The Hammer was ahead of me, holding my phone and using it as a flashlight as we walked down the mountain. She was crying, with the only times she’d stop being when she’d gather air to yell her dad’s name again. Then I’d let five or ten seconds go and take a turn yelling his name, too.
I felt helpless, miserable. As useless and ineffectual as I’d been up on the mountain, I’d at least been somewhere near where we’d last seen Dee; I was looking for him.
Now I felt like we were abandoning him to the dark, to be alone on the mountain overnight, confused and lost at best, probably injured or incapacitated, and very likely dying or dead.
I didn’t tell Lisa where I thought her dad most likely was on that spectrum; she didn’t need to hear it and I didn’t want to say it.
The thought of going home, sitting there (certainly not sleeping) and not doing anything, made me feel ill.
As we hiked down, we saw a man in a high-visibility shirt hiking toward us. Wearing a backpack. As he got closer, we could see he was with the search and rescue team.
Lisa and Kylie recounted what had happened that day and described Dee to the search and rescue man (I can’t remember his name). Kylie showed him a picture on her phone from earlier in the day, and the man took a picture of it with his phone (couldn’t send it; no service).
He assured us he and the rest of the search and rescue team would work through the night to find him, and a UHP helicopter with a heat-sensing scope would shortly be taking off. He assured us they’d actually have an easier time seeing him with that at night than a normal helicopter would during the day.
I was incredibly grateful for these people. For their positivity, for their competence, for their willingness to drop whatever they had been doing and do this instead, all through the night.
We all thanked him and he continued his march up the trail; we continued our trudge down it.
Encounter, Part 2
We hadn’t gone more than fifty feet before the man shouted at us, “Wait!”
We immediately turned around and ran toward him.
Even before we got to where he was standing, the man — now laughing — said, “Your dad just walked in his front door.”
“Your brother called and said your dad just got home.”
And suddenly the whole world was better.
What Happened (We Think)
“I’m going to kill that old man,” was the first thing I said, but Lisa didn’t really think that was funny (although she’d say the same thing the next morning).
“I’m just so happy,” she sobbed, over and over. “I was sure he was dead, that I was never going to see him again, and he’s home instead!”
As you might expect, the remaining three miles down the trail in the dark went a lot more cheerfully than that first mile had.
At the trailhead parking lot, we took some time to thank everyone who had dropped everything to come help, then headed over to Lisa’s dad’s house, where first there were just hugs:
And then a little bit of throttling:
And of course Lisa asked, “All our lives, what did you tell us to do if we got lost or separated while hiking?”
“To stay put,” her dad replied, knowing what was coming next.
“AND WHAT DID YOU DO?”
“I just kept going,” her dad replied. Chagrined.
And that’s really what happened.
With his poor eyesight, Dee had mistakenly walked off the trail onto an old deer trail. Then, when it petered out about twenty feet later…he had just kept going, walking down the face of the mountain in deep scrub oak.
Eventually — and I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of detail to give you here, because Dee hasn’t been able to give us much detail — he wound up close to the bottom of the mountain and near a neighborhood, but trapped in a ravine.
Which is when a couple of hiking teenagers came across him.
“Are you OK?” they asked.
“No, I’m stuck and I’m lost!” Dee told them.
The kids helped him out and then walked him down to their car, then gave him a ride home.
One of Lisa’s relatives snapped this photo of them together:
We don’t know their names, we don’t have contact info, we aren’t even really sure where he was when they found him.
But we sure are glad they were there and took care of him.
So many heroes that day. And I’m incredibly grateful for all of them. And that this worst of all possible Thursdays turned out, in the end, to be a great story worth telling over and over.