was pretty busted up inside. He figured he had at least a couple broken ribs. He also said he had dislocated his shoulder, but had already popped that back in. As I was coming up to him I could see that he was swelling up, but the way he was holding his dislocated arm tightly against his body did not look good. But I thought maybe the tension and the shock had something to do with it.
There were two spots where I had to help them down. At the lower spot the cliff jutted out in the snow and dropped off a small ledge. I myself had a difficult time getting up that spot and didn’t think there was a chance I could get them down. They were sitting just above the ledge, but couldn’t get down without my help. I think they had come down as far as they could by themselves from the spot where they had hit the cliff. Dad had slid Shari’s pack down the snow and had tried to do the same with his, but because of his injuries couldn’t lift it. At this point we were not too concerned with the condition of the equipment. I got his pack and tossed it down, afterwards thinking I should have taken his camera out just in case that hadn’t broken. I helped them down by making stirrups with my hands for them to stand in, or grabbing their legs and lowering them. The only way I could help them was from below, so after I got them down the first spot I had to get around them. The only way to do this was to go out on the snowfield. I had to be on the snow for about 15 feet, and when I was next to Dad my feet slipped and I started to slide. I think he made a futile grab at me, but I slid about 10 feet, on my stomach, feet first into the cliff. I hit my head and was dazed for a few seconds, but by that time I had so much adrenaline going I didn’t even think about it. The one thing on my mind was to get them down and get help.
Once they got to the bottom of the snow field it was quite obvious I was going to have to get help while they stayed on the mountain. Dad said to set up a tent for them and get them a couple sleeping pads. While I did this they slowly made their way to the one flat spot on the mountainside. I got them in the tent and gathered the rest of the equipment. I gave them a water bottle and looked for the other two, but Dad said he lost his and I saw mine fall out when I slid my pack down the snow. I then brought them the rest of the granola bars, keeping two for myself, and prepared to leave. When I brought them the food Dad said a few things, which I will never forget. He said he expected it to take me most of the day to get out; he said to hurry but be careful; he said the only way he would be able to get out would be by helicopter; and finally he said that he was busted up inside, he didn’t know what was wrong, and he didn’t know if he was going to make it. He said good-bye in case he never saw me again. I told him he would be fine, that I would be at the trail head by noon at the latest, and that help would come soon. I didn’t feel that confident especially the way he was swollen up, but I wanted him to be positive, if only for Shari’s sake.
Alone On The Mountain
From here on my thoughts were somewhat confused. Mike brought us food and water from Shari’s pack. I told him before he left that he had to hurry, but hurry carefully. “We are depending on you, and if you get hurt, we cannot survive the night.” I don’t remember saying it, but I also said good bye, and what to do if I died. It was between 7:00 and 7:30 when he left, leaving us alone on the side of the mountain.
Shari and I crawled into the tent, but that didn’t work. The ground was too uneven and there was no comfortable way to lie, so we went back outside. At first there were a lot of mosquitoes, but as the sun grew warmer they disappeared. Our next concern was sunburn. We were over 10,000 feet above sea level with the blazing sun on our faces. The only position that was somewhat comfortable for me was lying flat on my back with my knees up. Because of the angle of the slope, I was facing directly into the sun. I laid my handkerchief over my face and Shari put hers around her head and sat with her back to the sun.
Shari went down to my pack and got my Bible. When she came back I asked her to pray. I’ll never forget what she prayed. “Lord, give Mike speed, send help soon. O Lord, Thy will be done. We rest in Thee. Help Dad, Lord; help us.” After she prayed, she started to read Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want…. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou are with me.” We read and sang and prayed for six hours on the mountain. I am so thankful to God for a daughter who is so spiritually strong, who could stand beside me and help me though the long hours.
We read Psalm 27. “For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion.” Shari said she must have read sixty Psalms. We read John 17, and Revelation 21.
We sang Psalter No. 28: “I know that I shall not be left, forgotten in the grave.” Psalter No. 31: “When I in righteousness at last, thy glorious face shall see.” Psalter No. 83: “How blest is he whose trespass hath freely been forgiven.” Psalter No. 278: “The tender love a father has for all his children dear.” The comfort of the Psalms and of the familiar tunes of the Psalter was beyond belief. The Lord used them to carry us through six long and agonizing hours on the mountain. The Lord very really stood by us through the day.
