Gold Creek, Dec. 27
  • E.S.
  • Gold Creek, Dec. 27
On Monday, while Grant was heroically keeping our office safe for tumbleweeds, dolls, and alazopram, I headed up to the Gold Creek snowshoeing trail. It was early in the morning, and my companion and I expected to maybe see a few other people. What we found were television crews and an entire search and rescue operation being staged for four women who had become lost in the area the previous evening.

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We started out anyway, and as we entered the valley where the women were lost we kept asking ourselves: How could anyone get lost here? It's a valley. A contained space with peaks on either side and creeks running down its center. To get out, all you have to do is avoid the steep slopes heading up to the peaks (where you don't want to be anyway) and know which end of the valley to walk toward (hint: the end that the creeks are running toward, the end that the ground gently slopes toward, the end that's marked by the loud sound of traffic on Interstate 90).

We ran into one of the search and rescue teams about a mile into the valley, and they asked us to keep an eye out for the women. We did. Later, further into the valley, we ran into the same team and they asked us to stand with them near the snow-covered bank of a creek and shout: "SANDY!"

We cupped our hands around our mouths and did that, too. Nothing.

We kept on, stopping every once in a while to see if we could hear screams for help. Still nothing except the sound of snow clumps falling off the bent branches of evergreen trees.

By now it was mid-day. We ate an apple and a power bar, and turned around to head back to the car. This, I thought, was where the four women made their biggest mistake: They'd begun their journey around mid-day. They'd hiked into the valley as the afternoon was ticking away, and began heading back—or thought they began heading back—as dark was approaching. It falls fast these days, especially in the mountains. It was only 4 p.m. when the women called 911 because they couldn't see a way out of their predicament.

We felt for them. We wondered what we'd do if we had to stay overnight in the snow with just a banana, an old first aid kid no one had looked at in a very long time, and one extra sweater each. We listened for the women some more. We got lost in conversation. And at some point in our journey back down the valley, we stopped, looked up, and realized we were in an unfamiliar place. Still on a trail, but not, it seemed, the trail we came in on.

I tried to use the logic of the valley. Which way is the ground sloping? (It was flat at that point.) Where are the peaks? (The clouds were too low to see them.) Which way is the creek running? (The creek was nowhere to be seen.) Can we hear the sound from I-90? (Nope.)

We knew that we were not very lost. We also realized that it was a lot easier to get lost in this valley than we'd thought. We took one of those trail gambles—a gamble of the same kind those four women took—and kept on heading forward, assuming it was generally the right direction. It was. We got back to familiar terrain, back to the creek, back to the car.

The news at the trailhead was that the women had been found. The search and rescue teams would be bringing them out soon. Everyone was happy. We were happy. I opened up the ancient first aid kit I'd been carrying, just to see if it would have helped any. There was one package of powdered hot chocolate, a bunch of band-aids, and one mylar blanket to fight over.