Read My Crap - The Near Death Experience

Most of my stories are compiled from intense dreams I have and my experiences in other worlds and dimensions of thought, but not this one, this story is as real as it gets and it's the closest I've ever come to death in the wilderness.

Just about 27 years ago now I did something rather dumb, we all did, and we nearly paid the ultimate price for it. This is why I'm not a big hiker or backpacker, it was a terrifying experience that I will never forget. It is a story of bone chilling cold, falling into the darkness, wild animals, razor like brush, skeletons, exhaustion, sleeping in damp holes, crawling down waterfalls, and yet living to tell the tale.

Around this time of month back in 1996, me, my mom, my dad, and our old dog, The Von left for a hike up in the mountains of Centerville, Utah. We got in the car and motored up Skyline drive from Farmington to the top of the Mountains above Centerville and there we started hiking around. After some tough bush whacking down into the beginning of one of the canyons, we decided that since we had been up to what we thought was half way up Barnard Canyon from the bottom trail many times, that it wouldn't be that hard to just hike all the way down the canyon from the top. It seemed like a silly thing to do, as it was already later in the day, but my Dad insisted we try it.  This would prove to be a large mistake, as it was much further than we could have ever thought and it led to one of the scariest but most adventurous times of my life.

Things were rough and slow going from the very beginning, crackling through the heavy scrub oak to get down into the canyon. This took much longer than expected, as there was no trail, we were making our own. So once we finally got down into the ravine where the stream started, there was really no going back. We were now committed, but we believed all we had to do is hike down the canyon and we'd be down at the bottom and close to home in no time, how far could it really be? It was now starting to get even later in the day, probably 3 or 4PM by that point, so we decided we had better get a move on if we were going to make it. We started the long hike down coming across multiple dry waterfalls and cliffs that we had to scale, climb down, or find our way around. Now, none of us were avid climbers nor very  experienced hikers, so some of it was pretty hairy and took us quite a while to get around, especially with our 13 year old dog in tow, but she seemed to be managing it okay.

It just seemed to go on and on, over and over, this seemingly endless labyrinth of rocks and cliffs, and now it was clear that our pace was not nearly fast enough to be out of the canyon by nightfall. I feared this, but down a ways from where we were we could see a turn in the canyon and thought for sure that it was the turn in the canyon we had seen so many times hiking up from the bottom. So we had renewed hopes that once we turned that corner, the familiar upper forest of the canyon would come into view and we would find the trail from the bottom. So we quickened our pace and to our advantage the terrain had become much less rocky and we were able to move a little faster. The knots in my stomach began to loosen a little, we were going to make it in time, no problem! But my hopes were dashed, once we cleared that corner in the canyon, to our horror, down another few miles was yet another turn in the canyon like the one we had seen before. A rush of fear shot through my body, as it was now starting to get near sunset and all we had with us was a couple of water bottles in a backpack and they were almost empty.

We had not prepared for this at all. I was dressed in an old t-shirt, some really short green cloth shorts, and my Vasque hiking boots. It had been warm during the day so none of us were prepared for any kind of cold weather or the possibility of having to stay the night in the mountains, but as we moved through the canyon, that was quickly becoming reality. We pushed on anyway, we had to get down as soon as possible, but we had now descended into a deep damp dark forest world and as we pushed further into the canyon the walls on either side began to shoot up at steep angles like a giant steep "V" with the stream down in the middle, so the only way we could continue was to walk in the stream itself, as the sides were now too steep to keep a footing on.

The sun had now gone down behind the mountain and the darkness was closing in fast. With no flashlights, matches, or anything to make light at all, we slowly crept through the darkness of the canyon, crab walking in the stream. I watched in horror as the last of the sunlight vanished from view, it was now completely pitch black. There, slowly moving through the darkness I thought back to all of the previous waterfalls and drop offs we had traversed earlier and how another one could come up at anytime, and in this darkness, we could easily walk right off the edge to our splattering deaths. My hands were beginning to go numb from being the ice cold water of the stream, I was also soaking wet, and warmth of the day had left with the light, it was beginning to get pretty cold up there. We all had sticks that we were using to feel the ground with in front of us, like a blind man walking through city traffic, to make sure there were no immediate drop offs. I was so cold now, and I couldn't see anything at all other than the stars glowing above the dark black trees, I'll never forget that moment in the darkness where I realized that we were now in deep shit.

Lucky for us our eyes soon adjusted to the darkness and we were able to see it when we came across another short waterfall, probably only 10 feet or so, so we were able to crawl down it without getting hurt, but now the dog. What about the dog? How's she going to get down? The Von was probably 12 or 13 at this point and was in poor shape from age and health issues, so we had to make some decisions. Do we just leave her up there? Hope she makes it down? No, we couldn't do that, especially not me. So we sat at the bottom, held out our arms and called to her over and over, and eventually, amazingly enough she leapt from the top and my Dad caught her in his arms. The Von had never done anything like that before in her life, but in this crisis situation, she really turned into a different dog, It's like her age and health issues just vanished, as if she knew that we were in deep shit and were going to need her and we certainly did.

