Caught In a Wildfire Pt.5 from Lessons Learned As a Novice Hiker

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View from the summit before I ran out of camera battery. photo by Marybeth Haydon

Todays summit was unexpected and spectacular.  I completely ran out of camera battery at the summit since I had not charged the battery last night and took many pics on my ascent.  I thought I would just check-out the trail for future, but then after ascending 2,000′  I decided to complete the hike, knowing I would later regret a turn-around.  Was this yet another poor-judgement novice-call by going well beyond the planned hike? Ill-prepared for a summit?

The day is late and I’m getting plowed-under with fatigue from the unplanned summit.  The descent is always harder for me with all of the cartilage in one knee completely removed (surgically, I shattered it in a motorcycle accident) and misaligned bone structure in both feet. Thus, I have no choice but to take my time heading down, grateful for trekking poles to help distribute weight and for the added stability that the poles lend.
While I was trying out this new trail on the way up this morning, I powered up my cell phone a few times in what looked like strategically clear areas to call my son to say hello from the top of the mountain. I never got any bars, so I’m not even entertaining the idea on the way down.

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Wildfire courtesy Google images.

As I am continually amazed at the stunning and often tranquil views, I look up, changing my viewpoint to scan the east when I fearfully skid to a stop. Ohhh SNAP! There are flames head!  A HUGE wildfire, the smoke and flames are just incredibly high into the atmosphere.   This is bad.

Really, really bad.

I look at the south-easterly mountain ridge just beyond the ski lifts and realize that any minor shift in the wind will bring those flames right over the ridge and into the area I’m hiking in and into the mountain community below.  There’s a decent breeze surrounding me and in about 20 minutes, the usual pre-twilight gusts will begin. Snap.

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View During My Ascent by Marybeth Haydon

I’m hiking mid-week, so the ski lifts are not open, not operating. No one at the lodge either. Did I mention that this is really bad? Remembering that I found zero cell service on my way up, I power-up my phone anyway, desperate for communication, I need to warn the community. I need to get to safety. I neither hear nor see any fire-fighting helicopters or news copters for that matter, so I am concerned that this massive fire is still somehow undetected.

Oh, Lord! I really need Your intervention! I’m about to be stuck in a wildfire, with less than a ¼ cup of water left and a good 3 more hours left to hike out before I’m anywhere near the barest of civilization! I didn’t bring sufficient supplies since I had not planned on a complete summit.  (Always, always bring more water than you think you will need!)
Desperate, I power-up the phone. Do my eyes deceive me? I scroll down and contact the community volunteer fire department. I have connection!   Thank You, Lord!   I immediately tell the woman answering the phone where I am and that I have sighted a large wildfire, are they aware of the fire? She hurriedly tells me to hold on, I panic; I’m not sure how much longer I will have service. I remain as still as possible, afraid of losing the few bars that I have. A gentleman is now on the line, asking exactly where I am. I give him the coordinates, point out that it only takes a mild shift of the wind to get that fire advancing over the ridge and he lets me know that he’ll take it from here. I tell him I don’t know how long it will take me to evacuate, please be on the lookout for me or my vehicle if I haven’t reached it should the fire hit our area.

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Same Wildfire from news. photo courtesy Google images

I remember that my son is expecting me to call by 5:00 p.m., if not, that I am in trouble and to contact the area rescue, my back-up plan since I am hiking a new trail, one notoriously dangerous and known for its fatalities in foul weather. And it’s impossible to predict foul weather on this mountain; it seems to have its own weather system and erratic timetable.   I had taken two steps after hanging up with the fire department, so I stop and repower-up the phone and EUREKA! I again miraculously have bars. I remain board-stiff where I am, and call my son. He is on the line with someone else and asks if he can call me right back. “No!” I tell him in a rush, “I’m in a wildfire, I called the fire department, but I need you to know I may not make it back before 5:00, so know that I’m ok, and I love you!” He is stunned, and then lets me know that he understands. I explain I have to high-tail it out, the best I can, need to go. Now. We say goodbye and I start truckin’. Well, semi-truckin’. No pun intended.
A million things and scenarios are whirling in my mind. I wonder why I still do not hear helicopters and question if I’m going to have to end up in one. I begin to plan how to best indicate the wind direction should helicopter rescue be necessary. I decide to tie my windbreaker to a trekking pole, making a sort of wind sock. I’m still heading down, all sorts of thoughts and plans running through my mind. I’m very thirsty from the salty GORP that I had at the summit and realize that should the wind shift, I don’t even have enough water to keep a handkerchief wet in this hot weather for smoke protection. I’m out of camera memory, so I’m unable to capture these near-aerial, spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime views of the enormous wildfire.  Aw, double Snap!

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Wildfire courtesy Google images.

Again, I’m struck with wondering if I’m actually learning from all of my hiking mistakes! Suddenly a strong gust of wind partially pushes me toward the uphill side of the trail.  Ok, calm minds prevail. Be calm, embrace it, girl.

The sky is darkening from the smoke.  I can now smell the smoke and suppress a cough.  Focus, safely evac and evade. Thankfully my asthma is not affected yet, I figure I still have time to get out but I sure am thirsty, stress-sweaty, and completely punishing my complaining knees by trying to jog whenever I hit a flat section of the trail. Which are few.

It’s just You and me, Lord. Absolutely no one is out here today! I thank You in advance for You guidance, Your help. Please place a barrier on that ridge so that this lovely mountain community doesn’t get destroyed. Or me.

About an hour later I’m nearing the ski lift and lodge. I spot a father with his young son heading east to the backbone trail, even though I’m a ways off, I holler down to them that they may reconsider coming up the mountain, and explain about the massive wildfire. The dad asks if they would be able to see it from the trail they are about to take. I assured them they definitely would and reminded them all it would take is a shift in the wind to get this place blazing. To my surprise and confusion, they take their chances and continue up the trail!  Go figure?

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Same Wildfire. Firefighter rescuing a dog. photo courtesy Google images.

Thankfully, the fire remained northeast.  The mountain community unaffected and I wish I could say the same for those in the cities on the urban side of the mountain.  It’s difficult to describe the total loss, the devastation one feels after losing their home to fire.  I can relate, as a fellow victim.  Stictly from a possesion-value point of view, to lose all family heirlooms, handed-down recipes, photos, mementos.  The investment of time, energy, talent, ideas and money into the house itself.  I pray for those who had loss as a result of this massive fire and that no lives were injured or lost.

Gratefully home, I switched on the news and sure enough there it was in all its spectacular, destructive power. I contacted my son that I was safe at home and gave God the glory for yet another day of His protections and interventions.

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Same wildfire. photo courtesy Google images.

Lord, You put me on that trail today, for that very moment in time to pray for and do what I could by alerting the officials. I realize the majority of my concern was for me, and I’m sorry. Yet, I’m grateful for Your intervention, getting me back safe, and for preventing the winds from changing. I know that the community, if they only knew the danger they were so close to, would be grateful for Your protections too. I now better understand 2 Timothy 4:2 about being instantly in season. You want me ready at all times, regardless of how I feel. Thank You for Your trust in me that You know I will respond to You! What an honor, Lord!

Todays Lesson Learned: Go no where without 10 Essentials which include extra water, food, clothing, first aid.  Be prepared for absolutely anything going south!  For more about 10 Essentials go to my post Safety Pt. 2  http://ow.ly/gY1UB

Are you enjoying my Lessons-Learned (How Not To Hike Stupid) series?  Share your comments, questions, or concerns. Go to the “About the Author” tab on this site, scroll down to the “Comments” section bottom left. Your input is appreciated!

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