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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.

Photo by Mike Turner

He spent his first night alongside Eklund Lake, 6 miles into the Bridger-Teton National Forest. A few birds sang. A breeze stirred the pines.

“…so quiet, so perfect. Is it all just as you want it, God? Or like skeptics say…is it just random events and we are nothing before the beneficence and destructiveness of nature? You send the winds and rain and yet even amidst the deep savagery and destruction of life, I sense your hand. In threatening my comfort, even my life, you challenge me to cope. In beauty and peace you refresh me. And all of it I need…God bless this trip. May it fulfill your holy purposes.”

Turner wound his way to Island Lake, the beautiful, sky-blue heart of the Winds with its “amazing beauty that fills my soul,” then up 12,150-foot Indian Pass. The rocky notch is the border between the well-traveled Bridger Wilderness, with its web of maintained trails, dayhikers and sport climbers, and the virtually empty and trail-less Fitzpatrick Wilderness.

Atop the pass, Mike Turner took a few photographs, checked his map, then stepped over the Divide onto Knife Point Glacier, an immense ice field rippled with crevasses. To cross it, Turner had to negotiate three increasingly steep pitches. On the second pitch, Andy, whose paws were tender on the ice, began to slide and whine. On the third pitch, it was Turner who slid. Without crampons or an ice axe to stop himself, all he could do was point his feet downhill and ride it out. “What a tough time.”

Although he downplays it in the journal, that “tough time” may have had a role in what would turn out to be a fateful decision. If he had kept to his intended route, Turner would have veered south from the bottom of the glacier back up into the snow of Alpine Lakes Pass. Or he could have moved north through the grassy valley of the North Fork of Bull Lake Creek, a longer but lower and even less-traveled route. “We decided to take a longer route” is all the journal says of his divergence from his “Wander in Wonder” itinerary.

At first, the place seemed almost magical. They “entered an enchanted valley of wildflowers and grasses. Beautiful.” In a dimming, golden light, he set up his tent and heated some soup. Andy sat licking sore paws while Turner opened the journal to write.

“Tiredness is the fruit of one thing I love about wilderness, the chance to be fully committed to something. We worked hard today, faced danger and risk, played it safe though, too, where wisdom was called for. I will remember this day. It is filled with the ecstasy, the essence of life. By it, the Lord will fill me with strength, conviction, wisdom and trust. Thank God we made it down that hill.”

He closed the journal and stood to stretch, feeling his body tingle with the mix of exhaustion and exhilaration that comes from hard work in wild country. Then he crawled into his tent, snapped off his flashlight, and drifted to sleep beneath a blanket of stars twinkling like ice chips in the blue-black mountain sky.

The next day, a sliding boulder would change everything.

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