As the morning wore on, I swelled more and more until my whole body was a huge bloated bag. My hands, arms, feet, legs, neck, back, even the top of my head, were soft and spongy.
About mid-morning I thought that the end was getting close. I thought that I was slipping away. Everything was getting dim and it was hard to think and speak. We said good-bye to each other. I told Shari, “I don’t think I’m going to make it. My body is broken. It isn’t just my ribs.” I told her I loved her and to tell Mom, Matt, Jon and Jenn, and Mike, that I loved them too. I told her it would be hard for Mom, and they had to help her and take care of her. It must have been shock, or maybe I was falling asleep, because in a half hour or 45 minutes, I began to revive a little.
We started thinking that it was about time for rescue. It was so easy to become impatient: “Lord, why is it taking so long? Don’t You hear us? We need help now. Please send help.” Again we had to remind each other, “Rest in the Lord. Wait patiently for Him.” Again and again we prayed, “Thy will be done. Lord give us patience. Thy will be done.”
Late in the morning we heard a droning in the distance. Is this rescue? Are we saved? But it was only a high-flying plane. Hopes raised and then dashed. Again, “Lord, give us patience. Thy will be done.”
We started asking ourselves, What if they don’t send a helicopter? What if they come with horses? I told Shari that I couldn’t last that long, If they sent horses, I would die, but that would be the Lord’s will too.
By now I was at peace. If this was my time to die, then so be it. My only regret was that I couldn’t say good-bye to the rest of the family, and I was worried about Shari sitting up there alone.
After Mike left I wanted to try to get Dad as comfortable as possible. By this time he had swelled up badly. His eye was starting to swell shut. It was a horrible thing to see. He said that he wanted to lie down. As soon as he lay down he wanted to get up again. Lying down made all the pressure go to his head. So I helped him sit up. Sitting up didn’t work either. When he sat up the pressure was so bad in his chest that it made him nauseous. This went on for a little while, helping him sit up for a few seconds and then helping him lie back down. He just wasn’t comfortable no matter what he did.
The tent wasn’t comfortable either. There were too many bumps, so we went back outside. There was a flat area that he was able to lie down on for a while. He started praying that Mike would have swift feet and find help quickly. That was about all he could get out, so he asked me to pray. We prayed that God would be with Mike, and that because we were hurt badly, we needed help desperately.
The day was beautiful with bright sunshine and clear blue skies. Dad was lying with his handkerchief over his face. He didn’t want to get sunburned. He kept telling me to put my handkerchief on my face. He was so broken and hurt and he was thinking about me.
The mosquitoes started to bother us, so he asked me to go get the bug spray from his backpack. When I got to his backpack I realized that the spray must have fallen out when he fell. But I found something much more important, his Gideon Bible. When I got back to him I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to read. He said he didn’t care, so I decided to start at Psalm 1 and go from there.
Psalm 27:14: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”
Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.”
Psalm 18:7: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”
Psalm 30:2: “O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.”
Psalm 30:8: “I cried to thee, O Lord; and unto the Lord I made supplication.”
Psalm 31:1: “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.”
Psalm 31:9: “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.”
Psalm 31:14: “But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God.”
Psalm 32:7: “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.”
Psalm 32:22: “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.”
Psalm 34:4: “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 34:15: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.”
Psalm 34:17: “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.”
Psalm 34:19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
Psalm 38:15: “For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God.”
Psalm 38:22, 22: “Forsake me not, O Lord: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.”
Psalm 40:1: “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard by cry.”
Psalm 40:13: “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: O Lord, make haste to help me.”
There are so many more that I could put in this story. I don’t even know for sure how many Psalms we read. All I know is that they helped us pass the six hours on the mountain and were a source of great comfort.
Dad did ask me to read two other passages. They were the high priestly prayer of our Lord in John 17 and the description of the new heavens and the new earth in Revelation 21. I knew why he wanted me to read these passages.
One thing that struck me on the mountain was that Dad knew a lot of Bible passages by heart. As I was reading to him, he would start quoting the verse that I was reading. He also would be able to sing the Psalter number to the Psalm I read. Even in the awful pain he had he could remember Scripture.
