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Backpacker Magazine – June 2002

Trapped! The Mike Turner Story

Deep in Wyoming's Wind River Range, an accident with a sliding boulder makes a hiker confront his life, his fate, and his faith in God.

by: Jeff Rennicke


Mike
Photo by Diane Turner


After the terror of the rockslide, the panic of realizing he was trapped, and the initial struggle with the immovable boulder, Turner turned his thoughts away from getting free and toward surviving the coming darkness. He passed a fitful night with his sleeping bag jammed awkwardly around his legs for warmth. Surely in the morning he'd figure a way out of this.

The journal passage for the next morning shows him listing his concerns as if thinking things out on paper:

"I am concerned about first losing my legs, second running out of snow to melt for water, and fuel, third hypothermia. My biggest concern is water. I have only 2 quarts left. The irony is that the lake is only 30 feet away...I am drinking 1 quart today, saving a quart for tomorrow. I am also saving my urine. I wonder how it will taste with Crystal Light?"

Emptying his pack, Turner set up a makeshift "camp" around him. He had his stove, sleeping bag, and food for a week or more. Careful not to let anything slip out of reach, he took stock of each piece of gear, pondering how it could be used to free him or signal for help. His camera became a wedge to pry the rock. The rainfly to his tent became a sun shade and a means to catch rain, a possibility he didn't know whether to pray for or dread.

"On one hand, a rainstorm could save my life, giving me the water I need. I've got plans to catch every available drop...but then the rain is also my worst enemy because if I get soaked my legs will get very cold...A rain...would be very hard to survive."

As if the writing of the words sparked another thought, he added, "I just had an idea about using the tent poles that just might work" and signed off to try it.

"I know one of the reasons he didn't write even more in the journal," says Turner's friend Mark Smith, "is that he was busy trying to think of ways to get himself free, or at least survive until someone found him. That's the kind of person he was. There is something honorable in the way he fought every way he could think of to survive."

That first full day in the rocks, of all that were to come, was probably the best. Turner had enough water, at least for a day or two. There was no intense pain or significant bleeding. And he still had hope.

"I had dreamed of a special time alone with God, facing the elements, the passes, thinking about my life, the direction of the church, about my family. Indeed this has been all of those things only magnified 100 times. Thoughts about life, God, people, risk, filling my time. When I think about it this way, I believe I will survive, smarter or wiser, more thoughtful, more aware of my limits...I do feel confident in my Christian hope. God will make a way either earthly or heavenly. My only dread is not seeing my family and being present with them in body. That's what I think about."

He even found the strength for a bit of humor, writing to Diane, "If I make it, you will hear a lot about this time, details you are probably not that interested in but I know you will listen."

And Turner himself was listening, straining for any hint of hikers approaching. A single hiker could get him water and go for help; a pair of them might be able to pry the rock free. A group from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) had gone through just 2 days before the boulder pinned Turner's legs. But now, there was no one. Once, there did come the whoop-whoop of a helicopter out of sight behind the ridge. At first the sound must have seemed like a miracle, yet it came no closer. After a time, Turner realized the helicopter was not for him. Despite his own predicament, his heart went out to whoever was in trouble. "Hope they find that lost person too," he wrote, in a weakening hand.

Eventually, the sound of the chopper faded. The solitude that Mike Turner had longed for was beginning to tighten around him like a noose.



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
D. Harris
Nov 18, 2013

Thank you to Jeff for writing this story. It was refreshing to see a mainstream media magazine publish a story that respected a person of deep Christian faith. Kudos to Backpacker for featuring it.

Star Star Star Star Star
Mike Jackson
Jan 15, 2013

Regina P: "Somehow, female children are raised to think of everyone else before themselves..."

Sure they are. That's why they overwhelmingly
believe they have the right to kill a baby inside her, or even partially born, if he or she interferes in her lifestyle.

Star Star Star Star Star
green
Jan 15, 2013

heartbreaking

Roy Mandel
Nov 28, 2012

Wd did a hike my 9yr son and wife and me in that area but on trails in 1980 and I recall seeing island lake on map. Greart story.

