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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

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

The nameless lake sits at 11,400 feet in Wyoming's Fitzpatrick Wilderness, tight up against a ridge known as the Brown Cliffs. This high in the Wind River Range, there is no gentle fringe of trees, no sprigs of wildflowers to soften the sharp angles of the rocks, nothing but a few wind-blasted banks of snow. The blue eye of water stares straight up from a cracked bowl of boulders into a remote, seldom-visited land of wind and rock and sky.

At 1 o'clock in the afternoon on August 2, 1998, a lone hiker with a black dog was making his way through the chaos of boulders along the eastern shore of the unnamed lake. He was a tall man with a gait that was used to eating up the miles, but here he was moving slowly under the weight of his pack, picking his steps carefully and sweating under a chocolate-brown floppy hat. It was day 4 of a 9-day hike, and the going was tougher than he had hoped for. Snow and ice in the passes had rubbed the dog's paws raw, slowing the pace. And now all this rock.

Nearing the lake, the hiker stepped onto a large boulder that shifted precariously under his weight. Instinctively, he leapt. The rock ahead was solid but tilted up at an awkward angle. His boots hit, and slid. The boulder behind kept coming, closing the gap. Just as his legs slipped off the edge, the boulders slammed together, catching the man above the knees, pinning him as if in the jaws of a trap.

There would have been pain, panic rising hot in the back of his throat, a swirl of dust in the air like smoke. There would have been the gunpowder smell of cracked rock and the ricochet of smaller pebbles clattering down the slope and splashing into the lake. And then nothing. As suddenly as it all had started, the rocks stopped rolling. The deep silence of the wilderness flowed back in like the water that closed around those few small stones settling without a sound on the bottom of the unnamed lake.

In the first moments following the rockslide, Mike Turner lay stunned. His breath came in ragged gasps choked with dust and fear, his heartbeat thumping against the rock. The dog, a Labrador mix named Andy, pricked up his ears at the commotion, waiting for his master to get up and move on.

Turner checked himself for injuries. Miraculously, his legs were trapped but not broken. With his bare hands and then using his tripod as a lever, he heaved against the tremendous weight of rocks, trying to pull himself free. At first, the boulder moved enough to ease the pain, though not enough to free him. A flicker of hope rose in him like a flame. He tried again, the tripod nearly snapping under the strain. Nothing. And again.

For more than an hour, he pried and shoved. But caught facing away from the boulder that pinned him, legs dangling in midair, even a big man like Turner could not gain enough leverage to move a piece of granite the size of a small car. The flicker of hope began to fade.

Exhausted, he rested, mind racing. This didn't make sense. People don't get trapped this way. How many thousands of times before had he stepped on boulders that wobbled? Perhaps he could dig himself out. He couldn't reach the ground. Maybe he could yell for help. The wind swatted the sound from his throat.

He looked around. His view was nothing but rock, sky, and a glimmer of lake. He had almost made it; a dozen more steps and he'd have been at the lake's edge, resting, filling his water bottles, the dog lapping happily at the water, nudging him to move on around the lake. Below, he noticed a few scant pockets of snow in the shadows. He needed to calm down, take his time, and think this through rationally. And so the Reverend Mike Turner reached for his journal and began to write.

"About 2 hours ago a large rock rolled upon me and trapped my legs," the journal entry reads in scrawling, jagged letters. "I was very careful, be sure of that, but I hurt... I am in your hands Lord...I don't know what I face."


PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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ALL READERS COMMENTS

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.

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.

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

Tim Amburgey
Nov 21, 2008

A good read that keeps things in perspective for all. I wish Mike's family the best. Articles such as this is why I sbuscribe to backpacker. Please do not stray away from the stories of the human element.

fellow hiker
Nov 20, 2008

Really makes you think. Sad for the loss.

sdfgb aWR
Nov 20, 2008

WOW

Steve Turner
Oct 16, 2008

What a sad and touching story.

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