After reading for a while I would run out of breath, so I would stop reading. Once I stopped reading, Dad would start chanting, “The Lord is my Shepherd, the Lord is my Shepherd” over and over again. It started driving me crazy, so I would start reading again. As I was reading, I would come across a passage about prayers being heard by God, so we would pray. They were always the same prayer. “Please Lord, send help quickly, we need help so bad. Give Dad some relief from his pain. Don’t let him die. Give Mike swift feet and be with him on the trail. Be with Mom when she finds out, help her to stay calm. But always, Thy will be done.”
Dad would be alert and quoting Bible passages with me, but then he would start drifting off. This happened a few times. When it happened he thought that he was dying. He told me that he loved me so much, and that he was so thankful to have me as a daughter. He told me that I had to be strong for Mom. I had to tell Mom, Jon, Jenn, Mike and Matt that he loved them so much, too. He wanted to see them so badly. I also was to tell the extended family that he loved them all.
I didn’t want to hear this. The first time he was saying goodbye, I told him that I didn’t want him to die. I asked him who would walk me down the aisle if I got married, and who would mock me about falling in the creek. He told me not to ask questions like that. He told me whatever happened was God’s will and whether I liked it or not I had to submit to that will.
A few times Dad looked at his watch. The first time was about an hour after Mike left. We were thankful that we had something to keep us occupied so we weren’t constantly watching the time. We had our faith to keep us from despairing. We could see that our prayers were being answered. Dad was able to lie for longer periods of time. He was at peace with the prospect of possibly dying. He said that to me more often. “Shari, our prayers are being answered, our prayer for rescue hasn’t been answered yet, but our prayers are answered.” We knew that we were not alone on that mountain. What a comfort we had in knowing this. God was right there beside us. He was right beside Mike and Mom.
Looking back now I don’t think he was dying. I had given him some Dramamine to help him sleep. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but anything I could do to make him more comfortable, I did. I think the Dramamine made him drowsy and he was starting to doze off. The reason I think this is because while we were in Yellowstone National Park I took Dramamine for motion sickness and it knocked me out.
Throughout the course of the day we heard planes going over. Every time we thought it was help coming for us.
I finally left to get help about half an hour after the fall, probably shortly before 7:00. I had 1–1½ miles to the trail, then about 9½ miles to the trail head. I had to descend about 2,000 feet to the Green River, then cross it at the foot bridge. Since I left Dad and Shari with the water, I had to drink out of the streams. I wasn’t too worried about this higher up in the mountains, but once I got closer to the lakes there were more people and better chances of contaminated water. I figured I’d worry about that when the problem came. It took me about half an hour to get to Granite Lake while following bits of trail, but mostly bushwhacking my way through the forests and meadows. At Granite Lake I found a pretty well-used trail and decided this must be the one referred to in the guide books. I followed it for maybe a quarter mile before I realized I was going towards Granite Peak instead of around its north side. I decided to leave the trail and plow directly toward the river. I then realized I was ascending the highest point on the mountain so I started working my way further north to cross the shoulder of the peak. Following this route I found the obvious trail and followed the switchbacks almost all the way to the valley. The trail petered out a couple hundred yards above the valley, but I bushwhacked the rest of the way to the valley floor.
Granite Lake is a popular spot to camp for hikers intending to climb Squaretop so once I neared the lake I called out every 10 minutes or so looking for help. I figured I would meet people quite soon after I got to the trail, if not sooner. All the way down I was jumping through deadfalls and scraping my shins, all the while hoping not to fall headfirst down the mountain in my hurry. Going downhill on a slope that steep is very hard on the legs, and by the time I was halfway down I was looking forward to getting on the trail.