Roy Mandel
Nov 28, 2012

Wd did a hike my 9yr son and wife and me in that area but on trails in 1980 and I recall seeing island lake on map. Greart story.

James Ludlow
Feb 12, 2012

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story of faith, love and courage. I too am a pastor and deeply share the solitude of Mike's mountainous spirit. We all will see Jesus soon...it's just like God to bring us home through our favorite places on earth. I'm sure some would say "Mike went to be with Jesus by doing something He loved to do!". In a weird kind of way, that is a blessing. My life has been deeply touched through this story. Thanks for sharing.

Renee' Johns
Nov 10, 2011

Tonight I found the story I read about in 2008 that helped me so much during my chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer that year. I had had a 20yr walk with God prior. I felt so alone and discouraged and had lost all Hope until I read this article I beleive in the Idaho Statesman that year. I just want to say Thank You Rev. for helping me to LIVE. God Bless your family.

Richard
Sep 02, 2011

Thanks so much for publishing this article. I read it when it appeared in your magazine but misplaced that issue. Too bad ReginaP did not read past page 5 to the end of the article - though I imagine the beauty of the story would still be lost on her.

odanny
Aug 01, 2011

Well written story on Mr. Turner. He had his faith tested on the rock and it endured when his body gave out.

Mike Sechler
Feb 13, 2011

I love this story, because I love hiking, I love the mountains in Wyoming (even I have never hiked in this particular range), but most of all I love God. Thanks for the story, I will be using it in my sermon today. God is still using the life of Mike Turner, even as Mike now enjoys the immediate presence of God.

wilk
Jan 11, 2011

Wow regina, hate men much?

ReginaP
Dec 18, 2010

I don't like to speak ill of the dead, but whenever I read/hear a story like this all I can think about is the selfishness and arrogance of the one who put himself (and it's almost always a man) before his loved ones, never once considering what impact it would have on them to lose him. I can't even read all the way through because I'm on page 5 and it's making me angry. Somehow, female children are raised to think of everyone else before themselves, while male children are raised to get theirs at any cost. I feel bad for the dog, in any case.

Gabriel Hedger
Dec 14, 2010

One of the best articles I have ever read.

Ryan Wolfinger
Dec 11, 2010

What an amazing story. Mike Turner sounds like an incredible man of faith, one of the most inspiring parts of the story to me; "as his final hours approached, Turner's body was shutting down; but it was as though his spirit was opening up. All the questions, all the doubt and anger seemed to dissolve like so much morning mist on that unnamed lake. What remained was the unbreakable bedrock of belief." Despite the tremendous pain that he experienced, it is so comforting to know that Mike will spend an eternity in Paradise.

Anonymous
Nov 03, 2010

Don Heinz, pastor, hiker
Nov 01, 2010

Thank you Jeff for putting the story to paper. Thank you Diane for the courage to share it. Thank you Mike for living it. It being the adventure and your faith. I am in a personal struggle now myself, and these words were an encouragement.

Diane Turner Slobodow
Jul 31, 2010

Just an update on the story. Our dog, Andy, lived an amazing life. He was just over a year old when he went on the hike with Mike into the Winds. He was a wonderful companion to Mike and I know provided comfort from Mike's journal. And what a companion he has been for me and our family. Loyal and loving and adventuresome until the end. His body started failing him this spring. I like to think that Andy and Mike met on the trail and continue their adventure.

Dan Metcalf
Jul 09, 2010

This story deeply touches me. It could so easily be so many of us who love the solitude of wilderness, mountains, lakes. I too love the Lord and have cried out many times on my journey. My wife's 28 year battle with rheumatoid arthritis and the sorrow and pain that goes with it reminds me some of Mike's struggle.
From reading Mike's journal it is easy to see that his family and planet earth suffered much loss when he left us for heaven.
What heart! What a story! Our prayers and best wishes go out to Mike's family.

Paul Clark
Jan 16, 2010

I was hiking out from Island Lake on the same day that Mr Turner and his dog were hiking in. I think I remember a hiker and his black dog. I know I said "Hi" to him as we passed on the trail. It's odd to think that I was one of the last people to see the guy alive.

my strength
Feb 14, 2009

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