Day Eight July 25: Lake Fork River to Helen Lake, 12 miles again

This day will be etched in my mind forever. I need to explain who Salamander is. Sally Miller has been my hiking partner for over ten years. I met Sally and Roy when they moved to Sacramento in 2005. They are the kind of couple that when you meet them, you know they will be lifelong friends. In 2009 I was asked to join a group called “Cops on Top.” They are law enforcement officers from all over United States and every year, their goal is to have an officer summit the highest peak in each state on June 4th. I accepted the challenge and with another friend Elisa, we climbed Mt Whitney for the cause. The following year, I was asked if I’d be interested in summiting Mount Rainier? This is a completely different climb as it is alpine mountaineering and honestly, my experience is quite limited. I called Sally and Roy and asked if they would be my teammates? Sally is an officer with Nampa PD in Idaho and Roy, a Medic, so a perfect fit for the team. They are one powerful couple, with vast outdoor experience and both efficient climbers! As it worked out, there were ten climbers and we summited Rainier June 2010. So Salamander is “no joke!’ Since then we have backpacked every year, including such trails as Wonderland Trail, Tetons, portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Colorado Trail, you get the gist. The list goes on…

With all the credentials of Salamander, today was the icing on the cake. Every other year, we trade off choosing adventures and this year, Sally picked the trail. Highline Trail in the Uinta Wilderness. I came along blindly not doing much research and just riding on the shirttails of Salamander. We had two passes to cover today, Red Rocks and Dead Horse Pass. Right there, is a clue! We hit Red Rocks Pass early and made it up and over fairly quickly. Met some more College Students from Indiana with extremely heavy packs and wondered, have they ever heard the concept of ultralight? It breaks my heart because I am sure that there are a handful of them who will never ever backpack again. They have packs loaded with their fears and many useless items.

Salamander and I made it to Dead Horse Lake, an emerald green lake, like known I have ever seen. It wasn’t glaciated but green because of the rocks and minerals in the area. Salamander and I contemplated the fact that the pass we were about to embark on was only one mile up and 800’ of elevation. Honestly, that doesn’t sound too terribly horrifying, but you didn’t climb it!

We headed up and immediately this was like nothing I have ever attempted. Mt Whitney has 99 switchbacks but it has cables where they are needed and the climbing is gradual. Mt Rainier I climbed late in the evening, typical alpine start, so I never looked down until I was on my way down. Salamander reminded me today that she had to literally talk me off that mountain, being I was ready to call it quits, over and finished, yet I was only half way down. In Utah, I guess you just pick your hike and do it! This route should have been a mountaineers route. Meaning, you need to have much experience and nerves of steel. This was the scariest backpacking I have ever done. Salamander and I have jumped across glaciers, we have partially climbed the Middle Tetons. We have hiked the Wonderland Trail where I noticed that we needed to climb the steep cliff using a rope, and gratefully there was a used rope to help us access the trail. But I have never climbed a trail that was so sketchy that you better not take a misstep, because that, could in fact, be your last! Let’s just say I was laser focused.

Salamander was in the lead and I was slowly making my way up this unforeseen cliff that only had two options. One, you survive by the grace of God or two, you are like the dead horse, who didn’t. All I needed to do was rely solely on Jesus. There’s the saying that there are two foot prints in the sand, one of Jesus and the other of you being carried. I was definitely being escorted if not, certainly carried up this pass. I could not look up or down but only at His steps in front of me. I have never faced fear like I did today! This can only be described as a walk in faith knowing that God Almighty is in charge. After the longest hour of my life, I summited this pass but as we all know, that is only half the battle. Unless you make it down, you never truly accomplished anything.

Salamander was at the top waiting for me and surveying our route down. It was just as precarious as the way up! Once we literally found the route down, it was much less eroded with fairly firm footholds. The valley below was intoxicating as it looked like a Jurassic Park museum. Salamander was saying that the dinosaur archeological society have unearthed many bones in the surrounding area. It was a perfect haven for these prehistoric animals to roam. After two hours had passed, we finally arrived back on solid ground. My stomach was nothing short of rumbling and tumbling and I had to stop to compose myself. I literally felt sick and yes, I upchucked my chicken salad lunch. I have never never-ever felt fear like I did today!

The rest of the afternoon does not matter. There was some route finding issues that annoyed me but in the scheme of things, it all worked out. Salamander and I made it to camp, had a lovely dinner of couscous with vegetables and received frequent visits from the resident deer.

There is no way to put today in words. It was beyond anything that I have ever experienced. Without God’s grace and his guiding footsteps, I would not be blogging in my tent tonight. He loves me more than my imagination and He protected me from certain foe. Today will be a day that I will never forget. It will be a day that defines my existence and His value of who I am. Tomorrow I feel Jesus will open a door for me, to share what purpose He has for me. But if tomorrow is not the day, I will be patiently waiting for what He has in store for me. I am so blessed to be alive and to be a vessel for whatever He has planned for my remaining life.

As a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:1-3

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