I reached the valley floor in about 45 minutes, maybe a little longer. I had to cross the valley to the main branch of the Green River to find the footbridge. I came to the river and realized I was downstream of the bridge. I looked upstream, a quarter mile or less, to a bend in the river and couldn’t see the bridge so I decided to wade across here. I could see the trail 10 feet past the far river bank and didn’t feel like working my way who knows how far upstream to find the footbridge. There was a spot that looked easily crossable. It was maybe 20 feet wide, but some of it was only ankle deep. The rest looked about waist deep. I took off my socks and boots because I didn’t want to run and walk 9½ miles with wet feet. The shallow part of the crossing was easy, but when I got to the deep part I realized it was deeper than I thought. Instead of being waist deep it was an inch or two below my chest with a very strong current. If I had taken my time wading it would have worked, but I was in a hurry and not worried about finding good footholds. I was about 2 feet from the bank when the current knocked me down. I had no choice but to swim the rest of the way. I went under and was starting to get swept down stream when I grabbed the logs on the bank. Other hikers had made a log bridge over some smaller side creeks and swamps up to the main river. By now I was soaked head to foot (boots and socks included) so I just slogged through the swamp to the trail. I had to put socks on dirty feet and wear wet clothes for a while, but I hit the trail right away. I ate two bars I took for myself, but had to choke them down because I was so thirsty. I drank a little, but I wanted to go as far as I could without water so I wouldn’t get sick from contaminated water. I wouldn’t have gotten sick for about 2 weeks, but I still didn’t want to take that chance until I had to.
At first I planned to run the whole way, but this didn’t last very long. I’d get winded after a couple hundred yards and had to walk. Also, less than 5 minutes into the trip, while running, I tripped and did a face plant into the trail. I thought I’ll run when it is flat, downhill (the rest of the trail descended about 400 feet over 9.5 miles so it was a gentle slope, easy for running) and not too rocky. I ended up running for a couple hundred yards then walking a little bit to catch my breath. One thought that kept me going was that no matter how bad my leg and lungs hurt, Dad and Shari were in much more pain. I spent more time walking, but ran about half the distance. I had expected to meet people by now, but so far I hadn’t seen anybody.
I had a lot of time to think covering those 9.5 miles. I thought about what went wrong or what we did wrong, and how Dad and Sheri were doing. I kept remembering what Dad said, “I’m pretty busted up; I don’t know if I’m going to make it.” Hearing those words over and over kept me praying over and over. I asked God to be with them up there, to keep Dad alive, and to give me the strength to get help as soon as possible.
I didn’t see any other hikers until I reached the Clear Creek crossing, at the upper end of the lower lake, about 2½ miles from the trail head. I told them the situation and asked if they had a satellite phone to call 911. They had nothing so I continued on. I saw a boater heading towards the campground and he was going faster than I, so I yelled, but he was on the far side of the lake and kept going. I didn’t see anyone else until I was about 100 yards from the trail head. It was 9:30 in the morning, 2½ hours after the fall. It was a horse train with about 8 people. I asked if anybody had a satellite phone and the guide said he did; so I told him the situation. He let me borrow it and I called 911. I was connected to the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department and told them what had happened. I was on the phone with them for about 15 minutes, and the woman on the phone told me to go to the trail head and wait until some sheriff deputies came. She also told me to wait with the phone in case they needed to call me back. After 15 minutes, I called information to get the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department phone number to see what was going on. She told me they were organizing the search and rescue, but it would take a little while.
While I was waiting I talked with the guy who lent me the phone. He said in situations like this they sometimes send in a team with horses to assess the situation and determine if a helicopter was needed. He said people often exaggerate injuries. When I talked to the sheriffs the second time I emphasized both that Dad was not one to exaggerate anything, and that he needed the helicopter. The guy who lent me the phone also said that with helicopter rescues they only take enough fuel for the victim and might not be able to take the gear. This is not what I wanted to hear, knowing I would be the one hiking back 20+ miles to get the stuff. He also gave me a bottle of water which was much appreciated.
About 1:00 p.m. Shari heard the sound of a chopper. I did not hear it immediately, but soon I heard it also. Shari was jumping up and down waving her arms and crying: “They’re here! They’re here. We’re saved. Thanks, Lord. Thanks, Lord. Thanks for sending help.”
We saw them flying high overhead. I tried to wave my arms, but I had no strength left. They kept heading north over the mountain until they were out of sight. Complete despair again. “Didn’t they see us? They’re going too far north. Please, please come back.” And then, again, “Lord, Thy will be done,” but this time it was a cry of anguish. (Actually, they did see us, as we learned later. When Mike talked with them he had pinpointed the exact spot where we had fallen and described so accurately where we were, that they saw us as soon as they flew overhead.) I didn’t hear them any more, but Shari said that she heard them all the time. A couple of minutes later—it seemed forever—the noise suddenly grew louder and the helicopter rounded the side of the gorge and flew directly overhead. The pilot made this pass looking for a place to land. The only place to land in the whole area, other than the summit of a mountain, was about fifty feet from where we were lying, right where Mike was first going to set up the tent. He circled one more time and landed right next to us. The wind from the rotors pounded us, and just about blew Mike’s tent away, but Shari grabbed it in time. Then there were people by us and talking to us. Our prayers were answered. Our ordeal was over. And God’s care in providing a place for the helicopter was strikingly evident.