I was very happy when the moon finally came up and was providing us some badly needed light. Slowly moving through the darkness, up ahead I could see the moonlight coming through the trees, shining magically on this little clearing of green grass. It was a beautiful sight there in all that blackness, a little oasis of light and right next to it we found a little deer trail. Finally, some luck! I hit the trail and began gleefully trodding down it when all of the sudden the trail gave way under my feet, the rocks and dirt tumble down a steep incline into a pitch black crevasse, and I was next to tumble down into it. In a panic, I reached out to grab anything I could hold on to, it was a big thorn bush that just ripped right through my hands, it might as well have been barbed wire as it turned my hands into bloody hamburger, and I slid down the slope into the darkness, I thought my life was over, I was waiting to feel the free fall down to my splattering doom. It was just a few seconds in reality, but it felt like eternity as I plunged uncontrolled into the unknown darkness, my life flashing before my eyes just as my feet hit the bottom of a little ravine. That's all it was, a little ravine, not a giant cliff, which it could have easily been up there. I don't know if I've ever been that scared again in my life, but at that point we decided that going on in the dark was suicide and we had no choice but to hunker down for the long cold night.

We had now come to the place in the canyon which I called the rotting forest. The soil was loose and untouched by man, so you would sink nearly a foot down into it when you'd step on it, making it really hard to get a footing to make it up the steep sides of the canyon. Some of the trees there were so rotten, you could just push them over with ease, so holding onto the trees wasn't really much of an option. The air is close, damp, and the vibe is dark and frightening up there in the rotting forest. Jedi Master Yoda would have said it was "Strong with the dark side", because it is. You could just feel it in the air, it's not a nice place to be and your very being there feels like an intrusion. So, with the last of our strength, we painstakingly hiked about half way up the steep "V" wall of the canyon where we dug out a flat spot in the damp mossy earth with our bare hands through rock, root, thistle, and thorn. There, we all huddled shivering together along with The Von. It was cold and we were soaking wet from travelling in the stream, things seemed dire.

I'd never been so cold in my life, I was shivering like mad, my teeth chattering like one of those silly old cartoons, so sleep was nearly impossible but we had to try. Suddenly, The Von snaps her head down toward the darkness below us and starts growling and barking at something moving around in the trees below. You could hear the rocks down by the stream sliding off the hill as something attempted to following our trail. Oh. great, what now? Cougars? Bears? But at that point I was so damn cold I didn't really care anymore, I was too busy trying not to die. Luckily, whatever it was gave up and went away and The Von lowered her guard. I think I managed to eek out an hour or so of sort-of-sleep and at first light, still shivering cold, we got up and started toward the ridge. We had to get out of that horrible canyon and rotten forest terrain, that place would be the death of us. Anyway, by this point the stream was totally blocked by fallen trees, so there was no point in going back down there, which I was grateful for. The little bit of rest we got had helped, we had some strength back, had made it through the freezing cold night and managed not to fall off any cliffs! We made it through the worst part, but now, where in the hell are we? How can we get to the trail that comes up from the bottom? Can we even find it? After hiking for what seemed like an eternity at nearly vertical grade, we got up to the ridge and could now see our town of Centerville below us, we were close, but now our way was being blocked by large banks of impassable razor sharp scrub oak.

Soon I found another little deer trail leading through the thick brush, up ahead I could see a clearing with sunlight pouring down into it. It seemed so welcoming and inviting! Yet, when I got there, right in the middle of this tiny little clearing was a big rotting deer carcass. It was creepy, almost like some kind of sign of impending doom. My heart dropped, is that soon to be my carcass rotting in a clearing? But after a night like we had, no carcass was going to break us. We continued for hours whacking through the worst of conditions until we saw it, there in font of us was the trail from below! We're saved! YES! After that it was like I had all the energy in the world, we practically ran down the rest of the trail and emerged at the bottom just as search and rescue crews were starting up the canyon to look for us.  Easiest rescue ever.

We all looked like we had been put through a meat grinder. My legs were so cut up there wasn't an inch of skin that wasn't slashed and bleeding. The same with my arms and hands. We were taken by ATV down to the base camp where we were cornered and interrogated by a bunch of douchebag cops. I was so tired by that point, I didn't have much to say, and they let us go.  I barely remember anything after that, but soon we were home.  I remember the comforting feeling of home, being so thankful to bet there, then some family hanging around, and then the pain of the shower on my wounds as I watched the black bloody water circle the drain and slowly disappear, just like the horror of the whole experience. I dropped into bed and I believe I slept for a couple days. I had missed some school and everyone there thought that I had died in the mountains, so when I showed back up it was a surprise to all of them.

What an ordeal it was. There are many who ask me why I don't like to backpack or go on long unscheduled bush whacking hikes. Well, now you know why. It's amazing we survived without breaking any bones, getting stuck, splattering, freezing to death, becoming a meal, or just simply dying. It could have easily been the end of us all, but we made it. It's amazing how you can surprise yourself in those kind of situations, the strength you can muster up when it really matters. Even the old Von made it through, she was a trooper.

It's an experience I will never ever forget.