Monday, August 17, 2015

A day to remember....a memory to forget

This is a true story that happened to me back in May 2007.....I wrote in a journal I kept and since it is long, I divide it in two read the happy ending tomorrow.....

Thursday May 3, 2007
A day to remember….a memory to forget
It was a day to remember and a memory to forget for me. It started like every day this past week as I woke up at the Molthans and ready to hit the road for more pictures to add to my already growing collection of wild life photography. After the usual ritual of having breakfast with the Theall girls, I made plans for the day and Theresa suggested that I should try driving through the Cottonwood forest. She said that it should take no longer than two hours, this way I can be in time for lunch at her mother’s today.
The drive through Cottonwood was supposed to start on the main road, head towards the mountains, reach a campsite which is used during the summer months, and continue down the mountain and exiting at another part of the main road.  The map showed it as a simple 26 mile trip which should have been a piece of cake for me. I started with a good gravel road, and since there are some new houses in the area, the road will probably soon be black-topped, but the gravel access so far is very good. Since I arrived at Oregon 4 years ago I was never a fan of gravel roads but these past three days I have somehow changed my mind, especially after the 25 miles I drove on it yesterday around Goose Lake, mostly muddy gravel which turned the color of my car from dark green to light brown because of the mud that splattered on my Honda yesterday during my muddy trek. But yesterday’s was a joy ride compared to what was ahead of me today. 

After stopping for some scenic pictures around lower Cottonwood Lake, I meandered through a thick forest that became more wild and savage as I went along. Since there is a campground on top of the mountain, I was told that many campers use this road between June and September, but apparently it’s pretty desolate between September and the end of May, when the prep work starts to welcome the campers and summer visitors.
The gravel turned to an inferior quality as I was 10 to 12 miles into my drive, and I also noticed some snow on the side. At 16 miles I found some of the snow on the road, but it was not thick, at least not yet, and moreover I noticed absolutely no tire marks anywhere, which made me conclude that I was pretty alone up there. 

According to the detailed Oregon map, the gravel was supposed to turn into black-top or asphalt 20 miles into the trip, but I still had 4 miles to go, as more snow appeared on the road, while the gravel was getting muddier and muddier as some of the snow continues to melt. But not much was melting today as the temperature was around 40 degrees, and besides, as soon as the clouds roll in, the temperature dropped to around freezing point, which was obvious from the intermittent snow and hail that fell as I continued my climb. As I was to find out later, I was climbing between Cougar Peak (at 7919 feet) and Grizzly Peak (at 7768 feet) and along Cottonwood Creek. As I continued in my dirty Honda CRV, twisting and turning my never-ending ascent, the patches of snow was getting more frequent, and one section was too much for my car to handle. I got stuck in 6 inches of snow! The first reaction is to put your car on reverse and try to get out slowly. But my tires spinned and spinned and my car did not budge. I got out of the car and looked around my four tires which were all deep in snow. The snow had actually turned to ice, and without any loss of time, I started digging some of the ice and snow from around my tires. But all I had to work with was the snow brush drivers keep in their cars which they use to brush off the snow from their windshield. It wasn’t the best tool for this Herculean task, but that’s all I had to work with. 
As the sun peaked periodically from behind the clouds I took my jacket off as I was sweating and battling with the ice in a relentless way. Every few minutes, I would start the car again and try to move backwards, but not much progress was being made. Besides, I was about three feet from an embankment and was afraid that the car may get close to the edge. The front was actually moving towards this dangerous precipice but I continued to chop off more ice and clear off more of the snow under my tires. Skinning my knuckles and praying for inspiration of what is the rational thing to do, I kept digging more and more, clearing the space behind the wheels, ready for another attempt to start my car and try as I might to get out of this dilemma. With sleet and hail falling while the sun making a sporadic appearance to give me hope that not all is that bad, my attempts to reverse the Honda proved fruitless. The  slight movement it made, it moved a few inches back but it also turned a few inches towards the right, moving ever more dangerously towards the drop or embankment, which was not very deep, but enough to see the car roll over, if it ever went down. After an hour and 15 minutes digging and digging without much discernable progress, I realized I had a major decision to make. Since I saw no car tire marks on the patches of snow, I concluded that no one ever comes up there in the winter, and I was sure that no one will come to help me out. Worse yet, if I persisted in trying to reverse my car, I was going to jeopardize my life if I fall in the embankment, not to mention damaging my car, probably beyond repair. 
An important sign that I ignored
At that point I had driven 16 miles, and according to the map I had another 10 miles to get to the main road at the other end. I also noticed that I had 4 more miles of gravel road and the remaining 6 miles on black-top. If I decided to go back  to my starting entrance, that’s 16 miles of gravel road in total wilderness. So I made up my mind to start walking, and of course 10 miles are better than 16, even though I had no idea how hilly or dangerous the 10 miles down to the main road will. Moreover, I was not familiar with the terrain, and my fear of cougars and bears was constantly on my mind since I was walking between Cougar Peak and Grizzly Peak. The weather was cold but not unbearable, and at least I had a light jacket and was wearing sneakers. My other thought in the back of my mind was that since 4 miles further down there is a campsite and the black-top starts, I figured there should be some cars going by to the campsite. Well, these were only presuppositions and wishful thinking on my part as I was soon to find out.

Putting a note on the dashboard of my car reading “Fr Julian Cassar – 947-0972 – staying with the Molthans/ Leo and Anna Mae Albertson – got stuck in the snow!” I packed some items in a plastic bag like a bottle of water, some fruit and nut bars, my wallet, car keys, my camera and my cell phone (which was useless as every time I looked at it, it read “No Service.”) Thereupon I bid goodbye to my Honda, not knowing if I’ll ever see it again, but hopeful that I can be rescued and that someone will return with me to help me pull it out later on or tomorrow.
And so I started walking forward, sloshing through mud and more snow which was getting more frequent as I walked on. . . . . . .(read the end of this story tomorrow)