The men could only take one of us at a time. Because I was injured more than Shari, they took me first. I was able to walk with support to the helicopter. This was a rescue helicopter only. They had no medical equipment on board. They said they could get a board for me if I couldn’t walk, but they would have to go to Pinedale and get one. There was no way I was going to let them leave without me. They were going to put a helmet on me, but couldn’t because of the swelling. They strapped me into a seat. I left with one of the rescue crew and the pilot, while two stayed back with Shari.
Fifteen minutes later I was on the ground at Pinedale airport. From there they took me by ambulance to the Medical Center.
Finally, at about 1:30 I told Dad to be quiet because I thought I heard something. He told me that it was just another plane and not to get my hopes up. I said, “No, it sounds different; it sounds like a helicopter.” I could hear the wap, wap, wap of the helicopter blades. A few minutes later we saw a helicopter high up in the air. I have never had such a feeling of relief. All I could say was, “Thank you God, thank you, God.” I kept repeating this. Dad started saying “We’re saved.” I got up and started screaming for all I was worth and waving my handkerchief. But then the plane went back behind the mountain. Dad started saying that they were leaving us, and that they weren’t coming back. I told him that they wouldn’t stop looking until they found us; besides, I still could hear the helicopter.
While the helicopter was out of sight, Dad asked me if there was anything I could use to make a reflection that they might see. I did have a starlight filter for my camera that maybe would work. I started flashing that at the sun. About twenty minutes later I could hear the helicopter getting closer. I got up and started waving my arms and jumping up and down. When the helicopter came back into sight it was really low. It actually was a little distance below us. Dad started moaning with relief.
I couldn’t even cry. It was like I was crying but there were no tears. I don’t know how to describe that feeling. It was like nothing I have ever felt before.
The pilot landed the plane about thirty to forty feet above us. When the men came down, the wind was so strong that it almost blew Mike’s tent away. I was able to grab it in time.
Four people, three men and one lady, got out of the helicopter. Right away I started yelling that they needed to take care of Dad first and that I was going to be ok. When they got to us, two went to Dad and two came to me. I heard them ask Dad what was wrong and whether he could walk to the helicopter. They said that they could go get a medical helicopter if he wanted them to. He said, “No way”; he was going to walk to the helicopter. After he got up I ran over to him to get a hug. I didn’t get one. He had only one thing on his mind and that was to get off the mountain.
As he was heading to the helicopter, I got into Mike’s tent, so that, when the helicopter took off, the tent wouldn’t blow away. When the helicopter left the ground I completely broke down and really started to cry. One of the two guys that stayed with me on the mountain came over to me and put his arm around me and just let me cry. After I was done crying, I started to pack up the things in the tent. When the helicopter almost blew the tent away, a bunch of stuff had fallen out of my fanny sack. I just started stuffing stuff wherever I could find room.
After Dad was gone, the two men started asking me questions. They wanted to know what had happened. I actually felt stupid because I was thinking that they probably thought we were stupid for trying to go down the snowfield and that we were a bunch of amateur hikers. I told them that there was probably a bunch of stuff scattered at the bottom of the snowfield. They found a water bottle, and Mom’s and my hiking sticks. (Mike was using Mom’s.) They also asked me how much I weighed because they had to determine whether they could take all the gear back with us.
The two guys started to pack everything up. They put everything in the back packs. I got yelled at for trying to take down the tent. I managed to get one pole taken out before they asked me what I was doing. I wanted everything to be ready when the helicopter came for me.
Tony (one of the guys who stayed back with me) had a satellite phone with him and he tried to get Mom on the phone for me, but Mom and Mike had already left for Pinedale. I was pretty disappointed. I wanted to let her know that I was ok.
