By Larry Rea –
“Wow . . . look at that snow sparkle.”
Ice crystals glistened like diamonds in the headlights of our 4-wheel drive pickup as my son Chris and I pulled our camper. It was early November and we were on our way to hunt elk in the southern most extension of the Blue Mountains.
We would have tracking snow, that’s for sure . . . we didn’t see any other hunting camps or tire tracks in the snow . . . we would have the woods to ourselves. It was a winter wonderland . . . an extremely cold wonderland. We were prepared and looked forward to it.
It was well after dark when we pulled in to Happy Camp. Situated a hundred yards off the main road, somewhat obscured by a growth of jack pine and lodge pole pine.
My mom had named it Happy Camp after she visualized happy face on the end of a Ponderosa pine log at the site.
Because the outside temperature was dropping rapidly toward below zero, we decided to leave the trailer connected to the truck until morning. We quickly ate dinner and bedded down for the night.
Guests in the Forest
Shortly after we doused the lights, we heard snow crunching outside our trailer. When it is walked on, snow is squeaky below 15 degrees. However, we hadn’t heard a vehicle . . . or seen no headlights. What was going on? Who would be wandering around this late? Was it a bear?
Then something rapped on the side of the trailer. Bears don’t knock . . . it must be a human.
We turned the lights back on and opened the door.
A young man and a young woman . . . maybe both were still in high school. . . obviously freezing cold. They were wearing only blue jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes . . . not the kind of clothing useful for surviving frigid weather.
We invited them to come inside . . . both crowded close to the propane furnace clearly grateful for the heat.
“We saw your lights . . . our truck is off the road and over the bank about a mile up the hill. Can you give us a ride to town?”
The woman, cradling her right elbow cradled in her left hand, kept her arms crossed in front of her. Her arm looked like it was either broken or dislocated. She said she was okay, but I could see she was hurting.
They didn’t offer an explanation as to what they were doing out here in the woods at night and we didn’t ask.
“We can give you a ride into town,” I said.
Chris quickly disconnected the trailer from our truck. The bench seat in our pickup could only carry three . . . not enough room for all four of us . . . I stayed behind. It was 20 miles to town . . . I reminded Chris to keep the pickup on the road.
The Accident Scene
The next morning Chris and I backtracked footprints in the snow until we found their vehicle. We could see how their problems stacked up. The road following the ravine was a narrow one-lane path. The downhill side tilted toward the abyss because it hadn’t been cut into the hillside. As the road turned to the left, centrifugal force pushed and gravity pulled the pickup down into it. Perhaps they were going a little too fast and braking causing the truck to skid. It rolled several times and landed on its side.
One minute the truck heater blasting warm air . . . the congenial companions were enjoying the sparkling snow . . . enjoying the pleasant conversation. Then came the disorienting plunge into darkness . . . the scramble to get out of the truck . . . the biting cold . . . the shock of the sudden change. Once at the bottom, the heat bubble burst and bitter cold replaced it.
It didn’t take much time to inventory the situation. In its present condition their pickup could not provide shelter or heat. They lacked basic survival gear – like heavy clothing or blankets to protect against the frigid temperatures. It was dark and they didn’t have emergency lights . . . the antenna was broken during the rollover so the CB radio was useless.
Because fingers and toes begin to freeze within minutes, they would need to build a warming fire. However, the firewood was concealed by darkness and snow. Without matches, axes or saws, they couldn’t wait for someone to find them. The cold would have taken its toll.
They decided to walk out . . . but twenty miles to town would have been five hours at their best walking speed . . . longer in the snow . . . they would not have made it.
They spotted the lights of our camp trailer . . . rescue in sight.
Maybe a few minutes later and they would not have seen our lights . . . they could have walked past it in the dark. A hundred yards from rescue, they would have frozen to death even before even getting 12 miles to the highway. As disappointing an end this was for the young man, at least he and his companion were alive. Hopefully, the next time either of them go driving in wintry conditions, they will be better prepared.
A few days later, when we went to town to get a hamburger at the local drive-in, we saw the young man and stopped to talk to him.
“I no longer have a girlfriend,” he lamented, “she’s blaming me for running off the road.”
“Maybe you should have let her drive,” I said with a smile. “Then you could have blamed her. Or, maybe now she’s just giving you the cold shoulder.”
“Touché,” he replied.
Lead photo by Shutterstock @ www.shutterstock.com
If you enjoyed Larry’s Perils of Snow, take a look at Hunting Yappy Dog
Lead photo by Shutterstock