Dark was the morning we loaded the car and drove south through Eugene, through Oakridge, and up the side of Warner Mountain until we reached the deep snow. Ten miles of freshly powdered road separated us from the Warner Mtn. Fire Lookout, a cozy cabin atop stilts atop a ridge with 360 views of the Cascade Range. We strapped into our split boards and swished off into oblivion.
Fast forward through 8 hours of rugged uphill ascent, and we were still on that trail. It was pitch dark. The storm raged. Mark was slurring his speech, suffering from severe exhaustion. In the light from my headlamp, the tracks of the people who’d skied out earlier that day were buried, wiped from existence by snow and wind. This blizzard of March 5th, it wasn’t half hearted—but brave and full of force.
It’s a funny thing, memory. Already what happened is all jumbled up in my mind. I remember a moment when I realized something was wrong with Mark. It’s really hard to see someone who’s always very strong, always taking care of you, suddenly need help. It hit me over the head—it was time to stop, stop motivating, stop rallying. We had to go into survival mode, which meant digging some form of shelter and staying put. And—not kidding—calling 911. Yep, only 1.5 miles from our cozy cabin destination, we were immobilized by exhaustion, by darkness, and by the storm.
We shimmied into the area under a tree well, threw down a sleeping bag, sat down, and then put another sleeping bag over us. This is making it sound warmer than it was. We were soaked to the core from sweating and from the storm. We were very, very cold. Cold is an understatement. Drifting in and out of consciousness, we shivered violently from 8 pm until 4 a.m., when, thinking I was hallucinating, I saw the lights from the Search And Rescue snow cat.
What we did wrong.
–We had too much stuff. Just because you’re going to a cabin, doesn’t mean you need to bring your 700 page book. If I did again, I’d go so much lighter, so much leaner.
–We brought a 4 month old puppy. Sure, he’s part Malamute. But he’s a freaking baby. We were prepared for him not making the whole trek—we just weren’t prepared for the extra strain pulling a 30+ pound pup in a sled would put on Mark.
–We didn’t eat. We had plenty of food, but not super accessible trail snacks to keep us super fueled up. We were prob burning thousands of calories, but we kept thinking, we gotta just GET THERE! Turns out, taking care of yourself is more important than anything.
–We didn’t turn back when we maybe thought we should. My new mantra—it’s okay to quit!
What went wrong.
–There was (way) more snow than expected. The park ranger had told us the trail would be packed by snowmobiles, but instead, we were skinning through feet of fresh. This was a game changer.
–The GPS made us look closer than we were to the destination. There was a tragic moment just before dark when we made a final push, thinking we were 2 miles away, and then saw a road sign that read, “Warner Mountain Lookout, 3.7 miles.” FLlksjdfla;jksdbuasdfja;sjkdgjl;dajsg!!!!!!!
How we got so fucking lucky.
-Like a ghost, 1 bar of LTE service shivered in and out of my phone. Just enough to get some calls off to 911 and text my mom our location.
-The sheriff’s department was able to get a snow cat sent up from Roseberg. It was hours away. It took, literally, all night—but the cat was everything. It got us out of there in 25 minutes flat. All hail volunteer Search and Rescue crews, everywhere!