Finally the helicopter came back. The men put a helmet on me and led me to the helicopter. They showed me where the barf bags were just in case I needed them. I didn’t. The ride was awesome considering the circumstances. I actually enjoyed it. Normally I don’t like flying, but I was so thankful finally to be off the mountain that it didn’t even bother me.
The view was incredible. I have seen these mountains so many times from the ground that I knew them well. It was strange to see such familiar mountains from the air. Tony pointed out Gannet Peak to me (the highest point in Wyoming) and some other sights.
The ride to Pinedale was probably about fifteen to twenty minutes. There was an ambulance waiting when I got there. I was able to walk with help to the ambulance. When I got into the ambulance, I was asked all the standard questions.
I then hiked to the trail head to wait for the sheriffs. I didn’t know if the helicopter would come there or go straight to the mountain. I also worried about what would happen when Mom showed up. She was going to hike part of the way up the trail to meet us, but if I was with the helicopter she would start hiking with nobody to meet. Fortunately, she arrived at 11:30, about 2 hours after I called 911, and about 1½ hours after I got to the trail head. I told her what happened and that I was still waiting for help. We then decided to talk to the campground hosts and see if they could connect us with the sheriffs department for an update. They radioed the Pinedale Ranger Station whose response was quite abrupt “We’re working on it, stay off this frequency.”
Knowing the rescue was in progress, we then went back to the trail head to wait. About 45 minutes later two sheriff deputies drove up and told us the helicopters were on the way. They said the rescue helicopters have to come either from Jackson or Idaho Falls and that was part of the reason for the wait. They said that there were two choppers, one for search and rescue and one to transport them to the hospital in Idaho Falls, or to Jackson if necessary. They also said that if there was room they would take all the gear with them, much to my relief. I had to describe exactly where they were, which information he then radioed to the helicopter pilots. One thing that I wondered about was where they would land the helicopter. I didn’t know if they could land on the summit in windy conditions, and I was hoping they wouldn’t have to land in the valley because it would take a while to get Dad and Shari down and it would be difficult and painful. We could hear the conversation back and forth over the radio so I heard them say that they had spotted the victims and had located a place to land, providentially about 50 yards from where they were. It was about the only spot in that huge area that they could land. I kept hearing them say that they were removing the victim, not victims, from the site. This worried me because I thought Shari might have to walk out. The deputies did say the rescue team would walk out with her, but I knew if she had to walk out she would have been devastated. Shari and Dad will be able to tell more about the rescue itself.
The people in the medical center put an IV in my arm, oxygen tubes in my nose and plastic tubes and a hollow needle in my chest. X-rays showed two punctured and collapsed lungs, eight broken ribs and seventeen broken spinal processes (These are the bumps on the spine). There was no damage to any organs other than my lungs, and no damage to my neck or spinal column. The breaks were all on the outside of the spine. The bloating was all caused by air that had leaked from my lungs into my chest cavity and then into the rest of my body. When they pushed down on my chest, we could hear the air hissing out the hollow needle.
Because this was not a hospital, they had to take me to Idaho Falls, Idaho. They had strapped me tightly to a board and put a neck collar on, not because I needed it, but because they would be reprimanded if they did not do it. As they were wheeling me out to the ambulance, they said that Shari was coming in. I asked if I could see her, but they said “No”.
They took me back to the airport and put me in a Med-evac helicopter to fly me to Idaho Falls—about a 45 minute flight.
At Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center they did a cat-scan before sending me to a room. About 9:00 p.m. Jeanne, Mike and Shari came in. Shari had a bruised shoulder and, it was later learned, a collapsed lung. It was about a three-hour drive from Pinedale to Idaho Falls.
The rescue helicopter was a Forest Service unit from Jackson, Wyoming. It was an evacuation unit only with no medical assistance on board. The rescue service was Tip-Top Rescue, a volunteer group from Jackson and Pinedale.
When I finally got to the clinic I was immediately taken to get X-rays done. They asked me what hurt. I told them that I thought I might have some broken ribs and a collar bone. They took X-rays of my chest and both shoulders. When the X-rays came back negative I was shocked. As much as I hurt I thought every bone in my upper body was broken. I am thankful that God spared me from serious injury. They gave me a shot to relieve the pain. It helped a lot. I don’t know what made them want to take a urine sample, but they did and I had some blood in my urine, but they were not too concerned about that. They gave me three bags of IV and then I gave another sample. That came back clear.
