I will not forget March 26, 2022 any day soon. The following story could’ve been prevent had I acknowledged any of warning signs I encountered way. I should’ve known better. I definitely know better NOW.
Saturday, March 26, 2022
Jami had casually mentioned that I hadn’t been geocaching in a hot-minute. So with a relatively “free” day, I decided to geocache. My sister was still resting at the time I wanted to go, so I went alone.
I know better than to hike, let alone geocache, alone in the woods, but I set out to find the geocache titled: “Fresh Cakes” at Boardman Lake. This was my first mistake amongst a litany of them. Without food, water or a plan, I set out towards Granite Falls, Washington. My only companion was in the passenger seat which was my Geocaching backpack.
That, and my standard personal items: keys, wallet, and iPhone named Blu.
Mountain Loop Highway
This particular stretch of highway has not been kind to me because I attempt to visit during the winter time. For example? This past weekend.
I know better to check the road conditions, and trail reports prior to traveling there. This time I did not. If I had, I probably would’ve chosen to do something different.
When I turned off the Mountain Loop Highway onto Northwest Forest Road 4020 [NF-4020] I was immediately greeted by vehicle-eating-sized potholes. Thankfully my Subaru Outback, that I named the Millennium Subaru, was up to the task.
However, I should’ve known better than to continue …
It was then I realized I hadn’t informed a soul about my whereabouts, or my intentions. I knew better than that.
Google Maps stated it was 4.8 miles to the trailhead (TH) yet 20-minutes to drive it. I thought, “Just how bad is this one-lane, pot-holed, dirt road?”
After Saturday, I can say treacherous and eventually impassable. As I crept along, I kept thinking, “This is ok as long as there’s no snow.”
Then I encountered a snow patch and cardboard about 1.5 miles away from the trailhead parking area. Forensically speaking, a vehicle was stuck here, and needed the traction created by the discarded and destroyed cardboard.
I knew better than to continue, but my ambition started to silence my voice of reason, my Jimmy the Cricket. I cautiously entered the snow with the Millennium and it got stuck. I rocked it the vehicle back and forth – I got free and continued up the mountain!
Another half mile up, I encountered two vehicles: one stuck on the road, the other parked off to the side. I decided to park the Millennium, lest I be stuck too! I managed to turn the Millennium around, park it safely off to the side with the nose pointed down the mountain. I strapped on my backpack, grabbed my survival / emergency metal shovel, and hiked towards them.
A Good Turn Daily
This Eagle Scout can’t casually walk by trouble. I did noticed that the vehicle stuck was a Toyota 4Runner which has a higher ride height than my Subaru. The driver, John, and his girlfriend, came up for the day. The green Jeep belonged to four men camping nearby who were already there to assist. They got stuck last night, so they were forced to camp nearby.
After an hour of effort, the 4Runner was freed!
I returned my shovel to my vehicle, which I should’ve know better and hop in and drive off. Nope. I announced my intentions to the campers as I hiked the remaining mile in snow, UPHILL, to the trailhead, and parking lot.
I knew better than to keep digging, my voice of reason is now silent. After I performed my obligatory, Boy Scout, do-a-good-turn-daily, I should’ve turned around and went home. See what I did there?
I foolishly pressed on. I also realized I no longer have mobile phone service from here. I peered at Blu.
I mused, “I’ll be aiight. It’s .8 miles one-way in snow without snowshoes. I’ll be back before too long.”
Famous. Last. Words.
Boardman Lake Trailhead
Yeesh. Snow and my phones have not been kind friends. I downloaded the offline trail map from the Official Geocaching app. Again, I knew better than to continue to geocache.
Yet I did.
After falling in the snow from my legs plunging into it knee deep several times, I “lost” the snow covered trail about a half-mile in. I had no water, or food, and … I didn’t eat breakfast either. So that started to take it’s toll on my body that is conditioned to eat every 2 hours or so. In fact, my decision making skills were malfunctioning too. I wandered precariously close to a cliff. Using tree saplings as hand holds I scaled the cliff like terrain that was definitely OFF TRAIL.
Finally, I arrived at Boardman Lake but not on the trail. I was closing in on the GZ [Ground Zero] The hint for the geocache described two fallen logs to cross. I spotted them and trudged my way towards them with phone in hand like a lantern. I pocketed Blu in my pants.
The snow “bridge” I stepped on was eroded underneath by water and snow melt. It couldn’t hold my weight, and I fell through like a chute.
My legs splashed into knee-deep, freezing water, as I ricocheted off the rest of the snow. My backpack was hung up and suspending me in the water like a tea bag. I thought, “Oh God, this is my version of 127 Hours!”
I managed to rip myself free, slogged my way back to the trail near the lake. I immediately felt for my phone which was not there. I fruitlessly looked for it. It’s gone. This is the second time I’ve lost a phone to snowy conditions. It’ll probably be found in the spring thaw, if anyone bothers to look for it.
My priorities quickly changed from finding this particular geocache to just finding a way home. Without my phone, I had no hope of finding it, especially since I was still 130 feet away. I knew better than to press my luck …
I Knew Better
I’m living a worst case scenario that I created myself. IF I survive, I thought, I’m gonna be grateful. My legs were cramping up from no water or food – imagine that.
I looked up to the sky to pray, “Mom. Your son is in some trouble. I could really need some help right about now. Just keep me on the trail that’s covered in snow until I find my footprints.”
While I was looking up, I noticed I was losing sunlight as well. I galvanized my resolve to return home safely. I used every survival skills that I ever learned, as well as observations on how trails are created.
Praise Jesus! As I trudged along with very little hope, I was cold, wet, tired, hungry, and frankly embarrassed. I found my own boot prints from where I veered off-course. My survival chances increased ten-fold. My boots seemed a little lighter.
On The Road Again
I hiked past the camper again, so I paused to speak with them. I hollered, “I made it to Boardman Lake. I lost my phone, though. If there’s a missing persons report posted for this area, my name is Carlos again.”
They replied, “Carlos. Seahawks jacket, driving the Subaru. Check!”
Thankfully the Millennium Subaru started, and I was able to navigate my way off the mountain without further incident.
Now I must survive the tongue-lashing from my worried loved ones. I know better than to worry folks that are naturally “big-worriers”. Since I’m writing about this story in past tense, you can conclude that I survived that as well.