We all have them, those stories that have changed your life since their occurrences or the ones that taught you a lesson. Sometimes we are lucky enough to walk away from them, sometimes they leave us changed forever. Here are my two scariest stories from the outdoors:
. . .
#1) As I turned around to calculate his proximity to me, he was gone. Gone, into thin air, as if he had never existed. Every cell in my body was screaming at me to run, so I sprinted.
There has never been a time where I felt uncomfortable in going into the outdoors alone, on my own. Until the hike that I went on a few years back in the beginning of summer.
Walking up the trail for less than ten minutes, I began to close on the distance on the elderly gentleman hiking in front of me. Passing politely, I greeted him, spoke casual words with him, and anticipated a silent journey to commence thereafter. Something that was spoken between us had kept me grounded by his side; he was a kind, elderly man who’s energy gave me a sense of deeply rooted knowledge and experience. We welcomed each other’s company and hiked onward to a lake neither of us had seen yet.
Roughly one mile from the lake, I came across a bright blue, aluminum, backcountry shovel head. I immediately thought about the friends I had who would love to have this and seeing as it had been left behind for the melting season, I strapped it to the outside of my backpack. The clanking of the shovel and my keys made me sound a lot like a cowbell, to which I jokingly said something about to the gentleman. He responded, “all the better to hear you with”. It had struck me with an odd energy but I chose to forgo the vibe and explained to him that I was planning on hiking the ridgeline before making do at the lake. He asked if he could join and I felt no threat in accepting. As we scrambled up the ridge and found a great selection of boulder slabs to sit on, we emptied the contents of our packs. Jackets for the wind, snacks for the bellies. My mind wandered, “what is the one thing that you would tell me about life that you wish you wouldn’t known?” His response brought tears to my eyes and unfortunately it was all that I will ever remember about his response due to the stress that ensued in the following moments after.
Finishing our snacks and ready to get out of the direct wind, we began to work our way down to the basin where the lake sat, centerfold, between ridgelines. Before reaching the immediate path around the lake, we came across a large, hollowed out tree’s trunk where we sat like grade school children, getting high. As I was packing away my items, I felt the shift of energy between us. It went sour. I was suddenly at threat. He said something to me and the finger he placed on my hand began to make me wildly rip through a viable excuse to use in order to get myself back down to the safety of my car….four miles away. “I need to get going soon, my friends are expecting me for a nice dinner and I am supposed to cook a dish for it”
“stay a little longer, they will understand, I will hike down with you”
“no really, it is okay, I just need to get going so I will probably go down alone, not to rush you”
At this point, we had been walking around the lake and stopped so that I could capture a picture of the landscape; there was a couple seated on top of a large boulder about 25 meters away from me and the gentleman. The young male jumped off and approached us, “would you two like a photo” he said with excitement. I literally stumbled through my response, “no, no oh no thank you I don’t really kn-” and I was cut off by the young male, “come on lets just grab a photo”. The gentleman steps in, “it’s just one photo, come one!” *click, click* “Thanks.” I grumbled to the young male. I was furious.
My tone became heavier, “okay, I need to start heading back now” as the gentleman followed me along the lake loop headed back to the trail. I had started to pick up my pace without being too noticeable about it. Keep walking McKenzie, just keep walking. My head was down and both hands were on my backpack straps, death gripping them. As I turned around to calculate his proximity to me, he was gone. Gone, into thin air, as if he had never existed. Every cell in my body was screaming at me to run, so I sprinted.
I am not a runner and not because I don’t like running, I mean my body is physically incapable of running nicely. The shovel on my backpack was rattling away, creating a high pitched echo throughout the woods. I swung my backpack around to the front of my body so that I could hug the shovel to my chest, so that I wouldn’t make any noise, so that he couldn’t follow me. I ran, I ran so hard. I passed people on the trail, completely panicked, and yet not one single person stopped me. Frantically approaching the end of the trail, my brain was tortured with the thought that he had only been minutes behind me and that he was going to stop me from driving off in my car. I scrambled for my keys and after making it into my car, I locked myself inside. Shaking from the most running I’ve done in years, I started my car quickly and got myself out of that canyon as fast as I could. I balled all the way home.
The worst part about this experience was that when I went to go edit photos a couple days later, I came across the one taken of me and him. I wasn’t smiling. In fact, I look terrified, my shoulders were collapsed inwards. Next to me, he stood with a gleaming smile and hand on my shoulder. It was haunting. Had he even been real? Why did he feel that it was okay to physically touch me? Had we not talked enough about his children and the similarities I shared with them? Stranger Danger, yall.
. . .
#2 As I heard the loose rock crumble to the depths below us, I turned to watch him disappear into the black hole of the mountain. Oh my god. I just watched someone die.
It was the beginning of the warmer summer days in Utah and we were headed for a hike that neither of us had done. The normal hiking route, for the underachievers, comes out to a short 2 mile round trip, and therefore was not enough for us when we approached “the end”. We sought out what we wanted to be our end goal for the hike and decided on the area located just below the existing snow pack line. Having a clean, neat trail pretty much the entire way up, we had to scramble for the last ten minutes to reach our resting point which was a sweet little nook that had a small pool of fresh runoff that we could keep our beers in.
It was a grand spot, with spectacular views, and not a lot of room to play but that was okay. Below where we sat on the rock cliffs, was a part of the snow pack that was being undercut by the melting runoff. It had created a large opening in the snow pack that looked like a tunnel against the mountainside. Imagine standing on top of a tubed water slide at a water park, it looked like that. Very intimidating to say the least but not among our concerns (for some reason). We packed up our things and began our decent down, my hiking partner had chosen to take the rock face that did indeed look stable, but to our surprise, was not. As I heard the loose rock crumble to the depths below us, I turned to watch him slip and disappear into the black hole of the mountain. Oh my god. I just watched someone die.
Clinging to the rocks and a nearby tree, I turned myself around so that I could look down mountain for where his body was going to appear. I hardly had a breath in me, let alone words. Blink Mckenzie, fucking scream, do something! I was frozen. Somehow it clicked and suddenly my scream rippled through the canyon, “ALEX! ALEX! ALEX!” I couldn’t stop screaming for him. Holy. Actual. Shit. This was not happening. As I screamed, as my eyes widened, I saw him walk out onto the rock below this dangerous water slide, almost 200 meters below where he had fallen in. Disbelief. He was walking. As I watched him scrape off rubble from his arm, I regained my mind and worked myself down to him. He was…okay, literally just a bruised arm, not a single broken bone, no concussion. Our hike down became a consistent check-in, “what year is it? what’s your name? do you know where we are? what day is it? what trail are we on? when’s your birthday?”
He and I did not talk much after that day, or ever again really. I think that we were both pretty shaken up. I thought that I had just lost my friend, he thought he had just entered death. I am sure that that was the craziest thing either of us had ever experienced to date and I think that we did not know how to carry on after it. Strange concept but nonetheless, the reality of it. Alex, if you ever find this and read it, I am so damn glad that you made it out alive. We almost rewrote our cards that day.
. . .
Have a scary story from the outdoors that you want to share? Comment below or email me directly at email@example.com - I would love to hear them (and share them if you are okay with it!)