Second Place: Snowbound

A freak blizzard traps three hunters in a camper with little food and no heat.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

It was the second weekend of the 1991 Utah deer season. My two companions and I were hunting the Wolf Creek Pass area, about 30 miles east of Heber City. We camped north of Strawberry Reservoir and saw lots of fresh sign but no mule deer. Having already harvested my muley for the season, I carried a shotgun in the hope of bagging a grouse for the dinner table. The birds were not to be found, so we settled on soup and crackers. After that it was early to bed.

Morning brought a light snow and I stayed in the camper to make breakfast. Randy and Craig, my hunting partners, were afield. Within a half hour the snow got much heavier. Craig came back to camp and reported seeing only a few does and fawns. Randy was on the trail of a deer he wounded. An hour later we began to worry about Randy as the snowfall built in intensity.

Craig and I decided to look for Randy. As we suited up, he appeared through the blizzard with icicles hanging from his beard. Even his gun was frozen to his jacket. A fall had left him with a badly twisted knee, and he'd barely made it back to camp. Our first concern was hypothermia, so I wrapped him in blankets and fed him coffee. The blizzard continued to intensify, leaving us with no choice but to drive out. I secured the gear and tire chains and we were off.

The snow was a foot deep. The wind chill was minus 10. We had traveled five miles and were cresting the highest part of a barren ridge when we realized one of the tire chains was loose. A moment later the truck was stuck. I hopped out and reattached the chain so we could continue through the blizzard. We were losing momentum going through the snow as it came over the hood in the wind drifts. Suddenly another tire chain snapped off and the truck was stuck again.

I got out only to see that our tracks were already snowed over. The tire chain was lost. Visibility was zero. My two hunting companions and I sat in the camper playing cards through the night, waiting for the storm to break. It was biting cold. Even the thermostat on the heater froze. Our only heat source was the pilot light. We knew we should conserve the propane to make it last. With only a two-day trip planned, we had no idea how much was left....

Saving up energy was priority number one in case we needed to hike out, but that was difficult in the piercing cold. Throughout the next two days we passed the time playing cards and telling hunting stories, the whole time wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags. Each window had several blankets packed around the frame to stop the wind. Pillows were tucked into the corners to prevent snow from creeping in. Outside, the snow was at least 3 feet deep.

[pagebreak] I ventured outside briefly to look for wood and to see if hiking was a possibility. It was not. The visibility was zero. We would have been lost if we had tried to make a run to the highway. Somehow, snow was piling up inside the camper. Little piles would form in the corners. At times, I would light the stove long enough to melt some of the snow for drinking water. Our drinks were solid ice. We dined on frozen fruit and cookies. By the second night, we thought for sure we'd be stuck for days.

Day three found us freezing in the cab of the truck trying to get some sort of radio transmission. For the previous two days, noise on the radio was non-existent. Finally, a faint signal came through with news that authorities were looking for us. There was hope that this hunting trip wouldn't be our last. With the conditions still not letting up, we decided to continue to conserve our resources. By 3 p.m. we spotted a snow cat looking for us. They couldn't see us through the snow, however. We fired our guns into the air and made a racket, but it was for naught. Things were suddenly bleak and the three of us were getting scared.

At the dinner table we ate frozen candy and not a word was spoken. The sound of thhe storm outside made up for our silence. I didn't sleep that night, and I don't think Craig or Randy did either. The weather broke with the next dawn. With a clear sky, aircraft could aid in the search. A small plane flew over us and we caught the pilot's attention with a small mirror. He turned and waved, letting us know he had contact. Shortly thereafter, a helicopter circled above the camper.

Three members of the rescue team had to stay behind because we couldn't all fit into the chopper. They were later picked up by snowmobiles.

A few days later we ran the pilot light on the heater, too see how long it would've lasted. It burned for half an hour. There was little chance we could have made it through another night.