A Hil in Death Valley

My friend Hilary–gal pal since the good ol’ days of four square–went on a cross-country road trip for her spring break last week. One of the best story tellers I know, due in part to the awkward, unfortunate, dangerous, exciting and ‘we’ll-laugh-about-that-one-day’ events that befall her, Hil has granted me permission to share with y’all her (literally) breath-taking account of Death Valley. Chew and swallow before you read this and get ready to laugh out loud.

hil_bz_me_nhL<-R: Hil, Becky, Me Fishing in NH 2005

When we got to death valley the sun was setting and it was beautiful. i decided to go for my run on a trail cause i hadn’t run yet that day and i have to be running every day for my training. the day before i had run at sunset and it had stayed light out for about an hour, but that was in utah. i ran with a flashlight by suggestion of one of the guys. at the end of the 2.5 mile trail, i turned back the way i had come, and it was pretty dark but i felt ok about it. the trail markers were alright, though not great, so i just kept going along what i thought was the trail. after a while i realized i hadn’t seen a trail marker for a pretty long time, but i kept running. after a while i realized i should have been back at the head of the trail a while before, and the trail didn’t look the way it should. basically everything looks like a natural trail there because the landscape is these dried up river beds in between sandy, rocky, dune-like mountains. so having not seen a trail marker for a long time, i realized i was copletely lost. and i panicked. my mouth went try, my heart started to beat fast, and my hands got sweaty. i basically thought, i’m in death valley. i am going to die. i screamed “helllloooooo” (which i ended up screaming many times throughout the night) but there was no response. i decided to climb up the nearest mountain to see if that could help me get a better lay of the land. So it takes me a while to get up this mountain, and at this point i’ve been lost for about an hour after my expected return time from my run. I’m sitting at the top of this mountain, screaming periodically to check if anyone can hear me, and thinking that a helicopter will probably have to come get me. i can see that there is a road very far away, but it looks pretty far. i can only tell it’s there because i see headlights go by every 10 minutes or so. there is also a town or something but it looks a lot further than the road. so i’m sitting up there on the mountain for a while. the moon rises  and it’s almost a full moon, which helps for visibility. i was shining my flashlight around for a while, and at one point i thought i made contact with a little light below (i think it was from the guys looking for me, we later determined) but the light looked very far. so i had been up there for about an hour- lost for about 2 hours- when i decided that i maybe should do somehting. at first i had thought that i shouldn’t move because i would just get more lost. but i was very confident that there was a road that i could see, and it couldn’t be more than a couple miles. a couple miles is kind of far in this terrain, which looks kind of like the moon.


Death Valley (photo credit: wikimedia)

The sunset there was amazing. Getting lost, no so much. Everything looks the same. Anyways, after sitting at the top of that mountain i thought i should try to get to the road, even though it looked far. Because everything looks the same, this was going to be pretty tricky, but i noticed a rock structure that was kind of unique in the landscape, and the moon had risen on my right, so i used that as a guide for which direction to go. i decided to just head for the rocky structure, because unlike the road, that was very easy to spot. i also decided (see pics) to climb OVER the hills, rather than walk in between them, because 1. if a helicopter did come, i would be in ahigh place where they could see me, and 2. i could actually tell where i was in relation to the rocky structure (in between the hills i couldn’t really see anything except the cliffs/hills on either side of me). really, this would have been a gorgeous place to hike in the day. but i was panicked and didn’t quite get to appreciate that. so, i started heading, over the hills, toward the rocky structure. the climbing all along was very dangerous. getting down from the mountain itself was hard, because a lot of times i’d be going down and notice that there was a cliff in front of me, so i had to find a less steep route. also, climbing up the hills, and down, i caused a TON of erosion. There were times when i’d put my foot down and hear rocks tumbling for like, a minute. it was pretty scary. so after an hour of this i made it to the big rocky structure/mountain thing. there was no road in sight at all. that was pretty discouraging. behind the mountain thing was a cliff, so i figured the road had probably turned behind that cliff, because the area where i’d seen headlights going by was to the right of that structure. so i decided to start going to the right, up and down more hills. the climbing continued to be pretty treacherous. i had been lost for 3 hours then, and was thinking i might not get found until morning. after climbing to the right (post-rocky structure) for another hour, i was getting really discouraged, because i was starting to wonder if i’d be climbing all night, and if that would really be worth my energy- although it was somewhat exhilarating, it was also dangerous and physically taxing, i had to stop at the top of each mountain and take a breather. also, my mouth had gone dry when i panicked, and there’s no water in death valley, so i was pretty thirsty, and hungry. finalllly i came around the side of the mountain, and some headlights going by below me caught my attention! the road!!!! yay!!!!! it took me about 10 minutes to get down to the road, but i was SO relieved. when i got to the road i basically had no idea where to go, but i decided to walk to the right, that seemed like a good direction (i was so disoriented that i really didn’t have a hunch as to which was the right way to be walking) after less than 5 minutes of walking, i ran into two of the guys walking along the road looking for me! it was amazing! i was SO happy to have found them. my plan had been that i would just wave down the first car with my flashlight and have them take me to a ranger station or something, but i was very glad to have run into my friends first. meanwhile, they had gotten worried about a half hour after i had said i would be back. they tried to look for me themselves, going in pairs, but got lost pretty quickly bc it was completely dark, so they had turned back. they went to a ranger station, and the rangers said they would drive along the roads looking for me, but they couldn’t send anyone into the hills where i was lost because the people would get lost right away. oh man. they should have told me that when i went running. they didn’t send a helicopter out because they were going to wait until morning. mainly because it wasn’t so cold or hot that i would die overnight, and it would be easier to find me in the light. they really would have found me right away in the dark, because i had a flashlight and was standing at a high place, but i guess they didn’t think about that. anyways, the rangers had basically just told the guys that they could walk along the roads to look for me, but that was really it. oh yeah, and the climbing was bad enough that my legs got totally scratched up. it didn’t hurt at the time cause i had so much adrenaline, but when i cleaned them off i had lots of large stinging scrapes and scratches from the rocks. (the landscape looks sandy in those pics, but it’s also very rocky and cliff-like) so, that’s my story. i wish i could buy a t-shirt that says “i survived death valley“. i think it would be funny. the rangers had asked the guys if they wanted to call my parents, and the guys said no because they didn’t want to panic them, and there was nothing they could do from massachusetts. i told my parents the next day. they were relieved that i was ok, and impressed with my survival instincts. a few days later my dad said, “i’m sorry you had to endure getting lost in death valley, but i’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of telling the story” (well, i guess i have too. it’s definitely a sure hit. lol)

Isn’t her tale exHILarating? HILarious?I’ll be sure to save this story in my inbox for a rainy day, an ab workout day, or a break-up-with-my-future-bf day, or just any future point in time when I may feel blue. Thanks for sharing with us, Hil 🙂


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