While I was getting the IV, Mom and Mike showed up. Mom thought that I was going to be up and walking around while waiting for them. She was pretty upset when she saw me lying on the gurney. She was ok when the nurses told her that it was just some pretty bad bruising.
Tony had stuck around the clinic until Mom and Mike got there. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t alone and that Mike got the gear back. He talked with Mom and Mike for a while and told us to make sure that we let him know how everything turned out.
I am not sure exactly the time we left for Idaho Falls, but I couldn’t wait to see Dad again. When we got to Idaho Falls and saw Dad I couldn’t believe how much better he already looked.
So many miracles happened that day. What an amazing God we have. So many things could have gone differently. He was with us every second we were lying on that mountain and with Mike every step that he took to get help.
Once Mom and I heard that both Shari and Dad were on the way to the clinic in Pinedale, Mom and I left. We had about a two hour drive to Pinedale, twenty miles of rough gravel road and about thirty miles on pavement. On the way out we had to pick up Shari’s car from the New Fork Lake trail head, where we had left it.
We got to Pinedale about 5:00 and found out that Dad had been airlifted to Idaho Falls. They told us he had some broken ribs and a punctured and collapsed lung. Shari was bruised and dehydrated, but otherwise she was fine. We had to wait while Shari had 3 bags of IV pumped into her and they told us that Dad was currently being X-rayed, but we could call and talk to him in 45 minutes. When Mom did call they told her he had 8 or 9 broken ribs, both lungs were punctured and collapsed, and many of the spinal processes had been broken. Those are the little bumps on the backbone. She then talked to Dad for a little while, and we left for Idaho Falls at about 6:00 if I remember right. It is about 3 hours from Pinedale to Idaho Falls but we got there around 9:00 and went to see Dad right away.
Shari was never admitted to the hospital because her injuries were not serious. This was amazing, for several years ago she had been in a bad auto accident in which her spine had been broken in two places. We are very thankful to God for His care of her. She was a source of strength and encouragement on the mountain.
She returned to Grand Rapids with Mike on Friday and began working the next week on Wednesday.
Neal was in the hospital for about four days. Sharon Kleyn flew to Idaho Falls to be with Jeanne while Neal was hospitalized and to help with the driving on the way home. Rev. Kleyn met them all in Council Bluffs, Iowa and both cars were taken to Grand Rapids so that Sharon could return home with her husband.
Neal was off from work for over a month recuperating and healing. He too is now back on his job.
These events left an indelible impression on the whole extended family. In a forcible way we were all reminded of God’s supremely mysterious providential dealings with us in our lives and of His gracious care. May we retain the lessons we have learned.
Two letters from the campground hosts in Green River Lakes Campground
These two letters were sent by Heather Dina from the campground after the family had returned to Grand Rapids.
Saturday, July 23, 2005
My husband and I are the campground hosts at Green River Lakes, where we met you at the trailhead with the Sheriff. We’d just like to know how your husband was after his accident on the trail, and how everybody is.
I was quite impressed by your son’s mature and intelligent reaction to the situation, and he should be quite proud of himself. Apparently, you did a good job with both him and his sister, and they reacted properly in the emergency.
Although it wasn’t a fun experience for any of you, I’m sure after all the dust settles it will give you many memories and stories to tell in years to come, with, thankfully, a happy ending.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Dear Shari & Jeanne,
Thank you so much for keeping in touch with us, and letting us know how things turned out. Boy, Neal really battered himself up, didn’t he? Shari got in her share, too. I’ve forgotten your son’s name, but he had an ordeal, too, just working to get out quickly to contact the rescue people. Swimming an ice-cold creek wasn’t something any of us would want to have to endure, but he did what had to be done, and kept his head about him. I’m so glad everyone is healing now, though, and you were able to get help in time before things got worse. God was watching over you all!
We’re “short-timers” here now, and will be leaving right after Labor Day, if we don’t run out of propane before then. There’s hardly anyone in the campground, and the bugs are gone, so it’s glorious. Although we’re both ready to “hit the road” and see other places, part of me will miss the beauty and quiet of this place. Maybe we’ll bring the kids and grandkids back next year?