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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 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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