Susan C. Anthony

4 wheelers stuck on a hill.Saved by a Flashlight

February 21, 2006

In 2005, we took some great four-wheeler trips with Don and Sherrie into the wilderness areas around the Salton Sea. One of Dennis' first orders of business when we returned in 2006 was to buy each of us a four-wheeler.

Our first big independent trip through went so well that on the way back, Dennis proposed we explore off the main trail. We saw four-wheeler tracks at the bottom of a beautiful red rock canyon. We knew a trail entered the bottom of the canyon and thought we could perhaps link into that.

The way down was steep. Dennis inched his way to a relatively level spot, then motioned for me to follow. When I caught up with him, I said, "I sure hope we don't have to go back up this way!" He was confident, with all of the apparent traffic that had been in the bottom, that there would be an easier way out.

We explored the spectacular canyon but encountered a sheer drop-off some miles down the canyon. We watched carefully for alternate ways out as we retraced our steps, then continued on up the canyon, only to once again reach a sheer cliff.

The only way out was the way we’d come. Dennis used all his driving skill and nearly made it to the top, but the trail was steep and soft and these were 2WD machines, not 4WD like we have in Alaska. He dug in the wheels about 100 feet from the top then walked down and drove my machine as far as he could. We tried pushing, one painful inch at a time, but the sun was beginning to sink. Clearly, we would not get out before night fell.

We had a cell phone. By a miracle, we were able to reach Don and Sherrie. (We tried again and again from the same spot in days and years to come with no success, and decided it was a miracle that the one critical call connected.) Don and Sherrie mounted a rescue effort as Dennis and I began walking down the ridge trail to meet them.

Occasionally we connected with them briefly by cell phone but only for a word or two. We walked miles to the main trail without seeing them. Night fell, inky black with no moon but thousands of sparkling stars. Dennis, thankfully, had a Mini-Mag flashlight.

At last we saw headlights in the distance and rejoiced! Dennis flashed his little light at them. But about a quarter of a mile short of where we were, they turned off the main trail!

We screamed and ran, but there was no way we could catch them! What had gone wrong?

We hadn’t realized that there are two trailheads for the same trail! Unknowingly, we’d passed the first one that morning and taken the second.

By another miracle, they saw our flashlight in the dark and stopped. Had they not seen it, they'd have continued up on what turned out to be a very dangerous road at night.

As it was, the four of us continued up the trail in their truck, thinking we could perhaps retrieve at least one four-wheeler in the dark. The ridge trail was terrifying in pitch blackness, falling off steeply into darkness on both sides. We were miles from the nearest people. Our headlights shot into space as we crested each bump, then plunged to reveal what had been invisible moments before. We were fortunate to find a turnaround and get home safely.

The next day, we returned to recover the four-wheelers with the invaluable help of our friends. I discovered to my dismay there had been no matches in my pack as usual. I'd taken them out before going through security in the Anchorage airport. It would have been a very cold night had we not been rescued!

In 2007 we visited the same canyon again. The authorities had blocked all access into it. Perhaps someone else made the same mistake we did, without such strokes of good fortune.

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